Charly Black ADD
Album Review: Charly Black - No Excuses
by Steve Topple
Charly Black is back, and making sure that we notice, too. Because his latest album not only features a huge array of stars, but also serves as a well-constructed retrospective on the progression of Dancehall over the past five-or-so years.
No Excuses, release via Teamunstoppable, sees Charly Black sweep across styles and subgenres of Dancehall that have gained prominence in recent years. The overall mastering of the album is extremely good, with a sound that maintains focus on the beats throughout, but not detracting from the intricacies of the individual arrangements in the process.
The album’s Intro features Crawba Genius and is produced by Teamunstoppable, and is a fitting opening for the project – a straight spoken word call-out to the Dancehall scene. It leads well into Up Deh – produced by Bread Back. It’s an EDM-influenced Dancehall track with the focus being on rasping strings, a booming bass and a pleasing synth horn line that marries Charly Black’s slick vocal on the chorus. It’s almost Sean Paul-ish – which is appropriate, given who’s on the next track.
Turn It Up featuring Sean Paul then moves the sound further forward, thanks to production from everyone’s favourite Olympian-turned-producer Usain Bolt. Here, straight Dancehall beats have been replaced by an AfroDancehall sound, with its broken clave, pattering drums and nods to Trap with the hi-hat buzz rolls. It’s a warm and rich arrangement; Bolt’s production is slick, and Charly Black and Sean Paul work well together.
More and More featuring Bounty Killer sees Genius on production duties. The Dancehall-meets-Soca vibe has a smooth, ambient sound – seeing the drums mix-up a Dancehall clave and those Soca ‘and-a-one’ rhythms, while the kick treads a four-to-the-floor. Genius’s production is excellent: the use of reverb, decay and low-passing giving the track that ambient, almost distant feel – but with the snare, kick and bass still being to the fore. Killer and Black perform excellently, too – restraining their performances to marry the smoother sound. Quality works.
Dancehall Queen featuring Tekno, produced by Teamunstoppable, is more AfroDancehall but it leans heavily into the smoother, RnB end of the genre. Strings and keys glides across the dominant bass and drums – with a pleasing, suddenly forward-moving bridge - and Black gets the chance to show off his vocal skills with complementary works from Tekno. Then, Could A Never is produced by Rolexx across the Bedroom Mirror Riddim. It’s the first Trap Dancehall track of No Excuses – and is an excellent example of the progression of the genre, where longer, drawn-out beats and delicate, dampened synths meet a hard bass and stuttering drum arrangement – but nothing too hard, creating an almost RnB feel. The chord progressions are particularly pleasing, and Charly Black is once again vocally on-point.
Searching For features Richie Spice. Produced by Echo One Productions, it’s the only Reggae track of the album – but doesn’t feel out of place, thanks to some excellent musical arrangement and Spice and Charly Black’s perfect pairing. Di General then comes on board across production on the title track, which takes the Trap Dancehall sound further. Here, the focus is on the harder end of the genre – focusing on rough Hip Hop beats, varied synths and a nod to Dancehall across the pounding kick. General has created a haunting track, and Charly Black matches this with a pointed and well-considered vocal performance which is equally as affecting.
Feeling Sexy featuring Timeka Marshall is a slick affair, produced by JSnake. Back to an old skool sound (well – 7-8 years past, maybe), it’s bass and kick-heavy, heavy on the engineering and liberal with the grimy, distorted synths. Marshall is a force to be reckoned with, and the whole thing is a good example of that circa 2015-16 sound.
Bounce (UP) featuring Beenie Man is produced by Andrew Sukuward Gray. It’s light-touch, ethereal Dancehall – taking the classic rhythmic clave but using higher kHz instrumentation to give the track a delicate sound. The clave is, interestingly, run across the bass at the high-end of its register, and dampened keys. Couple this with Beenie and Charly doing their thing perfectly – and the result is modern, smooth Dancehall.
Short up Shorts sees Genius comes back to produce across another Dancehall x Soca track – with the focus being on the latter, honed by the dominant drum arrangement. It’s vibey and infectious – and would make a good, albeit cheeky (‘one likkle backshot nah hurt yuh’), summer banger. Then, Confession, produced by Smokeshop Studio, is across the Asian Secrets Riddim. It’s a fascinating arrangement – slowed-down Dancehall with a focus on the sensuous.
Me Alright is produced by Gio Records. Here, we swerve back to Trap Dancehall again – but a particularly dark, unsettling version of the genre, really focusing on the Trap elements in their stripped-back glory. But then, we have Gyal You A Party Animal (Acoustic Version), produced by Teamunstoppable and Pop Style Music. It’s a surprise to say the least amid the longer beats of Trap Dancehall and the harder beats of the straighter genres. Instead, essentially Charly Black and the team have produced a sax and guitar-led ‘as live’ version of the 2016 track – almost acoustic RnB, if you like. It’s refreshing and glorious – and Black gives a very strong vocal across it.
The album closes with Persuasion. Produced by Fresh Ear Productions, it sees Black venture into something a bit AfroPop – and it’s done well: fresh, light, ‘bubbling’ and entertaining.
Lyrically, Charly Black hasn’t broken any ground here. No Excuses is essentially a compilation of the bruk-out – with the occasional nod to something deeper. Confession, for example, praises the virtues of an all-natural woman - a theme across the album, where there’s no misogyny to be seen.
However, No Excuses is an exception to the bruk-out and gyal-led tracks. Here, Black discusses what actually motivates him in life – providing for his family, even during the hardest times - and what you have to do sometimes to be able to do this. Black doesn’t paint a perfect picture, here: ‘people fuck up, that is how it is, it’s human nature, it is what it is’, is a nice piece of introspection, and his calling-out of the cops is welcome, too. Me Alright is similar, with Black reflecting on life’s complications – specifically who to trust and who to not – as well as the violent, poverty-stricken culture Babylon forces many of us to live by.
These tracks show a flash of potentially where a few more of the songs could have done with heading, as the album is party-heavy.
But being party heavy isn’t always a bad thing – and overall, No Excuses is an excellent release from Charly Black. His eclectic look at how Dancehall has progressed since he entered the game is very satisfying, with some really strong tracks at times. As a vocalist, Charly Black is impressive as ever – and the album is one of the best Dancehall-led records of the year so far.
Charly Black - No Excuses
DIGITAL RELEASE [TEAMUNSTOPPABLE]
Release date: 02/24/2023
01. Intro feat. Crawba Genius
02. Up Deh
03. Turn It Up feat. Sean Paul
04. More and More feat. Bounty Killer
05. Dancehall Queen feat. Tekno
06. Could A Never
07. Searching For feat. Richie Spice
08. No Excuses
09. Feeling Sexy feat. Timeka Marshall
10. Bounce (UP) feat. Beenie Man
11. Short up Shorts
13. Me Alright
14. Gyal You A Party Animal (Acoustic Version)