By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
As a onetime Bounty Killer protégé and Scare Dem Crew member (alongside Harry Toddler) from Kingston's rough Seaview Gardens district, Elephant Man likes to gruffly bark radio-unfriendly lyrics over the ruggedest ragga riddims available. When he calls himself a "bad man" every minute or so, it's tempting to believe him. But as any witness to the Energy God's equipment-climbing stage show knows, no one in dancehall is more playful than Elly. The lisping, yellow-haired (he finally lost his Cheesy-Poofs-meet-French-tickler hairdo) pachyderm chews up verses like peanuts, then launches into feel-good choruses punctuated with silly catch phrases like "Shizzle my nizzle!" and "Yyyep-- Good to go!"
His fourth solo album and first for VP Records, which just finished working successful campaigns for Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder, gathers 22 singles from the past year (!) just in time for a dancehall-crazy country to claim him. (In the works: a Mariah Carey collabo. Really.) The best, including the ubiquitous smash "Pon de River, Pon de Bank," are a perfect marriage of his toughness and accessibility. "Bad Man" flips from menacing verses to a giddy kiddie chorus over steel drums and a guitar-strummed three-beat; the soaring "Signal the Plane" invokes Fantasy Island's Tattoo winding his little waist to a chorus of "Dancehall rise again!/People smile again!"
But too many misses end up mucking up the transition to international megastardom. Production legends Don Corleon, Dave Kelly, and King Jammy frequently focus on innovation over simple quality, making El's tendency to vocally mirror whatever melody he's riding occasionally sound ugly. Frenetic tweakfests like "Nah Gwan A Jamaica" and the profane "Fuck You Sign" just induce headaches, while ethnic chick "tributes" "Indian Gal," with its snake charmer synths, and the schlocky ballad "Mexican Girl" fall between campy and cringeworthy. Obligatory rap collabs with Wu-Tang's Killah Priest ("Who We Are") and crunked-up whiner Lil' Jon ("Jook Gyal") are merely tolerable.
With his rawness and momentum -- not to mention his label change -- this elephant might seem to be on a rampage toward crossover paydirt. Indeed he has earned all the success he finds. But, to paraphrase his namesake from the David Lynch movie, he is not an animal. In fact, for more than half of Good 2 Go's tracks, he is all too human.