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Down in Jamaica: 40 Years of VP Records
A sumptuous box set offers an outstanding overview of reggae history
By Rick Anderson
Though slightly mistitled (some of the earliest recordings included were released well before VP Records came into existence in 1979), Down In Jamaica: 40 Years of VP Records is a lavish multiformat box set which provides a fantastic introduction not only to one of reggae music’s most important labels, but to the history of the music itself.
By the mid-1970s, reggae had fully developed from its origins in mento, calypso, and ska, and had passed through its rock-steady phase, settling into a deep roots-and-culture groove; that period is well represented on the first of the four CDs in this box, which also brings us into the lovers rock and early dancehall period, when rhythms got harder and lyrics more romantic. The remaining three discs take us through dancehall into the ragga period and back into the neo-roots stylings of modern masters like Queen Ifrica, Richie Spice, and the magnificent Jah9.
But in addition to those four CDs, the box also includes 7” and 12” vinyl singles (most of the latter featuring “showcase” mixes, on which the vocal version of a song segues seamlessly into the dub remix), as well as a wealth of historical notes and photos.
Not everything here is great, of course, and a few inclusions are questionable. For example, the title track finds toaster Red Fox and singer Naturalee collaborating on an ill-advised combination track that seeks to combine the melody from Stephen Bishop’s schlock-pop classic “On and On” with the one-chord “Sleng Teng” rhythm, to frankly disastrous effect. But overall, this box makes an outstanding introduction to the history of a musical style that has had an outsized influence on popular music and culture the world over.