Tuesday, July 13, 2010

'The Amazing Adventures of Busy Signal': A Review of "D.O.B." by Busy Signal

Each and every time we get in a new ‘class’ of artists, certainly one of the most interesting things is to see and even predict how and where they’ll end up in their careers. In terms of predicting, you’ll almost surely never get it correct - The artist who you think has ‘star potential’ will suddenly decide to spend infinitely more time behind the scenes or suddenly find religion and the artist whom you thought decent, but nothing special will show his/her self to be otherworldly by signing a major international deal and selling millions of albums worldwide - You little psychic you. Just take a look back at some very random situations as of late and you’ll see what I mean. A few years ago there was a most strange, personality-less and just damn DARK singer in Bounty Killer’s Alliance camp with an over-obsession and fascination with the gun and all things death (even his own). Who in the hell could’ve predicted that this SINGER would stand up to and clash the thought to be biggest gun in the Dancehall, Vybz Kartel and in the process become easily the most DOMINANT singer the Dancehall has seen in quite some time - Mavado. You stand and look at all of the various faces who have seemingly had similar skill sets (if not larger) and haven’t had a fraction of that success and it is absolutely halting. Sticking with various members of Bounty’s camp, there’s also the issue of Busy Signal (St. Ann!) whose own rise to prominence coincides with that of friend Mavado as they came up seemingly to replace the very successful singer-DJ duo of Wayne Marshall and Kartel who had a great deal of successes with big combination tunes just a few years prior. Mavado already noted (and becoming more and more noted every damn day as he can pretty much score a hit of various sizes whenever he likes these days), the more and more you think about what’s exactly happened with Busy Signal the more and more . . . It just becomes STRANGE AS HELL. Busy began with everyone calling him ‘the next big thing’, then the label went on to the destructive Aidonia (who is another discussion on his own) after Busy seemed to take a break of sorts and when he ‘came back’ he had rediscovered himself and was great once again. The last few years have been full of big tunes from the DJ and rather quietly something else really odd has been going on with Busy Signal . . . But it doesn’t seem like anyone talks much about it.

What is it? We can sit here and throw names like Kartel, Assassin, Aidonia and others and speak about talent - That’ll be that way into perpetuity. But what is not up for debate in my opinion is that Busy Signal has become the most INVENTIVE Dancehall artist in the game today. You NEVER know what’s going to come from this man’s output. To the contrary, if I told you that Kartel, Aidonia or even Assassin (who is the most versatile of that pack, but his versatility isn’t at all subject to as many modifiers as Busy’s is) had a big new tune out, chances are that you’d come up with some kind of song and what you would come up (if you’re a Dancehall fan) may come close to the actual tune itself, because they all have set styles. Busy? Besides his tone, meaning the pitch and the range of his voice, there is NOTHING which is going to go from tune to tune these days. Certainly it has been ammunition for his detractors - You could say things such as him having failed to develop a single style to rely on or him still struggling to find his identity as an artist despite being (at least age wise) in the midst of what would seem to be his prime years of efficacy as a Dancehall artist. But as for me, I think what Busy Signal has become, what his lot in the game is, is that there is no one else who’ll take the chances he does. Listening to his vibes is always surprising and that’s a quality in and of itself. The man has mastered the ART of surprise! It’s almost like you have one artist singing songs from several different artists and they all come together to form BUSY SIGNAL. Of course that isn’t the case and his successes and his failures all go onto the shoulders of Mr. Reanno Gordon, who makes a returns shy of two years after his 2008 effort ”Loaded”, with his third official international album ”D.O.B.” for VP Records, certainly one of the biggest and most anticipated Dancehall albums of 2010 (it’s also the best thus far, but more on that later). What’s going to jump out at first on the album, most certainly, is the cover of ”D.O.B.”. Yes it features a diminutive baby Busy Signal (‘Waiting Signal’???) which surely plays on the title itself and perhaps has a further bit of representation with the album being a rebirth for the artist as what he is now. The rather odd nature of it also goes to forecast what listeners are going to hear when they actually spin the music as Busy is absolutely all over the place on this album and it pans out very well. This one, in my opinion, is much more of a DISPLAY, as opposed to a cohesive unit. So while I’m sure that, in all of my typical over-analysis, I could come up with some unifying trait appearing predominately throughout most of ”D.O.B.”, that would be a stretch for even me. Instead, should you approach this album from the standpoint of watching (listening to) fifteen different performances and displays of a single artist’s ABSURD talent levels, you’re going to come away from it very impressed by album’s end. I also think that it’s because of Busy’s randomness that I was somewhat ‘distracted’ from certain things that would’ve previously caught my attention (and most certainly will on the next Dancehall album that I review, so don’t think I’ve soften on them) as being negative things. It is said randomness and his overall appreciable skill level which, by the end of ”D.O.B.” make it currently the best Dancehall album the calendar year of 2010 has to offer (unless I’m really really overlooking something else) (and I’m not).

