20 best reggae 45s of the noughties – PART ONE

The usual disclaimer applies – this is MY top 20.

I would be the first to admit that it is sorely lacking in UK Dub stuff, or even very much bashment. But it is an accurate reflection of my tastes and I’ve had a wicked time putting it together. I hope people enjoy checking it out – even if they disagree with my choices.

It’s in chronological order rather than “worst to best”. Comments are welcome, hold tight for part two shortly!

VC – By His Deeds (Dig Dis 2001)

As I said at the time:

“Sitting in your church on Sunday, thinkin’ who you gonna screw Monday…” – the roots smash of the summer. Like “Gunz in the Ghetto” last year, this combines a great song with social comment. Some nice clarinet (sax?) and backing vocals, with lyrics that tear into hypocrites everywhere, including reggae “warrior” stars (mentioning no names, tho…). The flip brings the clarinet and backing vocals to the fore. Part Two is already out on the same riddim.


UK-born VC never really recaptured the brilliance of his debut 45, but this certainly pricked up the ears of listeners, selectors and producers. For me the 21st Century roots reggae renaissance began here properly. (I never got hold of the part 2 cut either!)

Ward 21 – Ganja Smoke (John John 2001)

Ward 21 and TOK always stood out on the flood of one-riddim albums of the early 00’s. Being groups of vocalists ensured enough variation in their cuts to hold your attention. Ward 21 were especially noticeable because of their incredible booming bass-vocalist. This is a great recut of the ancient rocksteady Shank I Sheck riddim.

I first heard it played out by Mannaseh down at Plastic People and have shamelessly included in most of my own DJ sets since. It’s catchy as hell.

Lenky – Diwali riddim (40/40 + Greensleeves 2002)

The glut of one-riddim double albums from Greensleeves and VP seems like an age ago now, but for a while it was the most cost effective way of getting current dancehall – you just had to wait a month (or a few weeks!) after the 7″ pre came out and there was 20 cuts for a tenner. Diwali was the king of riddims for an age, the original cuts included Wayne Marshall’s “No Letting Go” and Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” which both hit the national top 40 in 2003. Lumidee also got on board the Diwali pop-train with “Never Leave You (Uh-Ooh)”. So a lot of people heard it, probably without knowing what it was.

For me, I’ll always have fond memories of just playing the two Greensleeves 12″ back to back, mixing up Bounty Killer’s “Sufferer”, TOK’s “Galang Gal”, Elephant Man’s Nena-homage “Elephant Message”, Tanya Stephens’ “Can’t Touch Me No More” and maybe finishing up with Crissy D’s “Make It Real Good”. Diwali was great for vocal performances but also because Lenky laid down the tracks a little way different in many cases, so Bounty was pretty hard whilst Crissy D was all spacey, but it was the same vibe.

Tanya Stephens – It’s a Pity (Germaican records 2002)

Another thing about those one-riddim albums is that female vocal performances also really stood out. I’d liked Tanya since hearing her “Bounce Me” back in 1998 but her and Lady Saw really came into their own when up against 19 gruff blokes chatting nonsense about chi-chi men.

Her “Gangsta Blues” album still retained some of that hardcore ragga stuff but also veered worryingly into coffee-table collaborations with people like Wyclef Jean. Despite that, a nice album which saw proper rotation round here throughout the decade. Unfortunately the follow up “Rebelution” jumped the shark for me, though lots of people I respect seem to like it. Tanya seems to have her head screwed on and fair play to her if she can survive as a crossover artist.

Anyway – “It’s A Pity” is a cut of the “Doctor’s Darling” riddim which was put together by the Germaican crew – heralding the ascent of Europe as a centre of rootical bizness in the noughties. Nice and bouncy, plus lyrics about female yearning that are all the more human for eschewing obvious slackness.

Warrior King – Education (Penthouse 2002)

This was a cornerstone of the mix which I am probably still best known for – Shake The Foundations vol 2. Which is a bit odd, because it is only the second one I ever did, and was circulated on CDRs, before the advent of broadband. Actually, perhaps the scarcity of reggae mixes at the time is something to do with it (at least I hope so!)

