Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Greater than Cassius Clay, Sweeter than Sugar Ray

Someone once wrote that nothing could compare to walking into an early 1970's English school disco with a mood lightened by cider and Dennis Alcapone toasting from the speakers.
Last night, I could finally appreciate what that anonymous writer meant.
I received an eagerly anticipated package from Amazon: "Guns Don't Argue," the recently released (UK only) two-disc "best of" compilation of Alcapone's hits.
Dennis "Alcapone" Smith was not the first Jamaican deejay to spout jive talk and catchphrases over the music (and sometimes, the vocals) of previous hit songs. However, from 1971-73 he might have been the best of the "toasters."
Songs such as "Ripe Cherry," "The Great Woggie" and "My Voice is Insured for a Half Million Dollars" serve as enjoyable precursors to hip-hop. Alcapone boasts of his greatness ("I'm as cunning as a fox and I can sting you like a wasp!") over classic rhythms that had filled Jamaican dancehalls since the mid-1960s. His rhyming chatter also includes exuberant whoops and sometimes he even "talks back" to the original song's vocalist. Alcapone never loses step with the beat, so last night I could dance around the living room over the course of the discs while laughing and marveling at his skills.
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