Stateside rappers could learn a thing or two from Shinehead, the ingenious Jamaica-born, Bronx-based reggae-rapper who mixes New York rap and Jamaican dance-hall styles. Saturday night at Kilimanjaro, though, Shinehead was not as impressive as he was at a recent area show, and a good deal of the blame belonged to a leaden backup band. The rest belonged to the cameramen who were shooting a video, and to Shinehead, who performed one song twice for them.
But a so-so Shinehead set is still a cut above. He skipped from rock/hip-hop fusion to straight-ahead rap to reggae versions of standard croon tunes ("Till I Kissed You"). Likewise, his source material -- which included TV themes and obscure Jamaican hits -- was varied. Both "Family Affair," which reworked Sly & the Family Stone's classic waa-waa, and "We Shall Overcome," lifted into "Chain Gang Rap," explored Shinehead's favorite theme: unity.
Typically, Shinehead was most impressive working in dance-hall styles. In "Musical Madness" and the "Jamaica remix" of "Gimme No Crack," he stopped and started, grinding and stammering to the abrupt rhythms. His lines were sharp and witty, and he was characteristically unpredictable: He chose "The Golden Touch" to showcase his real singing, then whistled -- prodigiously -- through half of the song, explaining, "I swallowed a bird." And later, he offered deft impersonations of cartoon characters from Bart Simpson to Eek a Mouse.