Now, around this time I had two reggae gurus. One of them was Rodigan via his Kiss FM show on Sunday nights. I still have a bunch of C90s and then CDRs of Roddy around this flat somewhere which I intend to replay… sometime. The other guru was Gladdy Wax, whose shop Wax Unlimited was located about 2 minutes from my flat. Sometimes I’d offer to go out and buy milk on a hungover Saturday morning and swerve into Gladdy’s to see what was new, then sneak sheepishly back into the flat and try to secrete my purchases somewhere. Other times I’d spend an hour or so down there, a pile of sevens slowly building up in front of me.

I’m not sure which of my gurus first played me this but I knew it was for me, as was the Gregory Isaacs and Buju Banton cut – both on a proper punchy relick of the old “Storm” riddim. Warrior King’s first album includes this and other hits like his “Virtuous Woman” and is well worth checking.

Anthony B – God Above Everything (Brickwall 2002)

Another crucial cut from the Shake The Foundations vol 2 mix – one of five cuts of the riddim on there. I think my eyes must have popped out of my head when Gladdy (or his younger assistant, whose name I forget) kept playing the numerous versions of this and they were all great. Brickwall is a subsidiary of Bobby Dixon’s Digital B records and this do-over of the rocksteady “It’s Raining” riddim (originally by the Two Tops) convinced many that heard it that reggae was still doing the business in the 21st Century. A breath of fresh air hearing people chanting down bling and guns over a proper bassline for a change.

Fine memories of either the Tighten Up Crew or Solution Sound (yeah my memory isn’t that good!) playing nuff cuts of this in Clissold Park one time as part of the summer Stoke Fest.

Bitty McLean- Walk Away (Peckings 2004)

Sitting in the garden of the Auld Shillelagh in Stoke Newington one summer Saturday afternoon. The daughter is crawling about and taking delight in nicking a lemon out of her Mum’s drink, then grimacing and smiling as she tries to eat it in front of a crowd of her devoted parents and assorted Hackney community activists. It’s the pub’s “ska bar” session and some guy is laying down some nice sevens. One crystal clear instrumental with a beautiful sax floats over the picnic benches. I break cover and ask him what it is: “Oh that one’s new mate, it’s called ‘Walk Away'”.

And that was only the version.

I remembered Bitty from his 90s pop hit “It Keeps Rainin'” and that UB40 had “discovered” him. Perhaps not a great start, but few things could have prepared us for this – a great new vocal on top of an old Treasure Isle riddim courtesy of the Peckings record shop in Shepherd’s Bush (which is best known for its association with Treasure Isle rivals Studio One, in fact!). The album “On Bond Street” followed and Bitty hasn’t let us down since – I also rate his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately”, and in fact pretty much everything he has done.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8tT8L6UlJI

South Rakkas Crew ‘Red Alert’ (2004) or ‘Bionic Ras’ (2005) riddims

Outernational business out of Orlando. South Rakka’s “Clappas” riddim had provided some fun in 2003 – Alozade and Hollow Point’s “Under My Sensi” getting serious play and an eventual dubstep remix (which sucked all the life out of it). But Red Alert and Bionic Ras were proper next level stuff – an incredibly potent combination of acid techno and ragga which appealed to all sorts. If Rhythm and Sound’s Burial Mix tunes had the introspective epic dub thing down, then this lot captured the batty wiggling ragga throwdown most effectively and gave it a twist for the new millennium.

Fine memories of Bionic Ras getting played by The Bug at BASH with various effects and premier league MCs over the top of it. Standing on the dancefloor at Plastic People, pretty boxed, surrounded by mates, full force soundsystem – I actually started welling up because it was so good.

Natty King – Guns To Town (2 Miles 2004)

(best video I could find, apologies)

Great tune, great sentiment, great bassline, but severely overshadowed by…

Turbulence – Notorious (THC Muzik 2005)

As I said at the time:

Wow. Belated, as ever, due to not being able to find it in the shops.

