As any North American who has ever smoked a joint or gone to high school or college knows, 420 is code for smoking pot. It’s origins are hazy and unclear, not suprising since it came from a bunch of stoners. Some people claim it is for police code for marijuana posession, but it isn’t. Supposedly it comes from a group of San Rafael High kids who used to meet to get stoned at 4:20pm every day, which is just as likely an explanation as any other. Whatever the origins, 4:20 PM on April 20th is basically stoner’s St. Patrick Day. This past Friday afternoon marked the twentieth day of the fourth month, and tens of thousands of young people flocked to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury to hang out on Hippie Hill, spark a bowl, and enjoy getting nicely toasted with a group of like-minded pot enthusiasts.
There are many songs about getting high, and the latest “Ragga Ragga Ragga!” compilation has one of the best ones. British dancehall artist Gappy Ranks celebrates the sweet leaf on “Da Herbs Deh.” Producer Derrick “Wundah” Cyrus takes the concept of “less is more” to the extreme, fashioning a beat out of some snare hits interspersed with a few tom hits and handclaps. Over this skeletal framework Ranks supplies the melody with his sing/chant as he kills the beat extolling the many wonders of the herb. It’s ragga stripped down to its most essential elements, with lyrics that would make any stoner proud.
Wundah produces two other tracks on this compilation of ragga hits. Stylo G’s “My Style” is basically the same beat as “Da Herbs Deh,” but Styles makes it his own. Gappy Ranks “Money Out Deh” is baroque by Wundah’s standards, what with the addition of synthesizers and bass drums. Stylo G’s “Call Mi A Yardie” is another variation on the same beat, this time with growling synthsizers. “Yardie” is Jamaican slang for someone from the government projects, and Stylo G proudly declares “Call me a yardie/We love Benz and Beamers and Harleys.”
Not only do a lot of the beats sound similar, sometimes they are the same. Mavado and Khago both take a shot at the same beat on “Settle Down” and “Tun Up Di Ting.” In Mavado’s hands the track is a sweet if slightly raunchy love song, while Khago gives it a harder edge.
I would have been happy with different versions of the same beat, but the producers saw fit to include a variety of different types of tracks. There are more pop-oriented songs like Popcaan’s “Party Shot” and Masicka’s “Guh Haad And Done.” Lea-Anna’s “Murder” is an attempt at Minaj-style sass, minus the weird voices. There are even a few attempts at roots with I-Octane’s “Informer At Work” and Tommy Lee’s “The Scourge of God.”
However, “Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2012” is at it’s best when it keeps it simple: stacatto drum beats and lyrics about parting. The album cover promises “raw, x-rated dancehall,” but given how thick the artists accents are, most of the lewd words slip by incognito. Not that any of it is poetic genius. Almost all of the tracks are about getting loaded, partying, and getting laid. Much like Pitbull’s music, you don’t listen to ragga because you want deep emotional insights into the state of the world. You want music that is going to make you dance and forget about your worries. To that extent “Ragga Ragga Ragga 2012” is a success, though you may have some regrets in the morning.