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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
As the pendulum of dancehall continues to swing to an entirely more violent style of vibes, the vocal artists seemingly aren't the only ones catching on the trend. There are many producers as well now coming up with very different style of riddims (which could be arguably called just as much heavy hip-hop as they are dancehall, and are, thus, probably redefining what is and what is not dancehall) to match artists who are more and more talented with the gun lyrics. Without a doubt the greatest purveyor of these type of compositions has been young Stephen `di Genius' McGregor, son of reggae legend Freddie McGregor, who, on his father's label, Big Ship, has made a name and reputation for himself as THE producer of choice when it comes to artists seeking a well more harsh nature of vibes. Current reigning lyrical gunmen such as Bounty Killer, Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Busy Signal and Mavado have all made routine visits to check McGregor's current riddims and rarely will the young producer have a new piece which will not include these artists in some form or another. McGregor has also caught the eyes of the up and coming artists such as the eternally wicked Bramma, Einstein, Tyrical, Teflon and his own brother Chino with a style apparently patented to make the maddest, craziest and most vicious gun man tunes the dancehall has ever seen. And while certainly, with the current trend continuing to get stronger and stronger McGregor is far from the only one, his style is VERY unique in that should you actually just listen to a clean version of one his riddims (such as the Powercut, the Tremor, the Dark Shadow, the 12 Gauge etc.) if you are at all familiar with the current state of dancehall and the current faces of dancehall; even without actually hearing them, you can almost imagine who would voice the riddims and how would they voice them as his riddims tend to paint the pictures for themselves. In keeping up and catching on with the vibes, other producers have done the same type of riddims as well. Veteran production names such as Suku (Ward 21), Daseca, Snowcone, John John and even dancehall ace producer Don Corleone have all began (and some of whom have CONTINUED as they were already along those lines) to come with the type of BIG sounding heavy type of riddims almost perfect for gunman tunes. While MANY will call the shift a very NEGATIVE trend development in the dancehall (and I might actually be one of them) a real dancehall head, regardless of their opinion on the matter, cannot help but be impressed by some of the compositions current producers are pushing forth these days (and should you require more specific listening on that, definitely check out the latest installment of Greensleeves` Ragga Ragga Ragga series, RRR2008).
Making these type of riddims and SCORING with them are two different stories, particularly when there is more and more of a choice for fans to choose from. Therefore, besides `di Genius' without a doubt the producer pushing HITS with the BIG and HEAVY violent style of riddims has DEFINITELY been Baby G (even more so than Corleone) who has been FLODDING local charts as of late with some of the top artists on his various productions. The producer, who just happens (coincidentally like McGregor) to be the youngest son of another legendary figure in Jamaican music, arguably dancehall's greatest producer of al time, King Jammy, originally name on the strength with some very un-violent productions (although they weren't exactly choir-like compositions either) such as the remade Della Move riddim, from his father's catalogue; the downright ODD Acoustic Soul riddim (which you probably know from having backed Sizzla's unlikely hit I Was Born); and the VERY Ward 21-like (and very solid) modern bouncer, the 20 Cent riddim. His latest piece to reach these days is the MASSIVE Mission Riddim which is just as equally as big as it is healthy and VERY DARK. The epic Mission boasts such hits as Mavado's On the Rock (and also a remix with US hip-hop superstar Jay-Z) Jah Cure's Green Grass and MOST importantly, a title tune from the Bros. Marley, Stephen & Damian. The Mission's `older brother' was without a doubt the finest piece of production I heard altogether in 2007, The Gang War riddim. The title of the riddim itself tells you EXACTLY what direction it was going in and also what it may sound like and in the grand scheme of ALL these big sounding riddims, definitely (for me) the Gang War Riddim is the king of the pack. So big was it that it attracted not only the attention of the Marley's in terms of voicing the riddim; they also bought it! As the riddim made it into its album form (which is something we're still waiting for from the Mission) it didn't come via the standard VP or Greensleeves (although the thought of Junior Gong doing a tune on a VP release is very enticing someday), but instead, the Marley's parent label (LITERALLY) the legendary Tuff Gong picked up the riddim and released it as it included a potentially MASSIVE piece from the label's current superstar (more on that in a minute). Aside from that rather large piece of information, Baby G did a very nice job of selecting artists for the Gang War riddim. Aside from the `usual suspects' on such a riddim, he also does quite a fine job of pushing younger talents who almost undoubtedly will have never (and will definitely have to go quite awhile before receiving similar treatment) been exposed to such a large group of fans up to now. If you are a fan who has been listening to the current vibes of the dancehall and have been actually enjoying what you've been hearing, then definitely you need to check the Gang War riddim. The undisputed grandfather of them all.
