The vast majority of ISM has a classic reggae and/or early dancehall vibe, a sign that Vegas isn’t just exploring his spiritual and cultural roots as of late. One of the most evident signs of Vegas’ musical soul searching is Bring Back the Reggae, a call to the people of Jamaica to embrace their musical roots with him. Mr. Vegas references some of the great icons from reggae history like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, U-Roy, Tenor Saw, Freddie McGregor, and Alton Ellis, laying out a blueprint for any curious fan looking to dig back into the genre. Like many of the artists he mentions, Vegas uses the music to bring a strong, cultural message on tunes like Wake Up, Moral Decayed Society, and Give I Strength.
Rabid reggae fans may find the most intriguing part of ISM to be Vegas’ use of foundation riddims, the recycled instrumental beats that have been the driving engine of reggae, and early as well as reflective subsequent forms of dancehall, for 50 years. Bring Back the Reggae, for example, is voiced over a re-lick of African Beat, which was originated by Sound Dimension for Studio One in 1968, and made extremely popular by Barrington Levy in 1985 with his timeless classic, Under Mi Sensi. Similarly, Moral Decayed Society upcycles the playful, Far East Riddim, best known for backing Buju Banton on his smash hit, Murderer. Originated by the Pioneers in 1966, Heavenless was probably best known as the instrumental from Half Pint’s boss tune, Greetings, and Mr. Vegas makes great use of it for Give I Strength. Even the ultra-modern Wakanda Jam has its roots in much earlier forms of dancehall, borrowing its instrumental from King Jammy’s Duck Riddim from 1988.
In recent months, Mr. Vegas fans have seen a lot of interesting behavior from the veteran dancehall singer who has achieved nearly unrivaled crossover success with songs like Heads High and Bruk it Down. In June 2018, Vegas put his spiritual currency where his mouth is, challenging controversial Philadelphia preacher, Gino Jennings, notable for shaming women who do such things as wear makeup, to a debate in Jamaica. And in July, Mr. Vegas filmed a violent confrontation between two men outside of his apartment complex in Jamaica, as the singer tried to intervene and encourage cooler heads to prevail. Neither video ends well, which may explain why they became viral hits, but these videos speak to Vegas’ personal transformation since a near fatal plane crash in December of 2015. Similarly, ISM speaks to both the personal and musical changes that the singjay has undergone in the last three years, and in a lot of ways, it is the Rosetta Stone that can help fans make sense of some of the other behavior, which may seem shocking or unnecessary to some. What ISM shows us is that Mr. Vegas is now on a mission to actively promote what he considers to be good in the world, and fight against what he considers to be evil. And although it may seem at times that his cell phone camera is his most powerful weapon in that fight, ISM makes clear that his music is still more impactful than any other tool in his arsenal.