Ghetto Palms 91: Rihanna f. Assassin / De Tropix / Serani / Gyptian / Mujava

Photographer Krisanne Johnson
March 03, 2010

I tend to be kind of a DJ-centric snob about the audio for this column, but every once in a while I end up with a ton of ghetto-platinum material from the artists I have championed here (or in various issues of FADER) which is all on the proper vibe but not necessarily the same blend-able tempo. The only options I got then are to a) post the tracks like your average everyday mp3 blog or b) file them away for later use, meanwhile letting slower swimmers beat me to the exclusive gold. So welcome to my mp3 blog.

Though not exactly a micro-genre, this week’s selections do have a running theme, namely pop. Most of the stuff I review here is about as far from the Lady-Gaga/Taylor Swift realms of the pop universe as the current state of technology can take me. But sometimes even pop icons dip into tropical waters, and maybe more importantly, Ghetto Palmists often do their best work when they get ambitious enough to create their own alternate-universe versions of radioland.

What I love about this refix is that it brings back the echoey 1989 Gussie Clark military steppers drums, the “One Blood,” “Twice my Age,” shit which is about ripe for re-plucking, considering how much pocoman drums and bogle riddims have been beaten to death in the name of "throwback.” The MIA-isms in the video already been thoroughly vivisected, but musically this sounds more like a Beyonce & Sean Paul look. Assassin does his bit being the non-incarcerated, more easily-digestible Buju, and yet… I support Sasco but imagine if Busy dropped his current obsession with quoting Supercat, John Wayne and other dancehall 101 foundation deejay flows to get all “Pon Di Edge” on this? Rihanna and MIA might have an actual, factual catfight on their hands.

While Rihanna is co-opting MIA, Maya’s collaborator and West Indian muse—Cherry of De Tropix—is riding even farther out on the laser-edge of that wave. Though it has their signature blend of Caribbean lilt and London grit "K.Y.H.H." (which is sung over Hudson Mohawke's "FUSE") is maybe the most recognizably UK thing De Tropix have ever done. You could hear Wiley or maybe Kano rapping over it, like on the excellent Kano dream-LP which never came out. It’s not pop in its arrangement, but more in the sense that it establishes DT as songwriters to be recognized, proving they can get as emotionally deep as any '90s britpop behemoth. It is confusing to me, in fact, that they don’t own UK radio already. What does Massive Attack have over this song? Not much.

This, on the other hand, is a perfect example of my pop argument. Kicking off with Eddy Grantish guitar lick, it’s underpinned by horns that could be Hypnotic Brass or Timbo sampling a marching band but the way it bubbles up in the weirdly aggressive discohall groove reminds me of the embracing-the-apocalypse jams of TVOTR on “Dear Science.” Ultimately, it’s the haunting Land Down Under flute and Serani’s distinctively plaintive tenor that make it all work.

The "tighest hold/tighest hole" wordplay of the hook is almost sacrilegious after the fresh and clean template Gyptian established with "Beautiful Lady" but this is still a sleeper hit of the year for my money. Ricky Blaze’s production is straight moody piano pop, like he’s been sitting around listening to Coldplay (I think he has). But the thing that redeems it from being lost in the tsunami of bootleg auto-tune traphall we have been drowning in lately is how—like Mavado’s “Never Believe You”—the spare piano and bass arrangement recalls the authentic dub underpinnings of disco and garage, like the no wave/dubby disco experiments of Larry Levan and Sly and Robbie.

Last but not least, the good people at Outhere recordings are giving away this remix of a pitori house jam by DJ Mujava to promote their new Ayobaness EP. That in turn is a teaser for a full-length comp of South African house due out May-ish. The dudes from the badda-Schlachthof complex wisely refrain from gilding the palm, tinkering with “Pon de Floor” drum hits and Douster-ian kick patterns but mostly staying out of the way of the unique vocal. But then they really give it their own shit when they play call and response with the melodic percussion on the bridges. Actually, this isn’t pop at all. Ghetto uranium, son.

From The Collection:

Ghetto Palms
Ghetto Palms 91: Rihanna f. Assassin / De Tropix / Serani / Gyptian / Mujava