A thoroughly decent debut set from a clearly talented dancehall artist.
David Katz 2012
The world of Jamaican dancehall is one that never sits still. New styles and flavours often appear without warning, as if from nowhere, and fall out of fashion just as quickly. So much of what is deemed hot takes its cues from the gritty ghetto yards of downtown Kingston, whose entrenched sound system scene constitutes a way of life, rather than the mere distraction of entertainment.
Yet in these days of dwindling sales of physical releases, it has proven exceptionally hard for new talent to come to the attention of the world outside Jamaica; established figures can still earn decent livings by touring, but younger unknowns face a harder battle in making an impact.
Those with their ear to the dancehall ground will already have been aware of I-Octane for some time. The upcoming vocalist was born Byiome Muir, and his part-sung, part-rapped delivery places him in the sub-genre demarcation known as a singjay, though he actually got his start around a decade ago, voicing hardcore dancehall tunes for the Penthouse label under the name Richie Rich. Moving to the Arrows International stable and re-casting himself as I-Octane (a Rasta reworking of High Octane), a new maturity crept into his work.
Upon moving away from Arrows, I-Octane came under the guidance of Robert Livingston, the man who took Shaggy to his heights of international popularity. The resultant debut album thus has stronger-than-average production values (even sounding overproduced in places), and is a surprisingly varied set, comprising mostly new roots reggae in the one drop style, along with a couple of rougher-edged tracks in full-on dancehall mode.
Outstanding numbers include Lose a Friend, a mournful track about the senseless murders blighting Jamaica’s contemporary landscape; All We Need Is Love, a fantastic duet with the golden-voiced Tarrus Riley (with I-Octane in a nicely contrasting hardcore deejay form); the agreeable title number; and the infectious System a Beat Dem, which holds a serious message, despite its catchy hooks. Although no song really feels under par, there are moments when the album feels a bit unfocussed, the sentimental ballads and Auto-Tune tracks seeming to clash with more forceful material. But, generally, it’s pleasant throughout.
This debut album makes clear that I-Octane has talent. He is a strong songwriter with a great deejay style and a good singing voice. With the right type of guidance, further material should definitely be noteworthy, so delve into this debut, and keep your eyes open for his next.