Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Diplo and Switch Do the Dancehall

By Evan Rytlewski
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I can't pretend to be as enthusiastic about dancehall reggae as I am the trunk-rattling, Bama rap that Diplo doled out on last year's essential Fear and Loathing in Hunts Vegas mix, or even the retro-dub of that summer's Top Ranking, but Diplo's latest genre experiment, Major Lazer's Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, has all the makings of a future cult-classic—this is dancehall's answer to the first Handsome Boy Modeling School album.

As Major Lazer, a Jamaican soldier who rides a rocket-powered skateboard after losing his arm in a secret zombie war in the '80s—no, it's not as funny as the producers think it is, but then again, neither was Dr. Octagon—Diplo and his British corollary, Switch, welcome a slew of trendy dancehall singers, including Mr. Vegas, Busy Signal, Vybz Kartel, Mr. Lex and Ms. Thing, and sex up the final product with some club-baiting cameos from Santigold and Amanda Blank.

The manic humor and kitschy cover art nod to the reggae records of '70s, but the music is as current as a Daily Show monologue, shaped by contemporary rap and electro Diplo is better known for. Opener "I'll Make Ya," channels Lil Wayne's "A Milli" refrain with a sputtering, pseudo-chopped chorus from Santigold, while heavily Auto-Tuned upstart Ricky Blaze does his best Akon on "Keep It Goin' Louder," a dance-pop sugar rush that plays entirely by the rule book of Top 40 radio. Not every song connects this perfectly, but even the ones that don't fly by, propelled by chest-thumping percussion and the promise that more guests, more beats and more hooks are in the queue.

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