Telecommunications giant Digicel Barbados is backing away from a hasty decision to cut ties with soca and dancehall artiste Leadpipe, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism over a recent music video promoting gun violence.
Chairman, Ralph Bizzy Williams told Barbados TODAY that the company is now prepared to “forgive” the talented artiste and “bring him back into the fold”.
On Wednesday morning, Digicel announced the discontinuation of its influencer relationship with Leadpipe, real name Osvaldo Reid as his “recent musical values do not align with our values”.
“Digicel takes its responsibility as a family brand and a good corporate citizen very seriously. We do not tolerate any negative sentiment towards any member of our community and indeed do not associate ourselves with negativity in any way,” the statement declared.
Shortly after Digicel took action, Sole Addiction named Leadpipe and Mole De Chief as its new ambassadors.
Digicel’s announcement followed the castigation of Leadpipe and eight other artistes from Prime Minister Mia Mottley, members of her Cabinet and business leaders, for their parts in the Trojan Riddim mix that is filled with violent and obscene lyrics, promoting gang activity and gun violence.
But the demonisation of the artistes is not sitting well with hundreds of social media users, who are blasting the ‘hypocrisy’ of persons in high places for endorsing regional and international musicians, movies and influencers portraying similar messages.
When contacted, Williams explained that in the midst of the swiftly unfolding controversy, he was asked to make an immediate decision about Leadpipe’s relationship with the company, which, in hindsight, was “probably a mistake”.
“I made an impromptu decision. The correct thing to do would have been to have a meeting with Leadpipe and find out what this thing is all about. Why is he doing this? Does he really believe that gun violence and so on is really the way to solve Barbados’ problems? These are the things that I should have done, but I did not,” the 78-year-old businessman admitted.
While expressing Digicel’s willingness to “forgive” Leadpipe, he added: “But what I would like for him to do… is another video that sends the opposite message, that in Barbados, we want to live in harmony with each other, that we do not want to solve problems by guns. We want to negotiate and come to agreements with each other, rather than resort to violence and guns.”
When contacted, Leadpipe’s manager Ingrid Holder declined comment for the second day in a row.
Among the hundreds of people opposing Digicel’s initial stance was social media influencer Jordan English, who posted a four-minute video condemning the “hypocrisy”.
He argued that if local artistes are to be vilified for their recent releases, an apology ought to be issued from major promoters, cinemas and other businesses, who, for years, have facilitated the infiltration of ‘badness’ into the society.
“From the time I was a little boy, I watched the two major festivals in Barbados, Hennessy Artistry and Barbados Reggae Festival each year after year bringing headline Jamaican dancehall artistes who are powered by big sponsors like Digicel.
“I want to know how the government of Barbados could accept that each year, we allow a dancehall artist to headline the number one festival in Barbados, but want to scrutinize the artistes like they are little boys,” English challenged.
“I would like an apology from Hennessy Artistry, from Digicel, from Fas [7Star [Entertainment], for each year putting on a concert that headlines Jamaican artistes singing ‘badness’. I would like an apology from Sheraton that shows action movies portraying gun crimes and drug activity every single day to kids. I would like an apology from Slam, 95.3, 98.1, and all of these radio stations…and organisations, that contribute to the promotion of crime,” the young influencer declared.
When asked to respond to such allegations, Williams, who introduced Digicel to the local market nearly two decades ago acknowledged that the company did not have a history of seeking to dictate the activity of artistes.
On the contrary, he declared that the umbrella company, Williams Industries has always been keen on supporting artistic expression. He however indicated that the timing of the recent releases was poor in the midst of a recent spike in gun crime, and anxiety related to the pandemic and the volcanic ash.
“Everybody’s nerves are on edge and it was a very bad time to come out with this music video. I can’t imagine what the fellows were thinking,” the businessman added.
Late this evening, Leadpipe issued an apology expressing his sincerest regret to fans, followers, sponsors and the general public for the “ unintentionally harmful lyrics” during the dancehall freestyle mix.
“ As many of you know I have always expressed my versatility as a comedian along with recording as a soca and dancehall entertainer to bring positive vibes and energy from my work. However, my choice of content on this occasion has been deemed offensive to some. As a popular entertainer, I understand my power as an influencer, and I promise to make you and Barbados proud in the future.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to appeal to our youths and elders to stop the violence and let us continue to make Barbados a safe and enjoyable country not sometimes but all the time, “ he said.