Praise You: A Ward 21 Tribute Mix by Lunch Money Life

Formed in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 90s, dancehall group Ward 21 aren’t afraid to step outside of the box, their originality permeating not only their productions but their philosophical approach too.

Taking their name from the psychiatric ward at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, the trio made up of Andre “Suku” Gray, Mark “Mean Dog” Henry and Kunley McCarthy gained their first success in 1998 with the release of the ‘Bada Bada’ riddim, which went on to form the foundations for tracks from Elephant Man, Beanie Man and Chuck Fenda.

Since that first acclaim, they’ve gone on to release an extensive string of singles, EPs and albums, predominantly on long-standing UK reggae label Greensleeves and King Jammy’s and its Jammy’s sub-label.

Their productions and attitude have had a huge impact on London-based five piece Lunch Money Life, not explicitly in terms of the band’s sonics but in their ethos and their idiosyncratic nature. Their tribute mix celebrates Ward 21’s uniqueness and craziness, seeing them pick out some of their favourite tracks that display the group’s tight production and vocal finesse.

We now premiere all our mixes a week early on Mixcloud. Subscribe to our channel to listen first, download all mixes, and ensure that the artists included in each one gets paid. Read more about our decision here.

Why do Ward 21 mean so much to you? 

They’ve soundtracked a lot of good times! They’re everything you need from a dancehall act really. Their production sounds like no-one else and between Kunley, Suku and Mean Dog their vocals cover tenor, baritone and bass in their own wild way. A lot of the music is pretty aggressive but theres an element of humour in there too. They’re not scared of pushing the envelope and doing things other dancehall acts would probably never do. They’re basically the Wu-Tang of Jamaica. They also named themselves after the psychiatric ward at the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, which gives you a clue as to what their musical temperament is like. 

What makes a Ward 21 record so unique? 

Tough one. Production-wise its probably the chest crushing bass stabs and mad synthetic percussion. Ward 21 instrumentals are often noticeably more stripped back, darker and generally more left leaning than their contemporaries. A bunch of their better known instrumentals have been ripped off quite a bit but they lack the chaotic energy Ward 21 bring to everything they do. Vocal wise its the mix of lightning fast flows, scathing razor sharp lyrics and intricate vocal arrangements. 

When did you first hear Ward 21’s music and what impact did it have on you? 

Its probably the Cosa Nostra Riddim from 2010. Theres three different vocal versions of it in this mix from Natalie Storm, Mr Lexx and Ward 21 themselves. It was huge when it came out and you still hear it everywhere. Its the perfect dancehall production in my opinion. Theres practically no drums in it at all. Its pretty much just a rim shot, a bassline and some “hey”s. I suppose the lasting impact it had was maybe the realisation that creating something that is so simple and sparse yet so exciting and fresh sounding is one of the most difficult things to do as a musician/producer/composer. It is also often the most magical. 

Any standout memories from dropping a Ward 21 track in a set? 

Not us playing it specifically but there was one particular night at Plan B in the summer of 2010 with Sticky, Chris Goldfinger and The Heatwave where I think every cut of Cosa Nostra got played, including a Rihanna bootleg. It was amazing. Also, when we were filming the video for ‘Unlimited Ice Cream Palace’ last summer we were driving around London late at night quite a lot and ‘OG Kush’ was the go-to car music. It’ll always bring back memories of driving down the A12 with a projector pointed out the window and a massive image of our bass player Luke’s head spinning around on passing walls, buildings, cars, and lorries. 

How have Ward 21 influenced you as a producer? 

