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December 18, 2013
Star Entertainment


 

'Strictly The Best' enjoys 50 years

Etana - Rudolph Brown

Dancehall music was making inroads in the American mainstream when VP Records launched its 'Strictly The Best' series in 1993.

The compilation album celebrates its 50th anniversary this month with the release of Vols 48 and 49.

The season-ending collection usually contains the year's biggest dancehall hits. In case of Vols 48 and 49, it is no different.

The double disc has 26 songs including Angola, by Jah Boukes; Better Tomorrow, from Etana; Aidonia's Bruk It and Dye Dye, by Macka Diamond.

Aaron Talbert, an executive at the Queens, New York-based VP, said the initial objective of Strictly The Best and its sister series, Reggae Gold, was to introduce the hottest dancehall songs to an urban market in the United States.

According to Talbert, despite the transition to digital from compact disc in the past six years, Strictly The Best is still a winner.

"All of the compilation series that we release take the music beyond the power of one hit song or artiste. Even in the age of single-track downloads, compilations are still popular and helpful for people to learn the music," he said.

The first edition of Strictly The Best offered songs that introduced dancehall to an American music scene that was saturated with rap and hip hop. It included Baby Can I Hold You Tonight (Sorry), singer Foxy Brown's take on the Tracy Chapman hit Wicked Ina Bed, by Shabba Ranks; and Down In Jamaica, from the singer/deejay team of Anthony Malvo and Daddy Lizard.

By the next year, Shabba Ranks was a major player. He got signed to Epic Records for which he released the albums X-tra Naked and As Raw As Ever. both went gold for sales of 500,000 units and won Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album.

Reggae Gold and Strictly The Best not only won new fans for dancehall, but caught the ears of executives at major record labels such as Elektra, Atlantic and Sony who all had affiliates committed to breaking into the increasingly lucrative urban market.

Their popularity also influenced a number of copycat compilations from rival independent labels like Profile, Priority and RAS Records.

Talbert said with Strictly The Best's 50th instalment just around the corner, there are no plans to change a format that has worked wonders for VP Records.

"Strictly The Best is aimed at fans of the current crop of music, so it puts our label in front of an active and generally younger audience that influences other people's taste in music," he said.

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