Hip-Hop has changed tremendously in the last ten years, and as the major label way of doing business dominates the culture, we see less and less of our favorite lyricists being rewarded for making honest music. Let’s face it – these days, you need a club-banger to get radio or video play, and at the end of the day, that’s what sells records (and, ahem, ringtones). But when was the last time you saw a complex, talented lyricist like Aceyalone on television (in his own country, that is)?
Inevitably, we see our favorite classically trained rappers resort to making club-friendly jams, usually with lousy results. No deejays embrace the record, it doesn’t get played in the club, and the end result is the rapper is labeled a sellout by his fanbase, and he slowly disappears, never to be heard from again.
Aceyalone may have found a way to beat the system. Dancehall! Ah yes, the lifeblood of any closing deejay set. Sure, DJ’s can beat the crowd over the head with Timbaland and Beyonce jams all night for packed floors, but play something they don’t know, and most times they stand there looking confused. Not so with reggae (or house) music however. And that seems to be what Acey is banking on with the release of Lightning Strikes – a full LP of dancehall reggae tracks, complete with the body movin’ riddims as well as thought provoking lyrics.
The lead single – and it’s colorful accompanying video – “Eazy” – is a great modern dancehall song that would fit nicely sandwhiched in between some Sean Paul and Rihanna. Here, Acey, along with Jurassic 5′s Chali 2na and reggae vocalist / album producer Bionik rock the spot with an uptempo weed-up, pills-down anthem that works perfectly as backpack rap song and dancefloor mover. Both “Suicide” and “Pose” also work, thanks to the (dancehall beat + Acey raps + Bionik vocals) formula.
At the risk of sounding redudant, Acey and the crew change things up a bit, but with mixed results. “Shango” sounds a bit too tribal, with a beat more tailored for M.I.A. than Aceyalone, with over the top drums, whistles, and chants. Sticking out like a sore thumb is the downright awful “To The Top”, which interpolates the overdone ”sound-off” Army bootcamp song, over a sock-hop beat that has no business on the record.
Thankfully, towards the end of the record, we get some of the deeper Aceyalone we are used to. “Master” keeps things in the “Eazy” formula, but spreads more of a militant political message than the rest of the record, fitting in with the dancehall sound of the record. Things slow down on “Help Us”, where Acey examines the world’s political state over a dark dub beat. Things close out on perhaps the album’s crown jewel, “Jungle Music”, a mellow head-nodder where Bionik’s murky river water riddim helps animate Acey’s dissent with the music industry.
While Aceyalone reinventing himself as a dancehall rapper continues to add to his legacy of accepted eclecticness, it may not be what the longtime fan of the artist is looking for. Thankfully he’s still rapping in his regular voice, and not trying to fake a Jamaican accent. Bionik’s no slouch in the production department, he definitely has a great grasp on the genre and probably makes a good reggae solo artist, but whether or not this is the right move for Aceyalone remains to be seen. All in all, the heavy rasta influence on this album can’t keep it from sounding redundant, but nevertheless, Lightning Strikes successfully from time to time. - D.T. Swinga
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