Jamaican dancehall's leading names are easily organized into a clear hierarchy. While Vybz Kartel, Sean Paul, Bounty Killer, and Sizzla continue to sit atop the A-list, it's always worth paying attention to those lower in the pecking order. After all, next-generation superstars are usually to be found among these hungry young artists. While some underground strivers seem destined to suffer, perennially overlooked performers like the massively underrated Bling Dawg, hard work and a bit of luck pulls others through.
Kiprich is one such talent. Having spent several years earning respect and running up a string of domestic hits, it's now time for his debut album on VP Records. Outta Road sees the deejay, born Marlon Plunkett, at his best riding jiggy on riddims like the El Toro, Tap Dance, and Sleepy Dog. "Liquor", "T Spot", and "Mix Up" showcase the fluidity of his wordplay, setting him up as a cheeky lad about town, every other line a lascivious nudge or sly lyrical wink. However, this is an accomplished and varied set, several languid one-drop cuts complementing all the good-time bounce. "Telephone Ting" is the pick of this particular crop, showing he's capable of maturity as well as youthful exuberance.
On the topic of young guns coming good, number 33 of VP's Strictly the Best series features teenage deejay Shane-O's Applause version "Lightning Flash"-- still the best voicing on Rohan "Jah Snowcone" Fuller's unstoppable riddim. There's more, including Turbulence's "Notorious" on the Scallawah riddim and Buju Banton & Anthony Cruz's "Too Bloody". On number 34 of this year-end wrap-up, it's almost entirely new roots, much as it has been on the island itself. Norris Man's "Home And Away", Jah Cure's "True Reflection", and I-Wayne's "Don't Worry" work beautifully, but standing head and shoulders above the rest is Gyptian's "Serious Times". Despite propelling the Nayabinghi-inspired Spiritual War riddim (Frenz/7"JA) to #1 in the Jamaican charts last month, it's still not the most distinctive version, though. For that, head straight for QQ's "Poverty". Sung by a 10-year-old boy, it's the cutest, strangest, and most life-affirming record you're likely to encounter this year. Simple, innocent, and with a wonderful sense of naivite, it's the kind of thing Irwin Chusid would flip over if it weren't also astonishingly successful.
Rounding off, it's over to Greensleeves Records with Fantan Mojah's eagerly anticipated Hail to the King LP. Spirituality and religion are ever-present themes, the singer's devout Rastafarianism informing every line. Still, the joyful noise he makes from start to finish stops this from being in any way cloying or preachy. Helmed by Downsound Productions, tracks such as the title cut, "Hungry", and "Uplift Yourself" crisply underscore the sweetness of his voice and have something to say, too. In a year where traditional reggae sounds have dominated Jamaican culture, this record is the perfect closing note, filled with the kind of gentle positivity that can even warm the hearts of flu-ridden music critics. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about here.
Story by Dave Stelfox