Various Artists

Dancehall 101, Vol. 1

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As its title indicates, this two-volume series is intended as an introduction to classic dancehall reggae (or as a guided nostalgia trip for those who remember the salad days of the 1980s and early '90s). This was the period when "cultural" (i.e., Rastafarian) themes and the loping one-drop beat were fading in popularity, while more aggressive rhythms and saltier lyrics were winning larger and larger audiences and keeping the dancehall jumping. On Volume 1, truly immortal material is a bit scarce -- Yellowman's "Zungu Zeng" and Pliers' "Bam Bam" are both undisputed classics, while Buju Banton's Batty Rider comes close -- but there are plenty of fine tracks anyway, including the great "Chase Vampire" by Sancho and Singing Sweet's strangely attractive cover of the Richie Valens song "Donna." But one of the album's best performances is from an artist who later faded into obscurity: Reggie Stepper really mashes things up with "Kimbo King," a rough-voiced singjay performance based on a modified version of the "Bam Bam" rhythm. (Both volumes of Dancehall 101 include a bonus disc on which the album's tracks are mixed in live dancehall style: Volume 1 is mixed by the Adonai sound, Volume 2 by Road International.)

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