The year is 1982 and Eek-A-Mouse is performing live at Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash. “I man don’t toast yuh know,” the vocalist born Ripton Hilton states, as his musicians limber up for the next tune. ‘I man sing. I do some amharic slurring yuh know…when some man a sing they say “la la”…some say “whoa whoa”…some say “yeah yeah”…I nuh seh that.’
His succinct statement rolled seamlessly into the opening bars of Ganja Smuggling, but it held an importance beyond that moment. It surmised the unorthodox qualities of his signature vocal style: call it patois scat, freestyle, ‘slurring’ as Ripton might say…or leave the style unnamed, it’s an instantly recognisable, rhythmic and infectiously catchy sound, that the Kingston-born singer stamped onto many of his greatest hits. He in turn has become one of dancehall’s most memorable voices and ahead of his show at Band on the Wall on 4th October, we’ve compiled five killer Eek-A-Mouse tunes, to reflect that great vocal style of his!
Once a Virgin was one of the first singles with which Eek-A-Mouse made an impact in Jamaica. He began working with famed produced Joe Gibbs in 1979 and this single was the product of their labours. Ripton’s ‘Bang bang bi di bang bang’ syllable play is the first thing the listener hears and needless to say, it caught plenty of them off guard! Despite its minor key and relaxed riddim, it contains a strong energy, due in small part to Ripton’s unique vocal take.
On his 1980 single, Eek-A-Mouse uses the falsetto register in the intro, before structuring his lyrics around a biblical tale from the gospel of David. The cut was mixed by Scientist at King Tubby’s Studio, with renowned backing band Roots Radics and the great producer/co-writer Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes steering the arrangement.
One of his biggest hits, Wa Do Dem was at one point banned from Jamaican radio, but that didn’t appear to hamper its widespread success. Another tune featuring his distinctive syllable play, it’s a long time favourite in the dance.
Ganja Smuggling, like Under Me Sensi, appears humorous at first, but more serious subject matter lurks deeper in its lyrics. Ripton proves that the content of your delivery is of equal importance to the lyrical delivery itself, with this era-defining cut.
Tell Them, sometimes referred to as Down in the Ghetto, contains some of Mouse’s most direct and emotive lyrics. “Down in the ghetto is where I grow, pain and tribulation all I know.” In telling the story of his youth — and the experience of many youths in ghettos of Kingston — he shows the versatility of his style. His pronunciation and elongation of words, emphasises the pain with which his lyrics are wrought. It’s a deep, moving reggae cut and one of the highlights of his catalogue.