Words by Eddie STATS
This week we’re celebrating two of the biggest Caribbean events of the year: the 50th anniversary of independence Jamaican Independence and Caribana, North America’s largest annual street festival. What better way to tie the two together than a classic (if little known) rap song and video about playing the popular Jamaican game of Ludi by two West Indian rappers from Toronto? Okayplayer editor Eddie STATS breaks it all down, along with his own personal Ludi history.
The summer between my junior and senior year at Cass Technical High School, the Dream Warriors single “My Definition Of A Boombastic Jazz Style” became a sleeper hit on Detroit radio. It was followed closely by “Wash Your Face In My Sink” which employed a similarly sampladelic happy-rap sonic formula. Both songs by the Toronto-based Warriors were smuggled into an urban milieu in which N.W.A., Public Enemy and Geto Boys reigned supreme via the signals of Canadian TV and radio stations across the river in Windsor, signals picked up in nearly every household (and hooptie) in Detroit—a powerful but little-discussed influence on the city’s hip-hop and techno scenes.
It wasn’t long before I laid out my hard-earned lunch-money and purchased the cassette of the Dream Warriors debut LP And Now The Legacy Begins, which I believe is still kicking around in a shoe box somewhere. For my 17-year old paisley-rocking self (in high school pics I look sort of like a white skater version of Dove from De La Soul, though I never owned a skateboard) it was a pretty solid listen from front to back but “Ludi” deserves a special place in my personal canon. Although it wasn’t the only song that introduced Caribbean music into my diet—that summer alone there were jams by Poor Righteous Teachers, Longsy D and Ziggy Marley x KRS-One that did as much or more in that department. But it tied my taste for West Indian music to a consciousness of the actual, physical PLACES from which it originated.
Geography always lagged behind riddim in my personal journey of Caribbean-ization (we all have one, Snoop Lion). By sixth or seventh grade I was already a fan of Bob Marley, Musical Youth and various 2tone bands from the UK, and by high school I could probably even explain fairly esoteric aspects of Rastafari to my classmates, but the existence of Caribbean peoples and nations beyond the big islands (Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti) pretty much eluded me until the Dream Warriors’ rapped island-hopping itinerary of “Dominica, Trinidad &Tobago / St. Kitts, Bermuda / Antigua & St. Lucia / St. Maarten and do not forget Montserrat, Aruba / Grenada, Guyana & Cuba / St. Vincent, Anguilla, Bahamas, Puerto Rico / Carriacou, Dominican Republic & Rio / Martenique & Guadelupe / and Virgin Islands…” –about as much of a roadmap as a Michigan-based hiphop & reggae fiend could ask for.
Easily the most melodic and heartfelt cut on the album (it also introduced me to Slim Smith & The Uniques’ “My Conversation,” still a personal favorite) “Ludi” earned an extra-garbly warped spot on that cassette from repeated rewinds in time to the deejay chorus. I never did learn to play Ludi from the song’s second verse but it’s just as well I didn’t get the visual aid of the video—shot on location in St. Kitts—until later, or there’s a very real possibility I might have put my college plans to bed early and put that lyrical roadmap to the test.