Like many anticipated Dancehall albums of 2021, Skillibeng’s Crocodile Teeth LP was a toothless debut despite the glitzy guest list and dazzling trap production. The 12-track album, titled after the artist’s biggest song to date, contains more misses than hits. It’s a project that plays like an extension of his Prodigy mixtape efforts rather than a definitive debut.
Skillibeng arrived on the Dancehall scene guns blazing, quickly racking up a group of core fans that helped his contagious radio hits – Brik Pan Brik, Mr. Universe, etc – get on the overseas radar. But even his hardcore EastSyde fans have questioned the quality of his output in recent times. Songs like Coke and Sloppy were blasted for their trite, gimmicky nature, all while praises were being heaped on his earliest effort, The Prodigy. Many awaited his studio LP to make the final call.
Debut albums are typically rough sketches where new artists figure out their signature sound and direction. Two years and two mixtapes later, however, it’s more of the same from the St. Thomas native. Artists also tend to show their listening habits in their music; conversely, Skillibeng’s sound is increasingly a reflection of his connections. The Sony/ATV UK signee’s search for a drill/ dancehall/ trap sweet spot has no doubt alienated some fans, but still remains his focus.
It should also be noted that the nondescript suite is Skilli’s third full-length release in 11 months. Sounding no different than any of its freestyle-heavy (mixtape) predecessors, the album adds to an abundance of ready-to-stream tracks packing plenty of raw energy, but not much range or growth. It’s business as usual on Crocodile Teeth, with Skillibeng’s eagle eye set on Spotify.
The album’s opener alone makes the case for Skilli’s genre roving. Rather than offering a Dancehall all-star version of the bulletproof title track (perhaps featuring Shenseea, whose Hot 97 freestyle on the haunting beat went viral) or an updated verse, Skillibeng opted for one the most buzzworthy costars, Bobby Shmurda. The recently freed rapper is still very much a talking point overseas, though his verse doesn’t contain nearly as much bite as Nicki Minaj’s.
Another weak moment comes on Richer, the collaboration with Queen of Dancehall, Spice. She rises to the occasion with bars that blend glitter and grime, (Nuff money fi ah calculate, then we eat dinner pon gold plate/ Money can’t expire, a me fire people a me hire/ Mi a boss inna dis, hotter than when gun shot a fire), but her vocals on a drill beat are less than flattering, rendering the Queen neutral in her contribution.
The rest of the album continues in this vein, rearranging well-worn lyrical tropes with a heavy sprinkling of “Brrrp”. Producer Johnny Wonder called the features “pretty rounded,” but it’s the beats that do the heavy lifting – ghostly electro effects and floaty synths matching the solid variety of the title track.
Standouts include the airy, twinkling arrangements on Beethoven and EastSyde King, as well as Sweeten Your Pain’s rhythmic tangle beneath Davianah’s (daughter of reggae sensation, Tony Rebel) sultry crooning and Lil Zack’s slick bars.
Rich The Kid stole the show on Rocket Launcher, sounding at home on the thumping beat amid the mess of Popcaan and Skillibeng’s ad-libs. Similarly, Dream attempts retrospective depth but winds up, like many of the tracks, feeling unfinished, with rare flashes of excitement or energy.
Crocodile Teeth bears Skillibeng’s signature choppy verses marked by Kartel’s brand of braggadocio, gunplay and gore. Despite its many references, however, from Stefflon Don to Brooklyn drill, the debut doesn’t register as a curated listening experience, one that delights old fans or converts new ones. Barely marketed and deliberately withheld from YouTube, the album seems like a final bid to bolster the now critical end-of-year streaming stats, so much so that he’s content with static.
Another reason for the lackluster display could be that Skillibeng has become the victim of his own success. “If mi sneeze right now ah pon di chart mi reach,” he brags on Wheelie, a level of confidence not exactly afforded to many of his top-tier peers.
Though there’s no-hit on the album as big as the earlier Nicki Minaj assist, Skillibeng has asserted himself (again) as an artist who won’t be pigeonholed even if the rest of us don’t quite get it.