Friday, October 30, 2009

#69: 'Don't stop movin' you're makin' me hot'

Nina Sky "Move Ya Body"

I think that the reason dancehall never became more than a small blip on the radar in North America, at least on a populist level, was that it appeared to the common man that the whole genre was based on one single rhythm. Looking back to the 1-2 year period where it seemed that every second one-hit wonder was somehow affiliated to the dancehall scene in Jamaica, pretty much every single one of the biggest hits from that genre were based on the Diwali riddim popularized by Sean Paul’s mega-hit “Get Busy.” So after a half dozen or so mostly good-to-great songs that were all based on that addictive syncopated clapping rhythm I wouldn’t be surprised if a) the fickle consumers got burnt out on it and b) they inferred that the whole genre was based around that beat. I have no faith in the public, essentially, but given how soon after the Diwali-based hits phased out – Lumidee’s “Never Leave You” marking their high point and their essential end if I remember right – another dancehall influenced single with a different type of riddim (the Coolie Dance riddim if Wikipedia is to be trusted, not an aficionado of the Jamaican scene here) became the summer hit of 2004 it’s not hard to think that at least a) was true.

Basically, “Move Ya Body” is the ideal summer song. It’s lightweight, inconsequential, addictive and conducive to dancing. But unlike a lot of summer jams of years past, there’s something about it that stands out. It’s not just the rhythm, although that is a big part of its appeal, but the way that the Albino sisters sing the song without really singing it if that makes sense. I’m not talking about the usual thing that sub-standard R ‘n’ B singers do where they compensate for lack of vocal versatility by drenching every syllable in unearned sexiness, moaning and writhing instead of finding the notes. It’s clear that the Albino sisters could do that, but they make the song sound much more sexy by sounding like they aren’t trying to make it sound sexy. The vocals are almost ethereal at times, like Nicole and Natalie are floating above the rest of the song while still being completely in sync with it. Not something you hear every day in modern R ‘n’ B, and a very welcome approach as such.

Of course, the riddim underneath it is just as important a factor in the song’s addictiveness. It’s also a much more interesting dancehall beat than the Diwali riddim, adding a few more syncopations to the party and not relying so much on the handclaps to carry the track. If you break it down, the rhythm has two basic elements: the bass pulse in a 3/8-3/8-1/4 pattern and an overlay of straight half-note handclaps. That’s what holds the song together, and the way it’s rendered here is nothing short of perfection. Sure it’d be hard to fuck up such a simple pattern, but something about the way it comes across here is so much better than it should be by any sort of logical thought process. Maybe it’s the fact that it represents the sort of quasi-minimalist construct that pop embraced for a while where the beat was allowed to stand on its own without all manner of fun sounds distracting from it. Other than that fluid, almost video-gamey synth line over the chorus all there is to the song’s instrumentation is the beat, throwing it in to the spotlight even more so than the vocals and giving “Move Ya Body” the most unprecedented instrumental hook of the decade. I can’t recall who the producer was here, but whoever it was they certainly put together a master’s class in doing as much as possible with so little in the way of elements.

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