Two recent dance hall releases highlight two very different approaches to the genre. Busy Signal’s D.O.B. is full of high-energy songs about partying, while Capleton’s I-Ternal Fire offers a more mature and reflective perspective.
Busy Signal’s third album, D.O.B., is full of raucous riddims, hyperactive rapping, and many odes to partying and getting it on. Much of the success of the album is owed to the producers, who include DJ Karim, Kalonji D’Aguilar, Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor, Shane Brown, T’Jean Bennett, and Andrew Myrie. They show some of the same risk-taking and experimentation that made turn of the century hip hop so exciting. There are latin riddims on “Picane” and “Busy Latino,” and classical flourishes on “Opera.” “Nuh Fraid” sounds like Southern club rap, and “Hair Dresser Shop” draws from American R&B. Several tracks offer up the distilled essence of dancehall, including “Summn’ A Guh Gwaan,” with Bounty Killer, and “My Money (Money Tree).” The latter is little more than a snapping beat with Busy Signal’s Auto-Tuned voice filling up the empty space, minimalism at its best.
Busy Signal rounds out his dancefloor movers with a handful of slower tracks. “Sweet Love (Night Shift)” is an update on the Commodores’ 80s hit “Night Shift,” and despite the cheese factor, Busy makes it work. He tries the trick again on “One More NIght,” but this time around the source material (Phil Collins) isn’t worth resurrecting. He picks a better song to rework on “Hi Grade,” which references Tenor Saw’s “Ring The Alarm” to praise the herb. The album ends with the ballad “Peace Reign,” which proves that there is more to Busy than nightclubbing. Still, Busy Signal is at his best when he’s getting asses to move, and the finest moments on D.O.B. are the uptempo ones.
There’s not much geared towards the club on Capleton’s I-Ternal Fire. The dancehall veteran has put out over twenty albums, and his slack days are far behind him. His latest album sees him examining what is right and wrong with the world, offering up 15 tracks of reggae that draws from roots artists like Bob Marley.
At his best, Capleton channels the righteous anger and soulful riddim of roots reggae. “Global War” criticizes Western countries for their wars; “Acres” celebrates marijuana agriculture; and “Same Old Story” is a moving ballad. The production throughout is lush, drawing heavily on acoustic instrumentation to create an organic feel. However, while the album sounds great and I appreciate the conscious lyrics, I-Ternal Fire is too mellow for my tastes. It’s adult contemporary reggae, which isn’t my cup of tea. While I may not put I-Ternal Fire on heavy rotation, it is still a solid album that fans of mellower reggae will enjoy. Personally, I’ll stick with the more energetic if less morally defensible Busy Signal.