August is a sleepy month in the District. Congress is on vacation. Regular people are on vacation. I’ll be on vacation. But even if you’re not headed to the beach anytime soon, there’s still ways of distracting yourself from the brutal day-in, day-out drag of real life. I’m talking about the magic of reggae music.
Sometimes reggae gets a bad rap for being too dubbed out. Sometimes people like to treat Bob Marley as if he alone made up the entirety of what reggae has to offer. But listening to the classic Jamaican dancehall duos is exactly what you need for a vacation in your mind. Best of all, none of these duos sound anything like Lee “Scratch” Perry or any of the Marleys. What they do sound like is a good time, or more accurately, like early hip-hop since these dancehall toasters mark the beginning of the MC.
Yellowman, everyone’s favorite albino Jamaican, has one of the most very impressive catalogs of music in all of reggae music. And though Fathead never came close to reaching the fame of his partner, the duo make a very solid pair. This album came early in both artists recording career. While Yellowman is definitely front and center, Fathead seems happy enough to play the supporting role. The album touches on a variety of themes from poverty to religion to loving a fat lady. This album has it all. There’s also a stellar version of “Bam Bam” (Danny Espinosa’s walk-up song) that features Tiger.
“Everyday the people talk about Smiley/What happened to I sugar Daddy?/Don’t you know I’m sweeter than candy/and I’m nicer than the cakes and the pastries.” Doesn’t that just sound like it could be a Fetty Wap lyric. It’s not, its a Smiley (so named because he never smiles) line. This classic toasters duo’s last hit record “Sugar Daddy” is one of the most timeless of the post-Marley era of reggae. Though the music video for “Sugar Daddy” is most certainly dated, it is nonetheless awesome because of that.
“No pop no style, us strictly roots” claims Althea & Donna, in their lone smash hit “Uptown Top Ranking.” The duo was only around for a brief period time from 1977-1979. They were sixteen when they recorded their only full length release, which is also entitled “Uptown Top Ranking.” The title track was a big hit for the duo, and they’d go on to preform it on Top of the Pops. The rest of the album isn’t too shabby either. The girls sound like a very dready Motown outfit and the album is full of soul and dance worthy grooves.