Number 112 / February 1994:
BORN JAMERICAN.... "It's only recently," Chrissie Hynde told Rolling Stone, "that I hear all this reggae influence in rap and hiphop, and I find that one of the most exciting things about music at this moment."
The intersection of reggae and rap has been a long time coming. For twenty years, not even an international superstar like Bob Marley was able to make reggae part of the North American mainstream. Yet at the time of Marley's death in 1981, another path for reggae's penetration had been opened up by American artists with Caribbean roots. Kool Herc (whose parents were from Jamaica) and Grandmaster Flash (whose parents were from nearby Barbados) were scratching, mixing, and dropping beats all over the Bronx. They helped lay the basis for another new form of music: Rap
As rap was conquering the U.S. in the 1980s, a new style of reggae was conquering Jamaica. Dancehall's tongue-twisting vocals were somewhat similar to rap. Given New York's position as both rap music vanguard and chief destination of a wave of Jamaican immigration, the two were bound to converge. By 1991, even West Coast rappers used dancehall flavor on their records and Shabba Ranks became the first Jamaican artist to top the U.S. black chart.
Barrington (MCA), the first U.S. major label release by dancehall star Barrington Levy, is the fullest flowering from this fertile axis so far. Featuring everything from straight-up dancehall to neo-soul, it reveals Levy to be a first-rate songwriter, a skilled rapper, and a magnificent singer. Producers Sly and Robbie add flavor from Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbush of Living Colour, Betty Wright, and Puerto Rican guitar virtuoso Yomo Toro.
Barrington's peaks take Jamerican sound where it's never been before. "Murderer" is an indictment of police brutality made more powerful by its sheer musicality: full-bore soul production featuring B-3, piano, Wright, Levy's skittering vocals and a star turn by New York rapper Rakim. It's one of the most compelling tracks recorded in the 90s, although another contender for that crown is "Vice Versa Love," Levy's plea for gang peace. Using just voice and keyboards, "Vice Versa Love" is a big ballad that could end a Broadway show as easily as a street corner gig in Kingston or Brooklyn, moving with the power and grace of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up."
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