Various Artists

Reggae Jamdown: The R.A.S. Tapes

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Reggae music experienced a thorough transition in the '80s, shifting from the roots style of Peter Tosh and Culture to a digitally-enhanced sound popularized by stars like Shabba Ranks and Buju Banton. The decade also saw a variety of terms coined to keep up with the rapid changes: dancehall, rub-a-dub, ragga, and lovers rock. And while many new stars did emerge, especially on the DJ front, older singers were still able to sell records by updating their classic sound electronically. Washington D.C.'s RAS Records emerged at the dawn of this fertile period and eventually cashed in thanks to a star-studded roster of talent. This exemplary collection spotlights many those stars, covering both the crooners and DJs with hits by Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott, Half Pint, Pinchers, and many others. And while other MCs like Charlie Chaplin and Brigadier Jerry represent the best in rapid-rhythm rub-a-dub (sometimes mixing both rasta and secular themes), there's also plenty of updated roots tracks by the likes of Frankie Paul and Augustus Pablo's protégé Hugh Mundell. Supplying the snaky snythetics are top production outfits like Sly & Robbies' Taxi Gang, Steely & Cleevie, Linval Thompson and the Roots Radics, and the Browne brothers. Many of these musicians owe a large debt to the most important producer of the decade, Prince Jammy, and appropriately his patented digital sound is heard throughout. Topped off with Edi Fitzroy's surprisingly enjoyable cover of "Hotel California," RAS's Reggae Jamdown makes for a fine sampler of the early fruits from reggae's electronic age.

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