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Wookie J and Natty Remo: Big Up to Classic Reggae
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
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Each version features the deft duet flipping between dance hall and hip hop vocals, tradin' verses in battle cat style like old school rappers, or Michigan and Smiley. Making the tune fresh is the party/unity theme, praising brotherhood and jah. No shots bus' out and no bling bling. This unity of two flavas is underscored by the shifting of the drums between a laid back, funky, hip hop beat, and whiplash dance hall rhythms.

For anyone serious about real music, be they musicians or discerning, intelligent listeners, it's all about mining the past. As the commercial music industry starts to tank, and the Captain Ahab's of the business chase the white whale of downloads and music pirating, I have to laugh. They are reaping what they have sown. When what is "new" is contrived and soulless, merely plastic product that's hyped for profit, you have to go back - in time. Back to when the music got you nourished and excited, when you felt that feeling.

Like the time I was in Jamaica, 1983, and heard real Jamaican toasting and dub reggae. Drums, horns, keyboards, the Gary Numan-esque electronic drum machine of "Sponji Reggae," and the bouncing beats and rough and odd styles of Supercat and Barrington Levy. The toasting contests in the basement of an old church. Brigadier Jerry. Warm Red Stripe beer. Ganja, lots of ganja. Natty Remo's "Babylon Fall" and Wookie J's "Big Up The Children,"twin new releases on Kulcha Shok Musik, bring me back to that time in Jamaica, and others here in Babylon. At a time when reggae is going through hard times, from a musical (as opposed to popularity/monetary) perspective, it's good to see two artists mining the fertile ground of Jamaican music.

Natty Remo MP3: "Babylon Fall"

Natty Remo made his name, musically, in both N.Y. and Jamaica, as a live performer and underground recording artist. "I never had a so-called hit record but would get air play," he says. "I even got an award in NY for being the best performing artist two years in a row." In Jamaica he was also nominated for best new artist of the year in 1994. Vocally, he has an on-point, consistent and relentless style. On the title song, he kicks it with pure 80's, north-side-of-the-island, roughneck Jamaican vocals. He chants conscious lyrics that rail against oppression of blacks, and all righteous people, over a roots rhythm. "Can't Buy Me Love" is a cover of that Beatles' song, given a dreadlock makeover, with ragga verses that use and twist the original lyrics into Bob Marley-style "come down" rant against money lust. "Nah Tell the Truth" is classic socially conscious reggae, criticizing greed and political exploitation. The rough riding song "Robbery" echoes from the time of the Jamaican civil war in the mid seventies, and the flair ups of crime and class war between political gangs. This rough tail of revenge recalls "Steppin' Razor" and shows that it ain't all "easy runnins" in paradise. Old school jams? Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wookie J MP3: "Big Up the Children"

Wookie J was blessed early in his career by hanging out and opening up for Barrington Levy. "He would show me a lot of encouragement and tell me to never give up," says Wookie. "One time, after opening up for him he gave me a hug and it made me feel so good." Hi voice is both solid, and versatile, smoothly flowing from lovers, to roots, to dancehall, and around to hip hop style. The title song, and the following tune, "Thank Jah," are classic lover's rock, smooth and soulful. But the best of the lot in this mode is "Cutie Pie, " where he pays homage to the noble baritone of Barrington Levy. Musically, it has a choice "Pass the Dutchie" sample. The deft mix of drums and drum machines, on this and throughout the record, recall Sly and Robbie innovative and still strong production. Proving his control and integration of diverse styles, he rocks in the 70's and 80's sound system style championed by such greats as Big Youth and Dr. Alimantado on "Romp Up" and "Herbman Connection." Don't think this is a hodgepodge of style bites. No, Wookie J, like the best musicians, can integrate and echo various voices into his unique own. One can also hear and understand the lyrics clearly, always a plus.

Showing Kulcha Shok unity, the song"Yankee and Yardee" is on both disks, with different mixes. Natty's Remo's mix is dominated by a DJ Premier-style beat (he of the conscious rap group Gangstarr, and producer of Nas' best work) with horns and a piano loop. Wookie J's mix is sparser, dominated by drums. Each version features the deft duet flipping between dance hall and hip hop vocals, tradin' verses in battle cat style like old school rappers, or Michigan and Smiley. Making the tune fresh is the party/unity theme, praising brotherhood and jah. No shots bus' out and no bling bling. This unity of two flavas is underscored by the shifting of the drums between a laid back, funky, hip hop beat, and whiplash dance hall rhythms. Hip hop and reggae, natural allies, are perfectly blended on Wookie J's "Flip the Script," which has toasting/chatting over a dope beat (Scott LaRock and KRS1, holla). Both records also show respect to the music's roots (and the listener) with extra dub mixes that recall such masters as Mad Professor, the Roots Radics, and Dennis Bovell. Talk about bringing back your lost arts. I asked each artist to talk about their history and influences.

"Yankee & Yardie" MP3s: "Natty Remo Mix" - "Wookie J Mix"

Q. Describe the first time you said to yourself, "I want to play music."?

Natty Remo: It was along time ago. It wasn't really about playing music, it was more about being a DJ, and being affiliated with the music. I started at around the age of thirteen.

Wookie J: The first time I wanted to play music I can't pin point it but it's something I've always lived. It started out when I was going to the dance halls in Jacksonville, Florida. Seeing Yellowman made me want to do reggae. I loved how he moved the crowd.

Wookie J MP3: "Nice Up the Dance (featuring Shinehead)"

Q. What are your earliest musical memories? Did your parents play music in the house?

Natty Remo: My first influence in music was the church. My parents did play music: it was Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, country & western, and I grew up listening to Skeeter Davis and Martin Robinson (Remo starts singing his most popular song-the western-styled one).

Natty Remo MP3: "You're My Lover"

Wookie J: My dad had a record player, and he always played records 45's and music from the Commodores & Blondie. When I was 10 I started listening to rap, especially when I was boxing. Then I started buying my own records and the first one I ever bought was George Clinton's "Atomic Dog."

Q. Your styles of reggae and dance hall are closer to the 80's styles of Black Uhuru and Big Youth and perhaps Buju Banton than the slick chatter of Shaggy or the hyper rhythms of some 90's hardcore dance hall. Why are your styles rooted in this period?

Natty Remo: Because that's the time I really came out. It was the early set of DJs, just like the one you mentioned, Big Youth. My early influence was the late 70's, the 80's and all the 90's. I would also like to mention that with this, my first album, I have also completed my first solo video.

Wookie J: For me, that's the time and era I love, that style. It's the time I love the best, it's laid back. It's rockers, it's lovers' rock and the ol' school dancehall, is what it's all about for me.
Wookie J website
Natty Remo website

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