The fascinating story of Stones Throw Records

Our-Vinyl-Weighs-A-Ton-1For a few years I have been a regular reader of U.S. music magazine Wax Poetics. But when I started to read this excellent publication I didn’t know half of the hip artists they wrote about. After watching the fascinating documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, about California-based underground label Stones Throw, I realized that several of the artists that I have been reading about – like Madlib, Dam-Funk, Mayer Hawthorne and the late J Dilla – were all based around the same label. You guessed it – Stones Throw Records.

The story about this independent label is an inspiring one and starts in 1996 when it’s founded by Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf. For about ten years it was largely a hip-hop label, but from around 2006 they went into a new direction and started to put out a plethora of genres, including rock, punk, soul and funk. Soul singer Aloe Blacc’s acclaimed Good Things, with its infectious single I Need a Dollar, is the best-selling album yet.

But selling records is not Peanut Butter Wolf’s primary focus. He goes beyond music and releases what he likes rather than what actually sells. Being commercial and successful comes second. Music and creativity come first. And that’s an honourable and admirable approach.

With lots of highly successful albums – of which several are hip-hop – Stones Throw has grown into an independent empire, much like punk label Epitaph. Today Peanut Butter Wolf does almost the same thing he did in 1996, but in a wider scale and in an industry that is completely transformed thanks to Internet and file sharing.

Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton is a moving and impressive story about a pioneer that has overcome several challenges – both personal and commercial. He has been fighting the unpredictable music industry and has also managed to make change over these 18 years.

Being anti-establishment and against the grain spark change and originality. That’s a fact after being overwhelmed by his story and energy. Unfortunately – for us reggae-heads – there is nothing on Stones Throw’s recent venture into reggae territory via excellent releases from Tom Chasteen’s Dub Club.

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Lloyd Brown turns 50 and drops another consistent set

disc-3211-lloyd-brown-lb50Not many people can treat themselves with an album to celebrate their birthday. One who can is the celebrated and consistent UK singer and songwriter Lloyd Brown. He turned 50 in March and a few months later his 18 track album LB 50 was put out.

Lloyd Brown is one of the most productive singers in the industry and turns out at least one album each year. Last year he actually dropped two – New Veteran and Rootical. Both were critically acclaimed, with the Zion I Kings’ Rootical being slightly better with its spiritual messages and sparse arrangements.

LB 50 is Lloyd Brown’s 18th album and he has as usual invited several guest artists and has worked with a number of different producers, each with their own sound, which gives the album some versatility. It offers lots of reggae of course, but also a little bit of electro, dancehall and soul.

Lloyd Brown’s singing is always a joy and on LB 50 he is as comfortable and smooth as ever before. It sounds like he weighs every word and every syllable carefully before he sings them. His style is very well-crafted, easy-going and warm, and it’s impossible to him and songs like All About You, a rocksteady-tinged version of The Mighty Diamonds’ Country Living, the dense Million Dollar Baby, or the jazzy sound boy destroyer My Sound, with an introduction by David Rodigan.

Lloyd Brown has treated himself with an exceptional birthday gift, and this is yet another bright and harmonious set from one of most reliable artists in the reggae industry.

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SoulJazz nice up the dance with new Studio One compilation

401060SoulJazz – a premier reissue label from the UK – have for the past ten years or so put out about 30 albums focusing on one of Jamaica’s most well-known and influential producers – Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and his various labels.

The latest instalment – Studio One Dancehall – Sir Coxsone in the Dance: The Foundation Sound – is SoulJazz’ first reissue from the mighty vaults of Coxsone Dodd to focus solely on dancehall.

When dancehall started to emerge at the dawn of the 70s Coxsone Dodd noticed that several of the young and upcoming producers had their artists performing over re-played classic Studio One riddims. Naturally he also wanted a piece of the pie and brought forward emerging artists to record over his own riddims. The success was instant with acclaimed albums and singles from Freddie McGregor, Johnny Osbourne, Lone Ranger and Sugar Minott, just to name a few.

And this new compilation focuses on that period, a period when Coxsone had singers and deejays riding classic Studio One riddims originally recorded in the 60s. It explores dancehall from a Studio One perspective, which is something rather different from, say, Junjo Lawes slick and polished productions.

Studio One Dancehall has the usual full, warm and organic sound, and it’s far from polished. It’s rough and raw, but at the same time innovative and creative. Lots of rare cuts, some in their extended version, are included – Green Tea & Chassy’s Getto Girl, Field Marshall Haye’s Roots and Herb Style, DJ Dawn & The Ranking Queens’ Peace Truce Thing and Brentford Disco Set’s Rebel Disco, are a few that at least I haven’t come across before.

