Ras G - "Hey Baby!!!!" (Down 2 Earth [The Standard Edition])
At my old college radio station, there’s a reggae DJ who rarely plays dub records. A few years ago, I asked him about the lack of dub, and I could be misremembering his answer, but it was something like, “They don’t listen to it in Jamaica.” In a pure soundsystem culture, the idea of straight-up listening to tweaked instrumentals does seem a bit silly. I still love my Scientist and Prince Jammy records, but since that conversation, I haven’t listened to them in the same way.
Why listen to instrumental hip-hop albums? As a showcase for the producer, I guess they make sense, but the albums are missing something, right? As with the dub records, there’s a faint pointlessness to a Teebs or a Ras G, though I still wholeheartedly recommend them. Down 2 Earth is, by almost any objective measure, a quality album. Twenty-one sketches occupy 32 inventive, free-wheeling minutes, with Ras gently pushing soulful Dilla sounds into slightly outré electronic territory. No harsh vibes, just some head-nodding. If this is your bag, Down 2 Earth is totally and successfully your bag.
It just doesn’t 100 percent work for me. The sound necessarily lacks the precision and propulsion of, say, house or grime instrumentals, and since nothing forces the listener to pay attention or move, Down 2 Earth disappears as it reveals itself. My ears perk up when Ras builds tension through looped and chopped vocal samples, as on “Fatcat” and “Hey Baby!!!,” but I almost instantly tune out when it becomes obvious that a track is just going to be some inoffensive synth or guitar sounds over a distorted but laid-back beat. Two minutes or less, on to the next one. It’s all good, but most of these tracks fit my idea of nice background music.