Review : Vybz Kartel - Kingston Story
MtviggyAny review of Vybz Kartel’s new LP Kingston Story has to grapple with the strange fact of its mere existence before the music itself can be assessed. Most dancehall albums are basically collections of an artist’s hot tunes, already released as singles (used to be 45s, now mp3s) and proven on radio, club and soundclash. Recent crossover records like Diplo & Switch’s Major Lazer projects have broken that mold, incorporating dancehall vocalists into the hot eclectic mess of styles that characterize Diplo’s DJ sets.
But Kingston Story is neither your usual dancehall record nor hipster fusion. It is a full-on collaboration between Vybz and Brooklyn-based electronic producer Andy Hershey AKA Dre Skull. It is dancehall to the core–although driven by a sense of melody and a palette of glowstick-friendly synths that is recognizably Dre’s. The only track that’s seen the light of day before now is “Yuh Love” a particularly resonant ballad of bass-harmonics that was the duo’s first effort. And even that is fleshed out with a sort of classical piano interlude (which draws on the viral phenomenon of amateur pianists trading interpretations of Vybz’ Jamaican hits over Youtube.)
That simple interlude, though, provides a key to the album’s whole approach. The blueprint of Jamaican dancehall is not so much experimented with as elevated, treated as pop music of universal appeal (the production values, for one thing, are head and shoulders above most of Kartel’s Jamaican hits, if only in terms of bandwidth.) Kartel is in top lyrical form on these tracks–a testament to his in-studio chemistry with Dre. They’re also more melodic—actual song instead of singsong–and though the first single “Go Go Wine” is an ode to the strip club that sounds more like proper dancehall than the Jamaican rap Vybz leans towards these days, he generally reaches for more universal subject matter; love/f**k anthems like “Half on a Baby” even speaking of pop radio potential....full text
FactmagIt’s likely that the last time you will have seen him referenced here is for his cheeky-voiced, bit-part role on Major Lazer’s ‘Pon Di Floor’, but it should be known that Vybz Kartel is the biggest, most influential dancehall artist in the world today. While it would be pointless to try and elucidate his exponentially dominant presence in dancehall over the last 18 years in this article, his very reason for being reviewed here is an occurrence that deserves some reflection before Kingston Story is considered on its own merits.
It’s Mixpak Records owner Dre Skull’s involvement as producer of the album [and all this - Ed] that is resulting in coverage from a wider spread of publications than Vybz is used to, as the majority of Dre Skull’s productions to date have been far more house related than anything else. However, with Kingston Story being very much a dancehall album and not a Major Lazer genre-mash, it produces an interesting question regarding the nature of dancehall’s regard and coverage by music media....full text
PitchforkWhat happened to Vybz Kartel? In the early years of the previous decade the Jamaican DJ possessed a nimble versatility that well matched dancehall's musical promiscuity, switching between slippery, smoke-damaged double-time raps and hypnotic sing-song choruses with an agility that for a time seemed unmatched. But at some point in the second half of the decade, Kartel may have begun to feel burdened by his own success, his regular status as Jamaica's number-one DJ also making him more vulnerable to demands that he represent the community rather than just its gun-wielding, girl-grabbing, ganja-imbibing contingent.
Whatever the reason, on his most recent albums Kartel has dramatically switched up (or, rather, down) his flow, increasingly backgrounding his rapping in favor of a ponderous, Auto-Tune-damaged tenor moaning over deflated, synth-heavy arrangements, coming on like Mavado's "On the Rock" for a post-808s & Heartbreak era. Pon Di Gaza in particular was so rigorously downbeat, grayscale, and bloody long that listening to the whole thing in one go felt like an absurd endurance test. But Kartel hasn't lost all contact with his erstwhile bad-boy self; on one-off tracks he still regularly comes as hard and fast as ever, and I suspect it's these more than recent albums that have protected his position at the top of dancehall's heap. Moreover, sometimes Kartel in downer mode can work fantastically. On the recent "Coloring Book", his oddly melancholy posturing captivates, as he boasts of his irresistibly tattooed skin over a gorgeously bittersweet concoction of piano chords and descending strings.
But "Coloring Book" doesn't grace Kartel's new album, Kingston Story, and there's precious little here that is nearly as enticing. It's as if Kartel has consciously rejected anything that's too dense, too wordy, too clearly casting him in the mold of DJ-as-rapper rather than universalist singjay. Which is a shame, because while Kingston Story is less exhaustingly morose than Pon Di Gaza, it's also more tepid, a conscientiously inoffensive collection both lyrically and sonically....full text
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