Reggae music has always been schizophrenic. People familiar with the more celebrated work of Bob Marley tend to associate reggae with peace and cultural expression. The gun-wielding, ratchet-carrying "Rude Boy," however, has been a popular theme in Jamaican music since the mid-'60s. Embodying this duality is the new two-CD set from Bounty Killer, a Jamaican favorite for more than a decade.
The Art of War is a celebration of confrontation: the rough and gruff Killer delighting in gun culture ("Killa Is a Killa"), lashing out at his rival DJs ("Likkle Dread Bwoy"), admonishing homosexuality ("Look Good"), and raising hell in the dancehall. Songs like "Blood Bath" and "Death Bound" are not for the faint of heart, but would undoubtedly appeal to fans of hip-hop.
The Mystery has far more conscience. The rhythms are rootsier, and the lyrics are, at times, constructive. "Gunz in the Ghetto" is a reggae traditionalist's gem. While Killer's delivery is as thunderous as ever, the soaring harmonies provided by Morgan Heritage help maintain a tasty balance between dancehall and roots. Other highlights include "Petty Thief" and "Sufferah," both of which find Bounty Killer at the top of his game.
With "Hey Baby," Bounty Killer's collaboration with new-wave rockers No Doubt, doing so well on the charts, Killer seems poised for stardom. Ghetto Dictionary is smartly packaged, and with the bounty of material split between its violent and thoughtful sides, it offers a little something for everyone.