When I was a wee digger, embarking on my first forays into the crates, I quickly learned the value of budget samplers. Be it Gramophone’s exhaustive classical primers or K-Tel’s top-of-the-pops roundups, these collections provided me with the alphabet to build my musical vocabulary. Today’s novice enthusiasts enter the game on far different terms, though. File sharing, search engines, and simple sound samples have economized and expedited the learning process, practically driving the econo-comp into extinction overnight. So, imagine my intrigue when Soul Jazz successfully repackaged the concept — and as a fetish, no less. The label’s Studio One reissues cover well-trodden and readily available material but use flashy packaging and a collector’s sensibility to revitalize the idea. (In fact, the label can be credited for pioneering the collectible budget comp.) The presentation earns Soul Jazz a measure of respect, but its content is disappointingly redundant (to be fair, on its more recent releases the label has been digging deeper in the vaults). In order for the beginner’s-guide comp to survive in the faster, cheaper digital age, it needs better content instead of a makeover.
At first glance, BBE and Rapster’s Kings ofï¿½ series appears to be of the same ilk as Soul Jazz’s comps: schooling the youngsters on the basics of fill-in-the-blank deejay genre. However, personalizing each volume with its own pair of sound selectors has added two important dimensions: an expert’s unique perspective on their respective field (funk, techno, disco, et cetera); and a range in perspective, because the listener gets to hear two takes on the same genre. Double the celebrity worship and consumer empowerment? Score two for the Kings!
For their reggae installment, BBE and Rapster have as usual called in U.K. sound-system champion David “Ram Jam” Rodigan and dancehall-pop producer Sting International. Both garner considerable respect within the Jamaican popular music community, but their generational divide plays out subtly in their contrasting interpretations of “essential” reggae. Rodigan came of age during Jamaica’s ’60s musical awakening and subsequently has a broad perspective of reggae’s history. His set stretches across time, from Jimmy Cliff’s pre-reggae anthem “The Harder They Come” to Richie Spice and Chuck Fender’s recent hit “Freedom.” Rodigan also draws a clear line through his selections, and favors classic roots, such as the Abyssinians’ “Satta Massa Gana,” Burning Spear’s “Marcus Garvey,” and the Congos’ “Fisherman.” Sting International similarly parades the celebrities but shows a greater pop propensity by selecting the pleasant lover’s rock of John Holt (“Love I Can Feel”) and the ’80s dancehall fillers of Yellowman (“Mad Over Me”) and Coco Tea (“Informer”). Although the junior selector digs for hits that are a shade off the beaten track (many of his artists are noted for more popular songs, but he restrains himself from replicating an obvious collection), both build sets designed to boom through a proper sound system.
Kings of Reggae is not meant to be the last word on the subject but a well-packaged platform for a couple respected perspectives — perhaps even enough to make a long-time fan rediscover the field all over again.