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Cocoa Tea

After more than 30 years as a reggae musician, Cocoa Tea should be either a cutting-edge groundbreaker or a torchbearer for easy-does-it standards. As Biological Warfare disappointingly makes clear, he's neither. The dancehall vibe he's worked with for most of his career has seen him occasionally flirting with progressive electronic sounds that threaten to push the genre forward. Similarly, his lyrics have had moments of daring, even controversial inspiration. Here, however, the listener is confronted with a nearly 50-year-old reggae artist somnolently delivering well-worn themes atop even more well-worn rhythms. Plasticky beats that, unbelievably, were played by live musicians, plinky keyboard lines, and by-the-book arrangements do little to light a fire under Biological Warfare. The lyrics tread through the garden of Babylon, Africa, and Hailie Selassie as if Cocoa thinks he's the first to yelp "sons of Jah" in a song. Tucked into the end of the album, though, is "Rise Up," a slinky groove punctuated by weirdo electronic touches and accompanied by a well-crafted, nearly poetic set of lyrics. In that one moment, the disappointment of what was, to that point, an innocuous-enough reggae record, is made that much clearer. If Cocoa Tea is capable of delivering songs of this caliber, why doesn't the rest of the album rise up to that level? It's a question the aging musician may want to ask of himself before heading to the studio next time. Reggae has seldom been a genre praised for its variety or inventiveness, and Biological Warfare sadly makes those stereotypes seem true.

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Jason Ferguson

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