Strictly the Best, Vol. 31

The Strictly the Best series has always been reliable for delivering dancehall's big hits, but on their 31st volume they've reached a new plateau. With 2003 being the year dancehall found success on America's charts and rap acts like 50 Cent started to appear on dancehall's healthy bootleg mix CD industry, there's been quite a bit of trading of ideas among urban and ragga producers and both genres are all the more exciting because of it. The layering and quick samples on Elephant Man's "All Out" are right in line with Missy Elliot's stylish, hiccupping beats, and Sean Paul's "Clap Your Hands Now" remixes "Get Busy" from Red Stripe to Hennessey. If there's any justice on the radio, Beenie Man's catchy vocoder workout, "Dude," would be as big as "Pon De River Pon De Bank," and Sean Paul's minimal "Feel Alright" would be a staple of booty sets. Productions in the dancehall world have gotten more and more interesting with producers twisting and manipulating popular riddims to sound fresh while adding plenty of sleek tricks. It pushes the MCs harder and they end up being more creative, but it also makes the five or so roots and lovers rock tunes here sound anemic and dated (except for the deep Beres Hammond and Big Youth cut here). Wisely the collection lumps the lovers rock and roots together, making the jarring difference easier to take. With more great numbers than usual, Strictly the Best, Vol. 31 ends up a milestone in the series. ~ David Jeffries

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