The late 80s represent a robust but controversial period in the Jamaican recording industry, as DJs were on the rise with new lyrical approaches, and digital production ruled the day. In the center of the storm was Lloyd James, better known as King Jammy, who is credited for revolutionizing digital production several years earlier with Wayne Smith’s “Under Mi Sleng Teng.” This was the era the term ‘dancehall’ came widely into circulation to describe the new digital sound that came to commonly include slack lyrics and gun themes popular on the street.
Still relevant, the artists from the 1970s were working to redefine themselves in the digital era. Groups like Wailing Souls and Cultural Roots remained active, even if their multi-part harmony vocals might have seemed overly ornate on these new digital backing tracks, replete with drum machines and sparse synthesized chords. Solo singers like Johnny Osbourne, Junior Murvin, and the up and coming Cocoa Tea found a place for melody alongside the new crop of emcees.
With the thorough compilation Cries From The Youth (set for July 7, 2023 release), Greensleeves Records’ Chris O’Brien presents the period at King Jammy’s across 32 tracks, alongside two original, out of print albums in their entirety, from Wailing Souls, Stormy Night (set for June 16th release), and Cultural Roots, Running Back To Me (set for June 30th).
Cries From The Youth is stridently and defiantly focused on the progress of underclass Jamaicans, recorded in the heart of Kington’s Waterhouse neighborhood at Jammy’s Studio at 38 St. Lucia Avenue. The collection features the work of established artists such as Sugar Minott, Dennis Brown, Johnny Osbourne, and Wailing Souls, alongside the cutting-edge dancehall artists like Super Cat, Cocoa Tea, Nitty Gritty, and King Kong. The material deals with both reality narratives and more aspirational spiritual themes, all of which defined the times in Waterhouse and across the city of Kingston.
Cultural Roots – Running Back To Me
Originally released by Mango Records in 1988, Cultural Roots’ Running Back To Me features prime King Jammy digital production that brought forth hits like Wayne Smith’s “Sleng Teng” and would dominate Jamaican music between 1985-1995.
Cultural Roots emerged as a four-part harmony group for producer Donovan Germain in the late 1970s, releasing two albums. The group with its original lineup then recorded for Junjo Lawes, releasing Hell A Go Pop, one of the Greensleeves label’s lesser-known classics.
The group reemerged in 1988 with a new trio lineup for King Jammy, still led by singer Wade Dyce. Tracks include the ever cultural “His Majesty Reign” and the moving love song “Passion Lover,” which shares the backing track with one King Jammy’s all-time smash hits, Frankie Paul’s “I Know The Score.”
The neighborhood of Waterhouse provided a natural connection between the members of Wailing Souls and producer King Jammy. The Souls, like many, had moved from their original base and home in Trench Town at the dawn of the 1980s to Waterhouse and spent the decade in the area they helped make famous with their anthem “Fire House Rock” in 1981.
For King Jammy, the Souls found a new sound for a new era, still holding their epic harmonies, but with a downsized trio lineup that included co-founders Pipe Matthews and Bread McDonald adding Earth Messengers’ Devon Beckford. For these sessions, Bobby Digital was at the helm, bringing the latest sound straight from King Jammy’s Studio at 38 St. Lucia Avenue.
In the tradition of dancehall music, the 10-track album, originally released on the US Rohit label in 1989, included backing tracks found elsewhere in the King Jammy catalog, including the ace “Propaganda,” also voiced by Frankie Paul as “You Standing There,” and by Cultural Roots as “Sweet Lady“ plus a remake of their Studio One breakout track “Fire Coal Man.” Their popular single “Move On” appeared on this LP as “Carry On.”
— Carter Van Pelt