Dancehall: The Rise Of Dancehall Culture, by Various Artists
This particular 2-cd set is designed to present a flavor of dancehall during the period from 1979-1992, roughly. It is curated by someone who is aware that two discs of material is not nearly enough to cover a genre with tens of thousands of albums released, and who is quite enthusiastic about a genre where recycling of old songs is commonplace and where everyone can apparently be a hitmaker. Yet the extensive liner notes, which help the reader to understand at least some of the tangled history and content of the songs included, also note that many people view dancehall as being repetitive and watered down when compared with other genres, and when one listens to this collection one will understand why. One of the reasons why everyone could theoretically be a star in dancehall is that little creativity or wit is demanded, and little skill in working beats, even if the producer took a huge degree of importance in setting up the (often very simplistic) soundscape for the person to speak, rap, or sing to.
This collection is made up of two discs of music from Jamaican dancehall artists from the period of the beginnings of dancehall to the period just before it broke into the international mainstream in the United States. While I was not familiar with any of these songs, I was familiar with some of the artists, who include Yellowman, Ini Kamoze, Cutty Ranks, Super Cat, Trinity, and Cornel Campbell and General Echo (who are recognized with two tracks). Of the 22 tracks on here, only one of the songs is recorded by a female, who manages to sing a song that seems to show that cattiness common among female rappers by proclaiming that she is the “only woman Dj with degree,” although she would later inspire many such artists who are more famous today than she is. At least for me, the standout tracks in this collection are the ones that don’t celebrate stealing your girl or doing drugs (“Sensi Addict”), whether they are about “Disease” or about the worth of “World A Music,” or about a woman who is pretty on the outside but ugly on the inside (“Murder She Wrote”).
Overall, how you feel about this particular collection will depend in large part on how you feel about the genre as well as the songs provided and their artists. I am familiar with some of these artists, if not many, and am somewhat lukewarm to most of these songs. They were pleasant enough to listen to once as a way of recognizing the beginnings of dancehall, where there was a lot of primitive production and sometimes rudimentary wordplay. Yet at the same time there is undeniable importance in this music in the way that it served as an inspiration of later artists. If Dancehall was looked down on during the time as being weaksauce in comparison with the popular reggae of Bob Marley in the 1970’s, it certainly influenced the popularity of Jamaican music in the 1990’s and afterwards with some of the artists in this collection, some of whom have remained popular to the present day, while others in this collection showed promise and died young. Still, it is easier to appreciate this collection as a historical artifact of what was going on in a period where Jamaican music had less influence in the world than previously or after, where a popular style was developing that would later be appropriated by outside artists (especially in Canada and the United States) as part of the popular music of later decades.