Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Buju Banton

  • Voice of Jamaica [Mercury, 1993] *
  • 'Til Shiloh [Loose Cannon, 1995] A-
  • Inna Heights [VP, 1997] A-
  • Unchained Spirit [Anti-/Epitaph, 2000] Neither
  • Too Bad [Gargamel, 2006] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Voice of Jamaica [Mercury, 1993]
praise Jah--neither "Wicked Act" nor "If Loving Was a Crime" bats boys of any sort ("Wicked Act," "Deportees [Things Change]") *

'Til Shiloh [Loose Cannon, 1995]
Even if you find the male voice dancehall has unleashed on the world as incomprehensible in its brawny macho as in its machine-gun patois, the way it embraces contradictions of pride and arrogance, class and gender, strength and menace ends up being more original, powerful, and distinctive than the beats it rode in on. Banton's gay-bashing "Boom Bye-Bye" remains one of that voice's vilest moments. But nobody out there commands a huger growl--Buju could whisper sweet nothings to the World Bank and be a hero by force of physical endowment alone. So I'm grateful for the maturity he vaunts at 23. There is one about the size of his other physical endowment, which he hooks to Maurice Williams's "Stay" just in case. But let the guy have his fun. He can carry a tune, pick a hook, choose a collaborator (a few more cameos like this and the whole world will mourn Garnett Silk). And everywhere else here he articulates empathy, vulnerability, and concern, personalizing and politicizing a style of conscience that comes naturally to the 15th child of a Maroon family. The most fully accomplished reggae album since the prime of Black Uhuru. A-

Inna Heights [VP, 1997]
This starts out in the heights of "Hills and Valleys," an affirmation of Rasta community which adds to the deep soul of "'Til Shiloh" a melody that is hope itself. After that shoo-in for the reggae canon, the album can only descend, and while Banton's voice remains the essence of dancehall and the tracks are well-conceived--strong rhythms, welcome guests, thought-through principles, the nice touch of "Small Axe"--it soon appears that PolyGram 86ed the flagship act of banished troublemaker Lisa Cortes on practical grounds: by pop standards the vehicle seems high-generic. But the last five songs suggest that spite was at work. Suddenly the music zooms upward from its pleasant plateau, spooky bouncing bass and twisty guitar stile and intense Toots remake with the man himself chanting "I say yeah" and "54-46" like prison was yesterday, all culminating in the voice-only social-determinism tract "Circumstances," a heartening bit of analysis from a man who 45 minutes earlier was claiming his "Destiny" far less convincingly. A-

Unchained Spirit [Anti-/Epitaph, 2000] Neither

Too Bad [Gargamel, 2006]
For him, dancehall is roots reggae, to which he returns none too soon ("Me & Oonu," "Jig"). **

See Also