Buju Banton

Voice of Jamaica

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This is the kind of album that leaves the listener breathless with amazement, not least of all because Voice of Jamaica was Buju Banton's international debut, but the artist didn't compromise a single note on this set, insuring that Voice is very much a Jamaican product. In fact the album scooped up a clutch of then-recent Jamaican hits, then spun off a whole new batch, with one "Make My Day" giving the DJ his first U.K. chart entry. That was a lush and gorgeous romantic number, boasting the dulcet harmonies of the 2 Friends Crew, who provide superb backings across many of these songs, but Voice has it all, from hardcore dancehall to hip-hop. Over a third of the tracks are combination numbers, the smoldering "Searching" and the smooth "Commitment" both boast Wayne Wonder, the sizzling "If Loving Was a Crime" features the stellar harmonies of Brian & Tony Gold, while veteran soulman Beres Hammond ignites "A Little More Time." The African flavored "Tribal War" boasts Tony Rebel and Terry Ganzie, with the Golds again providing sonorous backing. But the most adventurous combo pairs Banton with Busta Rhymes on "Wicked Act," a jazzy hip-hop-reggae brew, which like "War" also calls for an end to violence. One of the most talked about songs at the time was "Willy (Don't Be Silly)" an incredibly contagious call out for safe sex. And one hopes that Banton took his own advice once he won the girl of "Good Body" fame, one of the most exuberant numbers on the set. More subtle is "Red Rose," but still the poor DJ gets "No Respect," at least in the dancehalls. In the cultural realm it's a different story, and two of Banton's best are "Operation Ardent" and "Deportees (Things Change)," the former a scathing exposé of the police sweeps and curfews inflicted on the dancehalls, the latter a vociferous attack on an ex-pat who lived high in the States, and shared none of his good fortune with his suffering family back home. Thus, the album is true to its title, touching on a myriad of themes personal, political, and cultural. The sound is just as diverse, not surprising considering the wealth of producers within -- Donovan Germain, Dave Kelly, Sly Dunbar, Steely & Clevie, and Busta Rhymes. The rhythms mostly lean towards tough dancehall, but R&B, breezy reggae, and roots are all conjured up as well. It's a superb album, and deserved every accolade it received.

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