Papa Michigan shows how it’s done

Papa-Michigan-F-1024x1024A deadly new EP from Michigan, aka Papa Michigan, has recently been released and produced by a joint between Flash Hit Records, Rashanco Music and producer and mixing engineer Manu Digital.

Papa Michigan was previously part of ground-breaking deejay duo Michigan & Smiley, a duo that paved the way for several other successful double acts, including Yellowman & Fathead, Peter Ranking & General Lucky and Clint Eastwood & General Saint.

Flash Hit Records has continually been dropping high-quality material and DJ Legend is no exception. It might just be their best release yet. It’s pure vintage dancehall in a contemporary style with loads of musical references to Jamaica in the early 80s. And you can be sure to hear versions of riddims like Pretty Looks (Isn’t All) and Joyride.

Papa Michigan mixes cultural and radical material – the excellent Yami Bolo combination People Rise – with the biographical tongue twisting masterpiece Wa Mi Come From and the boastful Dance Nice, something of a follow up to his and Smiley’s legendary hit songs Nice up the Dance and Rub a Dub Style.

This year has presented several strong EP’s from Clay, Righteous Child and Randy Valentine. But DJ Legend outshines them all.

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Maxi Priest’s recipe for love

Maxi Priest is one of few reggae artists that have had a monster hit and succeeded in transcending musical borders. He reached international success in 1990 with Billboard chart-topper Close to You, and has kept a low profile in recent years, but dropped his first album in seven years only a few months ago. Reggaemani caught up with Maxi Priest on the phone to talk about the new album and the recipe behind a great love song.

Maxi Priest_Easy To Love_Press Image_0002British singer Maxi Priest started his musical journey in church and later on the UK sound system circuit singing with Saxon Studio International, Negus Negast and the legendary Jah Shaka. Early on he embraced Rastafari and cut mostly conscious and culturally themed material, but later shifted towards a more lovers oriented approach. Soon he introduced his R&B-tinged lovers rock to a global audience.

“First and foremost, I’m from a church background. My mother, a missionary, is where I would hear the beautiful sound of gospel, mixed in with reggae music that my older brothers played around the house. My sisters were into the Jackson Five, The Beatles, Al Green, etc. From an early age my family always encouraged me and I listened to all kinds of vocalists, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Dennis Brown, and without realizing it, I was developing my craft. I was taught never to limit myself – that’s why you’ll always find different styles of music on my albums, and a range of producers to bring out different aspects of my creativity,” says Maxi Priest in a press release.

Successful fusion
Few artists have explored the possibilities of pop/R&B/reggae fusion as successfully as Maxi Priest. His smooth voice and his comfort with soul and hip-hop have rendered him a massive following around the world, particularly in the U.S. and his native Britain.

His new album Easy to Love is a fine representation of reggae and lovers rock according to Maxi Priest – sophisticated, stylish and slick. And Maxi Priest himself seems to be enjoying the album and is pleased with how it sounds.

“It’s fabulous. I feel on top of the world and like I have pushed over a mountain,” says Maxi Priest over the phone from London where he is doing promotion for the new album, and adds:

“The support has been fantastic and I feel so good. I want to thank everybody for their support and the reggae community as a whole. Without you there is no us.”

New approach
On Easy to Love Maxi Priest is joined by drum and bass duo Sly & Robbie, who played on several of his early hit songs, including Close to You, Wild World, Some Guys Have All the Luck and the Shabba Ranks combination Housecall. Maxi Priest has together with them, and with Clive Hunt, Colin “Bulby” York and Steven “Lenky” Marsden, created a lovers rock album with one or two diversities.

unnamed“It’s an album that I can play from the top to the bottom. An album to play in a moment in time. Play in the car or play it with your girlfriend,” he explains.

Maxi Priest has used a different way of working compared to in the previous sets. This time he allowed himself to take a step back and let the experts do what they do best. He focused on what he does best – writing and vocalizing.

