Music News

Pato Banton

The release in 1987 of Pato Banton's Never Give In was, in retrospect, something of a watershed moment. Though it may not have been immediately recognized as being so, it turns out that Never Give In marked the beginning of the contemporary era of reggae. After the 1981 death of Bob Marley, reggae had been in a holding pattern, with "roots" reggae being the bread and butter of the many groups who had gained popularity in the wake of Marley's worldwide deification. Too few black artists took a chance by modifying the sound too much, while white (particularly British) artists saw fit to experiment in ways good (English Beat, the Specials) and bad (UB40). Into this atmosphere comes Pato Banton, a black toaster from Birmingham who somehow found a way to split the difference between the accessible white-reggae grooves of the English Beat and UB40 (both of whom, ironically, he had collaborated with) and the nascent digital bubbling of dancehall. (Wayne Smith had just hit with "[Under Me] Sleng Teng" two years before the release of Never Give In.) Banton's just-gritty-enough style and inarguable ability to craft a catchy pop song made Never Give In appealing, while his use of digital rhythms and streetwise verses ("Don't Sniff Coke," "Drive By Shooting") essentially laid the groundwork for the hundreds of dancehall and contemporary reggae records that followed. Sure, Banton's shiny-happy-people vibe has grown tiresome over the years, and the thin production values of Never Give In haven't held up too well (even with this reissue's "remastering"). But as far as being in the right place at the right time, it must be said that, at least as far as this record is concerned, Pato Banton was ahead of the game.

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Jason Ferguson