PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Kevin Lyttle: self-titled

Mark Harris

Kevin Lyttle

Kevin Lyttle

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2004-07-27
UK Release Date: 2004-05-24

I don't like soca. I never have. It's nothing personal; soca never slept with my wife or planted crack rocks in my glove compartment. I just never got into its bubbly Latin, Indian, and African-flavored beat the way that I did the relaxed roots reggae rhythm or even the more similar, yet harder-edged digital dancehall sound. If you're not from the Caribbean, chances are you feel the same way I do about soca -- if you even notice it at all.

Originating in the early '70s as a jiggy offspring of calypso, soca (soul + calypso) has made tremendous strides in mainstream recognition in the past few years, although it still operates in the shadow of the most popular Caribbean music, reggae. However, the sudden crossover appeal of dancehall reggae albums from Sean Paul, Wayne Wonder, and Elephant Man (all also released by Atlantic, which may want to consider changing its name to Caribbean) has paved the way for Kevin Lyttle to raise soca to a new level of consciousness.

One need look no further for proof of his appeal than MTV, BET, and the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where the smash single "Turn Me On" reached #4 to become the biggest thing in soca since Arrow's "Hot Hot Hot" in the early '80s. The song -- which I imagine Lyttle might be sick of singing by now -- was originally recorded in 2001 and swept through his home isle of St. Vincent and the rest of the Caribbean, took over Europe in 2003, and finally has hit it big in the US. Its success is deserved, as this insanely infectious tune truly defines the term "anthem".

For soca lovers and haters alike, Lyttle's self-titled debut album will raise some eyebrows. It's by no means a typical soca release. That is, it isn't very "soca" in sound. Kevin Lyttle is as much dancehall as it is soca, and it's as much R&B as it is dancehall. Soca purists may dismiss this fusion of sounds as too watered-down and overtly crossover, but in terms of bringing soca into mainstream awareness, this album is brilliant.

The lush production and soulful dancehall-cum-R&B blend that has buoyed "Turn Me On" is evident throughout Lyttle's debut. Tracks like "Never Wanna Make U Cry", "My Lady", "Screaming Out My Name", "Call Me", and his pairing with Mr. Easy on "Drive Me Crazy" (Easy's solo version is on VP Records' Strictly the Best 30) create a party air that transcends genre. These tunes blur the line between soca, dancehall, pop, and R&B so much so that you don't consider the genre. You just enjoy the music for what it is: a fun, freewheeling good time. Honestly, if I hadn't been told that Lyttle is a soca artist, I wouldn't have otherwise guessed so.

Like the eclectic music, Lyttle's voice -- a nasal yet soulful inflection (think Curtis Mayfield by way of the Fine Young Cannibals' Roland Gift) -- seems just as influenced by R&B as it is Caribbean music. As such, this is the perfect album for soca-phobics to explore. Even when a song that is more overtly soca -- such as the sweet, airy dedication "My Love" -- comes on, you feel much more prepared and in tune with the sound.

Granted, Kevin Lyttle will be too poppy for some listeners. Those who favor the hardcore dancehall reggae sound of Elephant Man or a more cultural roots reggae statement (à la Bob Marley) should look elsewhere. This is an unabashedly shallow party album designed to cross over, but it does its job well. It's the audio equivalent of a summer popcorn movie: loud, flamboyant, superficial, and yet a crowd-pleaser.

So maybe I'm still not a soca fan, but if Lyttle continues on to craft a new genre of so-hip-pop-dance-reg-ca music, count me as its first fan.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.