I think literally or sonically speaking the influence is probably quite subtle to the unsuspecting ear but the stuff we’ve been writing recently is a bit more hardbodied and stripped back which I’d like to think is in part to do with the amount of Ward 21 we’ve listened to over the last few years. Ward 21 have definitely had a strong philosophical influence on how we make music and operate as a unit generally. They’re the tightest, most formidable, non-fuck-with-able dancehall crew in existence and they do not give a fuck what anyone thinks of them in the slightest. A lot of dancehall artists (or artists in general) only look to be the best in their genre or scene. I get the impression that Ward 21 don’t even feel apart of that world and just exist in the wider global exchange of musical ideas that transcends the genre-tags and manufactured music “scenes” that are generally just used for profiteering and controlling groups of people’s tastes so they are easier to sell products to. In short, Ward 21 are the best at what they do, they create what they feel needs to be created and they don’t look left and right at what their peers or anyone else are doing, which is something we definitely aspire to be like. They’re the perfect combination of remarkable technical prowess and unbridled, overpowering and sometimes downright threatening energy which is something we also strive for. 

How did you approach this mix? 

Its just some of our favourite tracks of theirs, both in terms of production and vocal performance. It was important to include some of the tracks they’ve produced for other artists as they’ve maybe had more mainstream success producing for artists other than themselves. It also shows just how big their influence has been on dancehall in particular. 

What did you want to say about Ward 21 and their music? 

We just wanted to draw attention to how amazing and crazy Ward 21 are. They’re like the kids at school that never really showed up but when they did they’d just beat the shit into the captain of the football team for no real reason other than they think he’d gotten too big for his boots. Then they’d just leave again… maybe hotbox a teacher’s car on the way out. I guess we also wanted to show off a bit of the yin and yang to their music, its quite out there and weird in a lot of ways but also infectiously funky and even catchy at points. 

What would you say is Ward 21’s biggest legacy on electronic music? 

This is a particularly difficult time to speculate about artists’ legacies as the music industry may not exist in five years time. Their legacy on electronic music of course lies largely in their production. You can hear Ward 21’s influence on a huge amount of British electronic music like grime, UK Funky and Afroswing or whatever you want to call it. Ward 21 perfected a percussive bass timbre that you now hear all over the place. It was obviously around in dancehall before Ward 21 came along but I feel like they nailed it and brought it to the next level. Variations of that particular timbre is maybe the easiest identifier of a Ward 21 production, its all over this mix and you have probably heard people try to rip it off many times without knowing it. I would also argue that contemporary hip-hop producers owe quite a bit to Ward 21 and Jamaican producers in general over the course of the past twenty years.


“How did Ward 21 influence your sound for Immersion Chamber?”

“Maybe the most obvious examples are on ‘Crewcut’. A lot of Ward 21 productions have a semi-atonal rhythmic idea throughout that the other elements largely move around, which is what we were aiming for with the main guitar part. The distorted bell samples bring a pretty dense and ominous flavour to the track which sits in contrast with everything else going on. That’s something that features a good bit in some of their stuff. More generally speaking, you could imagine Ward 21 as being the dancehall-horsemen of the apocalypse. Sometimes the ferociousness of their delivery feels like they’re actively trying to end the world. Immersion Chamber is just the soundtrack to the Armageddon Ward 21 have been summoning for the past 20-odd years.”

Tracklist

1. Ward 21 – Petrol 
2. Ward 21 – OG Kush 
3. Buju Banton – Flava 
4. Fahrenheit & Ward 21 – All About The Money  
5. Timberlee – Bubble Like Soup 
6. Ward 21 – Garrison 
7. Ward 21 – Think Twice 
8. Natalie Storm – Back It Up 
9. Ward 21 – Gully Gun 
10. Ward 21 – Problem 
11. Lady Saw – The Night Nah Done 
12. Ward 21 – Pretty Gal 
13. Natalie Storm – Nuh Teki Back
14. Mr. Lexx – Dem A Pre
15. Ward 21 – Go Easy 
16. Ward 21 – Come Baby Come 
17. Ward 21 – Where We Come From 
18. Ward 21 – May I 
19. Ward 21 – 2000 Gal 

Visit Lunch Money Life’s Bandcamp.

We now premiere all our mixes a week early on Mixcloud. Subscribe to our channel to listen first, download all mixes, and ensure that the artists included in each one gets paid. Read more about our decision here.

Comments are closed.