Lee 'Scratch' Perry ADD


Album Review: Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Destiny


by Steve Topple

Album Review: Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Destiny

Just over two years since his passing, and the world finally gets to hear the final Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry album. To put it bluntly, it’s wonderful - yet somewhat bittersweet.

Destiny, released via Delicious Vinyl Island, sees Grammy-winning ‘The Upsetter’ team up with the recognisable (and Grammy-nominated) producer Bob Riddim; a curious combination, at a first glance – and possibly more so for the Reggae/Dub purists - as Bob’s music leans into more eclectic styles including Hip Hop and Afrobeats. However, Perry was always a pioneer – and this subversive teaming was clearly the point.

Most of the instruments are performed by Bob Riddim himself (with a few, notable exceptions); Destiny features a host of music’s up-and-coming talents, yet still the glue that binds the album together is Perry and his inimitable artistry.

The album opens with I Am – a rich, Dub-heavy affair that harks back to Black Ark’s glory days. The bass is resonant, using a multiple drop-beat riff, while stark electric keys run a bubble rhythm. But it’s the additional production which really cements it – from Bob Riddim’s electric organ to the smattering of synths and samples, via the pointed breaks. Perry is at his musingly-meandering best – providing a light-touch singjay across a pleasing melodic and rhythmic line. This accompanies his introspective narrative about what being human means in essence - not only for Perry personally, but all those who tread a conscious path. It’s brooding and provocative and works well as an opener.

The previously released title track featuring Evie ‘AhPuku’ Pukupoo (founding member of dub poetry/Reggae collective The No-Maddz) is a sumptuous take on Reggae and Dub, with some modern twists. Classic elements are abound – like heavily reverbed snares and a bending, whining electric guitar. It also features the infinitely talented David ‘Jah David’ Goldfine (of Zion I Kings) working a brilliant bass line. However, Destiny is laid across a Hip Hop drumbeat – moving the track into Revival territory. Bob Riddim shows off his vocal prowess with a rich tenor that flips into a falsetto at points. Meanwhile, Perry’s sermonic delivery is paired perfectly with Pukupoo’s forthright spoken word – showing how the decades may change, but the art of an understated vocal performance is still a powerful thing. Lyrically, the concoction of trees as a metaphor for Reggae culture is clever – and manifests in this trio of the grandfather, father, and granddaughter showing the relevance of the music across the ages.

Black featuring Grammy-winning Kabaka Pyramid cements the Revival sound. It’s stripped-back, with Hip Hop drums playing off against Reggae musical staples – along with some nice touches, like well-placed, rasping synth horns. Pyramid’s now-signature vocal style sounds mature yet urgent here – especially his highly impressive, rapid fire singjay bridge. Perry reverts to a spoken word style, almost as a guest on the track. Lyrically, the pair deliver a powerful narrative around colonialism’s enduring legacy – where racism and anti-Blackness are still institutionalised – but also takes shots at its modern forms and proponents. It’s classic Pyramid – and shows Perry’s ability to immerse himself in the Revival style. 

Space Echo sees Perry join forces with Bernard Lanis on the sax – whose performance is searing and affecting. The track’s opening takes The Upsetter’s penchant for sonic madness to another level – as we ascend into space, with all the associated technical noises but with some oddly militaristic snare rolls on beat one. However, the track itself is a melting pot of Dub, Reggae, but mostly Jazz – with the latter being represented across a strung-out solo bridge from Lanis, where the drums riff and buzz roll at will, paired with chaotic Dub samples, a distorted bass, and some classic Perry-style engineering – namely his highly engineered voice sweeping in and out. On the face of it, it seems musical bedlam – however, Space Echo is actually heavily organised and structured sonic bliss; it's classic Perry, too.

Police And Thieves featuring Xana Romeo (daughter of Max, who Perry worked with on the 1976 War Inna Babylon album) sees them take on Perry and Junior Murvin’s 1976 hit. Of course, British Punk band The Clash covered it a year later – and Perry produced a track on the debut album it was off. Here, it’s not dissimilar to Murvin’s original (the key has even been kept the same). However, the basic composition has been moved away from Roots, with Bob Riddim and Perry taking it into Dub territory, including some brilliant synths and samples which mimic the lyrics. Moreover, the 1976 narrative about how the police are violent, racist agents of the colonialist state – and thieves the result of this – is as sadly relevant today as it was one its first recording. It’s a brilliant working of the original, with Perry showing he could still run a straight vocal line with aplomb, while Romeo shows her infinite, delectable talents off well.

Ring Pon My Finger features Grammy-nominated Blvk H3ro (nominated with Bob Riddim and Rocky Dawuni in 2022 for Neva Bow Down), Leno Banton, and Wayne J – and is perhaps the furthest stray from Reggae/Dub on Destiny. Essentially, it’s a Hip Hop beat over Reggae/Dub musical devices, with the vocalists singjaying like their lives depended on it; Revival Reggae of sorts, but not quite. Hearing Perry’s voiced ‘scratched’ is just delicious, and he fits perfectly with these three young artists’ individual styles. It also provides one of those classic Sound System-style narrative lines: lots of pot-shots at Babylon and the state, while singing praises to the culture. Perfection.

Infinity featuring Yaadcore sees Perry return to something spoken word, while his guest performs a crystalline, pointed singjay which is full of controlled impetus; both providing a damning lyrical analysis of life under Babylon juxtaposed with how those of us who are spiritual and conscious navigate it. Musically, it evokes the Revival sound with its hard Hip Hop drums. Here, though, regal yet brooding horns feature heavily – specifically with Lanis back on the sax – while snares are reverbed and an electric guitar swerves between inputs. The use of engineering is heavy, too – and as the concluding full track to the album, it’s a fitting closing: bringing Perry’s use of ground-breaking studio techniques bang up to date.

Then, Destiny provides us with two dubs. The first is the reworking of Infinity, this time featuring Reggae royalty Addis Pablo and his ever-compelling melodica – here filled with glorious technique, bringing a vocal quality to the performance - as well as Coyote Island on a well-executed guitar. Finally, the album concludes proper with the Destiny Dub - still featuring Pukupoo. It’s a classic look at Dub reworkings – filled with sonic wizardry, clever use of reverb, decay, and EQ, and some superb attention to detail - the perfect end to Perry’s final work.

As a sum of its parts, there’s something very bittersweet about Destiny as well. It shows Perry not only at the peak of his powers, but also embracing the modern iterations of the genre he, along with his contemporaries, helped conceive. The album offers a glorious look at where Perry was headed before his passing – and this glimpse of the potential he still had as an innovator is therefore tinged with melancholy, too.

But overall, Destiny lives up to the pre-release hype. Hearing Perry on his final tracks is an ethereal and emotive experience – more so, given the ingenuity of Bob Riddim and the artists involved. The album is superbly constructed, sounds fresh, and is infinitely listenable. It’s clear this final piece of work was Perry’s end-destiny; it’s just a shame we never got to hear more from him past this point.

Release details

Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Destiny

DIGITAL RELEASE / VINYL [Delicious Vinyl Island]

Release date: 09/08/2023


1. I Am 
2. Destiny feat. Evie Pukupoo
3. Black feat. Kabaka Pyramid 
4. Space Echo 
5. Police and Thieves feat. Xana Romeo
6. Ring Pon My Finger feat. Wayne J, Blvk H3ro & Leno Banton
7. Infinity feat. Yaadcore
8. Infinity Dub feat. Addis Pablo
9. Destiny Dub 

Produced by Bob Riddim