WATCH ME DANCE
Ninja • Tune
dub \ dub \ n + pop \päp\n
Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 09.21.11
Stateside, the average teen’s obsession with reggae begins and ends with Bob Marley’s Legend. Across the pond, sound-system culture is so prevalent that no one thinks twice about a fresh-faced youth from Sheffield making potent Jamaican music. Toddla T has been doing exactly that since age 14.
His 2009 debut, Skanky Skanky, was grimey, reverberating with sub bass and perfect for clubs like London’s Fabric. It gave Toddla his identity. Now 26 and signed to Ninja Tune, the producer and DJ is back with a new batch of blue-eyed dancehall beats, this time aiming for the Billboard charts.
Polished but still filtered through the THC haze of a Kingston studio, Watch Me Dance sparks up with the title track, a disco-dance-rock romp featuring the inimitable flow of Roots Manuva. Bleeding into the ’90s house piano and rolling breaks bounce of “Take It Back,” Toddla feels destined to break free of the underground—and his backbeat trappings—and these opening tracks give him the right momentum.
Ultimately, though, he settles back into what he knows best and gets carried away with the pipe cleaner while he’s at it. Running the gamut of reggae styles, the LP boasts the easygoing bashment soul of “Cherry Picking,”which could easily find airtime next to Nicki Minaj, and the smoldering dancehall-step of “Streets So Warm,” a shoo-in for a Major Lazer DJ set. But while the X-rated swagger of “Body Good,” the conscious reggae of “How Beautiful It Would Be” and the lover’s rock of “Lovely Girl” sparkle in production quality, they lack a discernible Toddla T stamp. Like Diplo and Switch, the dubwise youth excels at making the rough urban sound of Jamaica hip and palatable, but too often here, palatable steals the show.
—Joshua P. Ferguson