By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Listen to the 30 years of pop since "Rapper's Delight" in a certain way, and you hear music being pulled slowly, irrevocably southward, in both geography and register—from northern megalopolises to Atlanta and Memphis, from Minneapolis treble to Kingston bass, deeper into a funk boom shaped around the aesthetic priorities of Caribbean ears. And how did our tropical neighbors, so long shut out of U.S. pop, come to have so much influence? Because they helped create hip hop, which would not be ignored.
So the surprise of the first Lightning and Thunder compilation in 2008 was not so much that it combined Jamaican dancehall reggae, Puerto Rican/Panamanian reggaeton, and American R&B and rap: That party had been going on in New York for years. The delight was finding this mix, you know, here—our Minnesota ice burgh alive to the balm of a new beat. Vol 2, produced by the newly dubbed Goodfellas (a.k.a. Leroy Smokes trumpeter Highstylekyle and keyboardist Friendly Fred), is so good, references to "the Minneapp" might make you do a double-take at your iPod.
Reggae, of course, has always been here: One of the sweet delights of Vol 2 is the remix of an achy, never-before-released vocal track by Peter Nelson, late singer of Twin Cities legends Shangoya, with sprightly singjay answer vocals by Prince Jabba (on "Love Like This"). But Lightning and Thunder mostly exists for newer talents to flex a Latin or Caribbean heritage (or influence) that you wouldn't necessarily identify or expect. Panamanian-born deejay the Kamillion ringmasters ("If dancin' is a crime then Babylon come arrest me"), while Don Xaba lends rappers Back-Up Plomo and Fredy Kruger a Lyrics Born-worthy hook on "Too Many Bosses" ("not enough soldiers"), a witty update of the conceit that gangsters have no respect for life and limb anymore. Chicago emigrant St. Paul Slim drops a couple of octaves to rap in the Puerto Rican Spanish he absorbed while in the Marines ("Thunder Sound"), while Queens emigrant Trama (of Trinidadian descent) dips himself in Auto-Tune for the lazer-bass magnificence of "You Neva Know." Maria Isa (Puerto Rican) swivels between attitude-heavy English and Spanish, while Kanser's Unicus (Haitian) soft-shoes between Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley versions of "jammin," for his catchy tribute to music itself, "Babydoll (What Do You Do?)."
The Goodfellas Present: Lightning and Thunder Vol 2
The closer is a mournfully harmonized immigrant song by M.anifest (Ghanaian) and Baraka (Kenyan, rapping half in Swahili), two "falling stars trying to find who we are," West and East African, both sending money back home to family who "gotta eat." It's as good a snapshot of Minnesota as any other in 2009. The new scene starts here.