“I would normally be very hands on, but I was comfortable in my relationship with the producers. I have felt at home and been relaxed. We have been pushing the envelope and experimenting. You need to take chances and experiment. That’s the beauty of creativity,” explains Maxi Priest.

Back to basics
Seven years have gone by since he dropped his previous album Refused. The years have been spent touring the world.

“It’s a massive world out there and it takes time to get around it,” laughs Maxi Priest, and continues:Maxi Priest_Easy To Love_Press Image_0003

“But there have also been one or two singles.”

Maxi Priest says that the music business is confusing, another reason why he has kept a rather low profile and not released much material.

“I wanted to see some changes and wanted everything to calm down. I also needed to figure out where I was and my place in the business,” he says, and continues:

“Then I wanted to bring it back to foundation and start the wheels turning again. And it feels really good. Everybody’s been showing love for this thing I’m doing. I feel like I haven’t been away and that I have a massive army. And I’m leading this army with this album.”

Over the years Maxi Priest has dabbled in several genres, even though he has never lost focus. Smooth reggae has always provided the foundation, but it has been flavoured with lots of dancehall and hip-hop. Easy to Love is however back to basics.

“Every direction is different and a brand new experience for me. This album has been a direction chosen by myself and the producers involved in it. We have been walking in unison, like an arrow straight through the eye of an apple. That has given me strength and encouragement to push and move forward to the highest peak I could reach,” he says.

A recipe for love
Easy to Love is a telling title for two reasons. The music is easy to like and it contains loads of love and romance. Something that Maxi Priest is known for. So what’s his recipe for writing a great love song?

“Knowing how to love and how to be loved,” he says after thinking for a while, and continues:

“I think so, and that’s why the album is called Easy to Love. I’m easy to love. I was brought up in a large family with nine brothers and sisters. I was thought how to appreciate people and share. All that is love, and yes, I do think I know how to love.”

When writing his love songs Maxi Priest finds inspiration in experiences – his own, his friends’, their relationships, ups and downs and everything in between.

Just put your mind to it
The lead single off the album was released in mid-2013 and was another chart-topper for Maxi Priest since it reached number one in the reggae charts. But the success of Easy to Love is nothing compared to Close to You; a single that turned his life and career upside down. And Maxi Priest says that he today feels like he did when he had success with Close to You – on top of the world.

“They called me when I was in the U.S. and said ‘we are number one’. I was rushing to call everyone I knew in London. I had goose pimples and froze for a while. I was only a young kid from southeast London and now I had the opportunity to meet all these people from pop, hip-hop and R&B,” he says, and continues:

“In many ways it made me feel like we can achieve anything if we just put our minds to it. With power of decision there’s a way to achieve anything. So, friends and family – don’t give up. There’s always opportunity.”

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10 Ft. Ganja Plant delivers another solid instrumental set

PrintU.S. reggae band 10 Ft. Ganja Pant continues to deliver solid instrumental sets. On their tenth album and the third installment in their on-going instrumental only Deadly Shots series 10 Ft. Ganja Plant offers ten charming cuts.

The album collects a mix of upbeat tracks and slower jams rooted in late 60s and early 70s Jamaica. Most of them are dominated by a soulful guitar or a groovy organ and they are clearly influenced by bands such as The Hippy Boys, The Crystalites and The Dynamites.

Included on the set is the wonderful Castor Bean, the haunting Angel Trumpet and the Middle Eastern-flavoured Oleander.

10 Ft. Ganja Plant is a spin-off of the more progressive and psychedelic reggae band John Brown’s Body, and they have been making music for more than 14 years. And this beautiful instrumental series is a well-deserved addition to their more contemporary catalogue.

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Contemporary rub-a-dub on Kojo Neatness’ debut album

20769-800Can’t say I know much about the almost forgotten Jamaican singer Kojo Neatness, but he has recently recorded a gem with Polish production crew Dreadsquad titled Boom Sound.

He also has a fresh full-length album out called Reggae Street Showcase. The set was recorded in France, voiced in Jamaica, and collects six vocal cuts followed by their dub counterpart. The production was crafted by Webcam Hi-Fi’s Fredread, who was responsible for the excellent compilation Feeding My Faith released two years ago.

