September 6, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 4
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Itation Sound succesfully defends reggae clash title

Victor Kakulu

“It’s a battlefield — hot, hot, hot …”

As the lyrics of Jamaican reggae artist Tarrus Riley’s “Beware” blared from the speakers at Kay’s Oasis in Dorchester, a simulated warning shot ripped over the P.A. and through the near-capacity crowd gathered to witness the 5th Annual Forward Sound Clash, held last Friday night.

The jarring sound set the tone for the crews that traveled to Blue Hill Avenue in search of bragging rights. At the clash, either you come to the set with heavy-caliber skills, or you might as well be shooting blanks.

This year’s edition of the clash — an event initially conceived by Selector Jah Rich and DJ Advance of the famed spinning collaborative Forward Movement — featured newcomers Forward Sound from the Netherlands, Boston’s own King Terro, and returning champions Itation Sound, a crew of decorated and respected white artists representing Vermont, California, Cape Cod and Boston.

For the uninitiated, a sound clash is more than just a musical competition: it is a war of strategic symphony that sees rival reggae sound system crews go toe-to-toe with just one objective: to cut down the competition.

And much like other types of MC battles or DJ competitions, a sound clash can be rife with aural casualties.

“Sound fi dead—,” read the bulletin written by Itation Sound frontman Dread Lion just hours before the clash.

“There’s nothing like a good clash — only a fool comes without a strategy,” said 21-year-old Randy Dawkins, a Bronx, N.Y., native, in attendance at Kay’s.

The keys to a clash are the careful selections of choice personalized tracks, better known as dub plate specials. These exclusive alterings can demonstrate a sound crew’s skill level, thus persuading the crowd to issue a “forward,” or positive interruption, displayed by whistle-blowing and raucous commotion, ultimately securing victory.

Each “sound,” or crew, opened with a 20-minute session, beginning with Itation, followed by King Terro and Forward Sound. Dismissing any looming skepticism over their being white, Itation took control early, displaying their skills with melodies from the likes of reggae and dancehall greats Freddie McGregor and Wayne Wonder, easily winning forwards from the crowd.

However, trash talking the competition and amusing the crowd are also strong components of any clash, and as the only sound crew representing Boston exclusively, King Terro launched a series of verbal attacks, including some at the skin color of the defending champs from Itation Sound. Those barbs, coupled with strong standout selections from Sizzla Kalonji and Junior X, rallied strong support for King Terro from the diehard Boston reggae massive.

It seemed Itation and King Terro were in store for some worthy competition from Forward Sound, as the Dutch sound was the only one that opted not to use computer mixing programs and CD tables, choosing instead to spin off of authentic turntables. But their equipment appeared dated and incapable of delivering sound mixing effects to keep the crowd motivated. While selections from the great Buju Banton and Culture were impressive, it wasn’t enough to win the crew from the Netherlands a forward. After two 20-minute rounds, Forward Sound was eliminated, and what many had expected early on was now confirmed — this clash was between Itation and King Terro.

Itation looked to distance themselves from King Terro in round two with a barrage of dub specials from Buju Banton, Munga Honorable, Delly Ranx and “The Warlord” himself, Bounty Killer. A massive forward from the crowd would come at the release of a special dub from Gyptian, disrespecting King Terro as an “ice cream sound — too soft.” Whistles and sound horns, joined with stomping and cheering from the crowd, seemed to spell doom for King Terro.

King Terro would look to the first family of reggae bands, Morgan Heritage, for perhaps the biggest dub of the night. Calling all Boston massive to “raise hand and unite,” the melodies of Morgan Heritage rang out with the question, “Ask me ’bout Boston,” a clever reworking of their current hit single “Brooklyn,” garnering immediate forwards and chaos from the crowd.

But in an unfortunate turn of events, King Terro suffered an equipment malfunction almost immediately after the forward, all but entirely shifting the advantage to Itation.

The final round would bring about a much anticipated dub-for-dub showdown, featuring notable dubs of Sean Kingston’s “Suicidal” and Munga the Honorable’s “Bad From Mi Born.” But despite a valiant comeback by King Terro — whom many felt won the dub-for-dub showdown — Itation’s consistent execution locked them in as the crowd favorite, and the collective, now approaching 10 years of making music, defended their crown as the 2007 Forward Sound Clash champions.

“We’re just in love with the music,” proclaimed microphone frontman Nickel B. “Our plan was to stick to [our] guns. New tunes as well as old foundation tunes bring balance, and that’s what we brought to the clash tonight.”

Gracious in victory, Nickel B. showed respect to the challenge mounted by Itation’s opposition.

“Toward the end, King Terro came hard with some really big tunes,” he said. “But luckily, we had some slightly bigger tunes.”

The crew has more big tunes on the way, as Itation is currently working on a new riddim, called the Higher Meditation Riddim, that will feature 17 artists, including Wayne Wonder, Delly Ranx and Sizzla.

And ultimately, the music is what matters. In reference to King Terro’s tactic of attacking Itation’s credibility being a white sound crew, Nickel B. laughed and offered: “It’s a musical war, not a racial one. The people know better than that — they can’t be tricked.”

As the audience exited the venue, the Bronx’s Dawkins shared praise for both champion and runner-up.

“Itation doesn’t play around. But King Terro is going to do big things,” said Dawkins. “The people will rate you as long as you do your thing, so a loss is never truly a loss — unless nobody hears from you again.”

While Itation was the clear winner at Kay’s last Friday, King Terro won respect from the Dorchester crowd. And if the 5th Annual Forward Sound Clash was any indication of what’s to come, the two crews will definitely have a settle to score next year.

Members of Itation Sound are (from left to right) Nickel B., DJ Tosheba, Heartical Dan and Dread Lion. The winners of last year’s Forward Sound Clash, Itation Sound again won over the crowd at Kay’s Oasis in Dorchester, prevailing over Boston natives King Terro and Dutch newcomers Forward Sound. (Victor Kakulu photo)

The crowd at Kay’s Oasis in Dorchester issues a “forward” to Boston’s own King Terro at the 5th Annual Forward Sound Clash on Aug. 31. The group kept up with defending champion Itation Sound for the majority of the competition, but suffered an equipment malfunction that propelled Itation Sound into the winner’s circle. King Terro finished second. (Victor Kakulu photo)

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