At a recent party, when the DJ dropped a bass-heavy Baltimore Club track, a man turned to me and proclaimed, “I want my epitaph to read: Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom!”
Bass is powerful, you feel it hit in the sternum, feel that air being pushed. Bass, the word itself, is such a great example of onomatopoeia; it reads like it sounds. I think of a recent King Lear production were Edmund delivers his bastard monologue accompanied by a bass player–apt given the heavy alliteration on the “B” sound and the pun on base/bass. “Why brand they us/ With bass!” would read the play if it had been written by another, more current, Londoner, Kevin Martin aka The Bug. His new album features a multitude of ragga-tinged guest vocalists, and of course centers around bowl shaking bass.
While I’ll concede that I’m not the most knowledgeable individual on the emerging dubstep scene, of which The Bug was an originator, the power of London Zoo is immediate, apparent, and doesn’t need to the ear of a connoisseur to be appreciated.
I was first introduced to The Bug via the 2003 split EP with DJ/rupture. The first half of the recording went to The Bug featuring the Rootsman, while the second half was Rupture’s glitched-out productions. I was impressed by how aggressive, yet danceable The Bug’s tracks were. At that time dancehall was receiving mainstream hype thanks to Sean Paul and others, but here was something infinitely more gritty, and with so much more bass. It sounded similar to pop dancehall, but only if it were created in some kind of post apocalyptic bombed out world, where the “Every-ting gwonna be irie” vibe of reggae had completely died out. In it’s place stood the sound that would become dubstep.
Dubstep pulls from grime, dancehall, drum and bass, ragga, and most importantly dub, that bass heavy, rhythm-centric creation of Lee “Scratch” Perry and his aural ilk. This past winter I attended a lecture at Peabody by Yale University ethnomusicologist Michael Veal on the impact of dub. While I didn’t need to be convinced, Veal persuasively argued that dub’s influence is far reaching, from the genre offshoots (such as hip-hop, drum and bass, dubstep, etc.), to studio technology and production philosophy, so on and so forth.
For such a small Caribbean nation, Jamaica has influenced the course of poplar music in ways almost unheard of.
The album starts in that typical combative “souljah” way with a track called “Angry.” Tippa Irie elucidates on the topics that make his blood boil atop a beat that is so harsh, so bassy, and yet so conducive to booty shaking. Tipp Irie’s fury peaks with a few lines about the abandonment of poor people in New Orleans after Katrina. Coming nearly on the anniversary of Katrina, coupled with my frustration with the past eight years of Bush, and now, currently, the possibility of a McCain presidency, this track addresses those injustices in the world which should rightfully outrage anyone. However, a certain level of catharsis comes from dancing to a track listing such blatant problems. While I’ve never felt better after listening to Ian MacKaye scream a litany of social ills, I do get a sense of ease after listening to Gil Scott Heron’s “B Movie.” There is something about political fury channeled through dance music that sticks more for me; something about having conscientious lyrics, but with a beat I can move to. Think Public Enemy.
“Skeng” is a highlight of the first half of the album. Given the aggressive nature of this album (and dubstep/grime/any “urban” music in general), do you want to take a guess as to what “Skeng” means? Yes, that’s right—it’s derived from Patois for blade, but can also mean gun. I love the threatening line, “Me have the machine ready for ‘dem, ready for ‘dem.” The track is brooding, with just a minimal, but effective beat.
The lyrics are hard to decipher, given the use of Patois, but the message it still there. The guttural delivery projects a certain sense of ominous doom, but one that is vague (given that fact that I know threats are being tossed around, but don’t know the dialect well enough to figure in what exact way the violence is to come). But that unknowing only heightens the scariness of the vocals, at least for me.
“Poison Dart” hits just so fucking hard, there’s no other way to say it. The bottom end puts any drum and bass track to shame. Warrior Queen spits out violent rhymes over The Bug’s booming riddim. Warrior Queen doesn’t bring a gun to the fight, but packs instead a precise poison dart. The video for the track only furthers the feeling, following the sonic battle of Mad Max-esque sound-system nomads.
Overall this is a primer for the world of dubstep, introducing many to some of the key MCs in the scene. I find the lyrics impenetrable, but like I mentioned before, that only heightens the threatening element. Seriously listen to this album, but only on the biggest speakers you can find. It’s a Dies Irae for the post-industrial urban landscape, but this time in Patois rather than Latin, and the Tuba miram booms out of the sound-system subwoofer, not the brass section.
Maybe that man can’t have his epitaph, but now, at least, there is a fitting bombastic requiem for him to play upon his death.
The Bug Featuring Warrior Queen – Poison Dart
The Bug – Skeng
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