Kojo Neatness has a haunting and intense vocal style similar to Linval Thompson, Barry Brown and Tristan Palma. And his voice flows over contemporary rub-a-dub riddims, sometimes with tsunami-like bass lines, particularly the dub versions and cuts like Deep Dub and Rudeboy & Dub.

Reggae Street Showcase is Kojo Neatness’ first album ever and it took a few decades and a producer and a label from France to get it out there.

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War is in the dance!

One of last year’s best tunes was Keida’s excellent Stand For Something. Now – finally – comes a one riddim compilation with nine cuts of the heavyweight riddim. And it’s voiced by a great bunch of vocalists from Jamaica, Europe and the U.S.. How about Pressure, Bobby Hustle, Exco Levi, Khari Kill, Gappy Ranks, Rob Symeonn, Rocker-T, Addis Pablo & The Suns of Dub and of course Keida.

War is in the Dance riddim is produced by U.S.based Royal Order Music and drops on October 21. Until then you can check the megamix by Selecta Daniel below.

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Mr. Vegas shows his full range on Reggae Euphoria

unnamedDancehall superstar Mr. Vegas’ new album Reggae Euphoria is an eclectic and unusual – or dare I say odd – story. This 15 track set showcases all sides of the dynamic Mr. Vegas across a variety of genres, including rootsy reggae, energetic dancehall, smooth R&B and uplifting gospel.

It bounces off with the acoustic and nyabinghi-flavoured Mr. Shotta, followed by God Good, on a clever remake of the mighty Answer riddim. It has a bright and catchy church chorus where Mr. Vegas asks “If you know the lord is keeping you, what are you worrying about, if you know the lord is keeping, you why don’t you sing and shout.”

Fast forward to The Climb, a version of Miley Cyrus’ hit on which Mr. Vegas sings over a thumping riddim that sounds like it was recorded by New Jack Swingster Teddy Riley in Jamaica in the early 90s.

Mr. Vegas also covers Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Alton Ellis’ I’ve Got a Date. In between he has time for the ska-tinged My Jam and the romantic Thank You Girl. The set closes with Mr. Vegas’ take on the Nah Fraid riddim, a sparse riddim rooted in the mid-80s digital dancehall craze.

Reggae Euphoria blends romance and culture and at times finds the singer in a silky and sultry mood.

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Another deep and profound set from Black Roots

unnamedUK reggae band Black Roots is a favorite of mine and their self-titled debut album is one of the strongest sets coming from Britain. I was of course thrilled when I heard they had reunited a few years back and I was thrilled again when I realized they were also about to drop their first full-length set in more than 20 years.

On the Ground dropped in 2012. It completed their comeback and was a success.  It was followed by a stripped down and downright excellent dub counterpart in 2013.

Now I’m thrilled yet again. The reason? Black Roots is back with yet another scorcher. This time they’ve teamed up with French independent label SoulBeats.

Ghetto Feel is another deep and profound album from this Bristol-based band. It revolves around social challenges and Black Roots express their political standpoints on various issues. In the 80s they were at war with Margaret Thatcher, now their critique is directed at David Cameron, another Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

Even though Black Roots are outspoken with defiant lyrical themes, the melodies are often bright and they offer a good dose of slowly skanking vibes and uplifting grooves. Just listen to Albert Villa with its calypso-tinged melody or the gospel-fused Lonely Journey.

Ghetto Feel is the heart of vintage roots reggae and it could easily have been released in the early 80s.

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Warm and easy on Duane Stephenson’s Dangerously Roots

unnamedPassionate Jamaican singer Duane Stephenson has spent the past three years touring as lead vocalist with the Original Wailers, but has now returned as a solo artist.

Dangerously Roots – Journey From August Town is his third album following his departure from 7-piece band To Isis, a band where he started his professional career. His debut set was the acclaimed From August Town, which included the magnificent title track. It was followed by the syrupy Black Gold, a set that lacked a bit of edge.

