Joe Stile | BASSic
Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 07:11
Major Lazer is the sound of globalization. Led by an American producer, the group combines Caribbean dancehall, Jamaican reggae and British House−dubstep music to create a sound that is instantly contagious, convulsive and chaotic.
Known for their sweat−drenched club sound, their latest single, “Jah No Partial,” continues the Lazer tradition. The single takes a classic roots reggae song, Johnny Osbourne’s “Mr. Marshall,” and adds an aggressive, thudding bass track, creating a record that is as commanding as it is dance−able.
Despite its dressing, the song isn’t just a mindless track meant for sticky−floored frat basements. The record’s untouched Osbourne vocals are still clearly a song about police brutality and overcoming the legacies of colonization.
Roots reggae, a reggae subgenre that was prominent in the 1970s, was the music genre of choice for many former colonial island nations. Its artists acted as activists against social problems that were still plaguing their homelands because of Western intrusion.
Though most roots reggae songs have a more laid−back vibe, Major Lazer adds a militant drum and synth sound that attacks the listener. This works incredibly well with the fight−back message many of these songs promote.
Diplo and his Major Lazer crew walk a fine line between making authentic dancehall music and winking hipster appropriations. While they often collaborate with some of Jamaica’s finest musicians and seem to have a legitimate appreciation for the genre, they also make daggering dance videos and hide behind a cartoon commando known for his heroics in the fictional Zombie War of 1984. Their songs bring attention to an often−neglected style of music while also sounding a lot like the soundtrack for a crazy and intoxicated night out. At times it can be hard to tell just how seriously to take their music.
At a recent concert, Diplo proclaimed that Major Lazer “represents all cultures.” While that is obviously a problematic statement to make, the point behind it is astute. Major Lazer is making world−music in much the same way Paul Simon’s groundbreaking “Graceland” (1986) did back when it was released. Major Lazer is bringing musical elements and ideas from many different non−Western nations to Western audiences in a palatable pop sound, which shrinks the divide between world cultures in an impactful but understated way.
It also helps that “Jah No Partial” has the kind of sound that could shake a room; it is heavy on crescendos and loopy drops with a stomping bass and trampling synths. It is the kind of song that demands huge speakers and a lot of open floor space because it is hard not to move when the bass line kicks in.
Many fans worried when Switch, Diplo’s partner on Major Lazer’s first album, walked away from the group after speculated disagreements over Lazer’s musical direction. These fears seem unwarranted now, as Diplo keeps turning out hits like “Jah No Partial” and “Get Free” that retain the old Major Lazer sound while feeling more mature and carefully constructed than some of the group’s earlier work.
Still, this doesn’t seem all that surprising considering what a hot producer Diplo is as of late. He’s the force behind captivating songs like Usher’s “Climax” and No Doubt’s “Push and Shove,” as well as many other radio−ready tracks that have dropped over the past year.
Major Lazer’s second full−length album, “Free the Universe,” recently had its release date pushed back from late November to the beginning of next year, but killer tracks like “Jah No Partial” are strong enough to keep fans eagerly anticipating the rest of the record.
Joe Stile is a senior majoring in political science. He can be reached at Joseph.Stile@tufts.edu.