We’re huge fans of Spliffington’s artwork and his Out Pon Bail Tumblr (always a great source for rare sound tapes and videos as well as odd photos) so we’re glad to have the man on our team. For his first LargeUp post, he recalls getting turned on to Reel 2 Real’s NYC discount department store-themed, dancehall-inflected mid ’90s club hit as a youth in Senegal. For more Spliffington, check his Gunwash radio show on heritageradionetwork.com on Thursdays from 7:30-8:30 and Radiolily.com on Saturdays from 4-6.
Listening to and discovering music in Dakar in the mid-90s was one encounter after another with reggae and dancehall. Baba Maal was versioning the Bogle riddim, my English friends were bringing back jungle tapes crammed with basslines and samples, French hip-hop was replete with Buju-like vocal stylings, and reggae features and style seemed to be everywhere in American hip-hop and R&B. House caught the bug too and, since club music was very popular in Senegal, I got to hear quite a bit of that, too.
Colombian-born house producer Erick Morillo and Trinidadian-born deejay Mad Stuntman linked in NYC and charted quite a few times as Reel 2 Real, most notably with “I Like to Move It.” Despite being an undeniable 90s classic, the song I preferred (and got just as much burn on MCM Afrique) was “Conway.” Peep Stuntman’s half-acre of cornrows and the Stone Love-esque “Riiiiights” and “Come down selector” ad-libs from Morillo showing just how far dancehall style had permeated popular culture at the time.
The lyrics cover typical dancehall subjects but with an NYC twist, with Mad Stuntman (who recently re-emerged on BK rapper Maffew Ragazino’s “City of God”) deejaying about “dibi dibi girls who ‘gwaan expensive when dem ah shop at the Conway.” Since it’s him handing over the cartoon money bags in the beginning, you’d think he’d appreciate their thriftiness. Some parts of the video are filmed IN said Conway (I wonder if they cut Morillo a check?) and a plethora of attractive ’90s styled video girls display the various budget wares the discount department store had to offer at the time. All the while Stuntman is belittling the fact it’s all probably made of polyester. Fun fact: the Conways at 34th & Broadway actually closed last year.
Years later I came across a sound system tape with the same lyrical pattern and melody from the hook of “Conway”: “I don’t know but I just can’t tell/why some gal feel like dem bad to hell.” In 1988 Silverhawk and Downbeat the Ruler kept a dance with popular JA deejays in NYC. After Ninjaman does a humorous set of lyrics concerning a woman he met in Times Square, one hears Sanchez singing, “I don’t know but I just can’t tell/why some man nyam the furry burger to hell.” What’s more, he’s singing in Tenor Saw’s distinctive style. I’ve found another version of the same hook for sound killing: “I don’t know but I just can’t tell/why some sound feel like them bad to hell.” Since there were dozens of Tenor Saw soundalikes back then I’m unsure who exactly it was, although I’m leaning towards Anthony Red Rose.
Melody and lyric patterns have always been reused and appropriated in dancehall so it was a pleasant surprise to find out my fav Reel 2 Real song was part of the same tradition… And the chant might go even further back than 80s dancehall, as its similarity to the US Military’s “Jodies” chants are quite apparent. And who could forget this classic scene from Full Metal Jacket?