Up-and-comer Hook Shop Records held its label debut party early in the week of August's VMAs inside a sleek hotel lobby in Miami Beach. The night went from ho-hum to slam-bang as reggae riddim masters Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare made the scene and dancehall blasted from a makeshift PA at the far end of the long bar. Fledgling local artists like Young Jade and 12-year-old Fonna mixed it up with older industry vets; a colorful array of scenesters and musicians sipped cocktails and slapped backs. The auspicious shindig was arranged by Franky Bassie, the Boca-based label's owner and an unsung producer and songwriter who built his rep in the pop trenches working with Britney, Gloria, and Joey MacIntyre. Though he'll focus on R&B, reggae, and hip-hop, Bassie has adopted the motto of "No borders, no boundaries, no limits" to describe the label's grassroots, artist-first approach.
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As its first release, Hook Shop has compiled a seven-track sampler of the label's diverse artist roster. Each song pivots on the Indie Riddim a Mideastern-tinged melody, rubbery bass line, and a bumping, lock-step dance break provided by the unfailingly capable Sly and Robbie. Several vocalists take turns with the rhythm, some more successfully than others. Young Jade rolls out "Got Love for You" with hip-hop swagger, his laid-back, babe-baiting flow smooth and confident. Flexing a playful dancehall bark, Raskane works wonders with the chorus of "Dance in da Club." Though he comes a bit off-kilter at times, his is maybe the most solid of the straight riddim versions, a serious dance-floor crasher. Bassie himself weighs in with "Try Try," a funky, jazzier rendering of that snake-charmer Indie Riddim. For all his production and songwriting skills, Bassie's voice might be his secret weapon: Untarnished and yet nuanced by experience, he sings of personal commitment as a means to accomplishment. It's a subject he knows well and one that will hopefully make Hook Shop an important contributor to the local scene.