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Upon launching himself as a producer, Sugar Minott made a point of championing new artists, mentoring myriad youthmen to stardom. Among this coterie of talent was Tony "Jah Batta" O'Meally, whose debut album, Argument, Minott helped oversee. Much of the set was laid down at Channel One studio, backed by the likes of the Roots Radics, Sly & Robbie, Jackie Mittoo, and Earl "Bagga" Walker. The rest was recorded at Bullwackies in N.Y.C., where Lloyd Barnes now joined Minott in production duties and the final mixdown. Here the accompaniments were laid down by Barnes' stellar studio band, including guitarist Jerry Harris, saxophonist Jerry Johnson, and the multi-instrumentalist Red Fox. The riddims alone were worth the price of admission, whether Sly & Robbie's lethal rockers, the Wackies crew's own sumptuous take on the style, or the Roots Radics' more minimal but equally melody-fired sound. And whether the musicians were versioning Minott's own "Informer" or taking on Studio One classics — "Real Rock" "Mi Black," "Throw Me Corn" ("I Don't Want to Wait"), and the Heptones' "Baby" ("Ten to Seven") among them, or even Bob Marley's "Too Much Trouble" ("Hold on Pon the Woman") — the arrangements are absolutely inspired and the musicianship phenomenal. It is therefore all the more amazing that Batta not only holds his own, but shines throughout this set. The DJ's style was a bit eclectic at this point, shifting from singjaying à la Yellowman to an almost hypnotic toasting, as well as the new rapid-fire machine-gun delivery that would soon become all the rage. To further mix it up, Batta intersperses his toasting with exuberant exclamations à la U-Roy, whose "Wake the Town" hit Batta name-checks. Thematically, the DJ is just as diverse, and he covers a host of topics here — a vegetarian anthem, an ode to the importance of education, a paean to black pride, a warning to informers, and even sweet romance. It may be "Youthman Time," but not, alas, for Batta, whose girl ends up running off with his singing producer on "Out a Reach." From the infectious "Ten to Seven" to the mesmerizing sway of the sensational title track, Batta's performances will hold listeners spellbound. Even from an established star, Argument would have impressed, but from a novice it's phenomenal. Jah Batta entered the dancehalls with a masterpiece, and more were yet to come.

Argument, Jah Batta
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