What was projected to be a victory lap for one of the most influential vocalists in Jamaican history (someone who directly influenced the birth of hip-hop) has unfortunately turned into a posthumous offering as U-Roy passed earlier this year before the excellent Solid Gold U-Roy could be released.
For those not familiar, U-Roy was one of the famous Jamaican vocalists who specialized in toasting, the art form of chanting and talking around the beats as an emcee/deejay, in the late 60’s and early 70’s. His style directly influenced DJ Kool Herc and emcee Coke La Rock up in the Bronx in 1973 during hip-hop’s embryonic stage. U-Roy would also be massively influential as the proclaimed Godfather of the Dancehall genre influencing everyone from Shabba Ranks to Sean Paul and many more worldwide
With that respect, Trojan Jamaica/BMG assembled a world-class band of Sly Dunbar (drums), Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Robbie Lyn (keyboards), Tony Chin, and Zak Starkey, along with a host of guest vocalists, to recreate tracks U-Roy was famous for toasting over as he reprised his role in fresh fashion.
The album has a joyous feel and familiarity even by those who have never heard U-Roy before. Each tune rings vibrantly with highlights being the artist’s earliest hits of “Wake The Town” and the cheeky “Wear You To The Ball” which gets support from Richie Spice who specifically chose that song to collaborate with U-Roy on. Shaggy did the same with the echoing bass bumping “Rule The Nation” while Santigold expertly delivered the goods for “Man Next Door”, a song she has been a fan of for decades.
U-Roy famously accented Bob Marley’s work and three songs of his get that treatment again as “Natty Rebel” twists up “Soul Rebel” with the help of Steel Pulse’s David Hinds while Ziggy Marley kicks open the record with “Trenchtown Rock”, U-Roy’s accented take on “Kingston Rock”. The best of the Marley re-works though is the dramatic “Small Axe” as U-Roy blends wonderfully with Jesse Royal’s own vocal flourishes, digging into the song’s underdog message.
While all of these are smile-inducing, head-bopping, and ass-shaking-worthy, “Miseducation” (which uses Johnny Clarke’s 1978 “Every Knee Shall Bow” as a foundation) raises the bar immensely. U-Roy goes all out, toast to toast, with Big Youth for over fifteen minutes as the band along with Mick Jones, push everyone above and beyond boundaries, proving U-Roy was still vibrantly crafting stunning work with collaborators well into his late seventies.
The world may have lost a legend earlier this year, but with the powerful Solid Gold U-Roy his style and substance will be sure to reach a new generation of listeners.