Round 5: DJ (part 3)
S 90 Skank
|I don't know
how we're gonna break the dj deadlock, and I'm not sure I care - I'm
just going to use this opportunity to indulge my great love for the
original dreadlocks, who indelibly put his stamp on all dj that came
Big Youth shares
plenty stylistically with the other toasters of his era like U Roy, I
Roy, and Dennis Alcapone. But beyond bouncy rhyming, clever lyrics
punctuated with shouts over the best rock steady and reggae cuts of
early 1970s, Big Youth had something else - or lots of other things.
He had a unique chanting style that was somewhere between talking and
singing that was repetitive and meditative, but also spontaneous,
unpredictable and sometimes choppy.
Very early on he
interwove rasta spirituality (some say he was the first openly dread
performer in Jamaican music), local politics, pop cultural references
(everything from Spiderman to Billy Jack), and gutteral sounds. In these
ways he reflected a kind of anarchic, psychadelic vibe that his forebears
hadn't yet developed.
I think it is why the punks, like Johnny Rotten
(and later Sonic Youth and others) dug him so much. He was equally loved
at home of course, where his populist credentials and attention to crucial runnings earned him the street name "the human gleaner."
But while he differed
from the first generation of dj, Big Youth is also rooted in the Kingston
ghettos of the 1970s and therefore different from what came after. Have
yu noticed that almost all of our cuts for this extended round have come
out of either London or New York?
Those scenes exploded with dj music in
the 80s in part because of an exodus of artists from Jamaica in the 70s,
but also because they reflected the creative tension that emerged from the
second-generation immigrant experience primarily in England but also in
America. As such it has a very different feel than 70s toasting and dj.
But even the dj coming from Jamaica had a different feel musically and
politically. Much of 80s dj is poppy, and often kind of light (think of
the biggies - Tippa Irie, Michigan and Smiley, Eastwood and Saint, etc.)
Big Youth, on the other
hand, is anchored in a slow, heavy jamaican vibe in a time when Kingston
was a very heavy and heavily politicized place - reflected in such songs
as "Greenbay Killing." His chants are often goofy too - but that
loose-limbed playfulness takes place within a dread groove musically and
socially. In this way he prefigures 80s dj but is distinct from it.
Why S 90 Skank?
This awesome song was a huge hit for Jah Youth
as well as the debut moment for the great talents of producer Keith
Hudson. From the opening rev of the japanese motorbike for which it's
named, it is all Big Youth - sweet, rocking chants and big exclamations.
It is dead-on with Hudson's sparse and understated dub style.
If ya ride like lightening, ya crash like