Dancehall might have emerged in Jamaica, but over the last few decades the popular genre's tendrils have stretched out across the globe. In Kampala, Ratigan Era is adding a distinct Ugandan twist to dancehall, fusing it with East African humor and hyper-melodic afrobeats elements imported from Ghana and Nigeria. The versatile MC grew up listening to Jamaican music like Vybz Kartel, Busy Signal and Mavado - in his hometown of Kawempe there was almost no way to avoid it - and it blurred into the background, blending with local church music, US hip-hop and radio pop. He developed this diverse range of influences into a completely unique Afro-dancehall flow that simmers between Luganda, patois, Spanish and English, reflecting the melting pot of cultures and dialects that characterizes contemporary Africa.
Ratigan broke out with a memorable feature on Pallaso's Ugandan hit 'Nsaba', a track that echoed throughout the country booming from nightclubs, motorcycle loudspeakers or from convenience stores. Now he's assembled his first album "Era", a furiously inventive interweaving of rubbery vocals and memorable chants backed by futuristic beats from Hakuna Kulala's most boundary-pushing producers. Congolese producer Chrisman takes the reins on 'Gorilla Attack', providing a downtempo groove that echoes recent Jamaican chop deployments from breakthrough artists like Skillibeng and Skeng. For his part, Ratigan ducks and dives between Chrisman's gqom-inspired low end womps and corrosive synths, commanding attention with his smart, dextrous flow and tongue-twisting lyrics.
The Modern Institute and Golden Teacher's Richard McMaster handles 'Top Strike Force' leaving space in his wiry, minimal beats for Ratigan to flit between anthemic repetitions and ice-cold AutoTuned wails. On stand-out track 'Badman Style', Ratigan's guttural patois is measured against a dizzy trap-dancehall hybrid beat from HHY & The Kampala Unit's Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, aka Lithium Beats, while on the surreal 'Drop it Down', Japanese mad scientist Scotch Rolex brings out Ratigan's cheeky sense of humor with toytown bleeps and laser zaps. MC Yallah collaborator Debmaster appears on 'Gan Dem', meeting Ratigan's double-time raps with soundsystem destroying rolling subs, and veteran US noisemaker Kush Arora sprinkles magic dust on 'Cool and Deadly', galvanizing the link between global bass mutations, Jamaica and East Africa.
And despite the grab-bag of producers and inspirations, "Ratigan" is a strikingly coherent listening experience that accurately snapshots Kampala's colorful froth of sounds and phrases. Ratigan's outsized personality is welcoming and captivating, providing the sights, sounds and smells of the city with a frenetic rhythm that's as intimate and local as it is far-reaching. It might just be the future we so desperately need.