Various Artists

Def Jamaica [Def Jam]

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Though hip-hop ruled the singles charts all through 2002-2003, artists weren't progressing very much, reliant on warmed-over R&B as well as the fourth or fifth comeback of the gangsta movement in the past ten years. Dancehall artists started picking up the slack(ness) starting in the summer of 2002, led by the wildly popular diwali rhythm as well as killer crossovers from Sean Paul ("Gimme the Light," "Get Busy"), Wayne Wonder ("No Letting Go"), Elephant Man ("Pon de River, Pon de Bank"), and Tanto Metro & Devonte ("Give It to Her"). On the wings of rap's continuing fascination with exotic ports of call (from Rio to Kingston), rap heavyweight Def Jam brought the two genres closer than they'd ever been with Def Jamaica, a collaboration with the Island/Tuff Gong label axis (all three of which are owned by Universal). Though only a few of these tracks were recorded in Jamaica, the crossover works nearly perfectly; the stuttered digital perfection of dancehall producers like Tony Kelly (a veteran trackmaster for Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Lady Saw, Shabba Ranks, Shaggy) makes the perfect backing for Redman, Scarface, Joe Budden, and Ghostface Killah, whether the rappers are influenced by dancehall and ragga or not. And the dancehall vocalists are the best in the scene. Wonder, Paul, Elephant Man, and Tanto Metro all make appearances, peppering the choruses with the hooks while the rappers build the verses. The largely hip-hop track "Lyrical .44" is the best here, featuring Method Man and Redman collaborating with Damian "Junior Gong" Marley. The three bonus tracks rank highly as well; first up is a remix of Beenie Man's "Dude," followed by the prototype for this compilation, 1998's "Top Shotta" featuring DMX with Sean Paul and Mr. Vegas. Last of all, Wayne Marshall freestyles over a remix of one of 2003's most ubiquitous singles, the Neptunes' "Frontin'," featuring Pharrell and Jay-Z.

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