The Bug London Zoo

[Ninja Tune; 2008]

Styles: dubstep, dancehall
Others: Kode9, 2562, Burial, Benga

Kevin Martin is one cool mutha. He was making dubstep before it had a name, and that factual nugget alone is worth years of cool beans. He also blazed trails in industrial techno as half of Techno Animal, industrial hip-hop with Ice, and jazzcore with God, all of which were partnership collaborations with kindred spirit Justin Broadrick. Except for the 1997 debut Tapping The Conversation, a work that featured input from Russian dynamo DJ Vadim, The Bug is Kevin's baby. This is the realness.

London Zoo, The Bug's third album, is inhabited by agitated mutant dancehall beats, given manifesto by a cross section of fiercely political growls that would make Bob Marley simultaneously proud and afraid. While Burial succeeded with a densely atmospheric, minimal sound, and Benga's cuts are all warping bassline and little else to back them up, The Bug's production is a lot more focused, busy, attention-grabbing, aggressive, and dancefloor-friendly. Though the messages strike deep, this is not music to be quietly admired. You can get as dirty as you wanna be to this shit.

The Tippa Irie-assisted "Angry" opens the Zoo on a fierce note. The beat is simple but effective, with a stuttering soca riddim, ’80s handclaps, and a metallic noise loop filling in the aural gaps alongside an analog squeal. Irie's lyrics indict the existence of poverty in Africa, the undeniably lackluster government response to Hurricane Katrina ("America is a super power/ They should have been there in the hour"), and such injustices that righteously infuriate the emcee.

"Insane" follows suit with a similar chugging beat granted character by a horror-movie twang and synth tone. Warrior Queen's vocals come in and out of being double tracked, creating the effect of having her vocals disagree with each other at times. The world is driving her crazy, and her confused voices fully embrace and exude what she's getting at, all bolstered by an outro interpolation of Tears For Fears' "Mad World." I bet she'd be a great actress. Her tones also grace the acclaimed single "Poison Dart," which has more hip-hop flavor, a warping bassline, and reggae-style vocals, like someone melted a Musical Youth 45 and played it at 33. "Skeng," also a lead single, is downright nasty. The deceptive, distorted beat pulses with the shared vocals of Killa P and Flowdan, delivered with that gruff, nasal harmonized hum, and some classic hip-hop sounds.

While most music journalists are busy trying to build Benga into the next Burial, The Bug's London Zoo blows 'em both back to Jamaica. As an album, London Zoo is simply more engaging. Kevin's production is intense but club-ready, and the lyrics are righteous and relevant. Other prominent dubstep artists may use a sound here or a beat there to satisfy their genre title, but this record was born in and of the uncompromising spirit of Jamaica. Accept no substitutes; this is the Iriest album of 2008.

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