This is the 45th installment of VP Records long-running “Strictly The Best” series, which collect the biggets current reggae hits into one package. “Volume 45” concentrates on dancehall artists, which might make it the more obvious pick for hip-hop fans.
The first half of the disc all follows the same template: electric piano, synthesizers, and an Auto-Tuned DJ sing/chatting in an impenetrable patois. It was hard for me to tell the difference between Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Beenie Man, Popcaan, DeMarco, and Chipmunk.
Things pick up with Wayne Marshall’s ridiculous “Swaggin WTF!! (Too Bad For You),” a song as nuts as its title. Things get harder and grittier from that song on.
Tony Matterhorn’s “Dancehall Duppy” actually makes fun of the singers on the first half of the album, and the fact that they all sound the same.
Twin of Twins sounds exactly like a dancehall Lil Wayne on “Cigarette Murder,” complete with gravelly voice and out-there rhymes. Bounty Killers “Ready Fi Dem” provides more hits to the solar plexus with the combination of pounding beat and gruff rhymes. It’s balanced out by Chino’s “God Nah Sleep (A Rise and Fall Story),” which brings some sanity and reflection to the proceedings.
The final song is my personal favorite, Damien Marley’s “Wanted (Just Ain’t the Same).” It reinterprets Dr. Dre’s “The Watcher,” using the line “Things just ain’t the same for gangsta’s” to discuss violence in Jamaica and the shady state of the music industry. Marley’s gruff whisper sounds both wise and menacing, and he offers the perfect combination of hip-hop delivery and reggae lilt.
With it’s beats and chatting, “Volume 45” is more likely to appeal to hip-hop heads, but the soulful singing of “Volume 44” is worth experiencing as well. If you are looking for an overview of the current state of reggae, “Strictly the Best” Volumes 44 and 45 are good places to start.