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Brooklyn outsider performs surgery on Jamaica's formula

One turntable spinning through a crate of vinyl, giant speakers blasting riddims into backbones, and a hypester on the mic—that's the Jamaican sound system, a cheap fix for music cravers lacking the price of a concert ticket. That same level of need and imagination fueled Brooklyn reggae producer-D J Dr. Israel's '99 Inna City Pressuredebut, a gritty extrapolation on the bare-bones JA template. Israel's smart bomb packed punk, ska, funk, rock, jungle, and hip-hop, proving the right sensibility can make a joyful fusion of disparate music genres. Several years later, he sallies forth with the equally tough and shifting Patterns of War.

Nothing's sweatier than genuine Jamrock-produced product, but recycled sweat turns stale, and sometimes it takes an outsider to freshen the formula and come up with new combinations, like alternating the doc's commanding mic intelligence in "Tetze (Get Out)" with the keening Middle Eastern melodies of Israel-born Chemda's Hebrew refrains. Or launching lead track "Counting Out Stones," with a classic DJ threat "to rock the nation," then turning over the mic to Lady K, the Dreadtone treasure Israel unearthed via a Craigslist ad. Mingling reggae's idealism and brawn, she evokes the goose bump thrill of classic reggae's "youthman" tenors, but in the moodily sensual "Cover Me" and working off Israel's baritone reasonings in "Sensemilla," Lady K is more Sade than Sanchez. "Sensemilla" starts like any other hackneyed herb ode, but takes an unexpected sharp left, bang into a wall of drum noise, electronica distortion, and soul guidance.

Rocks the nation, mingles idealism and brawn, finds singers on Craigslist
Photograph by Eve Prime
Rocks the nation, mingles idealism and brawn, finds singers on Craigslist

Israel is insider enough to know what to keep—musical JA diction, bassy one-drop riddims, and the delirious dreadness of it all—but his non-Jamaicanness is an even greater asset: It frees him to be there and anywhere else.

 
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