Chukki Starr

Most Wanted

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To be a reggae "singjay" is to tread something of a treacherous line, and to take some risks that your colleagues don't: you have to ride the rhythm with the assurance of a deejay ("deejay" being used differently in reggae parlance than in the hip-hop world, where you would be called an MC) while at the same time delivering your rhymes with a certain amount of melodic interest, and on pitch. The British vocalist Chukki Starr had been treading that line with aplomb for roughly 15 years when Most Wanted was released. It's actually a compilation drawing on material dating back as far as the 1990s, though the songs' quality and the modern roots vibe are both so consistent that virtually none of these tracks sound dated in any way. Starr has always insisted on chatting in a strictly roots-and-culture style, and his producers' rhythms reflect that preference; while the digitally clean production and sometimes sharply funky rhythms offer a nod to dancehall trends, the overall feel and the lyrics are both strictly conscious. At least half of the tracks on this collection would count as highlights on any other artist's release: the nervous rhythm and urgent vocals on "How Me So Real," the joyful vocal and swinging beat of "Greatest of Dem All," the spare and heavy one-drop of "Mark of the Beast," the Bob Marley rhythm reappropriated on "Forever Shall Praise" -- not everything on the program rises to the same level as these, but everything at least comes close, making this one of the most exciting and satisfying reggae releases of 2010.

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