Ten years ago, Buju Banton represented the ruffneck route dancehall reggae had begun to undertake. "Voice of Jamaica" and, to a larger degree, 1995's "'Til Shiloh" were hardcore albums with reggae undertones, and Banton's tracks resonated as strongly with American hip-hop audiences as they did with reggae fans. In the time since, Buju seems to have become somewhat confused. Pushing a decidedly more bling sound on "Friends For Life" (if you want to hear a Jamaican take on gold-diggers after Prada and Escalades, hear "Paid Not Played"), nearly all of the dancehall tones are programmed and accordingly synthetic-sounding. Though a track like "Up Ye Mighty Race" waves an anthemic flag a la Tosh or Marley, Banton is far more concerned with keeping his American street cred. Thus, the majority of the other 18 track are built upon hackneyed R&B phrasing and "reggae" touches that P. Diddy would be ashamed to touch for fear that they sounded too clichéd. Beres Hammond, Wayne Wonder and Bounty Killer are all brought in to elevate the album, but honestly, Buju was paved on this path. His gritty approach and inimitable style are what made dancehall so appealing to American audiences in the first place. For him to be watering down his signature sound to further appeal to that audience is shameful.
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