Freedom of Speech

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For a moment there, Yellowman seemed to be losing his touch, but after a couple of less-than-stellar sets, King Yellow polished up his crown and returned with 1997's stellar Freedom of Speech album. Almost half the set features combo tracks. Yellow and Beenie Man clean the clocks of their competition with the burning "Weed Dem" before they pair up again later in the set for the equally fiery "Warn Dem." Saddling up the "Stalag" riddim, Yellow and Silver Cat rustle themselves up some fatties on "Run Cum-Cum," and after all that slackness, it's a blessing that Anthony B arrives to lead a cultural "Chant," while Yellow joins forces with Junior Reid for the equally strong "Visa." Frankie Paul shows the DJ how to pay an homage to Dennis Brown with a powerful take on the legend's own "Here I Come." On his own, Yellow pays tribute to Black Uhuru, with strong versions of "Abortion" and "Bull in the Pen," the latter, retitled "Freedom of Speech," one of the album standouts. And there's a clutch more excellent cultural numbers, with "Fed Up" and "Nice to Be Important"'s powerful messages particularly potent. Gregory Isaacs arrives bearing "Sweetness," and inspired by the Beres Hammond hit, he and Yellow woo their "Sugar Darling." "Girls in the Ring," meanwhile, celebrates beautiful girls of all colors, and by extension, the Maytones, whose own version of this traditional children's game, "Brown Girl in the Ring," was a huge hit back in 1972. With Maurice "Jack Scorpio" Johnson in the production chair, the backings are top-notch, as he sets the musicians, including Steelie & Clevie and guitarist Dwight Pinkney, loose on classic riddims that span the generations, from rocksteady to roots, wickedly including a take of Yellow's own hit "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" and even encompassing salsa. A superb set that sizzles with newfound energy and direction.

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