You can try, but you can't stop Cocoa Tea
Reggae Anthology: The Sweet Sound of Cocoa Tea is an exhaustive, expansive, two-disc overview of the career of one of reggae’s veteran artists. People may know Cocoa Tea (who is sometimes credited as “Coco Tea”, birth name Calvin George Scott) from his recently released digital single, “Barack Obama”, supporting the Illinois senator in a bid for the democratic presidential nomination, but he has been a major—less well known—force in the evolving world reggae music scene since the early ‘80s.
One of the originators of the dancehall style, Cocoa Tea, recorded his first album Weh Dem a Go Do…Can’t Stop Coco Tea in 1983, just before digital rhythms became the backbone of dancehall music. It’s the live instrumentation on the songs taken from that disc that give them more of a relaxed, rootsy feeling, complementing Cocoa Tea’s laid-back lovers’ rock style. “Lost My Sonia” is a Henry “Junjo” Lawes production utilizing the popular “Diseases” rhythm, while “Rocking Dolly” (another Junjo) is an adaptation of the “Real Rock” rhythm. Both were certified hits. A lesser known, though still hit-worthy, track from this era is “Informer,” a streetwise rocker warning against snitching to the law.
“Children of the Ghetto” is actually a song about going to the dancehall, and it’s the first track here produced by King Jammy. Jammy’s other productions with Bobby Digital at the board make up many of the tracks on this collection. The dancehall anthem “Tune In” is arguably Cocoa Tea’s signature song. “All Night Saturday Night”, produced by Trevor “Uncle T” James, is an addictive groove extolling the virtues of love-making, while “Young Lover” is an equally addictive admonition of getting involved with underage lovers.
“Who She Love”, “Holding On”, and “Pirates Anthem” feature the collaboration of Cocoa Tea with Home T. and Shabba Ranks. These three tracks are some of biggest dancehall hits ever. When the trio moved to Two Friends Production, DJ Shabba Ranks was replaced by Cutty Ranks, for the hit “The Going Is Rough”. The popular dancehall collaborations are followed by the more socially conscious “Riker’s Island” and the inspiring “Bust Outta Hell” (Junjo returns as producer on the latter.), which close out disc one of this anthology.
Disc two of The Sweet Sound of Cocoa Tea highlights Cocoa Tea’s more recent work. “Good Life” is an impressive cover of the classic in ‘90s dancehall style and “Too Young” is a crucial remake of Cocoa Tea’s own hit (on disc one), featuring Buju Banton. Bobby Digital returns to produce “No Threat”, one of the biggest sound boy boasts ever recorded. “We Do the Killing” is another DJ boast track, which borrows its hook from Peter Tosh’s “Burial”.
Many of the tracks on the second disc are noticeably more rootical (roots reggae with socially conscious lyrics and themes) than some of the earlier dancehall and lovers’ rock showcased on disc one. The stunning beat and irresistible rhythm of “Holy Mount Zion” brought its spiritual message into the dancehall. The reimagining of Bob Marley’s “Heathen” helped propel the roots revival of the ‘90s in Jamaica. “Israel’s King” expresses Cocoa Tea’s deep Rastafarian beliefs to the rhythm of Marley’s “One Drop”. “Hurry Up & Come” likewise borrows from Marley, with the rhythm from “No Woman, No Cry”, and its serious spiritual message is not lost despite compelling you to the dance floor.
“Rough Inna Town”, one of several Xterminator productions included here, has Cocoa Tea sharing vocal duties with fellow superstar Luciano. “Tek Wey Yu Gal” is a recent track, which has Cocoa Tea adapting the Bunny “Striker” Lee-produced “Stick by Me” by John Holt. 2006’s “Save Us Oh Jah” closes disc two and again demonstrates Cocoa Tea’s ability to deliver social and spiritual messages in hypnotically rocking rhythms and captivating, catchy melodies.
Reggae Anthology: The Sweet Sound of Cocoa Tea will appeal to fans of modern and classic reggae alike. It represents the quintessential Cocoa Tea, from dancehall to lovers’ rock to rootical. It’s a testament to his three decades riding the changing styles of Jamaican music, by maintaining his own individual style and personal presence.