I’m trying to resist the urge to use lame callings like ’genre-bending’ and the likes when discussing this album because although Busy Signal most certainly does come off as having an intense case of Multiple Personality Disorder, he doesn’t step that far outside of the genre. Likewise, he definitely (and thankfully) doesn’t get bogged down with the type of boring and ultra-mundane type of music currently capturing the imaginations of some of his peers. NOTHING about ”D.O.B.” is boring and surely not ‘How U Bad So’ which gets the off-centered madness started on Busy Signal’s new album. The Stephen McGregor produced track is delirious. The song itself has emotional issues . . . Take any similar tune, as far as basically being a dance track (Ele) and line them up by the dozens; you won’t find another which is vibes like this one. It’s crazy as hell and I only had to listen it a few times before I started to like it, it’s still not one of my favourites (and it probably never will be), but it’s a very interesting tune to start things. And then there’s ‘Picante’. If the opener wasn’t strange enough for you then certainly this rather confounding number should do it for you on the oddness scale. This one, again, isn’t one of my favourites, but you give credit for going in a direction like this and should you be able to kind of tune back the chorus you’ll hear near master level deejaying throughout the tune as well - Something which almost certainly has gone under-noticed on the piece. And I’ll leap ahead to a tune which I don’t think I heard before the album, ‘Busy Latino’, which is a full blown Salsa track just dropped right in the middle of the album like it’s . . . I mean like it’s normal or something. This one, technically, is very similar to ‘Picante’ in that, should you be able to listen pass the dramatics of the song, you’ll get a very high level of wordplay from Busy. And backing up, completing the start of ”D.O.B.” is the most ‘regular’ tune of the opening batch, the very irregular former hit ‘My Money [Money Tree]’. The tune IS one of the best on the album, with its very odd and kind of ‘funky’ Dancehall flow. All in all, a most expectedly unexpected start to the album.

The highlights on the album come in arguably its strangest moments in a couple of very well known cases. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that Busy Signal had probably incurred some closed head injury when I first heard both ‘Sweet Love [Night Shift]’ and ‘One More Night’ and then would later think that I myself had suffered a similar fate when I started to love them! The tunes are essentially remakes of other tunes (the former being based on the Commodores’ song ‘Night Shift’ while the latter, of course, is a redo of Phil Collins’ song of the same name) and . . . Yeah, they’re excellent! Both of them! Busy breaks the rather cryptically brawny rules of the Dancehall in both instances and doesn’t seem to give a shit about it and neither do I, they’re big tunes and were and continue to be received as such.

Certainly that pair of big tunes is in the mix, but when you REALLY start to dig into the substance of the album, there is some REALLY impressive material on ”D.O.B.” and my favourites are numerous (and I just named two of them). Check ‘Hi Grade’, Busy Signal’s take on the legendary Stagalag Riddim, resurrected by Mr. Shane Brown of Juke Boxx where Busy still resides artistically. Excellent tune and a straight forward one as well. I’ve gone about this by stressing his idiosyncrasies, but make no mistake about it - In any style Busy Signal is STILL one of the most talented artists in the Dancehall, without question. That talent, in my opinion, is never more apparent on the album than on the DAMAGING ’Opera’. This is just a master class of wordplay over a cello sounding opera styled riddim:

“When it come to badness
Neva yu diss us
Things we no discuss
Head ah go sever lak discus
Mama see yah crime, seen vomit too
She disgust
Afta dis bust”