This is yet another successful release from the SoulJazz camp and it comes as CD, digital download and triple LP.

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A rootikal showcase from Roberto Sánchez and The Rockers Disciples

lp-roberto-sanchez-meets-the-rockers-disciples-blackboard-jungle-showcase-vol-2The second showcase album from French label and sound system Blackboard Jungle features renowned Spanish producer, mixing engineer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Roberto Sánchez and French roots rockers The Rockers Disciples. It follows the first showcase album on which The Rockers Disciples teamed up with UK vocal duo Reality Souljahs.

And just as the first volume, Blackboard Jungle Showcase Vol. II comes with 12 tracks and each has a hard and driving dub version.

It’s a stellar set. Even better than the first volume. Roberto Sánchez is a gifted vocalist with a smooth, yet passionate, style. And the riddims, oh the riddims. They are rough and touch and sounds like they’re directly lifted from a Channel One album recorded in the late 70s, when roots reggae started to give way for early dancehall.

The set is magnificent from start to finish, but stand-out cuts include the groovy Rising Light, the militant Some More (Politricks), the dread Tell it to the Children and the galloping Fire.

Excellent vintage-sounding roots and dub from some of Europe’s finest musicians.

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The 15 best reggae albums of 2014 so far

Six months of 2014 have passed and a few days ago Reggaemani presented a list with the 25 best reggae songs from 2014 so far. Now it’s time to present the albums, and competition has as usual been fierce with a huge number of strong albums from debutants and veterans alike.

Half-year report albums

The list below collects 15 albums and is presented in no particular order. No reissues or compilations have been included. If you are curious about the albums you can download this Spotify playlist with 13 out of 15 albums.

Artist – album title
Popcaan – Where We Come From
A remarkable, exceptional and unique dancehall effort that hopefully can start a new trend in the otherwise very busy and non-consistent dancehall industry.

Raging Fyah – Destiny
The melodies and the arrangements are beautiful and it’s impossible not to get struck by a sweet piano ballad like Brave or pulsating non-stop rocking rockers like Barriers and Step Outta Babylon.

Hezron – The Life I Live(d)
Hezron’s debut album, but it sounds mature, partly because of the well-produced riddims by some of Jamaica’s finest, and partly because he sings like he has never done anything else in his life.

Lee Perry – Back on the Controls
A dark and dense album showcasing Lee Perry’s signature style.

Soul Majestic – Setting the Tone
With its angelic vocal harmonizing and alternating male and female lead vocals – this is a sublime, beautiful and uplifting album.

Hollie Cook – Twice
Nine tracks and over 40 minutes of discofied reggae in its greatest form. Free your mind, take off your shoes and hang on, this is a rollercoaster into dreamy territory.

Earl Sixteen – Natty Farming
Organic and analogue with Earl Sixteen’s pleading voice floating elegantly over the throbbing and syncopated riddims.

Bugle – Anointed
Probably best known for singles like Doh, What I’m I Gonna Do, Journey and Don’t Give Up, and if you dig those you’ll love this album.

Sizzla – Born a King
Wickedly well-produced, balanced and detailed. This scorching album is definitely one of the strongest sets from Sizzla’s more than extensive catalogue.

Alpheus – Good Prevails
Skip the poorly sounding rocksteady reissues and go for this meticulously constructed and well-produced set. This is the sound of real reggae music.

Chronixx – Dread & Terrible
Solid debut set from this youthful and passionate singer that has focused on quality rather than quantity.

Clinton Fearon – Goodness
Yet another fine example of how Clinton Fearon and his Boogie Brown Band takes the reggae legacy into contemporary territory.

Black Symbol – Journey
A spiritual and sometimes meditative journey with sublime harmonizing and beautiful back-up vocals courtesy of Empress Bev. Her touch gives the album a character of its own.

Addis Pablo – In My Father’s House
Its 17 tracks takes the listener on a meditative, haunting and melodic roots reggae journey.

Tarrus Riley – Love Situation
Slick, polished and timeless with lots of classic and vintage sounding riddims.

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Getting acquainted with Jo Mersa

jomersa-comfortableJo Mersa is son of Stephen Marley. His grandfather is Bob Marley and his uncle is Damian Marley. One could say that the music industry has great expectations on him and his debut EP Comfortable, a six track set mainly produced by himself.

He was born in Jamaica, but has migrated to Miami, U.S., and made his musical debut last year with the track Comfortable, included on Ghetto Youths International’s – a label owned by Stephen, Damian and Julian Marley – compilation Set Up Shop Vol. 1. He has also toured extensively with his father.

