More interesting than dancehall's surge into hip-hop and pop markets is its infiltration into mid-tempo reggae. Thanks especially to ubiquitous young producer Donovan "Don Vendetta" Bennett, the "Dancehall Eye for the Roots Guy" movement is doing its noble best to make the hippies in the massive feel underdressed.
Vendetta and his producer ilk -- including Bobby "Digital" Dixon, Tony "CD" Kelly, and Donovan Germain -- have added syncopated synths and crisper percussion patterns to the weary wardrobes of reggae's mid-tempo lovermen and spiritual crooners, from Wayne Wonder to Anthony B to Buju Banton. Case in point: Sizzla Kalonji's Rise to the Occasion (Greensleeves), which the Bobo Dread himself produced alongside Vendetta, is an exquisite blend of edginess and soul, especially on the pay-dirt-hitting love song "Give Me a Try" and the falsetto-through-vocoder chorus of the title track.
Vendetta's biggest impact, though, is still in the dancehall. His Good to Go riddim (Greensleeves), with its guitar strums and speedy beat, is currently the biggest thing in Jamaica since, well, his riddims for Vybz Kartel's "Sweet to the Belly" (Vendetta discovered Kartel) and Elephant Man's "Pon di River." As for V's latest beat, the cantering Trifecta (Greensleeves), it features a peppy synth melody and enough bridges to keep it interesting throughout a mix of tracks by Sean Paul, Assassin, and Bounty Killer.
Another hot new riddim is Fiesta (VP), a thumping three-beat laced with steel drums, guitar strums, and peppy claps. You know it's a Dave Kelly production if ingenue Ms. Thing shows up on it -- thank him for that, because she kills it alongside Beenie Man on the infectious "Dude" (again using the trendy vocoder). That track is also available on VP Records' cream-skimming Strictly the Best Volume 31.
In bad news, Def Jam's Def Jamaica comp, featuring rap and reggae hybrids from big names, mostly stirs together the worst of both worlds. The exception is a hype reggae remix of Neptunes big-shot Pharrell's "Frontin," but the latest Massive Jointz comp (#5) offers that track in hotter company for less money.
On the reissues tip, the Moll-Selekta label is on a roll. After unearthing King Tubby's first two releases last year, it now presents Barry Brown's searing Rich Man Poor Man: 1987-1980. Brown, misleadingly nicknamed "the Jamaican Bob Dylan," delivers groove-oriented, melodic chants richly backed by the peerless Aggrovators and mixed down by Tubby himself. Deep.
Finally, in the dub zone, here's my advice: Save your money until dub stops all sounding the same. Instead, use your cash to trade those tie-dyes in for some fresher threads, to match reggae's latest sounds. Reggae, Roots and dub