Assassin AKA Agent Sasco, who still leads with the former (from those pre-Google days) despite the originality of the latter, is certainly in an enviable position with his Kendrick Lamar feature “The Blacker The Berry” having been recently performed at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Keeping the edge is the challenge then, for his Theory of Reggaetivity album which dropped just days later. Very much an artist showcase, Elesia Iimura and Chronixx are the only guests on the twelve tracks presented here.

Starting strong with horns and a skank, opener “Theory of Reggaetivity” is a cut of new roots that quickly inverts to split the focus between the throaty vocals and the pulsing bass. Clocking in at just past two minutes, this is a succinct opening statement that sets the tone for the album well. Full of taught productions and powerful vocals, this is a solid set with a few unexpected stylistic surprises.

After an echoing child asks where reggae comes from, Assassin aims to provide the answer on “Reggae Origins,” where the swinging heavy riddim works nicely in conjunction with his flow. An album standout for sure, his vocal tone matches the lyrics, with references to ‘weed smoke haze’ and ‘dancehall ah – dem a days’ leading the way into a funkier-than-expected latter half. The roots poke through again on “Feel Highrie,” a slower grooving number that pairs the lyrical toasts to the power of music with literal evidence in the form of a thick bass loop and catchy horn licks.

Another strong effort is “Mix Up,” which slyly sneaks in some humour with lines aplenty about mixes – ‘talking bout the jerk chicken more than teriyaki’ and later ‘me talking about the Sly Dunbar mixed with the Robbie” – over a rolling Heavenless re-lick that receives some nice soundsystem-style chopping during the second verse.

“Crazy” targets the dancehall with its 100+bpm and breathy turn from Elesia Iimura, but more importantly it marks a shift in the album’s vibe, leaving the trappings of genre aside for more adventurous selections. A prime example is the passion that overpowers the hints of cheese and the dated Dikembe reference on “Africa” – finding Agent Sasco on a poignant continental shoutout mission [sorry, that was inevitable] towards the end.

The chanted intro skit may be too short, although it still works well to set up the skanking Chronixx-assisted “Slave No More.” An intriguing move here is the 80s-inspired saxophone solo, let loose once the verses, and even the beat, are pretty much wrapped up.

What’s really evident here is that in the age of riddim-based releases Agent Sasco is still building albums, full of variety, nuance, and risk. Not all pay off, but it’s still enjoyable to experience the earnest efforts of a now-veteran deejay. For example, while Nietzsche seems an unlikely (and probably unintentional) inspiration, it is his quote that serves as the backbone on the entrancing “Stronger”!

Closer “Country Bus” is another solid modern reggae track, powered by the bass and vocal in relatively simple combination to bring the album full circle. An enjoyable listen throughout, with “Reggae Origins” and “Mix Up” the clear selector’s favs and the “J.O.B.” skit ripe for sampling, this is well-worth tuning into.

The Groove Thief
.the future of dub is the present.
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