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Subtropical Spin

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.

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.

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Jonathan Zwickel