Charleston reggae band the Dubplates hit a pretty big high point last month. On June 23, they released the long-awaited Box Full of Steel, featuring reggae and rap icons King Yellowman and Mix Master Mike. The LP debuted at No. 4 on the iTunes U.S. Top Reggae Albums of the Week chart. Good thing the album already sounds like a celebration.
Box Full of Steel has the Dubplates melting down beach party vibes and drinking them by the gallon — every track is its own little bash, connected by interludes. "It's not just a collection of random songs put together," says vocalist Dave "Big Hair" Brisacher.
"This is for people who want to sit down on a couch or start this record at a party and not turn it off," adds guitarist/vocalist Brady Waggoner.
The band cites concept albums like A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders as a large influence for the structure of Box Full of Steel, but the connections to American music don't stop at hit-filled hip-hop releases. Many of the songs have roots that branch out of Jamaica. "'Drunken Master' is a blues song," says Waggoner. It kicks off with a jazz-blues riff that pounds away in the background of a complete dancehall tune. "What we wanted to do with this [album] was to produce every track in a way that makes people realize there's reggae in everything."
Different styles and genres fluently dance through the LP, and for good reason, according to Waggoner. Jumping lyrics that resemble a hip-hop flow on tunes like "Uh-Huh" mesh well with the music, because dancehall is the "Jah father" of rap. They even take some time to give a shout out to KRS-One. "There You Go," featuring Mix Master Mike, further embraces the rap angle with turntable aerobics and golden-era hip-hop boom-clap drums.
The Dubplates even throw a little Daft Punk into the mix with "Wolfman" and "Burning Clean." Both tunes take reggae to the dance club with robotic vocal hooks. Box Full of Steel is a diverse mix, to say the least. "In one track we've got damn near every sound in a symphony," says Waggoner. "On another track it's broken down all the way to blues." It's a reggae album in song structure, but throws in atypical beats and instruments, like harmonicas and vocoders.
The LP, announced in 2015, was originally slated for an early 2016 release, but when a band consists of a dozen people, it's pretty easy for life to get in the way of the music. Waggoner and Big Hair are ecstatic that it did, though. "There have been opportunities since we initially thought it was coming out that have made it so much better and given it so much more momentum," says Waggoner. During the delay, the group set up a distribution deal with massive reggae label VP Records, meaning more Dubplates in more parts of the world. Brady and Big Hair both agree that the album was sonically better off for the wait also. "We could have been putting out records year after year, but we decided to wait until we had a full-length with this much firepower on it."
Reggae's not typically a word people consider synonymous with Charleston. Despite their noted hometown patriotism, the Dubplates often get introduced as a California band when playing outside of the 843. But with Box Full of Steel charting on iTunes, the tide may be changing for Lowcountry reggae.