C.J Lewis – R to the A

Release Date: Sept 95
Chart Position: 34

James BC
God bless CJ Lewis and his made-up patois. He encapsulates the neggae era for me more than any other artist, mainly because I can’t imagine him existing, let alone having any kind of success, at any other time. So it’s fitting that his last act as a commercial proposition was to release this paean to the style that was so good to him, and us, and the entire world of music.
R to the A, short for R to the A to the G to the G to the A (Ay!), means RAGGA, which means dancehall, only nobody called it dancehall in the 90s. And CJ’s tribute is brilliant. I don’t care that the production sounds like three Will Smith songs rammed together and has as much to do with Jamaica as Merlene Ottey (she’s Slovenian now, look it up) – CJ could rap over Enya and it would still make anyone’s barbecue playlist. He is neggae incarnate and he brings his A game here, having noticeably improved since Sweets For My Sweet (do I hear some Apache Indian-style quarter tones?), and creates the upbeat, all-inclusive party banger that neggae deserves.
If only this were better remembered it could be the national anthem of neggae. At the very least, when the inevitable jukebox musical (working title: Boombastic!) goes into production it should open the show. Well done CJ for showing everyone that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder or purely a covers merchant – this original outshines Sweets For My Sweet, which is high praise indeed.
Score: 9 out of 10
r to the a

CJ Lewis is back this week and it’s an apt time for him to pop up as he’s ditched Judith, Daphne and the rest of the eggheads to go solo in Revenge of the Egghead in which he plays a pantomime villain parody of himself sneering at members of the public when they get a question wrong, it’s not great if I’m honest, I prefer Pointless.  CJ’s latest offering in the Hot 90 (is it 90 anymore? I’m sure like the Warriors we’ve lost some soldiers on this epic journey. Does anyone care anymore? I didn’t realise nineties reggae was so arduous, I’m going to require a 6 month stint in the Priory after this) is Neggae’s Y.M.C.A with the chorus shouting out individual letters to spell Ragga, actually it spells Raggaa, a basic bit of sub-editing wouldn’t have gone amiss here, wouldn’t surprise me if Norm wrote the chorus.
The production on this is pretty much RnB as it samples the And the beat goes on by the Whispers which was also famously used by Will Smith for Gangsta Rap smash Miami. I’m not really sure there’s much Neg about the production but I don’t care as it’s a great tune and has been used nicely in this case. Lyrically it basically encapsulates the prevailing attitudes and whole culture surrounding ragga like the Neggae equivalent of those oh so clever twats who used to do Shakespeare in 60 seconds. The basic message is we’re here to have a good time, have a dance and a few beers by all means, you can even chance your arm with the ladies but the minute you step out of line we’re coming down on you like a like a cigarette burn to the neck you dry lunch.
The video was shot at CJ’s infamous gig at Harper’s in Guildford when the bouncers threatened to throw him out for wearing trainers but luckily he had a mate who lived in Godalming with the same size feet so got a cab over there and borrowed a pair of shoes. CJ is shown dancing about with some attractive young ladies whilst channelling the man from Del Monte in that dodgy whistle. There’s the first recorded incident of product placement in a neggae video as one of the said ladies is shown sparking up a Rothmans, naturally that wouldn’t be allowed now but these were more innocent times where you were still allowed to drink 8 pints and drive, at least that’s what most of my mates seemed to think.
Score: Overall this is D to the E to the C to the E to the N to the T A and gets a 7/10 from me.

