Legends Vol 4

            What’s the difference between raggamuffin and dancehall?  Probably the best definition came from Ducky Simpson of Black Uhuru.  In discussing the current state of popular music in Jamaica, he said, “"Raggamuffin is anything that is hard core. Shabba Ranks is a DJ.  So you can be Raggamuffin if you're a DJ, and you can also be raggamuffin if you're a singer.  It depends on the lyrics that you put out, that makes you be raggamuffin.  Raggamuffin would be hardcore lyrics, not about sex and like that.  That would be, we call that lover rock.  Raggamuffin is like rebel, militant, revolutionary-wise.  Raggamuffin.  It's rough and tough.”

            When Dancehall music became the sound of Jamaica, the slackness of the music – the explicitly sexual nature of the music – appalled people. Coincidentally with the rise of gangster rap in America, songs of sex, drugs, violence, automatic weapons, crime and did I say sex in Jamaica became the subject of discussion in the political circles to the point that overtly violent records were banned.  However, as Tom Weber points out in his outstanding oral history of contemporary Jamaican music Reggae Island, “What the establishment types always seem to be saying is: ‘These musicians are speaking to the people more powerfully than we are, and we have to do something to reassert control.’”

            Those who believed that if they left it alone, it would go away were also doomed to disappointment.  Dancehall may be as popular today as it was ten years ago.  It shows no signs of abating.  The stars of this package you hold in your hands are part of the reason.  Raggamuffin and Lover’s Rock, DJs and singers, established stars and upstarts, they’re all here, a panorama of the sounds of the Jamaican dancehall.

            General TK is featured here for the first time in America, his only previous release the Greensleeves album titled after his tune here, “I Spy.”  Other newer talent here includes Tullo T, Shaka Delly and Sneaking Rachel.

            Chaka Demus had enormous, worldwide hits during the early 90s with his partner Pliers.  Tunes like “Murder She Wrote,” “Tease Me” and their UK Chart topper “Twist and Shout” fused elements of dancehall and R&B with a raggamuffin attitude.  Similarly, Mad Cobra is one of the few ragga DJ to hit the US pop charts with his hit “Flex.”  

Some of raggamuffin’s more notable artists have started trading their bad-boy images for more cultural pursuits.  Buju Banton – one of 15 children – started off recording in his teens with raggamuffin’s twin obsessions of outlaw behavior (i.e. drugs and guns) and girls, but little by little cultural roots replaced the slackness, although never know it by the two sexy tracks here. One of the top DJs of the mid-90s, Papa San has been around since the mid-80's, when he won the Tastee talent contest in 1981, at the tender age of 15. One of the fastest talkers in raggamuffin, his toasts are frequently cultural, rude and funny, all at the same time.   Dreadlocked Tony Rebel has toasted on the cultural tip for some time, with a spirituality not usually associated with raggamuffin, starting with tunes like “Mandella Story.”

Rebel started as a vocalist, but also worked with the late Garnett Silk on several occasions.  Silk, conversely also used to DJ, starting when they were about 12 years old.  They met while working on the Destiny Outernational Soundsystem. Silk died before his career got a chance to peak, losing his life in a fire at his mother’s home in Mandeville, Jamaica. Dennis Brown works in a similar team up with one of today’s best know raggamuffins, the illustrious Moses “Beenie Man” Davis. Hailed as the Prince of Reggae, Brown’s voice has graced hits since he was 12. Beenie Man began recording at eight, and at nine he topped the Jamaican charts with a single called “Too Fancy.” 

            Raggamuffin has grown through the 90s.  The scope of this record reveals just how, and why these artist either already are, or are destined to become legends.