With the empowering rise of rap, New York has again become a potent conduit for Third World culture to inseminate the pop world. Making explicit the perfectly logical combination of reggae toasting and its American derivative, this duo of Sean “Cavo” Dinsmore and Lionel “Nene” Bernard (both former members of the Toasters, a prolific New York ska crew) and their band play raggamuffin hip-hop, a kinetic mix of upbeat styles that jumps easily from saxophone-driven ska to dub to turntable scratching. Although a bit glib and weak in spots (Dinsmore’s not much of an MC), the diverse and imaginative What Is It, Yo?! attempts to answer the question with a marvelous bluebeat-plus original (“Shirlee”) and an assortment of easily enjoyable hybrids.
“Shirlee” got its first airing on the Funky Reggae Crew compilation, which also includes tracks by Queen Latifah and Daddy-O, Mikey Dread (co-produced by KRS-One) and Tippa Irie.