I’m late again. Feeling the pressure from everyone apart from James BC (which I appreciate) I had good intentions to get this review in on time but this has been a mother of a week. I won’t go into too much detail but I will let you in on the reason why I didn’t make it last night. Having bought a new leather sofa recently, I’ve become quite protective over it and have good intentions of keeping it in pristine condition. I am constantly telling the kids off for eating and drinking on it, you know the drill, “NO CRUMBS, DON’T SPILL THAT, PLEASE DON’T MAKE A MESS” Anyway, the kids are pretty well trained now, the dog however is not. I walk around the corner and see our 80lb Labrador snoring and chillaxin’ on my sofa. I struggle to get her off and give her a boot up the arse, in doing so I think I broke my foot, tore a metatarsal or something like that. All I know is that the dog strolled off and fell asleep in the corner and I had to limp around with a grimace on my face for the rest of the night. But, back to CJ Lewis and R to the A.
I don’t remember this one if I’m honest. It starts off nicely in typical CJ fashion with a quick rap intro. Then we roll right into some sort of Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr (AKA Snoop Doggy Dogg) influence. I kept looking around for Warren G to pop up on stage and help CJ out, take the mic and roll into a smooth verse with Nate Dogg. Sadly, they never materialized and CJ gets back to what CJ does – More fast paced vocals in his unique island style.
The pace of the song was pretty good but in my opinion CJ was confused with this effort, veering off on an odd tangent with the R to the A to the G to the G to the A. I kind of like it, I kind of don’t like it. It’s a little like watching Liverpool play, they pass it nicely for most of the game then Suarez dives and gets a penalty thus leaving a sour taste in my mouth.
Score: So, for this CJ effort, I’m slap bang in the middle with a 5/10. Could do better, could do worse. It had me head bobbing for half of it anyway. I’m off to put my foot on ice. Peace out.

R to the A the double G Smash!!! I really shouldn’t like this but some reason I do, especially given the last few days I have had. Trying to get Audi to claim accountability for a very obvious defect on their rear view mirrors is a bigger task than I first imagined. I clearly checked my mirrors and there was no sign of that large expensive 4×4 parked behind me, until I hit it then it appeared, how is that my fault? But for some reason those shrewd Germans are sticking to their guns and refusing to accept responsibility. Anyway at least insurance companies are an understanding and compassionate breed of people to deal with!
So CJ’s offering was a pleasant surprise that I really thought I would hate, especially given the very linear projection of his most recent hits:

Sweets for my Sweets #3
Everything is Alright #10
Best of my Love #13
Dollars #34

Things were not on the up in Sept 95 for CJ and if you were a betting man you would not put any money on his next release being good for anything apart from “Now That What I Call Summer Guff fodder”. However I do find it likable in a guilty pleasure type of way. I think the sampling of And The Beat Goes On is maybe what tips the balance for me, I quite like that tune.
So, it’s no Sweets for my Sweets by any stretch of the imagination, but better than I expected, maybe my expectations were simply very low this week.
Score: 6/10 from me this week!

CJ Lewis returns with the first (and unfortunately only) hit offering from his difficult 2nd LP, Rough ‘N’ Smooth. It was a wholly slicker affair, with CJ taking in pop and r’n’b influences. And while hugely popular in the Far East (shifted 150,000 copies in the first week) its smooth sound signalled the beginning of the end of CJ’s popularity in the UK – his original fanbase preferring the hardcore dancehall of his earlier releases (i.e. before Sweets etc.) While this UK-lite version of the NegJack Swing sound we’ve seen before is not really my cup of tea, CJ should be commended for trying to take Neggae in a new direction.
His label RCA were clearly confident in the new style, as the video is an altogether more lush affair than we had seen from him. Gone are the Sharp Viewcam gonzo promos shot beneath the Bullring, and in is a glossy, nightclub flick that Bobby Brown would have been proud of.
On first inspection, the production of the song is high end too, and the using the Whispers sample is a nice touch. However, if you want to here how Disco and Dancehall should be spliced together, check out Noisybunch records. It makes R to the A sound pretty one-dimensional.
By 1995, just as swingbeat was being phased out in the US for the heavier, more street R’n’B, the UK was going swingbeat mad. And it was a specifically UK strain of Swingbeat – well-intentioned but just a bit naffer than the real thing. And while I’m fond of it’s quaintness – its basicaly like New Jack on rations. If new Jack Swing is the Big-Mac, then this sort of sound is the Wimpy Bender-in-a-bun. The beats aren’t as polished – and there are very few real hip-hop references Think of those harsh rat-a-tat beats that open BBD’s Poison; These are replaced by metronominic Bontempi kepboard beats and a G-Funklite whistle. Fastlove, Return of the Mack, PJ and Duncan’s If I give you my number – all share the same sound as this.
But is Ro to the A Neggae? Well, that’s where CJ comes in. His toasting is absolutely neggaesque – and his vocal dexterity is a vast improvement on his earlier efforts. But that’s it. And maybe if he’s have riddimified the skankometer by another 15% he’d have impressed me (and more importantly his old skool bredren) a little more.
Score: 6/10



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