21/10/2019: “Where I’m Coming From” by Lila Ike

Lila Ike is one of Jamaica’s up and coming big voices. With a dusky, soulful sound, she sings over roots music and modernised trap flavoured reggae with the same panache.

“Where I’m Coming From” definitely fits into the latter category. It’s bursting with a streetwise self-assurance – all the more convincing for its auto-biographical nature for its confident delivery.

At points, her natural singing voice shines through unaltered, and there’s no denying that she has a rare talent. Much of the song is performed in a style more similar to dancehall singjaying, where she also excels.

The instrumental blends digi-dub flavours with gunshot trap snares and a huge bassline, while the organ skank and lowkey horns keep it grounded in a roots style. It’s a perfect setting for her!

The song was released in 2019, her 4th single. Lila Ike was discovered by Protoje, with whom she has collaborated. One to watch!

18/10/2019: “As We Enter” by Mikey Dread

Why is this song so heavy? You can only assume that it is intentional; that the waves of bass which crash out of the speakers are the result of a conscious desire to make an earth shaking roots tune, rather than heavy-handedness at the mixing desk.

As you might expect, the low-end propels the song forward, but the hook is still a vocal one – and there’s able assistance from a guitar riff as well, providing a good deal of melodic staying power.

The lyrics, delivered in a gruff but positive manner, are a classic affirmation of Rastafari faith, of not being swayed by evil and being close to Jah.

The song was released in 2000, on the limited, self-released album World Tour. The release is a CDr, not a proper CD, and is on his own Dread At The Controls Imprint.

Mikey Dread was a true legend in the Reggae world, having been at the forefront of roots in the 70s. Tragically, he died in 2008 of a brain tumour.

26/09/2019: “Heads High” by Mr Vegas

Mr Vegas was a huge figure in the Jamaican Dancehall scene of the 90s. This was one of his massive hits, which remains one of the gold standards of this era.

The lyrics are, naturally, very explicit. But unless you are Jamaican, you’re unlikely to find the song too offensive unless you listen very carefully.

The riddim is called “Filthier”, produced by Danny Browne, which has been vocaled by a range of other artists. Suffice to say, nobody ever came close to the success which Mr Vegas had with this one.

Mr Vegas has a distinctive style of singing, which goes a long way to explain the standout quality of this track. The riddim bangs too, using a offbeat drum, a simple guitar riff, and thumping bass to great effect.

The song was released in 1998 as a single.

Those clothes…

19/09/2019: “You Sexy Thing” by Johnny Osbourne

The original Hot Chocolate version is undoubtedly more famous. However, I definitely prefer Johnny Osbourne’s dancehall cover.

It has so much more fullness, and a lot more cheeky joy.

Johnny Osbourne was a very popular dancehall artist, for good reason. Nearly everything he touched turned to gold!

This song suits the reggae bounce anyway. The rhythm section has such a natural swing to it, from the piano skank, buoyant drums and the heavy bassline. There’s just a hint of the originally fuzzy guitar lick still present.

The “I believe in miracles” section sounds almost strangled on the original compared to this. Osbourne’s rich voice rings out very warmly, much more clearly than the original.

The Hot Chocolate version came out in 1975. I actually can’t find out exactly when this reggae cover came out, but it seems to have been 1988 or 1989.

09/09/2019: “I’m Still Waiting” by The Wailers

This song is from 1965. That’s long enough ago for the credits to be to The Wailers or The Wailing Wailers without making any mention of their lead singer, one Bob Marley!

Bob Marley also didn’t have dreadlocks then. This song could have been made in America, as an R’n’B track.

The smooth vocal harmonies, plodding bass, soft brass and light drums are pretty far away from a more ska focused song from this era, such as “Simmer Down”.

It’s still beautiful music though, and it is evident that Bob is a singer of rare quality. As with much music of this style and period, the subject is love, or rather the difficulties of love.

The track was produced by Coxsone Dodd, and released in Jamaica. Luckily, the song appears on the Songs Of Freedom compilation, because it would otherwise be quite a rarity. In fairness, it also appears on the Studio One compilation The Wailing Wailers in 1966, which was re-issued in 2016.

