Diplo: Riddimentary (Greensleeves Records)

At first sight it seems unlikely that an album featuring classics such as Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse or John Holt’s Police in Helicopter would be much more than yet another compilation of familiar tracks, but there’s something different and much more interesting going on here. The clue is in the guiding presence of DJ and producer-of-the-moment Diplo, a name more usually associated with hip-hop, rock, and remixing with the likes of MIA, Radiohead, Britney Spears and, not least, Bart Simpson. Closer to reggae, Diplo has also (with fellow MIA producer, Switch) been responsible for the dancehall idea, Major Lazer. Diplo’s intriguing CV brings him to this new project, addressing mainstream reggae full-on for the first time.

This release unearths some of the influences on Diplo’s characteristic production and mixing style but it turns them into something that sounds new, driven along as a continuous cut for 45 minutes. Riddimentary is essentially a bass-heavy mixtape featuring some of the best 80s and 90s reggae from Greensleeves Records, given a Diplo makeover. There is thus something of interest both for those who arrive here through their familiarity with the underlying reggae tradition, and those who arrive here via Diplo. The opening sound is that of Alpha and Omega’s classic Who is the Ruler, originally from their album Watch and Pray, firmly setting the spiritual tone of dub and roots in equal measure although – interestingly – this dates from the 1990s, a wayward sort of note on which to begin.

This strong beginning goes straight into Hugh Mundell’s Jacqueline, percussive sound mixed up high, then Joker Smoker from Tristan Palma: if the song isn’t familiar, the riddim track will be. A great link then into John Holt’s Police in Helicopter from 1983, around the peak of Greensleeves’ initial impact. This merges seamlessly into Eventide Fire a Disaster from Barrington Levy and General Echo, before we encounter another key riddim in the form of Joe Gibbs’ Satta (version), always worth revisiting. Ranking Dread appears to be enjoying himself greatly with Fattie Boom Boom, while, pursuing the same curious theme, Anorexol could be from no-one but Eek a Mouse in the 1980s. Lone Ranger’s Gunshot Mek Daughter Drop and Clint Eastwood/General Saint’s Sweet Sweet Matilda both offer a similar dee-jaying 80s style of slowed-down riddim track and declaimed vocals, a moment that has some affinity with Diplo’s take on hip-hop.

The final tracks include JC Lodge’s Telephone Love from the late 80s – very digital and very much of its time – surrounded by some of the biggest names from an older reggae tradition: Prince Jammy, Gregory Isaacs, Johnny Osborne, and Prince Far I who provides the closing track, Survival. And what about Night Nurse? Well, it fits here very happily indeed.

Riddimentary; CD/Vinyl/MP3 full album remix; Greensleeves Records, March 2011

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