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Bass : Files #10

Johnny Ilan on Geeneus, the lack of a decent riddim and Ms Dynamite's comeback.

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Ms Dynamite has always been one of the hottest talents in UK urban music. For a start, she’s incredibly hot. Secondly, she’s one of finest and most versatile vocalists in the scene bar none. She turned heads in 2001, appearing on wax with So Solid on ‘Envy’ at the height of their status and arguably outperforming all of them. Her album ‘A Little Deeper’ dropped the next year. Whilst it managed to become something of a coffee-table standard and isn’t a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, it wasn’t garage. Although she has talent enough to go beyond the scene, her career never really gained the momentum it deserved and 2005’s ‘Judgement Day’ went the way of Arnie’s popularity ratings. Thankfully, she now has more than an ill-advised participation in celeb reality TV to keep her going, thanks to a well-timed re-entry into the urban scene.

Over the last couple of months two new tracks have circulated and demonstrate once again her wicked flow and killer ability to switch between spitting and singing. ‘Bad Gyal’ sees her team up once again with Sticky, who built the rattling riddim for her early garage hit ‘Boo!’. Dynamite issues a blistering dismissal to men who think it’s worth taking her for a toy, reminding them she’s ‘hot like fiyah’ and clashing her will get them burned. Sticky’s production employs the increasingly popular gypsy violin hook over a beat that’s somewhere between garage, hip-hop and funky. This is reputedly going to be the first single from the new album, due out before the end of the year.

More exciting is her rude gyal delivery on the Geeneus production ‘Crackish (Get Low)’, an uncompromising funky riddim that sits well underneath her ragga styles. Her recent-ish collab with the Nextmen, however, falls quite flat. The struggle for Dynamite comes down to a choice between truly excelling within the (narrow enough) urban scene or risking losing impact (again) through failing to set the mainstream on fire. It’s not clear as yet which trajectory the full album will aim for.

Geeneus is certainly a man to know how to tread the line between populist appeal and scene integrity with incomparable grace. His remix of ‘Show Me Love’ is still the tune to lure the uninitiated into funky. It’s about to be joined by his next re-imagination of a dance classic, this time Inner City’s ‘Good Life’. Not a track that’s short of remixes, Geeneus’ version can hold its own. A fairly accurate reproduction of the original is treated to signature soca-beat and rolling bassline. For the traditionalists still unsure of what to make of the whole ‘funky’ phenomenon, there was a pretty good article about it posted recently on XLR8R which both knocks some of the genre’s more comical and less forward thinking material, whilst celebrating some of the ceaseless innovation that can be found:

The notion of ‘mutant funk’, ‘funky-step’ or ‘experimental funky’ is an interesting one for those who like it when new sub-genres are labelled, but also an accurate reflection of developments in the scene, where the most avant-garde in dubstep, funky and garage are singing from very similar hymn sheets. Anyone interested in the more reflective side of the funky’s evolution would be well off copping every Dark Knight release they can get their hands on. Adept at exploring ranges of BPM that tend to be ignored by the ‘skanky’ side of the genre, and drawing on influences as diverse as jazz and Detroit, his productions are a real treat.

Although Roska has typically been registered amongst the ranks of the more experimental, his latest venture sees him lend a particular good beat to a particularly ridiculous vocal. The recently released collaboration with Jamie George, ‘Wonderful Day’, bubbles with amazingly executed percussion but grinds with cockney-tinged lyrics about grown folk acting carefree like kids. Definitely a strange track, killer and cringe-worthy in one with no sign, unfortunately, of an instrumental.

Both Knight and Roska feature on the recently released ‘Fantastic Four’ white-label EP (alongside DVA and D-Malice), which is a highly recommended purchase. Each producer offers a distinctive track and there’s plenty to please both mind and feet. Also snatch up the forthcoming L-Vis 1990 and Bok Bok EP just dropped on Glasgow based Dress 2 Sweat. This is a label, much like Flaming Hotz, that has succeeded in representing some of the breadth of styles and depth of quality that appeals to followers of the whole ‘Global Bass’ thing. This release features the British approach to it and the Night Slugs boys don’t disappoint: stripped down, minimal and percussive funky, the way your mother would have made it if she had the skills or inclination. Indeed, L-Vis seems to be the name that’s launching a thousand blog posts right now. His remix of Gucci Vump’s ‘Sha! Shtil!’ has been identified by some in influence as the tune of the year. Cue idle speculation as to the identity of Gucci Vump.

None of this is to say that one need always be edgy and experimental to make good tunes. The more populist ‘Stick Up’ by Dotstar is precisely in that end of funky that the critics seem to be rounding on, but is nevertheless a solid tune that nicely employs old school keys and a slowed ‘get low’ sample to accentuate and punctuate its fat round bassline. Shame about the video:

The Jamaican music scene has always tended to deal with the effortlessly cutting-edge, although many have been hard pressed to cite its latest innovations, other than the skilful appropriation of elements from wider music styles the world over (but this has ever been reggae’s forte). The big story in ‘Yard’ continues to be that of the long simmering rivalry between Vybz Kartel’s ‘Gaza’ and Movado’s ‘Gully’ factions. Whilst artists from both camps regularly appear on the same riddims and the clash more or less remains musical, there is the constant threat that it will escalate into violence.

In any event, as the big riddims in the dance have failed to produce any truly memorable tracks in the last few months, it’s perhaps not surprising to see the classic trick of re-versioning being applied. Most notably, the ‘School Bell’ riddim, one of the hottest today, is based on Shabba Ranks’ classic ‘Ting a Ling’. Poignantly, its emergence coincided with the death of Wycliffe ‘Steely’ Johnson, who as half of Steely and Clevie, produced the original track. A bit more off-piste to the point of ridiculous has been the entry of 80’s pop artefacts into the current dancehall lexicon. The Mr Easy and South Rakkas Crew cover of Toto’s ‘Africa’, posted over on the Mad Decent blog a couple of months ago has become something of a guilty pleasure, but it’s unlikely that this one here will ever even reach that status:


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