1986, Harry J
Little John - Inna De Dance
Little John - Wah Come Rule I
Little John - Trembling Style
Little John - Experience Lover
Little John - Too Labba Labba
Uglyman - We A Sample
Uglyman - Donkey Ride
Uglyman - See Duppy Deh
Uglyman - Fix The Stag-A-Lag
Uglyman & Lyrical - Don't Mix We Up
Uglyman with the rock stone voice, versus Little John, the Singjay King. If this record didn't exist, and you asked me to imagine a singer-deejay clash album in 1986, this is not what I would come up with. But I am elated that it does exist. In this blogpost I will be taking Little John's side first and Uglyman's second - this is how it's presented on the sleeve, but on the label it's the other way round.
I was into deejays before I was into singers and singjays, and while I originally sought out this album for Uglyman, I found myself returning to it this year for Little John, currently my favourite reggae singer. In Dance Hall Clash, we get to hear a wonderful representation of perhaps the final permutation of Little John's style during the peak of his career. He rolls over tiny little bumps of melody, going from the third back down to the root over and over again with a perfect accent on the offbeat. As far as I have listened in reggae music so far, this is the skankiest style of them all, the pinnacle of rub-a-dub dancehall, comfortably earning John the title he is presented with on the cover.
At the beginning of the set, Little John explodes onto Harry J's Boops riddim with Inna De Dance, taking motifs from Brown Girl In The Ring in a register slightly higher than what he's comfortable with when he's not singing falsetto. Unfortunately this is the lowlight of the album but before the end of the tune he returns to his aforementioned fine style. Wah Come Rule I is much slower, much rootsier, opening with "There's a man from nowhere, wanna come come rule I and I, well...", reminiscent of Little John's earlier works with the Radics on records like Reggae Dance and English Woman. But the real treat of Little John's side is Trembling Style, a dance anthem to fit his new groove, at full speed or maybe just past it and opening with the lyrics "This is a style, this is a style, this is a new stylee" which is EXACTLY what you need to introduce a dance style tune. Now I have never heard of such a thing anywhere besides in this one tune so I suppose it followed the same fate of Ringo's "Nice And Easy" or General Trees' "Move Up And Down". But bless all these artists for trying, and although this tune is well outdated in terms of fashion, it's still full of it, and also style or pattern or whatever else you want to say.
Uglyman is a fine deejay, and while I believe that Pampidoo was the originator of the rockstone style, "Great is great and you can't underrate", so I shan't, because Uglyman pulls it off excellently and with his own flair. Compared to Pampidoo you might say his sound is grimier or greasier, or perhaps more like a 'sawblade' than a 'cookie monster'. Uglyman introduces himself on the B side by saying "yrknonwnwrrgorgrbrbroededjjaaaywwwdwdyrrocsknknovooooioice? yeessesson. grrrbrbrrbrr??? hhrrrrr?? aaiiissay." on We A Sample and things don't really get better or worse from there, just different. Which is to say, FANTASTIC! Uglyman is made for Harry J riddims and his half has no duds. He is absolutely full of lyrics here, full of style, full of energy. If you read my post about Kelly Ranks and his tune You See Me, you can hear the same "You see me, you see me" lick in We A Sample but with an asthmatic twist to it that works really well. Uglyman then does a much better job than Little John on the Boops riddim with Donkey Ride, featuring the highly lyrical kind of storytelling that I love from deejays, with exciting bits of flair here and there. Some notes have been taken from General Trees' style book. See Duppy Deh is a perfect song, if somewhat inconspicuous, followed by Fix The Stag-A-Lag, an ode to the Stalag riddim and one of its premier tunes. Uglyman describes his sex life with "Girl, play with me belly, rub dung me back, no bother come suck me cah I'm not a lollipop, no bother come drink me, I'm not a sweetsop, no bother come and kiss me cause I'm not a soursop" and pays tribute to the riddim with "The stagalag, me love the stagalag". Well catchy. The set finishes with Uglyman meeting his sparring partner Lyrical in a deejay duo on Don't Mix We Up, a rare blessing of Harry J kings together on record. They each introduce themselves several times to ensure that you do not mix them up and then the tune begins. It's not the finest tune of all time but it is very good and a LOT of fun. When artists have fun it usually shows, and it certainly does here. Lyrical brings a bit of his own signature flair, rolling his tongue all over the show in fine timing, which is sorely lacking on record - he has one LP which is fantastic but besides this tune and some compilation appearances I believe there is no more.
With 'clash' records like this, I sometimes wonder who the 'winner' is. Some people are compelled to make a decision like this, perhaps many more or less than I expect, but for me it's something that just crosses my mind from time to time. With deejay-deejay clashes or singer-singer clashes it seems like a much fairer fight, but with one of each in a set like this it feels a bit difficult to compare sometimes. However in this case, Uglyman is surely the winner, despite cheating with backup on Don't Mix We Up, for no other reason than Little John's corny and silly approach to quoting Brown Girl In The Ring on the opening tune. Nonetheless this is an excellent set well worth the attention of all rub-a-dub fans.
My picks: Wah Come Rule I, Trembling Style, Too Labba Labba, Donkey Ride, See Duppy Deh, Fix The Stag-A-Lag
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