Comfortable is a cross-over effort with an infectious and hook-filled mix of reggae, dancehall, pop, hip-hop and electronic dance music. Best of the bunch is hip-hop-influenced opener Rock and Swing, which borrows elements from the mighty Enter Into His Gates With Praise, and the catchy remix of Comfortable, on which Jo Mersa shares vocal duties with label mate Wayne Marshall.

Jo Mersa certainly has much to live up to, but manages to carry his family’s legacy forward into the 21st century.

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Thibault Ehrengardt portraits a boiling island

Jamaica is a country probably best known for reggae and its beautiful landscape and beaches. But also for its political and gang related violence. The latter has been subject to several books, for example Laurie Gunst’s Born Fi’ Dead from 1995 and Thibault Ehrengardt’s Gangs of Jamaica from 2011. Both target Jamaican crime and politics, and these issues are the theme in Thibault Ehrengardt’s new book Jamaican Greats – Ten Portraits to Draw the Portrait of a Boiling Island.

ouverture gangs-site_BOOK

Thibault Ehrengardt has been involved in the reggae industry for more than 14 years. He was editor of French reggae magazine Natty Dread between 2000 and 2010, when the magazine ceased its publication. He shifted to publishing books via Dread Editions and his Jamaica Insula series includes a French translation of the above-mentioned Born Fi’ Dead.

His new book takes a deep look at the lives of ten famous and notorious Jamaicans – Bob Marley, Tacky, Marcus Garvey, Edward Seaga, Lewis Hutchinson, Trevor Wilson aka Johnny Too Bad, Ryghin, Claudius Henry, Yabby You and Sir Henry Morgan. The book paints a naked picture of these ten characters and shows that living in Jamaica is no fairy tale.

Jamaican Greats was s farewell to Jamaica at a time when I had decided to put an end to Natty Dread Magazine,” says Thibault Ehrengardt.

He used to visit Jamaica about twice a year and knew his relationship with the island would be less intense when Nattry Dread ceased, and he wanted to pay tribute to an island that had taken so much room in his life.

“It is sort of a testimony, or a letter sent to a younger me – ‘so, you wanted to see Jamaica so bad, now that you’ve seen it, what do you say?’,” explains Thibault Ehrengardt, and continues:

“And that’s what surprises me the most – now that I have been beyond most of my own personal clichés about Jamaica, about Rasta and about ‘badness’, I find these ‘naked stories’ even more fascinating. The incredible tale of Yabby You does not surprise me anymore, but his determination to live by it fascinates me more than ever.”

During the process of writing the book Thibault Ehrengardt found new perspectives on Jamaica, reggae and some of the main characters.

“Bob Marley might not have been the international freedom fighter I idealized as a teenager, but his position in the Jamaican struggle is now even more extraordinary to me – and his music sounds better when I listen to it in that context,” says Thibault Ehrengardt.

One of the stories that fascinated him the most was the one of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga (JLP), who played a central part in shaping and developing the Jamaican music industry. According to Thibault Ehrengardt he had to stop writing that particular part before it became a book of its own.

“I tried to analyse the facts and corner his unusual personality and unveil the repercussions he had on his own country. I never really knew reggae before I knew all that,” explains Thibault Ehrengardt, and concludes:

“Reggae is an islanders’ music, an epic music, fed on its own mythology. It took me 15 years or so, but I think I’ve come to find out what I was looking for the first time I set foot on this island. And that’s what Jamaican Greats is all about.”

Jamaican Greats is now available as hard copy and e-book.

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A global reggae tribute to The Beatles

516-GHvuv3L__SL500_AA280_Argentinian reggae musician and producer Hernan ”Camel” Sforzini loves The Beatles so much that he has put together no less than two reggae tribute albums in their honour.

“I love The Beatles,” states Hernan Sforzini, and continues:

“When I discovered Revolver I became a serious listener of their musical legacy and I asked myself ‘why not get my two passions, Beatles and reggae, together?’”.

Hemp! Reggae Tribute to The Beatles Vol. II is the follow-up to El Album Verde – Reggae Tribute to The Beatles Vol. I released in 2005 and collects 56 (!) artists from 16 (!) different countries recorded in 35 studios around the world – from Jamaica, Argentina and Brazil via the U.S. to the UK, France and New Zealand.

“For Hemp! I took a world map and I explored every country’s reggae history. I listened to a lot of bands to select the ones that I considered interesting and invited them to join the project,” says Hernan Sforzini, and adds:

“On this album I have put together reggae legends well-known all over the world with artists that are growing, new school bands and artists like Mellow Mood, Nairobi Dub, Dubies, Sebastian Sturm, Ras Attitude and Matamba,” says Hernan Sforzini.

