In the UK as elsewhere, the hottest topic in dancehall this month has been Vybz Kartel’s complexion, even among people who don’t normally follow the culture. It’s a shame that it takes off-the-field antics like this for people to take notice. I’m much happier to report that Kartel’s music — specifically the Federation remix of Rihanna’s “What’s My Name” — is getting played on BBC Radio 1.
I-Octane’s “No Love Inna Them” is also doing well over here at the moment, getting a lot of radio play and building on the buzz he got last year from singles like “Puff It” and “Lose A Friend.” We’re getting requests for “Amazing” by Pinchers on Dave Kelly’s Turn It Up riddim every time we play out at the moment.
Leftside & Shaggy’s “Jump Up Around” has only been out for a couple of weeks but already looks set to be a big hit. The way its drums and bass hint at ’90s jungle sets it up perfectly for crossover success in the UK.
Everyone’s Talking About Rastamouse
After Kartel, the number one “hero” in the UK/JA link up at the moment has got to be Rastamouse. The crime-fighting, skateboarding mouse is the star of a new children’s television program on the BBC’s kids channel CBeebies and has been causing a bit of a stir. Some uptight conservative types have objected that the patois dialogue will mean their children are unable to speak “proper English.” Others worry that it’s a crude stereotype of Jamaican culture. The Voice newspaper – “Britain’s top black weekly” – says that Rastamouse “will bring a touch of Caribbean flavour to kids’ programming.” Dancehall DJ and radio presenter Young Lion is a big fan of the show and has pointed out: “If this was on when I went to school, it would have helped. Rastafarians were looked down on.”
Just up the dial, BBC4 broadcast their Reggae Britannia documentary examining the music’s influence on this side of the Atlantic, going back to the 60’s. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to watch the program outside of the UK but it’s on BBC iPlayer if you can get around the restrictions.
The program only looked at reggae’s impact up to the 1980s (I guess there’s only so much you can fit into 90 minutes) but Tippa Irie and Smiley Culture got a quick look-in towards the end of the show. There was no mention however, of Fashion Records, Mafia & Fluxy, Glamma Kid, Gappy Ranks or reggae’s huge influence on U.K. music from jungle and garage to grime and dubstep. Still, there was some interesting stuff on the birth of lovers’ rock and The Police being open about how they “plundered reggae without remorse.” The explanation of soundsystems’ role in spreading the music and culture throughout the country, in the absence of radio support, was also good. This is especially significant given that the soundsystem – both as a physical and a notional entity – is one of reggae’s biggest and most lasting contributions to musical culture in the UK.
Coughing Up More Fire
Last month, legendary London soundsystem Saxon Studio International recorded a session for BBC 1Xtra which will be broadcast in March as part of 1Xtra’s dancehall week. The session was billed as a follow up to Saxon’s brilliant 1984 live album, Coughing Up Fire.
This column will bring you a full review of the session next month, but let me whet your appetite with the lineup: Saxon veterans Papa Levi, Tippa Irie, Colonel, Rusty and Sandy alongside some of today’s brightest UK dancehall artists including Stylo G, Stush and Mr Williamz plus dancehall-influenced UK MCs Skibadee, Wretch 32 and Scru Fizzer.
For me, the standout MCs on the night were Stylo G and Mr Williamz, both of whom we had the pleasure of getting in the studio with a couple of days later. Watch this space for news on that project…pow!
Stylo ran a memorable lyric called “Banger,” wherein he reminisces about his first car and — to my mind at least — references the car-loving lyrics of ’80s London MCs like Asher Senator and Smiley Culture. He also spat lyrics from “Press Up,” by his father, early ’90s ragga star Poison Chang.
Big Releases From Stylo G and Mr Williamz
On wax this month (OK, on mp3; it just doesn’t have the same ring does it?) Stylo dropped a wicked weed ode on the Mr DC / Pressure & Slide riddim, “Sensi.” And he’s featured on Seani B’s remix of Wretch 32’s top five hit “Traktor.” It’s good to see mainstream chart hits getting the dancehall remix treatment!
The biggest forward Mr Williamz got at the Saxon session was for “London,” which we featured on a recent Heatwave mix for Red Bull Music Academy. Williamz has also had a couple of new tunes out this month, which actually will come out on vinyl. Firstly, “In The Club” on the classic Feel Like Jumping / 54-46 riddim which has been revisited by the Peckings label. YT, Sparky and Tenna Star also have nice vocals on that rhythm track.
“Jungle Is A Part of Reggae”
The man behind the Necessary Mayhem label, top producer Curtis Lynch, talks some real sense in a wicked interview with United Reggae. Curtis discusses about the relationship between jungle and reggae/dancehall — he started out as a jungle DJ — and how he sees jungle as a branch of reggae. Lynch’s thoughts on filesharing and the role of the producer are interesting, too. In more dancehall-meets-top-40 action, Curtis remixed Jessie J’s #2 hit “Do It Like A Dude.” I don’t get the hype about Jessie J, but the rhythm track on the remix is heavy and Lady Chann’s guest verse is hard!
Bashment Getting Funky and Grimey
Lady Chann’s making her own assault on the pop charts with her new single, “Treble To Your Bass,” out next week. The tune has an electropop feel to it, which isn’t always my cup of tea. Chann’s vocals are more suited by the beat on Marcus Nasty’s funky house remix, or Sticky’s production for previous hits like “Eye Too Fast” and “Lady Chann Run England.”
You can tell from his name that London house producer Hard House Banton is a dancehall fan. He also told me last year that he was raised on his Dad’s reggae: Sly & Robbie, King Tubby and Scientist. So it’s no surprise that this year he’s dropped two tracks featuring dancehall vocals, “Rock & Come In” (Super Cat) and “Fatty Boom” (Ranking Dread).
We highlighted the funky house/dancehall crossover when it first appeared a couple of years ago and it’s nice to see that the link also works for ’80s dancehall samples. On a more up to the time tip, Vybz Kartel and Gaza Slim’s hit “Like A Jockey” has got the funky bashment remix treatment from Londoner Jay Fyah and it’s dirt!
Grime artists and producers are also looking to Jamaican music. The Yardman riddim, an echo-drenched reggae/grime instrumental from Balistiq Beats, features four separate vocals from some of the biggest grime artists who rhyme in patois: Jamakabi, Riko Dan, Killa P and Badness. The standout piece on the riddim is Jamakabi’s “Concrete Jungle,” an engaging and conscious lyric delivered in a slick, double time flow. The rhythm comes out at the end of February on Keysound Records.
And finally… We leave you this month with a colorful new video from UK rapper Simmy as she joins forces with dancehall legend Spragga Benz: