Busy Signal - Loaded
The last few years in Jamaican music are likely to be remembered as the Autotune era. The popularity of this device – a type of vocoder designed to correct errors in pitch – has reached such a saturation point that many inventive and well-crafted albums may date quickly and unjustly in the eyes and ears of posterity. Loaded, the second longplayer by Bounty Killer apprentice and rising star, Busy Signal, could be one of them.
Born in the notorious garrison of Tivoli Gardens, Busy, like Bounty, possesses a gruff warts-and-all voice – the unrefined sound of his ghetto roots. Where debut, Step Out, was a hard-hitting fast-paced affair, here he rides a split of sparse mid-tempo dancehall and slower hookier hip hop influenced rhythms (courtesy of a variety of producers including Shane Brown, Craig Marsh, Jam 2 and John John) while increasingly using Autotune to sing as well as chat.
Yes, lots of the songs (like mildly irritating single Tic Toc, Cool Baby and Wine Pon Di Edge) talk sex, but Busy is 'conscious' in his own way. People So Evil is full of political and social comment, Automatic (with Marcia Griffiths) gets a 'one drop' lovers remix, and Real Jamaicans (with Michael Rose) is a modern classic whose message (''I was born under the clock, time keep moving I got to find my way to the top'') is as resonant as that of Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come.
The only concern is the reliance on Autotune. Used creatively - ramped up just before the chorus on paranoid anthem Unknown Number - it can add spice to an already strong track. By the time we get to the gadget's burial of guest Demarco during Face Life, however, it is a homogenising hindrance, removing all rough edges and human quirks.
Let's be clear, this is an excellent collection of known and new tunes by a talented artist, responding to the dictates of a music that waits for no-one. But there lies the point. Though Loaded sounds great now, who knows which albums will be left standing when the inevitable Autotune backlash begins?