Album Review: Tippa Irie - I'm An African
by Steve Topple
Legendary London-born, UK-based artist Tippa Irie has returned with his first album in six-years – and it sees him revisit the genres and styles he’s most known for, while once more dipping his toe in the waters of others.
I’m An African, released via TIM Records, sees Irie sweep across genres and styles. He’s no stranger to eclecticism – he was of course Grammy-nominated for his work with Will.I.Am on the Hip Hop track Hey Mama. But here, he has honed-in on Jamaica’s main cultural assets: Reggae and Dancehall – with neither being that straightforward, obviously. The album can be broken-down into its component genres – all of which Irie and the team of various producers, many of them UK-based too, have pulled-off extremely well. The final master from The Mastering Guy is clean, effective but also sympathetic to each track while still creating an overall sound that feels fresh.
The title track remix sees Irie and an on-point O.B.F (who also produced) smash a grimy, Trap bass with something more Reggae across the skanking piano riff as well as some Afrobeats influences in the instrumentation – the perfect metaphor for the album. Talk Like Koffee is similar – combining elements of Trap and Dancehall to create a Gen Z experience, with Irie producing alongside Mafia and Fluxy.
But from there, I’m An African is a mix of Reggae and Dancehall – the former being firstly well-represented.
Mini Bus Man featuring the eloquent (and producers) Friendly Fire Band rolls things back to more traditional Reggae, with some interesting use of Dub arrangement and some sweet synths and samples, coupled with a winding bassline. Hot Stuff featuring a forthright Apache Indian, with production from Bubblers, continues these vibes but keeping it straighter Reggae – in fact, its almost a throwback to early Dancehall before the rampant kick-and-bass-led clave took over. But Dem Too Bad Mind featuring a fiery Keith Lawrence (who also produces) takes I’m An African from straight Reggae and moves it into Revival territory with its hard Hip Hop drum and some slick engineering.
Mystic then has some throwback vibes with its very '80s synth drums and vinyl, ‘as-live’ engineering – with production coming from Real Talk Productions UK. Meanwhile, Flat Foot Hustle, produced by Aston Barrett Jnr, is smoother Reggae with interesting chord progressions and strutting horns – but juxtaposed brilliantly with some serious lyrical content. Gwaan Dweet sees Lawrence return on production to bring in a heavy, resonant Dub bass and rapid-fire hi-hats pushing the track along – but contrasted with the fairly lazy horns. Live The Life I Love has distinctly '90s Reggae vibes from producer Carlton Bubblers Ogilve – that smooth, summery feel that was so popular back then – as well as an impassioned performance from Irie and some nice chord progressions across the bridges.
Vampire is a haunting, affecting Roots track from producers Peter Huningale and Amanda Da Silva, with brilliant attention to detail – including horror movie-like use of blue notes and an imposing arrangement which uses reverb and a quivering electric piano well. But I Made A Wish featuring a pleasing China Black sees Irie bring the Lover’s Rock vibes in, complete with an attractive electric piano line and production from Huningale, Da Silva and Irie.
Then, Irie also brings us Dancehall vibes in varying styles – again to very good effect.
Got To Do Better produced by J Life moves I’m An African into AfroDancehall-RnB territory with that signature ‘oneeeeee-twooo-and-[three]-and-fourrr’ clave coupled with a lilting piano line and some modern synths. Love Yourself featuring Shniece and produced by Ras Demo is a more authentic Dancehall affair but with the clave slightly messed with. The arrangement is stripped back to something quite light yet evocative, which works perfectly with Shniece’s smooth vocals and Irie’s forthright singjay.
Hey Girl featuring Stush is still Dancehall but in that EDM-inspired vein artists like Vybz Kartel helped pioneer so well. Produced by Mafia and Fluxy, it’s abrasive, fast-moving and technically complex – including an effective string line. Hot Like Fire featuring Benny Page (who also produces and provides some slick vocals) moves the Dancehall vibes on further – with its frantic, high-pitched synth horn (engineered to sound like a human voice) and some rasping electric guitars.
I’m An African’s closing, Di Ting (The Thing) is classic Reggae-meets-Rock from producer Keety Roots, with its haunting electric guitar line and minor key-led arrangement – and Irie has styled it cleverly as almost an afterthought: “I wasn’t going to do it, but me decide to make a tune about di ting”.
Overall, and musically the album is a rich and diverse tapestry of influences – all with a high-level of attention to detail. Enter Irie to cement this fine package with his vocal prowess and ability to switch his delivery up.
Hey Girl, for example, sees him channel modern Dancehall artists well – including his impressive jumps into his falsetto and some grimy switching of his embouchure. Mini Bus Man is a forthright and confident performance from Irie, as he showcases his ability to flit between straight vocal and singjay. He hears Shniece’s measured and delicate performance on Love Yourself and contrasts it perfectly with something punchy and rhythmically intricate. He further handles himself brilliantly on Dem Too Bad Mind – with a slick melodic line throughout.
But Irie is equally at home on more delicate performances too – like the Lover’s Rock track I Made A Wish where he shows his emotive and soulful side. He is joyful across Live The Life I Love, which is infectious. And overall, I’m An African shows that after decades in the business, Irie has still maintained all of the vocal and performance abilities that he possessed at the start of his career – with no signs of letting up.
Then, his lyrical content is also multi-layered and well-handled.
The title track sings praises for, and gives a potted history of, the Motherland and Irie’s feelings about it being a Black, British man of part-Jamaican heritage - while also making pertinent points about colonialism and racism. Got To Do Better is a rallying cry for humanity to be better to each other while Love Yourself flips that message back inwards. Mystic gives a strong message about being true to your beliefs and holding dear to them in the face of what Babylon would have you be. Flat Foot Hustle is a clever piece of work- the major musical key juxtaposing with the message about systemic poverty for Black and Brown people. And Di Ting deals with our post-pandemic world, where Babylon is imposing its will upon us even more. Some subject matter is lighter, though – like Talk Like Koffee where Irie sings praises to the youngers coming-up in the industry; the only straight Lover’s track I Made A Wish and the more obvious gyal/bruk-out Dancehall tracks.
Overall, I’m An African is a strong and pleasing offering from Irie and all involved. Musically diverse and very well-executed, the mix of Reggae and Dancehall with slick attention to detail is infinitely listenable. Irie has still got the voice to pull the tracks off; lyrically it’s thought-provoking and overall the album marks a welcome return for this UK legend.
Tippa Irie - I'm An African
DIGITAL RELEASE [TIM Records]
Release date: 09/15/2022
01. I'm An African feat. O.B.F. (The Remix)
02. Mini Bus Man feat. Friendly Fire Band
03. Got To Do Better
04. Love Yourself feat. Shniece
05. Hey Girl feat. Stush
06. Hot Stuff feat. Apache Indian
07. Dem Too Bad Mind feat. Keith Lawrence
09. Flat Foot Hustle
10. Gwaan Dweet
11. Hot Like Fire feat. Benny Page
12. Talk Like Koffee
13. I Made A Wish feat. China Black
14. Live The Life I Love
16. Di Ting