Written by Dat Guy NJ
Brooklyn NY – Eager to attend the showcase event called Strictly The Best Live NY (STBNY) the moment I heard about it, I still battled the inclination to bow out based on an entire day of gloomy chilly weather with rain continuously beating the sidewalks. All the same, I just didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hear veterans of the Reggae/Dancehall circuit Christopher Martin (whose performances I’ve seen a few times and thoroughly enjoyed) and Spice (who I'd never seen perform). The event was held at The Paperbox, a venue that's comfortably nestled off the beaten path in a fairly secluded neighborhood in East Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY. I thought I'd be walking into an underground dive but upon arriving the first sign that things were looking up happened as I stepped through the doors finding myself in a pristine concert venue spacious in size yet surprisingly intimate. For those of you who may not have heard, the November 29th STBNY event was free entry on the guest list hosted by pioneer leaders in Reggae and Caribbean music production and distribution VP Records. Since 1991 they’ve produced an epic series of numbered releases called Strictly The Best (STB) and it's the longest running CD compilation series of its kind that's released annually in time for the year-end holiday season.
This year saw the STB release of not one but two sizable editions. Volume 54, the “Singers Edition,” features the latest songs (2015 – 2016) of popular artists accompanied by a separate bonus CD featuring the music of Jamaican groups of the 1960's going forward and at the heart, classic Reggae music selections. Volume 55, the “Deejays Edition” strictly covers the very latest Dancehall music from veteran and popular emerging artists. The bonus CD attached to Volume 55 features carefully selected songs that are collaboration tracks between Deejays and singers. Here's where it gets good. In 2016 Volumes 54 and 55 have been bundled together whereby buyers receive not two but four really great CD sets with fantastic music by many of the biggest most important names in Reggae, at a reasonable price.
Doors opened for the STBL show at 7 PM with early warm vibes and entertainment in-between acts in the hands of three DJ's although the only one I was familiar with is DJ Noah Power; he's been kicking the scene now for a good minute playing special events, putting out heavy hitting DJ remixes along the way earning a solid reputation. The other DJ's billed were Chromatic The Ultimate and the beautiful female selector Kitty Cash who did her thing and rived up the audience big-time. Moments before the show got started she invited guests to come up and dance pon di stage which many did leaving dancers and onlookers alike excited and fully pumped! The audience consisted of a diverse group of Reggae/Dancehall lovers from many different cultures and it was satisfying to experience everyone mingling and partying together. As The Paperbox continued filling, the early-warm juggling succeeded in warming the enthusiasm of attendees unified by the excellent Reggae music that filled the room as we anxiously awaited the main acts; it was a vibe that felt like total togetherness and the feeling lasted throughout the evening.
Then it happened, Christopher Martin touched the stage and the audience went insane as he opened up with his hit song "Don't Let Me Cheat." In great sound the air was filled with his strong voice and on-key melodies that created even more positive vibes that thickened the air. Early in the performance Martin was forced to sing without tracks but nobody seemed to mind because even then his voice was crisp, clear and right on key. As he progressed, his set seemed to intensify and the audience responded favorably. Enraptured by this magical feeling attendees sang along during most of Martin's set hardly ever missing a line. His time on stage was short but rammed with several of his excellent tunes that everyone wanted to hear. From STB Volume 55 he gave us his song “Pirate of the Caribbean” and went on to end his great set with “Mama” after about 30-minutes onstage. Other than the technical problem with his tracks Christopher Martin's flow was excellent and totally worth the trip to NY in the rain. A hard act to follow I hoped Spice would receive the same strong enthusiasm of Martin's opening reception but as they say, no worries.
Right from the start Spice strutted on stage with a sizzling air of confidence that everyone there could feel. However, before getting into her performance I must describe her appearance in a stunning sexy black body-fitting outfit (the top fitted with studs) that molded her tight voluptuous body and made it look like she'd been been poured into the outfit right before coming onstage. POW! Was it just me? I looked around for audience reaction and everyone that I could see had their eyes crazy glued to the stage. Still, it wasn't just about how appealing Spice looked (although I can tell you it was a huge bonus given that far too many artists hit the stage looking like they just rolled out of bed and put on street clothes, worn the day before). Spice's set put hardcore fire pon di mike giving out great sound, well performed songs like her latest 'suggestion song' called “Siddung Pon It” (translated for all those with only passing exposure to Jamaican patwah as 'Sit Down On It'). For a good minute the song went on in different phases driving the crowd wild especially after Spice invited a few ladies to join her on stage to show the dance moves to the song. Moving on to another selection a short time later, men where invited to the stage to dance with her and never having seen her handle an audience I quickly discovered that not only can Spice sing, she's a top-shelve entertainer and somewhat of an actress too. She sprinkled her act with daringly suggestive lyrics, interesting chat and facial expressions meant to intrigue her audience that taken together hit home. Her hot fire engine song you can find on STB Volume 55 is “Sight and Wine”...make sure you check it. A great performance all the way round only time will tell if she is indeed the new undisputed Queen of Dancehall as she is being hailed in a number of circles. Having finally seen her live in action vs- watching her videos on YouTube (which are subjected to editing), one thing for sure based on everything I heard and experienced that night, Spice's act is the real deal and, she is much more than just another hyped artist.
