Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Snypa Way" by Mad Cobra

Action film. If you follow Reggae music and, specifically, Reggae albums, then surely you've noticed the trend over the past decade or so which has developed in the way that for every album by a 'significant' Dancehall artist, you're likely to get around fifteen or so from equally noteworthy Roots vocalists. On one side, that's definitely a good thing. If you haven't noticed, so many of these wonderful people have amazing messages and the notion that such thoughts are getting, really, the most consistent stage of presentation that the genre has to offer, is just a fantastic set of circumstances. Also, because of the large amounts of Roots Reggae albums there are, it is a just as great situation that, obviously, so many people are investing and are invested in not only the music as it is now, but for the future as well. HOWEVER, if you are a fan of modern Dancehall ("modern", not "current") (if you are a fan of "current" Dancehall… consider yourself lucky… and very easily pleased), then surely you cannot be pleased by the subgenre's virtual exodus from album shelves apart from one or two big names a year - usually. I've noticed and, as time goes on, we continue to hit unfortunate 'milestones' such as the on in 2013, during which we will have reached a point, presumably, where it will have been a collective TWENTY YEARS from last either Bounty Killer [13] or Beenie Man [7] have released an album! That's fucked up and although a younger generation has arrived, with the exception of Busy Signal and… Yeah, Busy Signal, high quality Dancehall albums from its biggest names are, essentially, rumours. But we can always remember the way things used to be - can't we? We can, and today we remember an album which is easily one of the best of its kind from the turn of the century and, arguably, one of the best in the history of modern Dancehall in some respects, "Snypa Way" by Mad Cobra from 2006. I write reviews (about one hundred of them a year) (which is ridiculous - absolutely ridiculous) mostly on Roots albums (because, as we established, that is what there is most of) ("New Name" by Jah9, in stores now) (Etana's "Better Tomorrow", in stores now) and there is a MUCH different direction of those albums than there was on "Snypa Way". Call it violent (it was), call it entirely too sexual (that too) and call it downright ghoulish (that isn't unfair), "Snypa Way" was one piece of crazy, angry and FILTHY piece of Dancehall brilliance. 
"Helta Skelta" [2009]
When at his best, that's just Mad Cobra's style. A few years on, on what remains his most recent release, "Helta Skelta" [Grrrr!], Cobra once again followed a pacing set by the frenetic "Snypa Way". Although it didn't age fairly well in terms of popularity (and has yet to reach the digital format), in its day, the album was very well known. Checking in at a delicious thirty tracks, spread across two discs, the album, shamelessly epitomized just about every substantial critique of Dancehall music of its day… but it was some level of brilliant throughout. For me, just as I will always make room in my rotation for the kind of abstract wildness of Soca music (if I live long enough, I will HAPPILY be an eighty year old man still jumping and waving, or at least trying to), I will always save as much space for the entertaining musical theatre that Dancehall can be. Again, at his best, Mad Cobra is one of the most captivating practitioners of the style and has, essentially, made himself a legend doing just that through the majority of his fine career. "Snypa Way" was an album which, at the time, really seemed to help bring the Cobra into the latest stage of his career (in which he's still doing damage, 'Dis Dem Anyweh' on the Pop Style Riddim) (MAD!) and, again, was one of the most violent and brutal albums of all time, but absolutely no less captivating. Now! Let's talk about thirty songs!

Disk One 

"Snypa Way" was, primarily, a compilation of songs around the time and a few years prior. That was produced by Mad Cobra, packaged up by DJR Records and delivered to the masses by In The Streetz Records who, if you recall, served a similar function for so many at the time (including Don Corleon, as they were the original distributors of the Drop Leaf, Seasons and Heavenly Riddims, respectively). It was as compelling as it was exciting and that was even before the music started. It did start on the first disc of "Snypa Way" with the title tune which was amongst the very best pieces to be found on the album named after it. 

"One shot, ten dead, dat a di sniper way
Rifle nyam out boy chest and face right away
Dem seh war, man ready fi it right away 
Pussy diss, him seet right way

Gun weh man ah buss it mek two hands spray
Gun weh big so til dem haffi lift it wid crane 
Loud so til when it buss, it give you migraine
Open people head, you can see inna dem brain"

The song quickly (immediately) becomes a signature moment on the album and it really sums up the violent portion of the album set to follow when Cobra says; 

"'One man caah so wicked, psychopathically insane!'"

