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Joel Biswas‘ stomach is on growl like bass from Hank Shocklee.
Curly Castro is the quintessential braided-up bodega cat, a rapper whose sensimilla-clouded visage and tilted demeanor mask a keen intelligence, rapier wit and streetwise militancy. Raised in Brooklyn of Caribbean heritage before making Philly his home, he is one-fourth of Philly’s finest underground collective, Wrecking Crew, alongside Zilla Rocca, Premrock and Small Professor. He raps with an instantly recognizable nasal rasp, dropping lines that are equal part Marcus Garvey, Smif-n-Wessun and Lee “Scratch” Perry. It’s visceral, seductive body music that veers between the sublime and the seamy, often in the same verse.
His forthcoming latest project Tosh is semi-autobiographical and sees him explore in his ancestral Bajan milieu in vivid detail and emotional depth. Production is handled by a who’s who of beat makers including Willie Green, Blueprint, Blockhead, Messiah Musick as well as his perennial collaborators, Zilla Rocca and Small Pro, who combine to conjure up a woozy love-letter to bass culture. Schoolly D kicks clang like oil drums, cavernous sound-system reverb bounces across the cross-fader and dub-plate sub-bass drips until you can feel it on your skin. Indeed, the mercurial spirit of the eponymous reggae legend Peter Tosh permeates this record, both as a Rasta high priest and the menacing Stepping Razor, united by the simple truth of experience, that “if yuh cyan feel it, yuh cyan know it.”
Lead single “Ital-You-Can-Eat” is produced by Blockhead and features Backwoodz general Billy Woods. Over a vibrato flute sample, it plunges the listener into the belly of the beast, in media res as Woods and Castro arrive at the Caribbean spot looking to sate some weed-fuelled hunger with a spot of curried goat and Super Malt. Our heroes quickly find that showing up a mere hour before closing is an error. Castro immediately gets the cold shoulder, “My turn at the counter/ dread look me up and down/ he couldn’t suck his teeth louder”) and grudgingly settles for jerk chicken when it’s clear that’s all he’s getting – “we nuh ave dat” goes the refrain.
Billy Woods then tags in to intone a few roots rock recipes of his own as if they were biblical sacraments: “Roast fish, porgy cornbread, cold bami, snapper eskovitch/ Strictly what I deal with, festival langoustine so fresh it’s seasick/ we poor but we eat fish, poor but we eat rich”.
It’s a groovy and finely observed tableau of diaspora life that captures that surreal moment when a chance encounter with one’s roots manages to leave you proud and bewildered in equal measure. It’s also a handy and long overdue guide to avoiding one of the quintessential pitfalls of modern life – ordering Jamaican food while avoiding getting ridiculed. As Castro himself points out, “No disrespect, but if you hit a West Indian establishment and you are not ready to ‘properly’ order when yuh turn come up, then yuh might git mash out deh place!”
Consider yourself warned. Tosh drops December 14th.