Killing It, Again, With Old School Roots Flavor
Dancehall artist Busy Signal took a surprising turn when he decided to release a pure Roots Reggae album. The Jamaican star earned his fame through hard-edged tracks and a clubland image. With his new album, Busy Signal seeks to show another side of his personality. Reggae Music Again features 14 tracks – including originals and remakes using classic Roots riddims – that span the genre in terms of both sound and lyrical content. With the exception of a few duds, the songs are really good, proving that Busy Signal is a welcome addition to a Roots scene increasingly populated by non-Jamaican artists.
Just because this is Roots doesn’t mean this is old-school, Bob Marley-style Reggae. The beats are one-drops, but Busy Signal keeps it contemporary with R&B-style hooks, sliding synths, and electronic percussion. It’s a hybrid sound that fits Busy Signal’s style and is bound to please a lot of listeners.
The album kicks off with one of the strongest tracks, “Run Weh,” a hard-grooving track about the dangers of skin-bleaching. Right after, there’s the minor key, tripped-out dub of “Modern Day Slavery,” in which Busy Signal talks about the systemic poverty in Jamaica’s ghettos. Later on there are old-school horn tracks like “Fire Ball,” and Rastafarian devotional tracks like “Jah Love,” full of angelic background vocals. Then there are more Pop-leaning tracks like “Come Over” (see below), a baby-making jam in the mold of Gyptian’s “Hold You,” splashed with a gentle driplet of auto-tune (below).
Throughout, Busy Signal kills the vocals with clever rhymes, fast-paced chatting and beautifully sung melodies, breathing new life into an old rhythm. The tracks, recorded in Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios with some of the island’s best musicians, are lush and full.
The album is not without its missteps. The clear loser is the acoustic track, “Comfort Zone,” which makes the triple errors of sentimental guitar, fake strings, and light-jazz soprano sax noodling in the background.
One issue with Reggae Music Again is that with all the shape-shifting on the album, it’s hard to tell which Busy Signal is the real Busy Signal. The more political, rootsier songs will work with the dreadlock-bearing, festival crowd, and the romantic tunes wouldn’t be out of place on commercial Hip-Hop radio in the US. The Dancehall star will face scrutiny as-is for coming in out of nowhere with a Roots album. He’s made his job a little harder by serving up such a schizophrenic Reggae buffet.