Review Summary: 24 years after the release of the last Shy FX album, Raggamuffin SoundTape defies both odds and expectations.
Shy FX last put out an album in 1995. That makes him one of the most original of the still-active OGs in the drum and bass game, and places a massive weight on the new album to fight for Shy FX's place in a scene that left behind the sound that made him famous a long time ago. Fortunately for him, Raggamuffin SoundTape is a worthy successor to his last outing (and, from what I've heard regarding the quality of that album, very possibly a much more cohesive and enjoyable experience than it).
Designed to be heard as one continuous work (though very capable of being enjoyed on an individual track basis) and clocking in at a breezy 32 minute (incredibly short for a drum and bass album), Raggamuffin SoundTape sounds more like a nonstop party than the usual cut-and-dry drum and bass record. In fact, with the way it jumps between a number of different styles and features a metric ***ton of guest vocalists, this album almost feels like a Jamaican version of Humanz, though thankfully it lacks the frustrating lack of cohesion of that album.
Despite Shy FX's background in ragga jungle and oldschool drum and bass, this album features basically none of that (the closest you'll get is a cheeky rendition of Original Nuttah thrown in as an interlude in the form of Carnival Culture) and instead springs for the sounds of liquid funk and jump-up for its drum and bass flavours and often breaks away from the genre entirely. While the album doesn't do away with the style wholesale, it flirts heavily with dancehall, UK hip hop, and even contemporary R&B. Normally this would be a cause for alarm as it would signal an uneven listening experience as the listener is jerked back and forth between disparate sounds. However, Shy's decision to make this album a true seamless soundtape rather than just a collection of songs allows him to properly frame all these styles in such a way that it feels less like a collection of unrelated tracks and more like a celebration of Jamaican and English music, highlighting the strengths of a variety of different genres over its brief runtime.
I wasn't expecting a lot from this album. Coming back from a 9 year break since your last major release is a tough task for the most beloved long-form electronic music producers out there. Coming back from a 24 year break since your last full-length album when the last one isn't particularly well-regarded is just about impossible. I was ready to write this off as yet another album from an artist past their prime, just another drop in the bucket of uninspired or unflattering records made by musicians who were once legendary trailblazers but are now shells of their former selves. And yet, despite all the incredible odds stacked against him, Shy FX managed to come through with a modest but earnestly enjoyable album that shows his willingness to change with the times without sacrificing artistic integrity and celebrates the culture that he helped build. Raggamuffin SoundTape isn't the best drum and bass album ever released, and I suspect a lot of more purist drum and bass fans are going to hate this album for how little actual drum and bass it includes considering who made it, but I for one would prefer to acknowledge how incredible an accomplishment this is for Shy FX, and to enjoy it for what it is rather than what was expected.