'Tek Gunshot', Cobra's cut of the MAD Military Riddim ["step pon dem, step pon dem!"] is up next and it hasn't dropped even slightly in the near decade from its release. 'Gun Maths' is something really different, but it is also a sizable chunk of lyrical supremacy as well. Here, in a downright gruesome spiral, we follow Cobra as he keeps track of exactly where he's spent his ammunition, which he then uses to teach a class. The first verse is probably one of the best he's ever done and the second and third are not far behind. We also get 'Tell Anyone' from the Applause Riddim, which I find myself liking more now than I ever have in the past and the Dave Kelly produced 'Money In A Coil' [bka 'Ah Who'], which rounds out the first third (that's how I'm doing it) and is the very first non-violent track on "Snypa Way", as Cobra turns his attentions elsewhere for at least the moment. 

The next five tracks on the first disc of the album include all kinds of madness and is thoroughly entertaining along the way. Of particular note here is 'Nuh Waste Mi Time', from the Tunda Clap Riddim, which was very popular in its day (the chorus of that song is one of the most unintentionally HILARIOUS moments in recent memory) (Impatient Cobra), as was 'Lock Di Place' which was something serious on the Scoobay Riddim and is another fantastic lyrical display on the album. You may also remember 'Lot A Pum Pum' (did you catch that???), which rode the Sleng Teng. HOWEVER, this portion of the album also offers up a pair of the entire album's strongest tunes, the ridiculous 'Mi Gone' and 'Repeat After Me'. the former is also funny as Cobra outlines precisely what a woman can do and be to NOT keep his attention. 'Repeat After Me', on the other hand, was just madness and I know this tune from nowhere else besides this album. It was also ridiculous and hard and intense and everything you find throughout the album. 

If I recall correctly, 'Extortionist' was a piece created specifically for "Snypa Way" and it definitely received quite a bit of hype and deservedly so. In its almost crawling pace, the tune gets a great deal done and is wicked throughout. Also grabbing headlines was 'Complaint', which was a combination track (rare for this album), which actually featured both Beenie Man and Vybz Kartel. You don't have to say much more than that (although it should help in the case of Kartel to mention that the song came from 2004-05), to know what you were dealing with here. The song was a unicorn on this album as it was actually an anti-violence track and a social commentary and, really, you couldn't have asked for much more from such a link. Both 'Thug Fah' and the nearly genius 'Real World' slowed things down with a nice BOUNCE which really added another texture to the first disc and, for its part, the Ward 21 produced 'Nuh Ratings' returned us to similar ground and brought in Stacious to help along as well. Although not as wholly impressive as the second disc, "Snypa Way" began in a most memorable way with tracks like 'Snypa Way', 'Complaint', 'Gun Maths' and others leading the way.

Disk Two

The second half of the album really turns things up even further in my opinion and contains some of the best (including THE best) material to be found on the whole of "Snypa Way" as Cobra's aim gets precise and he turns in more than one MASSIVE moment. Incidentally, however, it also contains what is my least favourite stretch on the project which gets it started. The quintet of songs - 'Gal A Yard', 'Pum Pum Middle', 'Dah Pussy Dey', 'Freaky Gal' and 'More Girls' OBVIOUSLY all have a similar topic of discourse [DUH!]. They aren't horrible (well, most of them aren't), 'Gal A Yard' is actually pretty good as is 'Dah Pussy Dey' (jokes everywhere in here), but the highlight here is easily 'Freaky Gal', which is equal parts over sexed and funny.

And then we turn things up. As far as a third, "Snypa Way" well hits its pinnacle during the second lot of the second disc. It is incredibly violent, all five tunes, but it is also FLAMING from beginning to end. Things start off with a tune which is… something great, 'Little Boy'. This tune borders on being a Spoken Word selection at times, but it's only an opener for the absolute madness which follows.

"Mi gun A, B, C and gun D
Mi a gun dog, so mi have gun flea
Mi gun apple grow pon gun tree
Mi gun sugar sweeten mi gun tea
Mi gun inna eye, mi use gun see
Mi gun car start wid gun key
Boy fi send on cah dem owe gun fee
Two gun weh look alike - twin gun
Gun run out and shot a magga down - slim gun
Dat suppose to look a way ugly like sin gun
Like di one weh Ninja Man gi weh - has been gun 
Man gamble wid money but mi - win gun"

Old school and virtually without any type of form at all, 'Little Boy' was SENSATIONAL! And that's just the start - next comes 'Maddable' which is just… MAD!

"Maddable, maddable, maddable
Sick-able, sick!
Gun-able, gun-able, gun-able machine no stick
Maddable, sick-able
Amount a duppy weh mi flick 
Pussy weh you feel like?
Seh dis a camera trick?" 

'What Happen To Yu Face' and that crazy riddim behind it is MASSIVE and 'Dead Sum Bwoy Fi Dead' might just be the second best song on the album ranking only clearly second, incidentally, to the song which it precedes, the single best moment on the whole of "Snypa Way", the FUCKED UP 'Numbers'.

