Garrison Hawk / Sly & Robbie

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Jamaican-born and Bronx-raised Garrison Hawk had a well-established career as a reggae-R&B-trip-hop fusionist long before the release of this, his debut full-length. That fact goes some way toward explaining how he was able to secure the services of the Riddim Twins, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, to provide their trademarked elephantine grooves in support of the project. It's also likely that Sly & Robbie immediately recognized a kindred spirit: Hawk's crooning baritone singing voice and his dark, brooding toasting style are a perfect fit with the Sly & Robbie sound. On "Murderer (Down in the Ghetto)," he alternates rootsy sufferer's anthem lyrics with gruff rockstone-style DJ passages, all of it buoyed in fine style by Sly & Robbie's spare funk-reggae instrumentation. "Wild" is brooding and heavy, powered by a slow and deliberate three-against-two dancehall lurch, while "Gangster for Life" alternates elements of hip-hop, R&B, and brilliant reggae-style speed-rap. There are a couple of missteps: "What She Wants" misses the rhythmic mark, plodding heavily where other tracks at similar tempo sway and dance effortlessly, and not even Gigi's lovely vocal contributions are enough to give the tune any lift. It's also sadly true that on "Reggae Music," a brilliant melody and booming groove are wasted on lame meta-reggae lyrics. (Note to reggae singers: those who will listen to songs like this are already converted, and those who need to be convinced aren't going to be swayed by more throwaway lines about "sweet reggae music.") But the high points greatly outnumber the lows on this album, and at its best -- such as the pitch-perfect reggae-funk fusion of "Apocalypse" -- its quality is nearly transcendent.

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