The Police, Culture Club and, more recently, Ace of Base have all scored big by borrowing from reggae, but the genre's Jamaican artists still don't get their due. The late Bob Marley, undisputed king of reggae, never even had a hit U.S. single of his own, and today reggae performers like Ini Kamoze and Shaggy either have to make radio-friendly concessions or label their jams dancehall to get pop play.
Kamoze expertly played the crossover game on last year's "Here Comes the Hotstepper," a slight dancehall entry that rode the "na na na na na" hook from Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances" to No. 1. Now he returns with some equally punchy, and less annoying, hard hitters. If you think the title of his fine new album, Lyrical Gangsta (EastWest/Elektra), implies rap, you're not far off. With his sharp, staccato arrangements and reedy, singsongy deliver, Kamoze often comes across like a hip-hop singer toying with Rasta patois, and the way the bass lines boom as he condemns corrupt cops on "Hole in Ya Head" makes him sound like reggae's Sun Splash festival in the hood.
Shaggy's second album, Boombastic (Virgin), is more like the real reggae thing—the raw title song is the style's most uncompromising Top 10 trip yet—but the now dreads-less dancehall deejay also has some crossover tricks up his sleeve. Tunes like "In the Summertime" and "The Train Is Coming" stick some straight-up soul into the mix, highlighting several back-up singers whose smooth R&B crooning occasionally threatens to make Shaggy sound like a guest player on his own album. Despite that, the genre-blending technique is a successful tactic that culminates in "Jenny," a funny, pop-coated nugget that still manages to stay close to Shaggy's reggae roots.