U-Roy – Dread in a Babylon (1975)

‘Even without the music, this album would still leap off the racks; its photo of U Roy exhaling a mushroom cloud of marijuana smoke from his ever-available pipe ranks among the all-time greatest covers, regardless of genre. However, U Roy doesn’t have any trouble coming across as a distinctive presence; his scattershot repertoire of barks, chants, and screams is as critical or more important as the deft, unobtrusive backing woven behind him. U Roy imposes his own willful style, regardless of setting. Sometimes he pulls off a positively poppy veneer on tracks like “Runaway Girl” or “Silver Bird”; other times, he extemporizes slightly ahead of the beat on “Natty Don’t Fear” or “The Great Psalms.” His lyrics run the gamut of Rastafarian concerns, from facing adversity (“Dreadlocks Dread”) to female troubles (“I Can’t Love Another”) and royalist run-ins (“Chalice in the Palace”). The uncredited musicians stay out of the way (although they get their own album-closing instrumental, “Trench Town Rock”). This album ranks among the ’70s dub masterpieces, even if the odd lyrical clinker keeps it from perfection; “Runaway Girl”‘s glistening skank can’t paper over its sexism (which suggests the girl in question “may be nice/but you’re not that smart”). Even so, sometimes an artist only needs charisma to get across, and U Roy handily wins on that score.’

‘… Mixing together fantastic dub beats, and also being largely responsible for the practice of “toasting,” it is due to the efforts and vision of U-Roy that there is a hip-hop genre today. While he continues to make music today, there is perhaps no better a representation of his sound, and no more important a record for so many genres then U-Roy’s brilliant 1975 release, Dread In A Babylon. As the 1960’s turned into the 1970’s, portable sound systems became more readily available, and large dance parties began to move out of the dance halls and into open, public spaces. This trend, which occurred across the globe, made the necessity of a DJ far more important. Yet, it was far more then just playing songs; the DJ had to be able to keep the crowd’s mood good with his skills on the microphone. Presenting clever rhyming and commentary, which took on the name “toasting,” this is where the entire hip-hop genre began. In fact, early hip-hop DJ’s, like DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa were far more akin to “toasters” then they were to modern day emcees. Among all these early toasters, U-Roy was unquestionably the finest of the group, and the rhymes that he presented over early dub plates are like nothing else found at the time. U-Roy’s debut record completely changed the face of Jamaican music, proving that there was far more to the island then just the reggae sound. The cover of Dread In A Babylon has also become massively memorable, as there are actually four different versions, all featuring the same theme: U-Roy disappearing behind a giant cloud of smoke. Without question, one of the most iconic album covers in history, many make the case that, even without the fantastic music, the album would have done well simply by this cover.’
The Daily Guru

YouTube: Dread In A Babylon – runaway girl, chalice in the palace, i can’t love another, dread locks dread, the great psalms, natty don’t fear, african message, silver bird, listen to the teacher, trench town rock


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