THE HOTTEST developments in North American pop music -- rap, dance remixes, house music -- all find their origins in the strange world of Jamaican "dub" music. To save money, early Jamaican producers often made a "version" of a reggae song with the vocals "dubbed out" and put it on the flip side of the original song. By the early '70s, producers were playing all kinds of tricks with these "dub versions" -- they added tons of echo, they dropped the bass in and out, they washed the song in eerie keyboards or they added spoken recitations or "toasts."
Pretty soon Jamaican DJs were using their portable sound systems to perform the same tricks for live audiences. Then Jamaican immigrants introduced "dub" to native New Yorkers, and "rap" and "12-inch remixes" became the rage in the United States. Nonetheless, some of the most inventive rapping and remixing in the world still take place in the isolated world of Jamaican dub.
"Now Dub" (Mesa). When this Jamaican vocal trio released its fine "Now" album last year, they quickly followed it with this, an album with dub versions of all 10 songs from "Now." That might sound superfluous, but these remixes are genuinely inventive, transforming the original songs from crisp political/philosophical anthems into spacey, atmospheric meditations -- from public proclamations into private reveries. Of course, it helps that the original songwriting, playing and singing were top-notch. A Guy Named Gerald, England's acid-house star, remixed "Reggae Rock"; Black Uhuru itself and original producer Tony "Asha" Brisset remixed the other nine.
"On the Road" (RAS). Brigadier Jerry, who appears Friday at Kilimanjaro, was one of those Jamaican DJs who created their own dub versions with a portable sound system before a live audience. "Briggy," as he's known on the island, achieved such a reputation that his following demanded recorded versions of his performances. He recorded this new album with two live bands (Roots Radics and Steely & Clevie), and he displays a pleasant voice and a fresh production approach. He sounds so laid-back and casual, however, that these tracks are anything but exciting.
Lee Perry/Mad Professor
"Mystic Warrior" (Ariwa/RAS). Lee "Scratch" Perry is one of the original dub producers, and the Mad Professor is one of the newest hot shots on the scene. They team up here to produce bizarre, funhouse versions of Bob Marley's "Crazy Baldheads" and Carl Douglas's "Kung Fu Fighting." They fill the tracks with odd, inspired touches -- circus organ, ping-pong percussion, echoing guitar chords -- but like most records made by studio-bound producers, this one is all edges and no center.
"Black . . . with Sugar" (Ariwa/RAS). The Mad Professor's most successful project is this one with Kofi, a young woman whose sweet, high soprano is set amid the Prof's heavily echoed reggae dub tracks. Kofi, who also plays keyboards and bass on the album, comes up with expertly crafted pop-soul melodies and stories that immediately recall the young Dionne Warwick. The heavy echo and quirky syncopation, though, make her sound like Warwick on Mars. Kofi's "Black Pride" topped the British reggae charts with a radiant, joyful vocal that serves the title even better than the lyrics.
"Jah Shaka Presents Dub Symphony" (Mango). In the early days of Jamaican dub, Augustus Pablo began making strange, hauntingly beautiful records that featured his melodica (a windblown keyboard) playing fluid, ethereal lines against the heavily echoed beat of dub. There was a spiritual intensity to his records that no one has ever approached. No one, that is, until Jah Shaka created this all-instrumental "Dub Symphony." Using a harder, more modern beat as a backdrop, Jah Shaka orchestrates his synths with an airy, hypnotic quality similar to Pablo's -- if not quite as pure.
"Sly & Robbie Present . . . DJ Riot" (Mango). Drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare are the finest rhythm section in Jamaica (if not the Western hemisphere), and they have often found their tracks being dubbed by other producers and DJs. So they retaliated by becoming producers themselves and backing some of the island's top DJs with strong, new Sly & Robbie rhythms. This anthology of Jamaican singles produced by Sly & Robbie features 12 numbers by nine different DJs. From the rugged, no-nonsense rhythms to the vivid rhymes and insistent toasting, this is one of the best dub albums ever released. It puts most North American rap to shame.