V Opinion: Spragga Benz’s ‘Shotta Culture’ Is The ‘Detox’ Of Dancehall
Spragga Benz and master producer Salaam Remi finally unveiled their epic album Shotta Culture this Tuesday. A full 10 years in the making, Shotta Culture is like the dancehall Detox: Long-awaited, much-anticipated, and well worth the wait.
The rest of the album is all killer, no filler, straight boomshots from top to bottom. Featured guests include Nas, Stephen Marley, Jazmine Sullivan, Marcia Griffiths, Queen Ifrica, Jah Cure, Sizzla Kalonji, and Tity Boi of Playaz Circle. But what stands out most is the sound of the record—an irresistable blend of raw rub-a-dub, digital dancehall, and a gritty hip hop edge—and Spragga virtuosos DJ skills, filling every riddim with his versatile vocabulary and crazily insane flows.
Spragga dropped by 8 Bond Studios in Manhattan recently to break down the evolution of this landmark album, which is being released independently on the Boomtunes imprint.
Because the album was written and recorded over such a lengthy span of time, the lyrics reflect Spragga’s changing mindset over the years. One of the earliest tracks, the unrepentant gangsta tune “This Is The Way,” was originally recorded as a soundtrack cut for Shottas, which sold over a million copies in its official release, to say nothing of its enormous bootleg audience.
Spragga’s worldview evolved over the years as he embraced the Rastfarian faith and his music showed the emergence of a deeper consciousness. And then, two years ago this past August 23, Spragga’s firstborn child, Carlton “Carlyle” Grant Jr., age 17, was shot dead by police in Kingston, Jamaica.
Carlyle was a gifted youth with a world of possibilities before him. By the age of 11, he had already appeared in the opening scenes of Cess Silvera’s hit 2002 film Shottas, vividly portraying the childhood version of Wayne, the character played by his father in the rest of the film. But Carlyle’s exposure to show business did not distract him from his studies.
An outstanding student at Camperdown High, by the summer of 2008, he had just completed fifth form—the Jamaican equivalent of the last year of high school—and scored high marks on his CXC exams (Caribbean Examinations Council) qualifying him for advanced study in any number of different fields. “Carlyle had many doors open to him,” says his father. “Only Jah know what he really would have done.”
Carlyle and a friend were riding their bicycles along Church Street in downtown Kingston when they were ordered to stop by police. According to eyewitness reports Carlyle and his friend stopped and raised their hands as instructed but nevertheless shots rang out and Carlyle suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The 17-year-old was taken to hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. Police alleged that one of the youths had fired a gun at them but after a thorough investigation, two policemen now face murder charges in Carlyle’s death.
While the Jamaican judicial system continues its slow march toward justice, Spragga has established the Carlyle Foundation, which provides scholarships, and holds an annual concert called Life Fest in his son’s honor. continued to honor his son through music. On songs like “Livication” he pours out the raw emotion of a grieving father who must summon his will turn away from thoughts of revenge: “Me trust in the Most High,” he sings “so to Him me leave all vengeance.”
The healing process continues in the soaring song “Stays The Same” featuring Stephen Marley and Jazmine Sullivan. Spragga sings of a love that lives on through pain and the sorrow:
“I still wish we had a little more time / I still wish it was a bad dream just all in my mind / But the reality is that we all face time / We never know who’s gonna be in front of us line / And now the tragedy’s mine / And it won’t help by crying / I love you then I love you now / I love you all of the time.”
If that’s not the realest thing Spragga ever wrote, I don’t know what is. —Rob Kenner