Various Artists

Riddim Driven: Dancehall Rock

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Dancehall Rock is the latest in VP Records' Riddim Driven series, and like the other entries, it features 15 contemporary Jamaican dancehall artists voicing over the same rhythm track, in this case, the so-called "dancehall rock" rhythm developed out of the King of Kings Studio in Kingston. This approach to assembling an album can be either fascinating, as toasters and singers exhibit intuitive creative choices in what they choose to place over the rhythm, or maddening, with the whole enterprise breaking down into a kind of busy-sounding boredom, since what is essentially the same song is played over and over and over again. Here, unfortunately, the dancehall rock rhythm doesn't have a whole lot going for it in the first place, so the sometimes trance-inducing power of this approach is muted, with only a handful of tracks rising above all the clamor. The lead version, "Ova Di Wall," by Elephant Man, benefits greatly by being first, because pointless repetition sets in fairly quickly, although the speed rap attack of Hollow Point on "Sen On" is exhilarating, at least by comparison to most of what is here, and Voicemail's "Higher" manages to wring some level of romantic emotion out of the rhythm with his smooth neo-soul crooning. By far the most successful version here, the eerie, sliding "Pop No Style" by Chico, is the penultimate track, and thus comes far too late to rescue the listener from what has preceded it. These kinds of compilations have their place, certainly, and go a long way toward illustrating why dancehall enjoys such tremendous popularity in Kingston and elsewhere, but the very basic rule in assembling an album like this should be to start with a solid -- if not spectacular -- rhythm track, and that simply isn't the case here.

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