Deemas J / Wrongtom

In East London

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For anyone who looks back on the glory days of 1980s dancehall reggae with fondness (or perhaps, in light of post-ragga excesses, flat-out longing), this collaboration between old-school deejay Deemas J and DJ/producer Wrongtom will soothe the ears like butter on a burn. Fresh off of his Duppy Writer remix project with Roots Manuva, Wrongtom put together a set of dancehall tracks that hark back explicitly to the sound of 1980s London, a time when roots reggae beats were getting stripped down to their fundamentals and digital rhythms were just emerging. Deemas J chats on the mike in a variety of styles, several of them explicitly backward-looking: "East London" is a none too subtle nod to the pioneering dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, and on "Wa Do Dance" he (along with winsome singer Ammoye) pay tribute to Eek-A-Mouse without trying to ape his instantly recognizable and deeply weird vocal approach. Elsewhere, you'll hear echoes of "Stalag 17" (subtly alluded to on "Riot Ting"), and tracks that sound like outtakes from the heyday of Fashion Records (notably the excellent "Jump + Move + Rock"). But this album isn't just an exercise in nostalgia: Wrongtom and Deemas J have their own style and their own message, and they convey both even as they celebrate the sounds of the past. Notice, for example, Deemas J's extended meditation on the story of Rasputin (!), the strangely and propulsively busy kick drum on "Wa Do Dance," and the intense fusion of dancehall soca and speed-rap on "At the Dancehall." Despite a couple of minor missteps, this album is a masterpiece.

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