Jamaican deejay Tappa Zukie had already gained some worldwide recognition in the music industry by the time the "MPLA" album was released. Sent to live in the UK by his mother to save him from a life of crime in the ghetto, he toured and recorded there; and his subsequent association with Patti Smith endeared him with both the UK and US punk audiences. Back in Jamaica, he soon outgrew his position as producer Bunny Lee's bodyguard and sometime collaborator and decided to strike out on his own. Using eight rhythms given to him by Bunny Lee, and three from Ossie Hibbert, Zukie voiced and produced the "MPLA" album in just two days. This enthusiasm and self-confidence simply exudes from the grooves of the album. But that's not to say it's perfect. Zukie's phrases, rhymes and delivery can sometimes be rather lacklustre; but where he does excel is in creating catchy memorable vocal melodies (something that would prove useful in his later career producing other artists). The rhythms given to him to work with are also flawless. When the two meet: Zukie's talent for a catchy melody over a "crucial" rhythm; the results are stunning.
Opener "PICK UP THE ROCKERS" is simply brilliant. A radical re-working of the classic Royals track "Pick Up The Pieces" (though you wouldn't know, such a transformative adaptation that it is). The rhythm is one of the best examples of a "rockers" anthem ever, driven around a block-heavy, driving, melodic bassline; and propelled by the rapid, off-beat tapping drum patterns. Zukie's chorus may not be sung very well, but he has created an excellent melody: "Pick up the rockers, don't you throw it away, I love the rockers, strictly rockers today..." His rapping (or "toasting" in seventies Jamaican parlance) is great and energetic, and his rhythm is perfect.
"MPLA" continues this momentum: another classic rockers rhythm, this time featuring majestic horn riffs. The toasting rhythm is again spot on, and Zukie's lyrics address Marcus Garvey's Black Star Liner concept: Garvey bought a fleet of steamships and trains to send displaced Africans from the US and Caribbean back to be repatriated with the Motherland. "MPLA - Natty going on a holiday... fling away your sorrow, natty going on the Black Star Liner tomorrow".
And then..."DON'T GET CRAZY"...slows things down, loses all momentum, and almost saps the vital energy from the rest of the album. The rhythm: The Melodians' "Don't Get Weary", is a slow minimal groove after the intense first two tracks; and Tappa Zukie's delivery is just dull. He repeats himself too much, his voice sounds weak... not to mention the fact that the production drops to significantly lo-fi levels, too (what the heck happened to my right-hand channel?)
The rest of the album redeems itself by featuring such absolutely awesome rhythms as Horace Andy's "Skylarking" ("STOP YOUR GUN SHOOTING"), Bunny Lee's definitive arrangement of Burning Spear's "Creation Rebel" ("ITAL POT") and Johnny Clarke's "Them Never Love Poor Marcus" ("MARCUS"). Not to mention the two Junior Ross songs versioned at the end of the album, where the snatches of vocal from the original tracks are so delightful to hear ("Come I say Babylon free I and I..."). But of course this isn't a dub album, and the rhythms aren't the only thing here. Zukie's toasting is energetic, but a little repetitive. His style is reminiscent of Dillinger and Doctor Alimantado, so if you like those two...
Can't underestimate the quality of the first two tracks, though. Like I say, Zukie's ear for melody meant he wrote and produced some brilliant albums with Horace Andy, Junior Ross & The Spears and Knowledge. Legend.