Hip-hop's current Cult of the Producer began in dancehall, where the idea of feeding a good beat only one vocalist is considered laughable. Riddims now get their own names and their own compilations, on which artists compete to ride them best. The king of the single-riddim comps, Greensleeves' Rhythm Album series, celebrates its golden jubilee this month. Its fiftieth entry is DJ Wayne Morris and Donovan "Vendetta" Bennett's "Marmalade" riddim.
Like most Don Vendetta productions, "Marmalade" mixes jammy sweetness with orange-peel tweak; its percussive layers of keys are as bouncy, fast, and repetitive as the Don's "French Vanilla" (#49) riddim. Usual suspects like Elephant Man and Wayne Marshall offer decent lyrical turns, but the highlight is Bounty Killer's "Hey Yallow," which adds horn stabs for a jubilant chorus.
But better is the next entry in the series, the giddy, thumping "Red Alert!" riddim. From Capleton's party anthem "Real Hot" to Mr. Vegas' "Never Leave You Lonely," it's Carnivale on wax, just clamoring for fat speaker stacks under a Caribbean sky. Furthermore, the perfect companion is the festive "Dreamweaver" riddim over on VP Records. You know how sometimes when you dance, you're looking cool, and sometimes you're grinning like an idiot? This beat is an idiot-maker in the best way.
By the way, Mr. Vegas and dancehall diva Ce'cile now call Cali's own Delicious Vinyl home. Each told me by phone recently that they hoped the move would yield them more stateside exposure than England-based Greensleeves managed. (And the more exposed Ce'cile is, the happier the guys dem are.) Unfortunately, the production on their new albums often aims for "crossover," but settles for "watered-down" instead.
Faring far better is Tanya Stephens' "It's a Pity," the tried-and-true track that anchors her otherwise lightweight new LP, Gangster Blues. A better buy, the Doctor's Darling riddim comp sets the tune alongside burners from the conscious likes of Sizzla, Turbulence, and Junior Kelly.
It is a pity when beloved artists underachieve. Vybz Kartel's second album, Timeless (Father and Son), is anything but, thanks to a lack of chorus hooks, not to mention disposable beats from King Jammy's son (hence the label name). After VK's inspired, much-hyped debut, this just feels rushed.
For a single-artist album worthy of multiple listens, cop Anthony Red Rose's Good Friends Better Than Pocket Money. The singer and producer enlists microphone-shredders from Beenie Man to Harry Toddler to help set off his durable grooves. For many listeners, the album itself could become the priceless friend in the title -- that's something precious few compilations can ever boast.
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