Born O'Neil Bryan, the 29-year-old Elephant Man has been a creative force in the Jamaican dance-hall underground for several years. He mixes light Caribbean pop -- the real "ya man!" stuff with the calypso drums and pretty harmonies, demonstrated best on album opener "Pon De River, Pon De Blank" -- with a skeletal hip-hop framework and a playfully manic toasting style that appropriates modern street hip-hop. His music is purposely minimal, consisting of handclaps, blips, stuttering drum machine noise and the occasional acoustic guitar; he doesn't even attempt the smooth lover-man routine of R&B dance-hall success Sean Paul. The arrangements on Good 2 Go, the artist's new album, are meant only to highlight Elephant Man's electrifying, if unintelligible, vocals. And like American rappers these days, Elephant Man can't help but lift the cheesiest of cultural references. The use of the melody from Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" on the corny-as-hell "Fan Dem Off" suggests this guy watched screenings of Rocky III more than a few times as a kid in Kingston, Jamaica.
Despite Good 2 Go's inherent multiculturalism, none of this is unique on U.S. shores. Elephant Man's style has dominated urban radio for the better part of a year. This album should make the influence of dance-hall's goofy booty-bumping charm on Southern crunk music crystal clear -- Good 2 Go's great "Jook Gal (Wine Wine)" rides a swinging old-school beat by crunkmeister Lil' Jon himself. And while Missy Elliott doesn't make a cameo appearance, you expect her to at any time; her recent This Is Not a Test! offers what amounts to a second-rate impersonation of Elephant Man, with the skitter-patter-bang and the vocal gibberish (matched at one point against a guesting, gibbering Elephant Man) to compete.
In a black-music world rife with appropriation, it's good to know there's at least a place for the source material. Watch this year for Elephant Man to reunite with his muse near the top of the singles charts.