Madness! I had a hard time choosing my favourite between this one and this other tune I’m about to tell you of, but even if you don’t rate it as such, you have to admit that ‘Opera’ is very strong. The aforementioned “other tune” is definitely the album’s closer, ‘Nuh Boy Caan Buy Wi Out’, on which Busy goes sans musical accompaniment and delivers a DAZZLING piece on his own. The tune speaks on remaining true to oneself and taking one’s own course as well, but doesn’t do it in a lame and clichéd way (even though I just made it sound like it). This tune is an effort for the very close listeners (who’ll catch the COOL Assassin reference and namedrop later on the song), who’ll find it MASSIVE just as I did and I’m slowly but surely envisioning the day where Busy will just jump up and drop a completely A cappella album and I wouldn’t put it past him to do just that. Also mixed in that stretch is a big combination, ‘Summn’ A Guh Gwan’ which features Busy alongside his mentor, Bounty Killer. This is probably the most expected moment on the whole of ”D.O.B.” because you just knew these two would link up and go as HARD as possible on some crazy high-tech riddim and that’s exactly what they do over Juke Boxx’s ANGRY Damage Control Riddim. The piece is actually more Bounty-ish with that kind of ‘grimy’ social commentary/sufferer’s anthem and it is fire! I also really like the infectious Stephen McGregor produced ‘Hair Dresser Shop’. This is what we call ‘radio ready’ material. This one, if given the opportunity, could do a big damage worldwide on kind of Pop/R&B/Hip-Hop radio I think. It probably won’t be afforded such a circumstance and will be left to people like you and I, but hell I’m not complaining. And there’s also what I think may be an official single from the album (they made a video for it), the Juke Boxx helmed moving call for peace, ‘Peace Reign’. Certainly just a little while back (when it dropped), the tune was most applicable with all of the things going on in Kingston, but it has some prevailing vibes and sentiments as well. I also like the fact that there is a melody on the album’s ‘obligatory acoustic track’ (a phrase, by the way, I use quite often but almost NEVER on a Dancehall album. Once again Busy bends the ‘rules’).

The balancing three selections, although not amongst my favourites here, definitely aren’t castaways by any stretch of the word. ‘Yes Dawg’, for instance is STRONG, with a riddim very reminiscent of last year’s Beauty & The Best from Daseca (via TJ). ‘Gal Dem Song’ is one of the most interesting and creative pieces on the whole of the album, sounding like something from a college party (with A LOT of nudity going on and alcohol). And lastly I’ll mention the entirely over-enthused ‘Nuh Fraid’. This one, like several of the tunes on ”D.O.B.” has the situation where you have to REALLY listen intently to grab it because if you don’t, the very nature of the tune will either make you pass on it altogether or just give you an impression that the song is less than it is - It’s more than just HYPE, so definitely tune all the way in.

Overall, a few things are on my mind in regards to this one. The first is something I just alluded to - You REALLY need to pay attention with this one and it’s something that I don’t usually warn in regards to the average, rather flimsy, Dancehall album because it simply doesn’t fit. Here, however, it certainly does because many times whatever it is that’s unique about the particular song is VERY easy to get caught up into and being one of the most lyrically proficient artists on the scene today, you DEFINITELY want to actually hear what Busy Signal SAYS. More complicated, perhaps, going back to what I said earlier, is the fact that the album comes off as like fifteen small different albums, so whatever it is that separates a particular tune from the pack ONLY effects that tune, so you can even say that you’ll have to listen differently each time which, again, is for the REALLY concentrated and mature listener. The only problem I have with the album is that for most Dancehall heads, you’re going to be pretty familiar with quite a bit of ”D.O.B.”, but with most of the songs coming from within the past year or so, it isn’t too bad and there’s enough new spice to give the album that added boost. Although the competition hasn’t been very stiff, I’m going to call "D.O.B.” the best Dancehall album of 2010 thus far, with very little reservations about it. And I’m also going to call it a very colourful release and a wild trip through the maybe overactive mind of Busy Signal - The most innovative Dancehall DJ on the planet. Period.

Rated 4.35/5
VP Records
CD & Digital

Busy Signal @ Myspace


  1. Just got this today. I'm just finishing my first listen and I'm surprised how much I like it. I was slightly disappointed in "Loaded" (mostly because of all the autotune) and I was worried that this one was going to be too all-over-the-place, too autotuned, and too poppy, what with those remakes of popular songs. Surprisingly, it's really working for me. Very solid album, and very creative as well.

  2. Yeah yeah, listening to "Loaded" now, it's like they were just trying too hard with it, this one is clearly better than that one. It's still pretty strange, but I think it's strong yeah.