Baby Cham

The most anticipated album in years from any reggae artist, Baby Cham's first solo LP, Wow ... the Story, has been six years in the making. Don't mistake the double CD as a vote of overconfidence, though; this collection showcases the careful collaboration between the DJ born Dameon Becket and the meticulous producer Dave Kelly that began at Penthouse Studio in 1995. When Kelly broke out to build his own studio, The Boxx (home of dancehall pioneer label Madhouse Records), Cham followed, and the two laid down some of the wickedest hardcore tunes track by track.

For the past half decade, Cham's nasal, sometimes deliberately off-key style echoed through ghetto dances and uptown parties. Disc one, The Beginning, features all the hits from the mid-Nineties through 2000 that made Cham who he is. "Joyride" with Wayne Wonder, the song that made Cham a household name in Jamaica, was left out because Wonder released it himself earlier this year. Instead fans get second-best, 1996's "Funny Man," on the same riddim. The showtime riddim gave Cham the opportunity to prove his diversity, DJing for the ladies on "Gallong Yah Gal" and for the moneymaking shotta's "Wi No Sorry." "Desperate Measures," Cham's first number one song in Jamaica, is the only track not produced by Dave Kelly but by his brother, Tony Kelly. The biography wraps up with his two songs on the hot new bounce riddim, "Babylon Bwoy," and the current number one, "Man and Man."

While disc one contains previously released radio versions, disc two protects the new tunes with full cuts of the explicit lyrics fans expect from Baby Cham. This should prevent reggae radio stations and selectors from murdering the album with premature airplay. Dancehall is at the mercy of pirate stations and renegade selectors who play what they want when they want. The explicit content helps Cham control airplay until the songs can be released as cleaned-up versions and gives consumers a reason to buy the album.

Apart from 1999's number one "Another Level" on the bug riddim, disc two features new dancehall tracks that are heavily influenced by hip-hop and R&B. Cham calls on collaborators whose names are known beyond the parishes of Jamaica, from Bounty Killer on "Another Level" to Shaggy on "High Rollers." The smooth "More" has the most potential to give Cham an urban crossover hit if the label chooses to release it as a single. But "More" doesn't cross too far: Even with its English-friendly chorus and soft beat, the track brings Jamaican-born rapper Foxy Brown back to her roots, mixing up English and Jamaican in a speaky-spokey style. That's not the only reversal. In "Flossing Everyday" Cham matures, preaching against wasting money on clothes, cars, and champagne in a surprise statement against the typical lifestyles of fellow DJs with newfound fame. Wow ... the Story proves Baby Cham is not about hype; he's one of the few career dancehall artists.