Words by Gabriel Heatwave
It’s been a bumper few weeks for UK dancehall. In last month’s update, I mentioned that there are many reasons to be optimistic about the current state of the music over here. Here are some of those reasons:
YT and Mr Williamz, two of the UK’s brightest dancehall stars, have paid homage to the late, great Smiley Culture. They sum up everything you need to know about his inspirational career, impressive legacy and the suspicious circumstances of his death in police custody in their “Tribute to Smiley Culture.” Smiley’s old sparring partner Asher Senator also delivered his own moving tribute at the recent Justice For Smiley Culture march:
This tune, “Character Reference,” will be released soon on the classic dancehall riddim Shank I Sheck. Smiley’s family announced at the demonstration that his 1984 hit “Police Officer” will be re-released with the aim of making it a number one record to attract attention to the campaign. You can watch the march and accompanying speeches on uStream. Channel 4 and BBC News both covered the events. Read our full tribute to Smiley in last month’s Cockney & Yardie column.
Former grime artist and top UK pop rapper Chipmunk has been getting on a bashment hype recently, or at least a Mavado hype. “Every Gyal,” his collaboration with Mavado, is a bit disappointing, though: the producer and vocalists could have been more in sync. Chipmunk’s turn on the UK remix of Mavado’s potential summer smash “Star Bwoy,” along with South London rapper Sneakbo, is much better, though the tune loses a little shine without Mavado’s verses—their pattern and flow make “Star Bwoy” the big tune that it is. Of course, getting two popular UK artists on the remix increases the hit potential so it’s a fair trade off. Sneakbo, who impresses much more than Chipmunk with his deep voice, lazy flow and dancehall scatting, is also making a habit of rapping over dancehall beats, notably on his version of Vybz Kartel’s “Touch A Button.” Now, this month he’s used Jah Vinci’s vocal hook on Russian’s “Bomb Drop” riddim to build an engaging reality tune accompanied by a Brixton-set black and white video.
Stylo G is currently staking a big claim to be London’s number one bashment artist. In “Call Mi A Yardie,” Stylo runs down what it means to be a yardie, playing on the classic dancehall themes of guns, girls and ganja while throwing in more recent trending topics like fashion, cars and alcohol. Lyrically, Stylo’s other new tune, “Bank Robber Part 2,” is a cut above it. Stylo is throwing words at Gappy Ranks here: he’s not happy that Gappy did a tune called “Bank Robber” last year, shortly after Stylo’s vocal of the same name. Check the full war report on our recent Rinse FM show.
Gappy is refusing to be drawn into a war, instead concentrating on touring the world and developing his fast-growing international profile. LargeUp editor Jesse Serwer interviewed Gappy for UK newspaper The Guardian earlier this month about his debut album, Put The Stereo On, and his recent experience during the earthquake in Japan. In that interview, Gappy talks about working with west London record label Peckings, who have a number of exciting projects on the horizon. Peckings have long been known for their Studio One reissues and have excelled in recent years revisiting classic riddims with contemporary dancehall/reggae vocalists such as Gappy Ranks and Bitty McLean. We hear that a full Peckings album is in the works featuring Dolamite, MC and CEO of the Suncycle, the crew where artists like Lady Chann and Gappy Ranks learned their dancehall trade. Check our Rinse FM show for sneak previews over the next few weeks.
We can preview a couple of tunes from the upcoming Peckings album by Demolition Man (aka Ras Demo). His distinctive voice has graced everything from ragga jungle to hiphop with of course dancehall and reggae being his foundation. On “Big Up” he rides the inimitable Real Rock riddim, bigging up pretty much everyone you could ever imagine might get bigged up in a reggae song. Demo is in a nostalgic mood on “Studio One,” reminiscing about dancing with his family and listening to music on his “grandad’s gramaphone before there were Technics decks.”
Peckings isn’t just about re-versioning classic riddims or trying to relive the good old days. Label head Chris Price is also nurturing upcoming London dancehall talent in the form of Baby Boom, who has jumped on the aforementioned “Star Bwoy” riddim. On his “Get Nasty,” he shows fellow Londoners Chipmunk and Sneakbo a thing or two about how to spit on bashment. Meanwhile, “Highest Set Ah Grades” is a feelgood reggae tune referencing Jacob Miller’s classic “Tenement Yard.” Definitely one to play loud on hot summer days.
Over here at Heatwave towers we’ve been talking about the JA bashment/UK funky hook up for a few years now. London funky house outfit Funkystepz are the latest UK producers to catch the bug with their remix of Equiknoxx’s hit riddim “Jim Screechie.” In a recent interview, Gyptian was talking about “that fast beat music” that we have over here, so maybe we can expect some funky house collaborations from him in the future. In the meantime, check out the Funkystepz house remix of his ubiquitous “Hold Yuh.”
As well as the flood of singles, we’d also like to bring one long playing release to your attention. Mr Williamz has teamed with American sound Green Lion for the excellent full-length mixtape We Run England. The mix features his recent hits like “London,” “Rolling With The General” and “Original Style” alongside exclusives, specials and remixes on riddims like Darker Shade Of Black, Boops, Street Team, Kush and What’s My Name. On the title track, Mr Williamz takes a tour of Buckingham Palace, meeting various members of the British royal family: “the next ting is who rush me nuh Prince Charles, a talk bout seh him want mi sign autograph”.
In fact, I heard a rumour that Mr Williamz will be performing at this Friday’s royal wedding. Or was it that Prince William will be attending our Hot Wuk Royal Bashment the day before his wedding?