Ward 21

 

In the mid 1980's a revolution occurred within Reggae music, and it began in the Waterhouse, Kingston 11 district of the Jamaican capital city. Lloyd "King Jammy" James got his hands on a Casio keyboard, cranked up one of the pre-programmed rhythms and the soundtrack of Dancehall Reggae changed irrevocably. He called it the 'Sleng-Teng' riddim, and it heralded the birth of Digital Reggae; Waterhouse stood tall, as the mecca of the new Dancehall era. Over the next decade the King Jammy label boasted a roster of artists that read like a who's who of Dancehall history. Artists who, bouncing on King Jammy's riddims, went on to become major acts, known across the globe. Despite the plethora of international success, King Jammy - always thinking of the future - kept his roots deep in Waterhouse, where he knew his keen eye for talent would soon unearth new gems.

In this new Millennium the flame at the world-famous King Jammy's, St. Lucia Avenue, studio is burning with even more intensity, fuelled by a hand-picked collective of musically-madd youths - all united by an insane approach to Dancehall. The Psychiatric Ward at the University Hospital in Kingston is officially titled Ward 21, and there couldn't be a more apt moniker for this crazy quartet of DJs/Producers/Songwriters/Engineers. At a time when the world was saying that Dancehall was stale, was void of new ideas, King Jammy let these four protégés free from his musical asylum to bring Dancehall music to the level it merits worldwide. The release of the album, with Greensleeves Records, coincides with a deluge of bookings that are flooding into the Solid Agency, who handle all of Ward 21's live dates. "Ward 21 are blowing up at the moment. All of a sudden we're getting many many requests for them overseas," testifies David Burke, of the Solid Agency. The Solid Agency is the world's number one Dancehall Reggae Agency, so coupled with wealth of experience rooted at King Jammy's, it bodie extremely well for the future of Ward 21.


SUKU
As with all members of Ward 21, SUKU is a Waterhouse native whose musical teachment began around the control tower of a sound system. Suku learnt his trade with the Road Sonic set back in 1985, before being introduced to King Jammy by his now-colleauge Mark and Jammy's son Christopher. As well as the recording studio success, King Jammy's Hi-Power was also a dominant force in the sound system arena at that time, and Suku;s talents thrived as he became a member of the crew. The King endorsed Suku's talents with the post of Assistant Recording Engineer in the studio, before graduating to Senior Engineer. Suku's imagination flourished through the endless hours he spent mastering the studio equipment, and he began formulating his own potent riddims in the sound lab. Suku's first, experimental beats were awash with a unique flavor that captured the attention of King Jammy - who's rhythmical experience told him to nurture Suku's talents further. In 1998, Suku created the 'Badda-Badda' riddim - a ferocious musical storm that thundered through Dancehall speakers worldwide, spawning countless number ones both locally and globally. Ward 21's own excursion on the version - titled "Haters" - garnered them with a debut-release number one on the prestigious Echoes Chart in the UK and Europe. Suku stamped his name deepr into the Reggae history books with his follow up rddims - 'Da Joint', the 'Bellyas'and the 'Volumne', continuing his avant-garde rhythmic success synonymous with the King Jammy's stable. Suku has also created many riddims for other labels - such as the hot new 'Scarface' beat for Shocking Vibes. Suku, who's baritone voice also bombs as joint-lead vocalist, is focused on where he feels WARD 21 can go: "This little thing called platinum selling…… no Dancehall artist ever reached that level, and we want to reach somewhere, I can't even explain where exactly, somewhere way above that level."


Ranaldo
From his eyes were at his knees, Ranaldo injected all around him with endless energy. The people on the Waterhouse corners he grew up on found it no problem to adorn him with an appropriate nick-name, as Rumblood explains: "Them always say the amount of Rum my Father and Grandfather drink, I don't need to drink any because the way I carry on mad I must have Rum running through my blood already!" He started out on the 'Street Fighter' sound system, before joining the young people's performing arts group 'ASHE'. His stay there wasn't long and as with many of the youths in Waterhouse, began to hang out more at the Jammy's studio. Suku was already Ramblood's sparring partner, so Rumblood ended up joining him in the studio for those endless hours, until King Jammy game him a post in the Dub-Cutting studio. Rumblood is the youngest member of the group and is the self-confessed 'bringer-of'vibes' in the WARD 21 unit. "If Suku has a mental block in the studio, him will call me in there to build a vibes, or if Kunley needs to test out a lyrics him just write, him will call me and I'll vibe it with him." Rumblood also names many of the riddims that Suku builds, which explains why they're so quirky!



Kunley

No nickname, not over-hype, just straight, unadulterated talent, manifested in real, raw-to-the-core lyrics, delivered with passion in relentless fashion. By age 24, Kunley had done a variety of jobs to make the best of a tough world prior to joining WARD 21. He was an operator for the 'Road Sonic' sound system, a member of the 'Fab Five' road crew, a night club Disc Jockey, even a Policy Entry Data Clerk, but Kunley always knew where his real talent lay. Suku introduced him to Jammy and after a few weeks on the set, Kunley took up the offer of a studio position as Apprentice Engineer. Ward 21's chief lyricist and joint lead vocalist announced himself to the world on their debut 45 - "Haters", with a grave-digging DJ flow that set a new speed for the way Dancehall DJ's delivered their product. Even Grammy-nominated Beenie Man immediately imitated Kunley's flow, which is a major compliment for anyone, let alone a debut DJ. Kunley, like many of his generation, has been exposed to a variety of musical influences, and has a determined focus to elevate WARD 21 and in turn, Dancehall music, to the heights of other musical genres: "We want to carry Dancehall as far as Hip-Hop has reached and maybe even further. They're basically the same kind of music so we can't understand why Hip Hop and Dancehall are on two very different levels. We're campaigning for Dancehall across the world - to get everybody to love it."



Mark

Mark, WARD 21's elder, grew up on the Avenue that is home to the King Jammy's studio and visited it almost everyday of his life. During the 1980's Mark rubbed shoulders with some of the pioneers of the craft of Deejaying, an experience that helped shape his musical journey. In 1994, he was in control of the 'Bug Striker' sound system from Waterhouse, where his reputation as a selector quickly spread. Word reached King Jammy that Mark was the hot selector on the block and Jammy promptly secured him for his own sound system. He learnt the Recording Engineer and Dub Cutting trade before touring with Mega-star DJ Bounty Killer, as Assistant Technician/Engineer. Mark is the businessman out of the group.

Mentally Disturbed is an impressive and original debut from WARD 21. It is filled to the brim with mad off-the-wall lyrics, contagious rhythms and collaborations with some of Jamaica's hottest producers and deejays. Wet your appetite with the tracks; "Blood Stain", "Ganja Smoke" and "Going Going Gone" which are riotously funny or in the 'in your face' songs; "Thugga", "President of Hoochie Land" and "Grimey", all laced with Hip-Hop beats.

WARD 21 still works at Jammy's everyday creating new rhythms or voicing dub plates for the multitude of sound systems that hang out at the studio every day. "The buzz around Jammys is all good. We're at work but it is a whole heap of fun as well as hard work. To have fun with the music is as important to us as any success and with WARD 21, fun is never far away. We give thanks for the opportunity as we have what it takes to reach where we want to be", sums up Mark. The groundwork has already been laid with their earlier infectious rhythms and unique approach to dancehall. Fuelled with a dedicated passion to take their music to a higher platform, the future is looking very bright for the four mad youths from Waterhouse.
 

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