Among the more well-known acts are artists and bands like Groundation, Dennis Bovell, Yellowman, Prezident Brown, Ras Michael, Don Carlos, Danakil, Mad Professor, The Aggrolites and Sly & Robbie. But putting the project together was not easy.

“It was Jah’s work and it took three years working full time. I express my love and gratitude to all the artists that are included and made this project possible,” concludes Hernan Sforzini.

Hemp! Reggae Tribute to The Beatles Vol. II comes as triple CD and is also available as digital download. It was recently awarded Reggae Album of the Year in Latin America’s Pelagatos Awards. All profits generated from the album will be used for the construction of a water well for a soup kitchen in the Shipibo children community in Pucallpa, Peru.

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The 25 best reggae songs of 2014 so far

As 2014 now has passed its midpoint Reggaemani has collected 25 reggae and dancehall favourites so far. It can be hard to grasp just how much great music that is released every day and every week. It’s tons. So the list below might be of some help to navigate in the heavily competitive and extremely productive reggae industry.

The past six months have been great and lots of tunes have lingered in my memory for weeks, for example Zagga’s uplifting Attitude of Gratitude, Protoje & Chronixx’ hip-hop flavoured Who Knows and Morgan Heritage’s soulful Put it On Me.

Half year 1

If I was to select only one favourite song and only one favourite riddim it would have to be Cornell Campbell & Burro Banton’s Pressure and Jugglerz’ Penthouse riddim. Luckily I’m not a victim of such limitations.

The list below is presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download this Spotify playlist with 23 out of 25 tracks.

Artist – song title (label/riddim)
Chan Dizzy – Informer (Frequent Flyer Records)
Kelissa & Chronixx & Kazemde – Winna (Anbessa Productions & Zinc Fence Records)
Konshens – The Journey (Irievibrations Records)
Jah Sun – Never Give Up (House of Riddim)
Raging Fyah – Jah Glory (Frankie Music)
Stephen Marley & Sizzla & Capleton – Rockstone (Ghetto Youths International)
Bugle – Anoited
Mr. Benn & Champian – Everytime (Nice Up! Records/Stars)
Stick Figure & Collie Buddz – Smokin’ Love (Roughwood Records)
Protoje & Chronixx – Who Knows (Overstand Entertainment)
Collie Buddz – Thank the Almighty (TJ Records/Peace and Love)
Cornell Campbell & Burro Banton – Pressure (Muti Music/I’m Living)
Loyal Flames – Go Hard (Maximum Sound/Jah Blessings)
Sizzla – Away With the Violence (Irie Ites/Soulful Spirit)
Sound Dynamiq & Skarra Mucci – Revolution
Lukie D – Calling (Akom Records/Way Back)
Zagga – Attitude of Gratitude (Liv Up Records/Zion Train)
Lutan Fyah – Roll it Up (Irievibrations/Village)
Demarco – Rise to the Top (Deadline Recordz/New Day)
Burro Banton – Inna Mi Legue (Jugglerz Records)/Penthouse)
Busy Signal/Christopher Martin – Lock Di Endz (Weedy G Soundforce)
Randy Valentine & LionHeart – Sound the Alarm (Hemp Higher Records)
Addis Pablo – Road to Addis (JahSolidRock)
Morgan Heritage – Put it on Me (JukeBoxx Productions)
Bushman & Skarra Mucci – Pretty Looks (Flash Hit Records/Pretty Looks)

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Lutan Fyah fights for peace and unity on new album

LUTAN_FYAH_GET_RID_A_DI_WICKEDJamaican chanter Lutan Fyah is one of the most successful contemporary Jamaican artists with over 200 singles and twelve albums under his belt. On his 13th album Get Rid a di Wicked he has teamed up with Grammy Award nominated producer Richard “Breadback” Bramwell.

This 15 track set – 16 if you count the closing interview with Lutan Fyah – has Lutan Fyah spitting lyrics with messages of peace, passion, ambition and inequity on tracks like Tired a di Suffering, This Love, which features veteran deejay Lady G, and Children Safe. He also shows affection for all mothers on the heartfelt My Mother, pays tribute to The Gaylads on Jamaican Girl and borrows from the mighty Herbman Hustling on Ganja Man.

Lutan Fyah is one of the most productive Jamaican artists, not matching the insanely prolific Sizzla, but close. And Get Rid of di Wicked is not one of his strongest albums to date, but it includes enough strong cuts to stand out in a highly competitive genre.

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