In Gangsta for Life, “Squeeze Breast,” a filthy-mout’d litany of Mavado’s pussy-wrangling skills (rendered even more lascivious by the lingering Jamaican pronunciation of “poosey”), segues into “Heart Beat,” an innocent, yearning love song to a girl he’s yet to bed. The album’s concept—this is a symphony playing off the Jamaican rapper’s many moods—would misfire if Mavado weren’t truly the “Real McKoy,” as he announced in the 2004 tune that launched him. Taken together with scattered pearls of spoken piety dropped like blessings by a Rasta elder, Gangsta‘s tracks (some proven hits, some new) betray a severe case of multiple-personality disorder.
But Mavado represents for the “ghettio,” and what could be more schizophrenic than an island life that’s paradise for a few and a prison sentence for most? That essential truth is the source of reggae’s sweet and sour attractions, so Gangsta is doing nothing less than keeping it all too real. The violence of “Me and My Dogs” and “ABP” lives side by side with “Sadness,” Mavado’s lament for his father, and it’s not surprising that the album’s centerpiece is “Dying,” a Tupac riff that similarly vacillates between empathy and rage. Mavado’s lyrical skills are nearly as shattering, and he’s got that gift for singing with a mystic’s sensibility and MC’ing with a thug’s stony heart. At nearly every turn, what threatens at first listen to be a clichéd, hypocritical, blatant audience bid turns out to be truly dangerous, a bulletin issued straight from Jamaica’s troubled psyche.