The Upsetters

Cow Thief Skank / The Upsetters

Listen: Cow Thief Skank / The Upsetters cowthief.mp3

7 & 3/4 Skank / The Upsetters

Listen: 7 & 3/4 Skank / The Upsetters 834skank.mp3

Jamaican artists are the original recyclers of culture. Their lack of virgin vinyl to feed the record presses meant that every month the unsold singles got melted down to press into next months hopeful hits. So there was physical recycling, but they recycled content too. The versioning of popular songs originally started in the late 60′s with the dancehall clashes between competing DJs. If one had a hit on a certain riddim, you could be sure a week later the competition would have their own version out, looking to one-up the DJ with his own song. That tradition continues in full force today.

Lee Perry was one of the original innovators in a lot of what eventually became Rap/ Hip Hop, and the Brooklyn & Bronx style DJ/MC combos that defined the 80′s dance floors in the USA. Perry’s early sonic experiments led to a lot of that. Here’s an example from ’73. ‘Cow Thief Skank’.

It’s literal splicing together of two rhythm tracks that had nothing to do with each other was unheard of at the time, but that approach would come to fuel the early hip-hop sound collaging DJ’s a decade later. ‘Cow Thief Skank’s original rhythms are instrumental versions of ‘Musical Transplant’, and ‘Better Days’. And for equally odd reasons, a little disco reggae thing is stapled onto the beginning of the track, snipped from ‘Stand By Me’ by The Inspirations. The end result is something that both feels like it fits & feels like it doesn’t fit. A truly unsettling record. Listen to the dub version to really hear a further version of what’s going on with that razor blade.

Charlie Ace is the vocalist, and he tells the legend of fellow producer, Niney. In it, Niney is caught stealing a cow and farm justice is served, heavy manners style, when Niney’s finger is cut off. That’s how he got he name Niney. Scratch can be heard chanting “Cow Thief Skank” in the background, before joining in the story.

The cows-mooing vocal was the debut of an effect he would call upon in later Black Ark years. These recordings, however, were made in the year before the Black Ark was built, in Kingston studios like Dynamic.


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