"When police did ah search fi it!
What a lucky ting mi Grannie gone a church wid it!
Go tek pastor food inna church wid it
Mek dem haffi reverse all di herbs wid it!
Boy ah chat, like him haffi twenty lip!
Neva know Skelta walk wid plenty clip!
Mek hospital use up plenty drip!
Mek Madden haffi mek bout twenty trip!
When it come down to war, mi have plenty tricks!
Have a blue-eyed devil buss twenty-six!
Yeah, six inna yuh heart, di next twenty mix!
And if I, find a next clip - twenty-six!"

'Numbers' finds the Snake at his murderous best on this album and on just about any other he's done. Of course, you may not like what he says, but there is an almost unreachable level of talent utilized in saying it! BOOM!

And as we wind things down on "Snypa Way", the highlights continue to roll in. 'Suck Yu Mother' is a really WRONG song, in every way and I mean that. 'How Can They Know So Much' finds Cobra taking aim at those who find great difficulty in minding their own business and although it takes awhile (rare for this album, actually), it does grow on you quite a bit if you allow it to. The same can well be said for 'Duppy Pon A Duppy' with its KNOCK! The tune gradually grows and grows and may just be one of the best tunes on the entire album. Arguably the single most popular track on "Snypa Way" is its penultimate tune, 'Press Trigger'. The song is carried by the immortal Buzz Riddim ('Gimmi Di Light') from Black Shadow, one of the most popular tracks ever really and, at least to my opinion, it was the strongest track on that riddim and remains so about a dozen years on. NOW! Finally! I don't know if you've been keeping a body-count, but through the  first twenty-nine songs on "Snypa Way", many people and about fourteen animals were killed so that leads us PERFECTLY to the final song on the album… 'Life Goes On'. WHAT! No, it isn't a love song or one trying to preach unity or anything like that. Instead we happen to stumble upon Cobra getting caught for, of course, committing one of the eight-hundred murders on one of the previous tracks (and it is actually mentioned so, by name in one case - 'Extortionist'). Facing a long term incarceration, the Snake pens a letter to the love of his life just to let her know:

"Dear honey mi ahgo start mi sentence, but mi ah write fi mek you know life goes on
If you waan wait fi mi, fine, but if you find a next man life goes on
If you waan, write mi back, mi woulda love it but if you don't choose to life goes on
Haffi get used to things weh mi used to, but a so it go life goes on
If you send a one suit, mi woulda wear it, try mi best you know fi care it life goes on
When di youth dem ask you seh - weh dem daddy deh? - you fi tell dem 'life goes on'
Mi woulda love fi watch mi youths dem grow up, but through certain things a little trouble show up
A fi mi name ah call when every thing blow up
Now di boys in blues ah show up" 

It isn't a bad song at all, although very strange and you wouldn't expect anything else but such a moment to end an album like this from an artist like this. It does have some type of significance, however, where Mad Cobra, essentially, lives up to what this album was about and says that you have to pay the price for what you do, even if it means your family leaving you and having to miss your children grow. A message amongst the madness.
Mad Cobra
Overall, although, like I said, the album has diminished in popularity over the years and has been forgotten in many ways, some of these songs sound as fresh today as ever (and some of them are nearing a decade of age and a song like 'Press Trigger' is even older actually), which is unfortunate because the album is almost impossible to find these days. However, I think that actually adds something to a kind of building mystique surrounding this release. Twenty years from now people will talk about (and I'll be one of them if I'm still breathing) some obscure double album Mad Cobra had back in the 2000's which was amazing and is now (then) impossible to find. That's the next best thing to being lauded as one of the best Dancehall albums of all time for a piece like this. Although maybe a little thick (maybe twelve songs on each side would have been better), and surely a blazing example of everything critics would hate about the music - "Snypa Way" was intoxicating musical theatre, Mad Cobra at his best in the latest stage of his storied career and an absolute adrenaline-rush of a Dancehall album. 

Rated: 5/5
DJR Records/In The Streetz Records

Review #427


  1. Achis, thank-you so much for taking the time to write this and hopefully bringing more attention to this astonishing release.

    For a long time now I have extolled the virtues [or hilarious lack of] of the Cobra to anyone who will listen. Snypa Way and Helta Skelta are my two favourite dancehall albums of all-time [without a doubt] and to me represent an artist who, after so many years in the game, has managed to find an irrepressible, un-matched and impossibly violent creative streak.

    You are unfortunately correct in writing about this albums lack of popularity [I know many hardcore dancehall heads who have never heard of it] yet you are so right to hail it as a classic.

    I endlessly [and possibly fruitlessly] look forward to at least one more vicious album from the snake!

  2. Well said Joseph! And thank you as well! And I'm also well hoping that there's another album in his head. He's done some crazy songs lately, so hopefully he can give another and I would expect a similar level. Thanks again Joseph.