Turbulence often gets dismissed as a Sizzla wannabe, but this tune brings him forward as a serious contender. Huge growling riddim with a nice driving synth bass which almost reminds me of the more manicly-depressive synth pop of my youth. Lyrics also do the business – you think he is talking about how he could have been a contender, but then you realise he’s saying that he threw away a life of petty-gangsterism when he found rastafari.

B-side is by someone called Initial T on the same riddim and really reminds me of some 80s pop tune in terms of the vocal melody. It is driving me a bit mad, in fact, trying to suss out what it is.

If South Rakkas had balls-out dancefloor action sorted, this tune hinted at a far more subtle combination of roots reggae and technology. Unfortunately few attempted to follow it up, but this was another huge crossover tune in its time.

Incredibly Paul Meme didn’t like this much the first time I played it to him, during one of our many many many vinyl sessions when he stayed over at mine. He soon came ’round though and insisted that we included it on our On The Wire (for Steve Barker’s BBC Lancashire show) and Grime In The Dancehall (for Droid’s Blogariddims series) mixes. I’m usually quite purist about not using the same tunes again in mixes, but I relented in this case.

And yes Trim, did his own awesome version on Soulfood volume 1.

11 Comments

  1. excellent selection, probably a lot of crossover with my own noughties best. Still owe you big time for bringing VC to my attention…

  2. Thanks for the comments – Gabriel (and everyone!) you should do your own chart – definitely interested in checking a more bashy rundown…

  3. My views on Tanya’s “Gangsta Blues” work is well known (album of the decade!), so good to see “It’ A Pity” up there. Also loved the bionic ras and red alert tracks that you picked. HOWEVER, I’m wish Paul Meme (version 1) rather than Meme (version 2). I didn’t like Turbulence’s “Notorious”, and I still don’t. I’m not that much of a fan of Turbulence /per/ /se/, but if I had to choose a track it would be his version on the “Neva Knew” riddim.

    Respect XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  4. Great to see Tanya Stephens getting some of due recognition. My own five favourite tunes be her are:

    “What A Day”, Xterminator, 2002
    Probably influenced by Buju Banton’s masterpiece “Untold Stories”, this acoustic
    effort is pretty much its equal – her best lyric to date, and her most moving
    vocal.
    “No More Lies”, Xterminator, 1994
    Eight years before the above title, “No More Lies” rode Philip ‘Fattis’ Burrell’s
    cut of Aswad’s mighty “Promised Land”, another tune that showed the producer
    wasn’t totally dependent on Luciacno and Sizzla for fine music.
    “Handle The Ride”, Digital B, 1997
    Bobby Digital employed an updating of “The Lecturer” riddim to support quite a few
    of the hot singers and DJs of the time, including Cocoa Tea,Jahmali, Admiral Tibet,
    Anthony B, Morgan Heritage and Sizzla. Tanya more than held her own as she
    addresses in her typically assertive fashion the males who want to hide from
    her because they can’t “handle the ride”.
    “Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet”, Mad House, 1996.
    The “Joy Ride” riddim was another on which she faced a great deal of competition –
    from Baby Cham, Frisco Kid, Buju Banton, Professor Nuts, Wayne Wonder and Lady Saw,
    to name just a few on the original Dave Kely-produced cut. But it was probably
    only Wayne Wonder’s “Bashment Girl” and Lady Saw’s “Sycamore Tree” that
    seriouskly rivalled her version. In the same year New York’s Jah Life outfit
    brought out their own versions, the best of which was Conroy Smith’s second
    reading of his “Dangerous” lyric.
    “Big Heavy Girl”, Shocking Vibes, 1997
    Over a brutal updating of “Cuss Cuss”, Tanya more than lives up to the
    title of this Shocking Vibes excursion. Among her boasts is that she’s “a CD and
    you’re a cassette”.

  5. Wow, thanks for dropping by, Peter! I definitely rate “What A Day” and the Joy Ride cut, but will check the rest of your recommendations pronto. 🙂

    Would I be correct in assuming you are the same Peter Dalton who co-wrote the Rough Guide To Reggae?

    If so – I owe you many and profuse thank yous 🙂

  6. Quite likely as the other Peter Dalton seems to be incredibly busy at the BBC + doing gigs all over Britain. Anyway, time to check out tunes.

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