30/08/2019: “Why Am I A Rastaman” by Culture

A lot of more hardcore songs about Rastafari can be quite impenetrable to people who don’t listen to a reggae.

The accent is thicker, the subject is religious, the version is more African influenced.

Here, the essential theme is feel good roots reggae. It’s very easy to vibe along to this. That doesn’t mean, however, that the song is somehow diluted and the message lost. The lyrics are a strong affirmation of the Rastafari faith.

The bassline is relatively restrained, but as this is a roots reggae song, it’s naturally very present…

The majority of the melodic power is from the singing. The verses and chorus flow into one, each as catchy as the other.

There’s also the guitar picking, which adds that crucial embellishment, a great little riff.

The song was released in 2000, much later than you might think, on Humble African. 

16/08/2019: “Morning Ride” by Yellowman

Yellowman is one of my favourite dancehall deejays. He has one of the smoothest, most natural flows and a calm, deep voice.

He was one of the first toasters in Jamaica to champion the new “slack” style. You can read “slackness” as essentially rudeness. Some dancehall today is so painfully explicit, but back then it was more about innuendos.

Produced by Henry “Junjo” Lawes and backed by the Roots Radics band, Mister Yellowman is crammed full of classic tunes. Although the album was released in 1982, it’s only aged like fine wine…

“Morning Ride” is from that album, and Yellowman is on such fantastic form, singing with such a chilled flow that at times it’s like he is just another instrument. He’s good!

The instrumental is built around a thick bassline, as well as some dubbed out drums and a skank. It’s not quite dancehall yet, but definitely harder than roots.

13/08/2019: “I Am A Madman” by Lee Scratch Perry

Not many songs showcase Lee “Scratch” Perry’s self-identification as a mad guy like this. His dress sense and interviews are both very unique, to say the least. His music, idiosyncratic to the point of existing in a league of its own.

The song in question is a tripped out reggae tune, with suitably nonsensical lyrics and a surprising catchy combo of odd guitar sounds, organ skanks, and dread bass. It adds up to a pretty spectacular display of psychedelic sounds.

The track does have religious overtones, at least as far as I can tell. Perry’s singing is quite distinctive, with a softly spoken, crusty speech. But it is quite hard to understand, even if it does sound good!

“I Am A Madman” appears on Battle Of Armagideon (Millionaire Liquidator),released in 1986. As you can see, the cover art is as cryptic as you could want…

Masterpiece!

02/08/2019: “Beautiful Dub” by Tappa Zukie

Although reggae has a reputation for being very slow and relaxing, it has usually tended to be dance music, played on huge soundsystems very loudly.

A song like this really brings out the natural movement in reggae, with an enthusiastic drum part, bouncing piano skank, and trademark thick bassline.

The horns and flute provide catchy melodic flourishes too, alongside a dubby little guitar which picks away with muted abandon.

His mastery of the mix is evident here too, emphasising different elements at different times while layering up a busy rhythm section.

Tappa Zukie is one of the big dub producers, achieving real success in the 1970s with his versions of roots tunes. Although he was good at toasting too, his main talent was always behind the controls.

“Beautiful Dub” was released in 1976 on the album Tappa Zukie In Dub, which was mainly a dub album of his vocal M.P.L.A. However, this is a dub of “Rastaman Come From Zion/ Rastaman Say” by Junior Ross, released in the same year.

13/07/2019: “Hurt Not The Earth” by Little Roy

This song is more relevant now then ever, and considering it was made in the 70s, is almost prophetic.

It’s dread roots of the most vital kind. His voice rings out loud and clear, with a direct message to stop polluting the planet. Unfortunately, many people still don’t see a problem with stuff like greenhouse gases, deforestation, overfishing, intensive farming etc etc…

The song is gilded by some melancholy piano/guitar skanks, which provide most of the melody of the backing track.

Of course, there’s a pretty fat bass part rumbling away, increasing the dreadness!

“Hurt Not The Earth” was released in 1999 on the compilation album Packin House, under Little Roy & Friends.

Classic.