- The follow-up to a seminal 2001 compilation offers more essential turn-of-the-century dancehall.
- When Now Thing was released in 2001, the electronic music landscape was a different domain. For one, there were no streaming giants. Modern-day social media was yet to be conceived, file-sharing was in its infancy and for the most part, niche instrumental dance music was traded in record stores between the people who made it and those in the know. That compilation, a selection of forward-thinking dancehall instrumentals compiled by Lil' Toby, Toby Feltwell and Frenchie for James Lavelle's seminal Mo' Wax label, provided—and still does—a crucial gateway for house and techno fans to discover Jamaican music, particularly dancehall. Now Thing paid tribute to reggae and dub while celebrating the music of genre pioneers like Lenky and Steely & Clevie. There were bootlegs of '90s rave and R&B tunes, it was current, it was timeless, it was a "now" thing.
Fast forward 20 years and dancehall has permeated mainstream culture and influenced club music of all forms. It also evolved with outside-the-box crews like Equiknoxx and Swing Ting resequencing the DNA of dancehall in the club. One thing remains the same, however: a notoriously poorly documented lineage. Enter the trifecta of Felix Hall, producer Richard Browne and a resurgent Lil' Toby with a follow-up compilation to shed more light on this music.
Hall grew up listening to Jamaican music all through his life. After hearing the original Now Thing about six years back, he was mystified. "It tripped me out a bit hearing that a compilation acted as a gateway for people involved in electronic music [like Sean Canty of Demdike Stare] to get into dancehall," he explained over the telephone earlier this month.
It took this motley project team about six months to track down a working phone number for some elusive old producers like Crown Star Productions, the artist behind "Fire Cracker," a track that was totally ahead of its time, featuring a crunchy bassline and spatial rave stabs. They managed to make difficult links to the artists through older London scene connections. "Half of the people on there, we made links to via Blacker Dread, Dub Vendor or people I've met at clubs," Hall told me.
The record itself comes in a package that strikes a fine balance between sleek and DIY—the cover is a collage of the centre holes from the original records, printed onto a metallic board (assembled by Will Bankhead and Oliver Payne). It oozes Kingston by-way-of London diasporic debonair. The overarching objective was to include a mix of music that they felt wasn't represented on the first compilation, like the Ward 21 tune "Volume," or "Volume Riddim." Hall supposes that it's a cult classic, and it's certainly unusual. With a dark, stripped-down rhythm, weighty percussion and hymn-like humming, it's a total war dub primed for a soundclash.
Now Thing 2 is mostly instrumental with a smattering of vocal tracks. A handful of the same Jamaican producers return, and most of the music still comes from the fertile years between 1997 and 2002. Aside from Ward 21, there's Lenky, whose "Now Thing" gave the original compilation its title, along with Richard Browne, who contributes a darker 2020 update on his 1999 banger "Grass Cyaat." With a hypnotizing, dubby rhythm and a sleng digital flute running through it, it's a standout on its second orbit around the rock.
Other highlights include the saccharine jingle of Arif Cooper's "Good Vybe" and Kunley McCarthy's "Cosa Nostra," a party-starting track with a looping chant. The most recognisable melody comes from Donovan Germain, owner of Penthouse Records and one of the most influential reggae producers in '70s New York City. His "Are You That Somebody" interpolates the Timbaland-produced Aaliyah song of the same name. Germain's halftime instrumental is all about the drums, drawing a line between the commercial charts and the heart of dancehall.
One perhaps unsung hero from this world is Dave Kelly, considered by some to be the most influential producer within Jamaican music of the last 25 years. His productions propelled the likes of Beanie Man and Baby Cham to international stardom at the start of the millennium. "Heart Attack" is one of Kelly's lesser-known productions, and its tuff, hypnotic vocal sample stick out on the compilation, offering something catchy to stick in your brain.
Some of the more modern-sounding tracks, like Andre Gray's "Muddy" and "Hot Water" from Madd Spider, recorded in 2017 and 2012 respectively, are cleaner in their sound but the drum patterns are more or less the same as the older school of production. There's been a renewed interest in dancehall with people who've worked within house, techno and experimental electronic music, and it's evident why when you hear a collection like Now Thing 2. The music has become a lot less minimalistic though the fundamentals are similar, and one of the most striking things is that all of this music still sounds fresh today. By focussing on constantly reinventing itself, and one upping the crew at the other soundsystem, dancehall remains infinitely ahead of the curve. It's an exciting time to be alive and listening to dancehall and this record provides a crucial history lesson on its roots. Hall & co are already thinking about a Now Thing 3.
01. Gadaffi - Saddam Rhythm
02. Arif Cooper - Good Vybe
03. Richard Browne - Grass Cyaat Refix
04. Lion Face - Unleaded
05. Ward 21 - Volume
06. Lenky & Andrew Thomas - Bad Mongrell
07. Steely & Clevie - Bitter Blood
08. Andre Gray - Muddy
09. Bobby Konders - Lickshot Rewind
10. Dave Kelly - Heart Attack
11. Madd Spider - Hot Water
12. Kunley McCarthy - Cosa Nostra
13. Byron Murray - Free Up
14. Crown Star Productions - Fire Cracker
15. Teetimus & Sheldon Stewart - Sugar And Water
16. Donovan Germain - Are You That Somebody