In what was a monumental moment for both him and, of course, Kendrick Lamar, dancehall deejay Assassin’s chorus from “The Blacker the Berry” made it to the Compton rapper’s much-talked-about performance at the Grammy Awards Monday night. Though he wasn’t present to deliver his lines himself, what the audience heard was indicative of what to expect from Assassin (a.k.a. Agent Sasco), the most in-demand dancehall artist in hip-hop.
If you listened closely, Kendrick Lamar’s backing band took “The Blacker the Berry” to new heights: the live snare drums clapped heavier, and electric guitars—absent from the original recording—made deeper cuts, without overshadowing Assassin’s emphatic voice. That layered arrangement ripples from “Stronger,” a single off Assassin’s third album, The Theory of Reggaetivity, due out this Friday, via Sound Age Entertainment. “Stronger” is the defining moment of the 14-track release, uniting producers Silly Walks (credited for Chronixx’s “Smile Jamaica”) and live instrumentation by reggae band Raging Fyah.
Assassin making a reggae album — and recording “Stronger” at Tuff Gong Studios with notable players in the reggae revival movement — is reminiscent of when an evolving Jay-Z recorded his MTV Unplugged album with The Roots in 2001. Like Jay-Z in hip-hop, Assassin made a name for himself in the dancehall world with his lyrical prowess. Now, his transition into roots-and-culture of reggae introduces him as a voice for people’s struggles: “If you don’t try nothing then you never will fail, but you surely won’t get anything done,” he says on “Stronger.” “Just do your thing and learn from your mistakes, experience teaches wisdom.”