After winning the 2002 Mercury Music Prize Award and a host of Brits the following year for her ground-breaking debut album A Little Deeper, U.K. MC/vocalist Ms. Dynamite's career crashed almost as rapidly as her rise from the underground, thanks to a series of rather unfortunate events which contradicted her previous vocal social conscience. Arrested for a brawl outside a London nightclub, she was then convicted of assaulting a police officer while in custody, a far cry from the refreshing anti-crime message that set her apart from her U.S. "gangsta" contemporaries. It was a stance she continued to promote just six months prior on her long-awaited sophomore album, Judgement Days, with songs tackling firearms ("Put Your Gun Away"), racial violence ("Self Destruct") and child abuse ("Father"). But even before her hypocritical brushes with the law, Judgement Days' dominating themes of political and social injustice feel as though Dynamite is trying a little too hard to put the world to rights. Of course, it's admirable when hip-hop artists provide a welcome antidote to the meaningless bling-obsessed lyrics that define the genre. But whereas A Little Deeper showed some restraint and even flashes of humor in her unique dissection of British life, the pure anger and constant preaching on Judgement Days makes you feel like you're being repeatedly battered over the head at a highly fraught protest march, particularly on the Tony Blair-baiting "Mr. Prime Minister." The constant diatribes may be a little easier to swallow if they were accompanied by the kind of inventive hook-laden, ragga-infused hip-pop she displayed early in her career. But despite the presence of esteemed pop producers Christian Karlsson (Britney Spears) and Reza Safinia (Kylie Minogue), the majority of its 13 tracks serve up a meandering and aimless supply of watered down nu-soul, insipid acoustic R&B, and phoned-in guest appearances from the likes of Lil Wayne, Chink Santana, and U.K. rapper Sincere. The authentic lover's rock reggae of the toe-tapping, Ken Boothe-sampling "Fall in Love Again," the uplifting summery vibes of "Shavaar," a heartfelt ode to her newborn son, and the gorgeous, twinkling production of the Mary J.Blige-esque "Back Then" provide a much-needed gentler and more soulful edge to the proceedings, revealing Dynamite's ability to produce light and breezy melodies hasn't totally deserted her. But overall, Judgement Days is a disappointing follow-up to its predecessor, which managed to address difficult issues without descending into self-indulgence and self-righteousness. The carefree party sound of her two-step garage beginnings seems a long, long time ago. ~ Jon O'Brien, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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