Jamaican reggae stars Jah9 (“Steamers A Bubble”) and Yaadcore (“Ready Now”) have teamed with New York City-based dub music ambassadors Subatomic Sound System for a bass-heavy, 21st-century re-imagining of John Holt’s defiant ganja anthem “Police in Helicopter.” The track is out now on all DSPs via Houston-based Yard Birdz Records.
Recorded in 1982 with the Roots Radics at Jamaica’s legendary Channel One studio, John Holt’s original “Police in Helicopter” is one of reggae music’s quintessential protest songs and outlaw anthems. A response to the CIA-funded campaign by Jamaican police to eradicate marijuana from the island — which involved setting fire to ganja fields from the air — “Police in Helicopter” reintroduced Holt, a star of Jamaica’s rocksteady era, as a conscious firebrand.
With the goal of introducing this classic to a new generation, Yard Birdz Records approached Emch of Subatomic Sound System, best known for their work with Lee “Scratch” Perry, to recreate the original riddim with 21st-century sub bass and drums, helicopters swirling overhead, and plenty of dubwise smoke and fire. The result is a heavyweight, bass-forward riddim in the future dubwise style of Subatomic’s acclaimed Super Ape Returns to Conquer album with Perry. The re-imagined ganja anthem arrives just in time for 4/20, as the annual smoker’s holiday takes on added prominence this year with New York and other places moving to legalize the herb.
Jah9, recording from her new home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, brings new vibes to Holt’s original lyrics with her signature vocal style that evokes the deep, powerful tone of Nina Simone or Lauryn Hill. Known for her own poetic protest music as well as recent boomshot collaborations with Chronixx, Jah9’s performance demonstrates why her unique sound has paved the way for a new generation of women in reggae.
Yaadcore, who recently reinvented himself as a vocalist after being the longtime DJ for Protoje, turns up the heat with all-new verses addressing today’s cannabis industry in a style that connects foundation deejays like Yellowman and U-Roy to today’s dancehall era.
Subatomic Sound System percussionist and Jamaican legend Larry McDonald, 84 years young, brings a lifetime of heritage as a reggae originator, having worked with everyone from Count Ossie to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh to Gil Scott-Heron. He plays congas, nyabinghi drums, and percussion, adding new African rhythms absent from the original tune.
“The chorus of this song has been a battle cry in my heart since I first heard it,” Jah9 says. “As someone intimately involved with the use of this herb as a symbol of defiance but more importantly as a powerful tool for healing, I’m honoured to add my voice to bringing it forward to a new generation.”
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