Some time ago the venerable Heatwave deejays produced a mixtape entitled An England Story, a blazing forty-track history lesson that follows the U.K. emcee from its birth in the transplanted Caribbean soundsystems of the ’70s and ’80s to present day. Now Soul Jazz has put out a handsome two-CD set, unofficially parsing down that forty-track mix to twenty-one unmixed songs.
The set attempts to touch upon all Caribbean-influenced U.K. music cultures and does a exemplary job, considering the breadth of such a task. Tippa Irie’s “Complain Neighbor” touches upon the ’80s “fastchat” style, when dancehall emceeing first began to really sound like rapping. Skibadee’s “Tika Toc,” a hip-hop track constructed from Tenor Saw’s ’86 hit, “Golden Hen,” is an obvious but timeless crossover burner. Top Cat’s “Love Mi Ses” appears as a nod to the unfathomably huge number of dancehall tracks turned — in this case by the original dancehall artist himself — into jungle hits.
Not all of the selections come across as obvious “best-of” selections. Stush (a.k.a. “Lady Stush”) comes with the outstanding “Dollar Sign,” which stands alongside Riko’s vocal cut of the Wiley-produced “Ice Rink” riddim as excellent post millennium grime(ish) tracks. Warrior Queen’s collaboration with the Heatwave themselves (“Things Change”) is also here, itself a kind of history lesson and homage.
The tracks on An England Story are not chronological, which helps accentuate the cultural osmosis that helped dancehall become grime, jungle, garage, and dubstep. The selection is ace; each disc plays through perfectly. Yet the most endearing thing about the compilation is the very palpable desire to educate. The liner notes come across, both through the tone of the writing and the content of the interviews, as a bit frustrated at the current deficit of historical knowledge found within today’s fan base of dancehall’s offshoots.
Not only do the Heatwave want you to enjoy the dancehall on this compilation, they want you to enjoy the other genres through the lens of their dancehall beginnings — and rightfully so. With history teachers this good, it’s a welcome homework assignment.