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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

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Ella Mai Puts The Ball In Your Court With "Shot Clock" Visuals

Kobe, KD, Kyrie, how about Ella Mai?

Marking her third official single from her self-titled debut album, the 24-year-old dropped a new video from her charting project, bringing "Shot Clock" to life in her B-ball themed clip.

The Colin Tilley directed visual captures the essence of the young singer, framing her unique style and iridescent vocal abilities. The clip captures the various parts of Mai's magnetic energy, as she stars in her own thematic love story.

The two-time Grammy nominee goes through the many downs that occur in relationships while the red beams of shot clock shine in the background slowly reaching zero, a neon indicator of her lessening patience, the singer finds herself alone.

This visual was released in the midst of the "Boo'd Up" songstress' first debut tour currently venturing through the United States and Parts of Europe. Check out the tour dates below to see if R&B's new golden child is coming to a city near you and watch her video for "Shot Clock" above.

THE DEBUT TOUR

Jan 18 – Berlin, DE- Festsaal Kreuzberg Jan 20 – Hamburg, DE- Grosse Freiheit Jan 21 – Copenhagen, DK – Vega Main Hall Jan 22 – Stockholm, SE - Berns Jan 24 – Oslo, NO – Rockefeller Music Hall Feb 12 - Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom Feb 14 – Seattle, WA – Showbox SoDo Feb 15 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom Feb 17 – Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades Feb 19 – Oakland, CA – Fox Theater Feb 20 – Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst Feb 22 – Phoenix, AZ – The Marquee Feb 23 – Las Vegas, NV – House of Blues Feb 25 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre Feb 27 – Lawrence, KS – The Granada Feb 28 – Minneapolis, MN – Varsity Theater Mar 2 – Detroit, MI – St. Andrew’s Hall Mar 3 – Chicago, IL – Concord Music Hall Mar 5 – Cleveland, OH – House of Blues Mar 6 – Toronto, ON – The Danforth Mar 7 – Montreal, QC – Club Soda Mar 9 – Boston, MA - Royale Mar 11 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel Mar 13 – Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of Living Arts Mar 15 – Silver Spring, M.D. – The Fillmore Silver Spring Mar 16 – Baltimore, MD – Baltimore Sound Stage Mar 19 – Atlanta, GA - Tabernacle Mar 20 – Orlando, FL – The Plaza Live Mar 21 – Fort Lauderdale, FL – Revolution Live Mar 24 – Houston, TX – House of Blues Mar 26 – Dallas, TX – House of Blues Mar 27 – Austin, TX – Emo’s Mar 28 – San Antonio, TX – The Aztec Theatre

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Smif N Wessun

9th Wonder Talks Collabo Album With Smif N Wessun And The Soul Council

A few weeks fresh off the 23rd anniversary of their classic debut album, Da Shinin', Brooklyn duo Smif N Wessun (Steele and Tek) have released the video for the soul smacking single, "Testify" produced by Khrysis, off their newest album, The All. The project, produced entirely by Grammy-nominated producer 9th Wonder and his Soul Council team, brings the hardcore feel of SNW's best work to the forefront.

“9th Wonder and the Soul Council provide the perfect backdrop for Tek and I to deliver heartfelt lyrical content,” Steele reveals directly. “It’s a true tale of ups and downs, wins and losses, growth and acceptance. It speaks to the hearts and minds of all people; particularly our followers and fans of all ages and ethnicities.”

When artists who rep a certain quality sector of hip-hop music resurface to offer newness to an audience, the longtime fans are looking to bring that old thing back while looking to reflect and push forward at the same time.

"'Testify' is a realistic reflective look back on our accomplishments and failures throughout our career and serves as a precursor to what you will experience on The All,” Steele continues. "This project is a reality check for SNW, one that reflects the struggles and obstacles that we’ve had to endure to survive at the level we occupy in the hip-hop arena."

9th Wonder took the project on as a lover of the group, "My goal is to make sure that we cement the legacy of the artist, but at the same time update the artist. We came up with the concept of  The All (based on a speech from Louis Farrakhan), you can never underestimate the essence of Islam in Hip-Hop. Given the fact that SNW are both Muslim and so many others are as well, we couldn't forget that part."

Going into new chambers of living is needed when you have been recording albums for over 20 years. 9th explains, "we wanted them to talk about stuff they wouldn't normally talk about on records, as they are in a different point in their lives, very grown man. It gives something to our generation to listen to, appreciate and celebrate without feeling old, without feeling outdated. We also wanted to let them know, the legends can still do it."

As the word legend gets thrown around a lot, it's not a far off title for the duo of Tek and Steele. "Some bestow the 'legend' tag upon us (we are very appreciative of that)," says Steele. "And we are chronicling that journey throughout the album.”

The full project will be dropping on February 22nd, 2019 on Duck Down Records. You can pre-order the album here and group merch here.

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Photo Rob

Premiere: Duck Down Records' Smif-N-Wessun Returns With Khrysis-Produced 'Testify'

It's been nearly 25 years to the day since their classic debut Dah Shinin' impacted in January 1995, but legendary Brooklyn duo Smif-N-Wessun is still representing the culture with authority and authenticity. "Testify," the premiere music video from their upcoming album The All, adds another notch to their storied catalogs.

"Testify" begins with old photos of group members Tek and Steele in their 90s heyday, but they don't spend much time there before getting busy with present day rhymes. Over a backdrop from Khrysis, the Duck Down Records duo confidently announces their return while solidifying their legendary pedigree. The song gives a short but sweet taste from The All, their upcoming album produced entirely by 9th Wonder and the Soul Council.

“9th Wonder and the Soul Council provide the perfect backdrop for Tek and I to deliver heartfelt lyrical content,” Steele told VIBE. “It’s a true tale of ups and downs, wins and losses, growth and acceptance. It speaks to the hearts and minds of ALL people; particularly our followers and fans of ALL ages and ethnicities.”

‘Testify” is a realistic reflective look back on our accomplishments and failures throughout our career and serves as a precursor to what you will experience on The All,” Steele continued. "This project is a reality check for SNW, one that reflects the struggles and obstacles that we’ve had to endure to survive at the level we occupy in the hip-hop arena. Some, bestow the “Legend” tag upon us (we are very appreciative of that) and we are chronicling that journey throughout the album.”

The All is scheduled for a February 22, 2019 release on Duck Down Records, and is available for pre-order.

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