At the end of the night I was totally satisfied and interested in the STB compilations. My only displeasure is a common place flaw with Reggae in the NY area. The doors opened on a Tuesday night at 7 PM – a good time for a weeknight show - but performances didn't start for nearly four hours. Reggae people we have to do better! Start on time or much closer to it because it's a deterrent to fans who want to come out and enjoy great showcases like STBL and still get home in time to get a little shut-eye before work or school the next day. That aside, the night offered attendees a wonderful location and friendly hospitable staff at The Paperbox not to mention excellent entertainment throughout the evening making it a fun way to start off the week! And, as soon as you can make a point of filling in your music collection or making what will be a welcomed holiday gift stocking stuffer to a loved one of the STB 2016 special edition bundle Volumes 54/55 that as explained earlier, includes loads of bonus tracks. So that you see what I mean by great music I've listed below the selections you'll find on the STB compilations and encourage you to check out this link for a discount offer on your purchase of the volumes via the VP Records website!
Dat Guy NJ is a regular Reporter for the CatchTheVybz “Dat Guy” column covering all genres of music with a specialty in Reggae coverage. He also serves as the Director of Dancehall and Reggae Alliance on the Meetup.com network and Freelance Reporter for the Live Reggae NYC “Single in the City” column.
Photographer Winston Rodney is a seasoned fashion photographer and photojournalist. Traveling the world with his camera covering celebrity events, he is the CEO of Winston Rodney Photography.
Edited by G. Vanriel
(STB. vol. 54)
1. Identify My Love – Mr. Vegas 2. LoveSick – Romain Virgo 3. Unfaithful Chronicles – Dalton Harris
4. Stuck in the Middle – Ikaya 5. Cool Me Down – Tarrus Riley 6. Lay You Down Easy – Magic feat. Sean Paul
7. Take Me Back (J. Vibe Reggae Mix) – Christopher Martin 8. Bad Mind – Sizzla feat. Jah Cure
9. Strolling – Alborosie feat. Protoje 10. Get Up – Raging Fyah 11. Natty Bald Head – Morgan Heritage
12. Trap Set – Sanchez 13. Calling – Freddie McGregor 14. Hello (Reggae Cover) – Conkarah & Rosie Delmah
15. Unafraid – Jah9
(STB vol. 54 Bonus Disc)
1. Penny Love You – Wailing Souls 2. Love Has Many Faces – Heptones 3. You don’t Care – Technique
4. Born to Love You – The Sensations 5. The Beatitude – The Uniques 6. Got to Get Away – The Paragons
7. Don’t Break Your Promise – The Tamlins 8. Pass the Kutchie – The Mighty Diamonds
9. Bullseye – Brian & Tony Gold 10. Single Life – Home T. 11. Footprints – T.O.K. 12. Just as I Am – L.U.S.T
13. Down By the River – Morgan Heritage 14. Playing Games – Voicemail
(STB vol. 55)
1. Mercy a God – Vershon 2. Great Man – Jahmiel 3. One More Time – Alkaline 4. Likkle More – Vybz Kartel
5. Dancehall Dab – Mr. Vegas 6. Roast or Fry (Breadfruit) – Chi Ching Ching 7. Sight & Wine – Spice
8. Culu Culu – Savage 9. Buck Fi Mi Back – Razor B 10. Hard Ball – Masicka 11. 3G – Dexta Daps
12. Ball a Fire – Aidonia 13. Big League – Mavado 14. Pirate of the Caribbean – Christopher Martin
15. Streets – Bulby York feat. Busy Signal
(STB vol. 55 Bonus Disc)
1. Twice My Age – Shabba Ranks & Krystal 2. Half Idiot – Marcia Griffiths & Cutty Ranks
3. Who Say – Beres Hammond & Buju Banton 4. Big Up – Shaggy & Ravon
5. Bonafide Love – Wayne Wonder & Buju Banton 6. Living Dangerously – Barrington Levy & Bounty Killer
7. Intimate Woman – Red Rose & Bounty Killer 8. Give It to Her – Tanto Metro & Devonte
9. Miss Goodie Goodie – Colin Roach & Galaxy P 10. Hot Gal Today – Mr. Vegas & Sean Paul
11. Bad Man No Pet Gyal – Alozade feat. Chico & Kiprich 12. New Millenium – Vybz Kartel & Wayne Marshall 13. One Girl - Not Me – Beenie Man feat. Tanto Metro & Devonte 14. Party Time – Danny English & Egg Nog