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Alicia Keys brings old(er) school Dancehall to American Music Awards

By malcolm Published: November 20, 2007

First am I the only person who hadn't seen one single promo about The American Music Awards Sunday night broadcast?

It completely flew under my radar, which frankly, is kind of embarrassing.
Anyway while flipping channels between Patriots touchdowns (Pats 56-Bills 10) I tried to check out some of the goings on at the AMAs including (Usher Jr.) Chris Brown's highly aerobic black light workout with a (rare vocoderless) T-Pain (is he trying to take up the "vocoder singer" mantle left by the late Roger Troutman?).
I also caught Sugarland and Beyonce's twang-pop take on the latter's Irreplaceable and besides the rare opportunity to see Beyonce in tight blue jeans (mmmm....tight blue jeans) it was fun to listen to Miss B clip her phrases and reign in her usually raging melisma to stay in time with the bouncy, back porch beat.

Ne-yo and Rihanna gave a nice performance of her ubiquitous single Umbrella (ella! ella! ella!) and duet of Hate That I Love You backed by a strings and a band.

They could be among the crop of young R&B artists who may have a future beyond the three hot singles and two albums cycle that seems to be about the average these days for "blazing hip hop and R&B" artists.

Anybody else notice how much better both the songs and the singers sounded with a live band (with strings and horns and everything!) and fleshed out arrangments?

But for me the most interesting performance I saw was Alicia Keys working her latest single No One.

The performance (probably still available somewhere online, though Dick Clark Prod. cease & desists warnings were all over Youtube, Monday) featured the cat-suited Keys (mmmmmmm.......cat suit) performing the bulk of the tune before giving way to Michael Rose who ripped off a verse of his 1990 Dancehall hit One Blood (recently sampled by The Game) before giving way to Chaka Demus and Pliers who performed their 1992 dancehall hit Murder She Wrote which then gave way to Beenie Man who performed a snatch of his 1996 hit Who Am I
Whew, that's a lot of folks and a lot of songs in a little over 4 minutes.

None of those artist or their songs on the surface would appear to have anything thematically to do with Keys love song and I'm guessing there were a fair amount of viewers/fans (assuming they knew the show was one at all) who were quite confused by the whole combination. The offical AMA/ABC web site has two other dancehall stars Shabba Ranks (1980s/90s) and Sean Paul (now) listed as her special guests, so obviously Keys was already thinking dancehall tribute when she took the gig.

Whatever the reason, for an old dancehall head like me (and apparently Ms. Keys) it was pretty damn cool to see those older artists get a little 21st Century shine and Murder She Wrote (built on the classic 1970's Bam Bam riddim) is still one of the best dancehall singles ever to crossover into the US mainstream.

Kudos to Keys.

(did I mention the catsuit?)

Oh yeah, Shaggy still sucks.

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