One thing is certain: you can•t accuse King Django of resting on his laurels and simply making the same record over and over. Whether with his two main projects (the traditionalists Stubborn All-Stars and the post-modern Skinnerbox), in his production work, or in any number of side projects, Django (nee Jeff Baker) continually changes things up, trying fresh approaches and new ideas, and defying all expectations. That•s even truer of the projects he releases under his own (stage) name. 1998•s King Django•s Roots and Culture was a challenging and interesting foray, mixing ska and reggae with klezmer and Judaica. Now his Hellcat Records debut, Reason, mixes things up even more, bringing elements of punk, jungle, hip hop, dub, electronica, dancehall, and much more into the mix, making for a mix of sounds that, while extremely eclectic, still manages to gel into a cohesive whole. The result is one of the most compelling and eminently listenable albums of the year thus far.
Based on the presence of several members of the late, lamented Florida band King 7 & the Soulsonics (including current Mighty Mighty Bosstones saxophonist Roman Fleysher) and the liner note that several of Reason•s basic tracks were recorded in Ft. Lauderdale, I•m assuming that the genesis of this project was in late •98, when Django toured Florida with King 7 as •King Django & the Soulsonics• (see live review). At the time, I was told (not directly by Django, mind you), that the idea was to do a dancehall project. While there are certainly dancehall elements on the record (like the naughty slackness of •Chase Pum Pum,• for just one example), Reason is so much more than just a dancehall project. Take •Hustle The Mac,• which has some of those dancehall elements, especially in the toasting, but adds in a killer deep horn line, some breakbeat drum programming, and some nice, dubby effects at the end. Or the dense, heavy title track, which marries a nice reggae groove to a harder guitar sound and Django•s incomparable toasting). Or the anthemic punk flavor of •Kick It Out,• the torchy, soulful •I Got a Ride,• the moody •Precipice,• the acidic •I Don•t Want You.• But most stunning is the closing •Cold Fronting,• which marries hard electronic drumbeats with a cool guitar and Django•s smooth vocals for a completely unique sound. In short, everywhere you turn on Reason, there•s something new, different, fresh, and exciting happening.
Even when Django revisits old themes and ideas, the result is fresh and vibrant. Take the rerecorded version of the Skinnerbox tune •LKO,• for example, which takes the basic riddim and mixes it up with tasty keys and beeping electronics for a completely new sound. And when Django lobs another salvo in the long-running •Season• battle (see also Stubborn All-Stars• •Open Season,• Hepcat•s •Open Season•Is Closed,• Skinnerbox•s •Hepcat Season,• and more), he changes it up: while still bragging about his skills, he sets to rest any lingering doubts that the whole thing wasn•t all in fun (•I•ll kick it non-stop off the top of my head/But I didn•t come to talk about the next man dead/If he try test me or step to my crew/Cause I ain•t the type of guy to pull a gun on you•), but still takes a swipe at his chief rivals in the •Season• battles, Hepcat•s Alex Desert and Richie •Dr. Ring-Ding• Senior (•My echo ring from California to Germany•), while paying props to both the New York Posse and old school heroes like Prince Buster and Yellowman.
In all, it•s no stretch to say that Django•s got another winner in Reason. I don•t expect I•ll stop listening to this one any time soon • the record simply demands repeated listens and complete attention. I can•t give this one a higher recommendation. Pick it up, and catch him on tour this summer to see just how he•s gonna pull this crazy business off live!