Is it possible that the most exciting and innovative producer in Dancehall today is a skinny white kid from Sheffield? Toddla T’s debut LP Skanky Skanky blends raw dancehall aggression with hip-hop sensibilities and an unshakeable sense of humour to create a sweaty, bombastic, and – above all – thoroughly enjoyable dancefloor-ready trip to the Steel City.
Skanky Skanky opens with a bang and doesn’t let up as Toddla T’s rotating group of MCs (including Mr Versatile, T Willy, and Roots Manuva, among others) bring a steady stream of trumped-up – but often hilarious – machismo and swagger to the mic. When Toddla T (producer and DJ wunderkind, Todd Bell, aged 23) does speak up, it’s between songs, allowing his lazy Sheffield drawl to counterpoint Mr Versatile’s over-the-top Jamaican ecstatic cackling, mixing in bits of conversation that never go too far into the dreaded skit territory that plagued early 21st century hip-hop.
Instead Toddla T comes across as caring passionately for his music; perhaps he’s aiming to do for Dancehall what Amy Winehouse did for R ‘n’ B. �Through an even examination of Dancehall as a form, Bell has created the danceable equivalent of an all night bender, a celebration of excess rife with digital beeps and bloops, driving beats, brawny and devastating low-end rumblings, and lyrics that don’t even feign double meanings (for example, in Shake It: “Shake it, shake it. Come on and get naked, naked.”).
Album opener Boom DJ From The Steel City opens in a half-time low and slow explosion of genuine self-promotion in which Bell describes Sheffield as being a pretty happening place over cellular samples and rumbling bass. On the culinary quest, Rice�Peas, Mr Versatile raps about the comforts of Cornish pasties and cups of tea, but the song itself comes across as a frantic rumbling despite its pedestrian subject matter.
The standout track here is the pseudo-Caribbean Shake It, on which beats and synths mix and mingle over an infectious bass groove. And of course, there’s that call to “get naked, naked”. Herve and Serocee make a pretty convincing case, right up to the brief, but somehow lovely string interlude. This one’s got a tender soul despite its affront to lewdness and debauchery, perhaps hinting at the possibility of lasting love transcending the dance floor.
The album’s rare slow jam comes in the form of Rebel, on which Benjamin Zephaniah rap-rumbles: “When the masses wait to follow, we float the other way,” and “We live beneath the radar, but we’ve learned to levitate.”
And that’s really the feeling one gets from Skanky Skanky as a whole. This is an anomaly of an album with Toddla T expertly acting as conductor, manipulating sounds, ripping samples, capturing the zaniness in little snips of conversation – taking nearly 10 years of DJ experience into account – and leading his stable of vocalists through lush and exciting electronic dance-scapes.
Perhaps most impressive is that Toddla T makes it all look easy, while it’s certainly anything but. He’s done the work, providing ample energy and atmosphere so hot you can almost feel the sweat pouring out of each track. �Now, it’s up to you to shake it to the bona fide party album of 2009.