With the year 2013 coming to a close, we’ve now seen the release of two Hip Hop albums heavily influenced by Reggae music. In April, the much-publicized Reincarnated by Snoop Lion dropped. Now, Bucktown’s own Smif-N-Wessun are introducing their fans to Born And Raised.
The comparisons between Born And Raised and Reincarnated are inevitable; two albums by established Hip Hop veterans looking to solidify a position in the Reggae world. Further, it might be easy to for those unfamiliar with Smif-N-Wessun to assume Born And Raised is comprised of raps about smoking weed over dub beats. But that simply isn’t the case. Tek and Steele make a conscious effort to rap about today’s struggles—from violence, to corruption to everyday life in general. So tonal inspiration from artists like Bob Marley is at once apparent and effectively utilized.
Born And Raised is produced entirely by Beatnick & K-Salaam, who capture the Reggae vibe admirably, and guest features from Jr. Kelly, Jahdan and Junior Reid are the icing on the cake. Smif-N-Wessun don’t use the Dancehall inspired toasting technique championed by Damian Marley and Buju Banton, but they do occasionally rap in broken flows that ride smoothly over the beats (“Shots In the Dark,” “All Massive”). At the same time, they also succeed at blending Hip Hop and Reggae into its own unique entity (“These Streets,” “Kamikaze”). On “These Streets,” Steele raps, “Jimmy Cliff ‘The Harder They Come’ / A spliff of the hardest get burned / Ganja baby since these artists get gunned / Ras (Selassie) told me ‘Eat to live, show me your gun in the song.’ / Then he said what doesn’t kill you is only making you strong.” References to Jimmy Cliff and Haile Selassie don’t always equate to Reggae, but the wisdom is universal. Tek’s lyrics succeed at stimulating the mind, and ultimately achieve the desired goal: cross-genre experimentation, both lyrically and musically.
The biggest knock on Born And Raised is that it has only 10 tracks, two of which are instrumentals. It was released as an EP with six tracks on December 3, while the LP contains two bonuses (“All Massive” and a live version of “Sound Bwoy Bureill”) as well as instrumental versions of “Solid Ground” and “Born and Raised.” It makes for a fluid listen and is well put together, but to follow up the release of the EP with so few additions leaves the listener wanting more.
But creatively, any dissatisfaction here is alleviated by the presence of instrumental tracks. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the standard Reggae LP often had a B-side known as the Dub side, or the instrumental version of the A-side. In keeping with tradition, the instrumentals speak to Smif-N-Wessun’s desire to make something Reggae artists will respect.
Fans of Smif-N-Wessun will likely be pleased with Born And Raised. It is a notable change from their last effort, Monumental with Pete Rock, which speaks to their versatility as artists. The Reggae flavor is also reminiscent of their raggamuffin-Rap days as Cocoa Brovaz. In all, Born and Raised is an amalgamation of Reggae and Hip Hop that displays Tek and Steele’s ability to think inside and outside the box simultaneously.