Every week resident FADER selector Eddie STATS runs through dancehall riddims and other artifacts from the ghetto archipelago.
Let’s be clear. This is not an Eddie STATS end of the year critical picks list. This is the Ghetto Palmes d’Or for musics released in 2008. For instance: even though Santogold, Vampire Weekend, Natty, Hypnotic Brass, etc. etc. all dropped CDs in ’08 that I personally fucks with (and even though a few have even been smuggled into mixes in this space) for one reason or another they were not exactly Ghetto Palms material. Appropriate to the New Year’s season, that meant assembling this short-list involved a lot of soul searching about exactly what the concept of this column is, and what makes all these far-flung sounds fit into one category.
As I’ve hinted before, the basic animating spirit of this project is the proliferation of cheap digital tech in the Third World and documenting the way music changes when drum machines and plug ins become as ubiquitous as flip flops, ak47s and Nokia cell phones—a worldwide phenomenon that dancehall has been kind of a blueprint for. Tropical foliage and multi-story speakers in the background are the two main hallmarks of the music I’m reviewing but—as has been pointed out before me—“Third World” is not always so easy to define. After all the actual ghetto palms that inspired the name grew in my homebase of Detroit, a place that is all the way north but with a style that is completely south, kind of like the Telegu gangster in “Sarkar.”
Therefore as far as I’m concerned you can get around the palm tree clause as long as you actually put the words palms or tropics or something in the title of your band, or otherwise explicitly invoke the philosophy of pan-tropicalia. In the end, a lot of the music I’m dealing with is made by people—or collaborations—that move back and forth between hemispheres anyway.
So without further disclaimer, here they are; the top ranking releases of the year, un-ranked, listed in the order I wrote them down in when I was brainstorming:
1.Serani, The Future (Victor): This Japan-only release was the best pop/dancehall/melodramatic song record you never heard this year, unless you caught one of the bootlegs floating around or had access to the internet. Find a Japanese e-store that still has some stock and throw some Yen at them, buy it in mp3 album form, or just listen to the streams and then cop your favorites as iTunes singles.
Download: Serani, "Doh"
2.De Tropix, De Tropix EP (white label): This London duo defines Ghetto Palms (see exceptions to the palm tree clause) and would be newcomers of the year if almost every artist on this list wasn’t a newcomer. On top of killing some live shows in UK and Paris, they just announced a guerilla tour to coincide with Rio Carnival. You can cop the brilliant, free, self-distributed EP on their MySpace, although “Bad Name” was also recently included on a compilation called “Girl Powder” (like gun powder--it took me a second, too).
Download: De Tropix, "A Dey Hey"
3.Buraka Som Sistema, Black Diamond (Fabric Integral):
Technically this is only available in the UK and Portugal right now and will be released stateside early next year but since "there's no there” on the internet just hit up Amazon UK and go nuts, go apeshit.
It’s also a pleasure to include, not only because of BSS’ Lisbon-to-Luanda story but also because it feels more like a long-player than I expected, adding some different afro-percussive and melodic textures to their repertoire of KuLectro club bangers (let it remain un-twisted: it’s still a full-on kuduro onslaught) plus guest vocalists like baille funk queen Deize Tigrona and Kano (!)
Stream: Buraka Som Sistema, "Aqui Para Voces"
4.Busy Signal, Loaded (VP): This may be the no-brainerest of all, the comeback LP from the ruler of dancehall 2008, beloved of dogheart killers and fashionistas alike. And it’s a regular-ass CD available in regular-ass stores!
Download: Busy Signal, "Tic Toc"
5.Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit, The Very Bestmixtape (Green Owl).: The Malawian Phil Collins meets beats from the dudes behind the Secousse party. ‘Clit paint Esau’s lush afropop vocals with everything from kwaito king DJ Cleo to Architecture in Helsinki, not to mention their own innovative productions. FREE download from Green Owl.
Download: Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit, "Kamphopo"
6.Various Artists, Bersa Discos Vol. 1 (Bersa Discos): This is the EP that started the whole nu-cumbia thing, at least for me. There are actually better installments in this series but Daleduro’s “Bombon Asesino” sounds like Augustus Pablo on Gasolina and is the track that smacked up my personal mental door diva, the one that was trying to keep cumbia out of my personal mental champagne room. Also: extra points for putting palm trees and ak47 graphics everywhere.
Download: Daleduro, "Bombon Asesino"
7.TNT aka Badda Badda Gals, Federation Presents: 3 the Hard Way mixtape: Another essential mixtape, this one bringing together the strongest new female voices in dancehall over Ward 21’s genius riddims plus freestyles over MIA and tribal house throwbacks. A powerful argument for an all-girl trio and a record deal. Cop the CD directly from svengalis Max Glazer and Kenny Meez.
Download:TNT, "Dem Gal Sittin"
8.El Guincho, Alegranza (Discoteca Oceano): A Barcelona art-school drop out using jury-rigged samplers to mine his own tropical childhood in the Canary islands—the Guinch is not exactly a barefoot soldier empowered by technology, but he is kind of like Paul Simon and Olodum contained in one body, and “Costa Paraiso” might be the tropicalia anthem of the year.
Download:El Guincho, "Palmitos Park"
Last minute Honorebel mentions:
* Various Artists, Hollertronix 9: Africa: Diplo’s been such a force in this whole whatever it’s called global club movement it would just be wrong not to represent his influence in one form or another. Luckily this EP just dropped and it's a must have, if only for Znobia chopping up Junior Reid’s “huntin blooood” from the intro to “One Blood” into “tin’ blooo” and looping until it sounds like “Diploooo.”
* Various Artists, ZZK Sounds, Vol. 1: Like Bersa Discos, but more differenter.
* MIA, Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack & How Many Votes Fix Mix EP. Apply the comments about Diplo to MIA and then multiply them by A.R. Rahman going all Moroder-ish.
So, I actually thought about doing a Top riddims of ‘08 list (clearly a tie between the Gear Box and the Unfinished Business, both from relatively unknown producers) but first of all, this was the year in which one-offs like “Jail” and “Doh” constituted a third party majority in dancehall. Second, it totally neglected the non-dancehall element of the column. Third, there’s the accessibility thing. I avoided singles and stuck to EPs or full-lengths which are both unstoppable and actually coppable, at least in mp3 form. The apparent death of riddim records eliminated that possibility and highlights one of the major problems with Jamaican music in 2008. At the moment there are four dancehall tunes (“No Games,” “I’m So Special,” “Click Mi Finger,” and “Fallen Soldiers”) getting heavy rotation on Hot97 and barring the inclusion of “No Games” on VP’s Strictly the Best comp, none of them are on an album you could get at your local Best Buy. I don’t know if that’s says something about radio programmers or labels, but dancehall may be the prime example of music that’s easier to steal than to buy.
Hopefully the pent-up demand means first quarter '09 will be the craziest season of dancehall LPs ever (Mavado drops March 3rd, and Sean Paul can’t be far behind. Demarco? Ricky Blaze??). Not to mention all the tantalizing possibilities of proper LPs from Esau, BLK JKs, DJ Mujava, and palm wines yet untapped. Either way, drop a Ghetto Palm in somebody’s stocking this holiday, if they haven’t heard Serani going all Tracey Chap-Man on “Mama Still Hungry” do they really know it’s Christmas-time at all?