Best Of The Best 2011

Shabba Ranks gyrates back to the top
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Mr Lover-Lover-Man Shabba Ranks showed he's back and bad as ever at the Best of the Best festival in Miami on Sunday.

Headlining, the dancehall pioneer topped even a stunning set by MARLEY BROTHERS Stephen and Damian, and some spectacular hip hop by DJ KHALED (pictured), on the final day of the major US urban music event.

Ranks included the number "Non a Dem" which had been widely, and wrongly, interpreted as a Vybz Kartel diss, and at one point hinted he was in fact dissing infighting in the dancehall industry, singling out Beenie Man and Bounty Killer (see interview below).

VYBZ KARTEL appeared entirely by satellite, having been denied a visa, and joking that his set was the Immigration Dept "getting a beating".

And talking of the authorities, the night contained repeated calls for the release of Buju Banton, whose sentencing by a US court for alleged drugs trafficking is due 16 June. There was also a tribute section to Banton by TARRUS RILEY.

GAPPY RANKS, the UK's biggest dancehall act, got the event off to a strong start with three huge tracks, "English Money", "Stinkin' Rich" and "Heaven In Her Eyes", plus as a taste of what was to come with the Bob Marley classic "Soul Rebel".

RICHIE LOOPS had a surprise to deal with - an enormous gust of Florida wind had suddenly arrived just before his set, upending several of the vending stalls. That's what you get for being almost in the Caribbean. Luckily his happy vibe got everyone partying again like it was our birthdays.

It has to be said though that most of the crowd turned up so late that the organisers held off the start of the show and cut the duration of sets. Anyway, there was early good stuff in the afternoon sun, like FUTURE FAMBO with his huge track "I'm Drinkin Rum and Redbull", the hugely talented TIFA with "Spell It Out" and prince of lovers rock TARRUS RILEY with "Love's Contagious" and "She's Royal".

But then the powerhouse of glamour that is ALISON HINDS took to the stage and we never looked back. The Soca Queen, in a gold sequin dress, got all the girls wining to her smash hit "Roll It Gal".

Next: bang, and it's DJ KHALED. This DJ, singer and one-man music industry had arrived at the park in a light blue Rolls Royce Phantom, plus a merc for the possie and an enormous coach where the guys partied, massive medallions a-swinging.

He hit the stage like the wind had hit the vending stalls. After duets with his signing ACE HOOD on "Welcome to My Hood" and "Hustle Hard" - surprise surprise - BUSTA RHYMES came on, rapping so fast he was halfway through his song before the crew could respond! Next, more surprises, as out came LUDACRIS and the crowd's now crazy, guys and girls alike. The Khaled set finished with some new acts, and some freestyling, and he was gone.

The always strong Etana followed with only time to do "Blessing" and - from her new album - "Free". Next up, rasta man of the moment I Octane with a combo his usual i speed stuff and the emotional "Lose A Friend".

Of course. the event almost lost VYBZ KARTEL, down to visa problems. But no - thanks to a satellite linkup, wearing a purple suit, white shirt and tie, sunglasses and yes those hair extensions, next up it's the Gaza General himself, controversial as always, live from Jamaica. The crowd loved it, kicking their shoes in the air for "Clarks" in a set including megahits "Bicycle", "Straight Jeans And Fitted" and "Cake Soap". At the end, after joking at the immigration dept's expense, he finished with a thanks to the crowd, and lastly a big up to Bounty Killer.

How to follow that? Cue the Marley brothers. Stephen and Damian's set was simply mindblowing. Both dressed down in jeans – Stephen in a short jacket with shoulder length dreads, supplying smooth reggae choruses, and the more tall and slender Damian in a navy shirt and dreads down to his ankles, deejaying some fine toasts - they jumped around the stage with so much power and charisma it was locks everywhere. They're clearly very good at performing together, and a sense of a close bond comes across. They were simply electric. Everything - timing, lyrics, musicality - was seriously good.

After "The Mission" and "Welcome to Jamrock", they surprised us and brought out Spragga Benz for "Jah Army". The track is from Stephen's new album where it features - ah yes - BUJU BANTON. Stephen called out to the crowd: ‘if Buju was here he would say ‘rock on!' And we all did. The storming set came to an end with an already crazy crowd joining the two brothers in singing their father's hit, "Could You Be Loved".

Then came Shabba.

Even if you were the pioneer, it's hard coming back after not recording anything for ten years. Would he measure up? Answer? Yes. After snippets of "Wicked Inna Bed", "Love Punany Bad" and "Peanie Peanie", he thrilled the crowd (and showed his sense of humour) with a full length performance of "Twice My Age". A young female singer, sadly not introduced, sang the part made famous by Crystal back in the day. But this set was about Shabba Rankin. He was clearly pleased to be back, shouting Shabba between practically every line, and showing he hasn't lost it - in either the toasting or the gyrating departments. There's a surprise halfway through as out came MAXI PRIEST and together - plus the whole audience - they sang their massive track "House Call".

As the set went on, Shabba's clothes came off. Starting in a suit and waistcoat, eventually he was in just a vest, giving us the helpful warning "mothers if you have any kids its time to plug their ears – it's time for the big Shabba cock"!

The set, and Best of the Best, finished with Shabba hit after Shabba hit. At one point he included a verse from his more recent hit "Non A Dem (Bad Like Shabba Rankin)". The internet's been alive with speculation - inaccurate - that it's a diss against Vybz Kartel. As he explained to me (see below) it's infighting he's annoyed about and singles out two dancehall stars in particular. So no coincidence then that on stage he slipped in this little line - "I'm no Beenie, I'm no Killer, I am Shabba Punany Driller".

Even the Marley brothers stayed behind to see Shabba - no wonder. No-one blinked. Cos no-one wanted to miss a thing. And that went for the whole night.

Words by Reshma B (www.reggaegirlabouttown.com)

WHAT: Best Of The Best 2011, Day 2 (Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall)
WHEN: 29 May 2011
WHERE: Bicentennial Park, MIAMI

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"Non A Dem: Shabba Ranks says the so-called diss wasn't against Vybz Kartel (interview by Reshma B)"

Listen to our chat to Shabba Ranks HERE .

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