What separates the GW from the rest of the similarly vibed creations is definitely its pacing. The Gang War is basically a simple one-drop disguised as a high-tech and wickedly beautiful sound which is something unlike anything I've probably ever heard before. The riddim features artists young and old delivering top notch tunes (for the most part) in abundance and one MAMMOTH shot from a reggae superstar. The album opens with said shot from said superstar as Damian Marley reaches with the riddims overall strongest piece, the WICKED One Loaf of Bread. In my opinion, were the song to have dropped originally in a year where Marley was to have an album (I would expect his next album either late 2008 or early 2009, keeping with his four to five year intervals in between projects) One Loaf of Bread could have been every bit the hit which was Welcome to Jamrock a few years back. The tune is definitely the riddims signature tune and further goes to show the ridiculously talented Marley taking pieces further and further out of the mainstream and much closer to a comparable level and medium with his REAL peers, something I wish he would do a great deal more of. The tune itself is a bit of sensibility and spirituality before the STORM begins (and it begins IMMEDIATELY following the tune) as Marley delivers a message of hope to the poor and oppressed people all over the world and does so on a very knowledge filled and straight forward style of vibes. BIG BIG TUNE! UP next is what is probably the second best tune on the Gang War riddim; Bounty Killer checking in with the unsurprisingly LETHAL Its Okay. Were this riddim to have appeared as recently as just five or so years ago, definitely the first artist to have been tapped for it (and he may still have been) would have been Bounty. This HUGE, yet slower style of vibes is right up the Killer's alley of specialty for him producer yet another brilliant big gunman tune over. And that's just what he does with It's Okay. The song, in typical Killer fashion, isn't exactly shy about who it aims itself at as Bounty takes a rare lyrical jab at former protégé, Vybz Kartel. I long for the day when the clash could play out in person, but Kartel will definitely (and he has) dig deep into his lyrical bag of tricks for an equally wicked response. Finishing the opener on the Gang War Riddim album is what is probably its second most popular tune (you could actually make the argument that it was more popular than One Loaf of Bread), Me and My Dogs from VERY usual suspect Mavado. The song is very impressive and status quo Mavado as the Casava Piece demonic style singer continues with his normal vibes warning his enemies to make sure they come with help, because he definitely has his ready.
The opening here is VERY impressive and its difficult to continue the extremely high level of vibes as it ends but thankfully the big names don't end with the first three. Play Ting is the first of only two `mistakes' (the second is Mr. Evil's just bad Liar, who sounds as if he has a cold) in my opinion on the Gang War Riddim as it finds Vybz Kartel (DUH!) alongside Voicemail (HUH!). I don't too much know why Voicemail is on the very un-Voicemail like riddim and definitely not why the very exciting potential of a solo Kartel tune is nearly ruined by their presence. On Play Ting Kartel delivers what is (so far) definitely the most impressive flow on the Gang War and he reaches a point (several times) when he just COMPLETELY locks it off and destroys it! BUT Voicemail, of course, chimes in with their typically annoying "HEYY!" calls, which just seems wrong here every time I hear it. A far more successful combination is Elephant Man alongside constant spar (although its been a minute) Wayne Marshall on the very strong Over di Wall. The tune once again shows Elephant's VERY underrated overall dexterity in the dancehall as he soars to heights on the flow only matched by Kartel at that point in the album. Over Di Wall is absolute MADNESS and Marshall, although far from a favourite of mine, definitely adds a nice vibes to the tune. Lastly, before we turn it over to the young guns is Sizzla stepping in with the riddim's title track Too Much (Gang War) which, to be perfectly honest, is pretty average material from Kalonji on his own level. But the tune COMPLETELY works on the riddim and the album as it is the one more conventional roots tune on a riddim which is otherwise lacking in that area (One Loaf of Bread is FAR from conventional) and Sizzla scores well perhaps without even trying very hard. Industry veteran but vocal rookie (even more so at that point ), Demarco, scores very well with the very straightforward gunman tune Story. Demarco continues to impress me with various styles and in particular with his simple DJ style which is highlighted on Story. While he may not (he isn't) the most gifted artist with the gun tune, you definitely can't say he doesn't belong with such an impressive tune as Story, definitely one of the album's best. Demarco is only topped amongst the younger artists (unexpectedly) by yet another former Bounty Killer protégé, turned Kartel disciple, Aidonia. Maybe even more so than the Killer and Kartel themselves, The Gang War is virtually MADE for Aidonia as the artist has taken the lyrical ability of Kartel and matched it with the dark nature of Bounty. The result on the Gang War is MP's, definitely one of the riddim's strongest offerings altogether. Aidonia not only matches but tops his mentor Kartel in terms of Flow (and in a few years he'll be almost light years ahead of ANYONE in the dancehall) as he delivers, in typically tongue-twisting fashion, a message telling exactly where the guns in the ghettoes are coming from to the people. Wonderfully the album for the Gang War riddim ends in not only a clean version of the riddim (which is always a nice touch) but a medley style track as well which is another very nice addition to a riddim which really didn't need the help.
Overall, as I said, for my opinion, 2007 saw no better riddim than the Gang War (with number two and three going to the Gangstalaw and Gearbox riddims, respectively). The riddim follows in a line of similarly vibed pieces from the aforementioned producer and it effectively blows them out of the water! As trends develop in the dancehall (and even all of reggae for that matter) you see virtually PERFECT riddims for the vibes at the time. These riddims aren't necessarily GOOD per se, all the time, but they just perfectly fit the vibes. Just in recent times, we had the Smash riddim which was the undisputed king for a brief period of time where the dance was just about creating more and more dances (specifically on tracks). Before that, the Diwali ruled a brief experimental era in the dancehalls. In this current time when producers go into the studio producing what are potentially the most lethal, vicious and dark backdrops fro the most violent dancehall anthems of the moment. Fans of modern dancehall and especially this current swing can do no wrong in checking the album for the Gang War Riddim; The best riddim of 2007, period.