Music Reviews

Heroes of Kingston

Various Artists


This album is problematic for so many reasons. If its title is meant to be taken literally, then it leaves little to be said of the cultural viability of Jamaican music. First off, where the hell are the “heroes” referred to in the title? Sure there are tracks by Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis and Rico Rodriguez, but what about the Skatalites and Prince Buster? One cannot even begin a conversation about Jamaican music without evoking such pioneers.

Then there is the antiseptic production. Simply put, it’s very white. I mean, after the whole ska-boom minstrel show debacle of the 1990s, I didn’t think Jamaican music could get any more honkified. I stand corrected. On this album there is nary a danceable beat, let alone a convincing bass drop. I believe the producers are attempting some dub/dancehall motif here, but the result sounds more like the tinny, poppy schlock of spurious ska bands such as the Toasters. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about Jamaican music knows it’s all about syncopated bass lines (for those of you who don’t know, take a listen to the “rests” of Lloyd Brevette). Heroes of Kingston signifies docility and vapidity, the utter antithesis of true Jamaican music which is dynamic and engaging, beckoning the listen to get lost in a barrage of rhythmic beats.

Not every track is a regrettable inclusion. The one bright moment is Dennis Alcapone’s “Dance with Me Baby,” incidentally the album’s concluding track. The bass is deep and infectious (as it should be), and the toasting is refreshing. Dennis Alcapone is indeed one of the most interesting DJs of the skinhead reggae era, but a “hero” of Kingston he is not. Why he is included on this compilation escapes me. Yet, considering this is the only worthwhile track on the album, I ain’t gonna complain.

If it is a good compendium of Jamaican music that you seek, this is not it. But, don’t despair, for there is a profusion of worthwhile compilations out there. A good starting point is the Box Set series put out by Trojan.

Lakeshore Records:

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