For his new album Duane Stephenson and his label have – just like on his previous albums – enlisted an all-star production team, including Jamaican heavyweights Clive Hunt, Dean Fraser, Christopher Birch, Phillip James and Donovan Germain with guest appearances from Tarrus Riley, I-Octane, Lutan Fyah and Mutabaruka.

The first single off the album was a warm and contemporary remake of Bunny Wailer’s Cool Runnings. And the whole album is just as strong as that particular single.

Dangerously Roots is roots reggae, but not dangerous at all. Rather the opposite. It’s slick, stylish and sophisticated with memorable pop hooks and infectious melodies.

Duane Stephenson singing is heartfelt and he has a sadness in his voice that gives the set a melancholic feel throughout. It certainly adds a sincere flavour to his fight for unity and social change.

So, welcome back Duane. I hope you’ll continue to record as a solo artist.

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Vybz Kartel should be proud of his protégées

disc-3231-jah-vinci-ghetto-bornThe dancehall genre is heavy on singles and one riddim compilations and single artist full-length albums are few and often far between. But this year two of dancehall’s up and coming superstars have dropped their debut sets.

Popcaan and Jah Vinci have both been members of Vybz Kartel’s Portmore Empire. In June Popcaan dropped his electro-fused Where We Come From and a month later Jah Vinci dropped his dancehall-oriented Ghetto Born.

Jah Vinci has since he emerged on the scene in 2008 delivered several hits, for example Wipe Those Tears, Remedy, Gawn Home and Mama Love. All fuelled with his electric and intense vocal style.

Ghetto Born collects only fresh material and is mainly produced by Khabir Bonner of Grillaras Productions, probably best known for Lutan Fyah’s excellent Life of a King released last year. Also involved in the project are Tariq “Nashi” Smith and Xavier “Bless X” Prendergast from Kamau Music.

Jah Vinci focuses on the tough side of life – crime, violence and poverty. He tells stories about living in the ghetto and how to break barriers rising to success. And it’s his story – growing up with violence on the streets and how he managed to overcome hardships becoming a global dancehall artist.

The set includes 13 tracks, of which two are combinations with Junior Reid and Beenie Man respectively. Best of the bunch are however hip-hop excursions like We Taking Over – with a Barrington Levy sample floating in and out of the mix – and Rude Boys and Police. But also the melancholic and acoustic title track.

Popcaan and Jah Vinci chose different paths for their debut albums. Popcaan’s set might appeal more to U.S. and European hipsters looking for the next dancehall sound. Jah Vinci’s album, on the other hand, is more Jamaica and leans towards traditional contemporary dancehall with clear hip-hop influences. Two sets with different approaches. And their mentor Vybz Kartel should be proud of both his protégées.

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Digital scorchers on new King Jammy compilation

CS2567462-02A-BIGReggae powerhouse VP Records follows up on their Jammys From the Roots compilation released four years ago.

More Jammys From the Roots is a confusing title, since it hints that it’s a roots reggae compilation. But it’s not. This new edition takes on where the firstleft off – in the mid 80s when computerized reggae was the order of the day and when Wayne Smith’s game changing Under Me Sleng Teng was on everyone’s lips.

This 32 track set spotlights King Jammy’s mid to late 80s productions and includes lots of fine riddims, both vintage and fresh ones, for example Stalag, Real Rock, Run Down the World and Satta Massagana.

Featured vocalists include both legends and forgotten ones ranging from Junior Murvin, Dennis Brown, Johnny Osbourne and Sugar Minott to King Everald, Super Black and Prince Junior.

Several tracks on these two discs are made available for the first time on CD and digital download. A delight since many of the tunes are heavily sough-after today, and digital reggae on vinyl from this period also fetch ridiculously high prices on eBay and other outlets.

King Jammy managed to revolutionize the sound of reggae in the 80s and if you already have compilations like King at the Controls or the eight disc set Selector’s Choice Vol. 1-4 you’ll know this. But if not, More Jammys From the Roots is a proper introduction to early digital reggae King Jammy style.

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