Jah Thomas

12″ Rulers – Jah Thomas is the latest in Greensleeves Record’s recent ‘12″ Rulers’ series. Each edition centres on show-casing a selection of tunes from an individual producer or label, in this case Jah Thomas and his Midnight Rock label.

To the uninitiated, the brilliant aspect of this concept is the ’12 inch’ or ‘discomix’ format each tune is in. This style, first popularised in the late ’70s yet essentially abandoned in Jamaica today, allows for an extended track length of 6-7 minutes and typically includes either a dub or DJ cut to the initial vocal piece. Either way, it’s a sure fire means of enlarging the vibe of an already killer tune.

Technical details aside, this is a rather tasty little collection of Jah Thomas productions which includes a number of absolute classics surely known to all avid reggae listeners as well as the odd number probably less familiar.

Jah Thomas first established himself in the late ’70s as an artist recording for the likes of Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, the Hoo Kim brothers and Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes at legendary studios such as Channel One and Joe Gibbs. Having said that, this collection is probably testament to the fact it is under the guise of producer that Jah Thomas really gained significant accolades.

In 1979 he formed his own Midnight Rock label and undoubtedly helped establish the momentum of the ‘dancehall’ style that would sweep Jamaica over the next few years and serve as a formative influence still present in today’s dancehall music.

Discussed at great lengths in all almost all reggae literature, dancehall represented a fundamental shift in reggae away from predominantly roots themes and the ‘rockers’ style to a much harder, slower and stripped down style, accompanied by lyrical themes more focused on the risque and the violent goings-on so prevalent in Jamaican society at the time. Still, the shift is gradual and the dancehall style can’t be separated from earlier roots reggae – it’s an evolution.

Enough theory! 12″ Rulers – Jah Thomas is the perfect way to get to grips with some of the most crucial dancehall from the early ’80s. The artists featured here are typical of the roster of artists Jah Thomas tended to work with, characters such as Triston Palma, Anthony Johnson, Michael Palmer, Little John, Toyan and so on.

Jah Thomas generally employed the Roots Radics band to build his rhythms, a band almost synonymous with the early ’80s and reggae, so trust the rhythms are first class! Straight off the bat, the two stand out classics here are undoubtedly Triston Palma’s Entertainment, of course featuring Jah Thomas himself and Ranking Toyan on the 12″ version and Anthony Johnson’s Gunshot, also featuring the previous two DJs. These are must haves and it is great to see the 12″ versions further exposed. Triston Palma’s Joker Smoker is another huge tune which certainly deserves a mention and something sure to please anyone with an ear for reggae.

I’ve never felt a great deal can be achieved in merely describing individual tunes, so all there is left to do is to go out and listen! Make sure you look out for more in the 12″ Rulers series as Greensleeves are sure to haul out more killers from their vaults. Until then, this is surely the early dancehall set to add to any reggae enthusiast’s rotation.