Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Lifetime Riddim

The Lifetime Riddim [Lustre Kings Productions]

1. 'Put A Fyah In Deh' by Lutan Fyah

2. 'Yes To Life' by Jahdan Blakkamoore

3. 'Lifetime' by Akae Beka

4. 'All That I'm Thinking Of' by Pressure

5. 'One Day At A Time' by Vanessa Bongo

6. 'It Takes Time [Raining Outside]' by Randy Valentine

7. 'Ancient Great [Tell Her I Need Her]' by Danny I

8. Lifetime Riddim I Grade Dub Mix

And because the wonderful people from the Zion I Kings  CLEARLY refuse to let 2016 go out quietly, we have yet another new project coming forth from the collective as the 'Kings', Lustre Kings Productions, makes the latest contribution (#6) to the ZIK's consistently impressive Riddim Series with the Lifetime Riddim. This 'dreamy' set should be extremely familiar to fans as it just appeared on the latest release from the ZIK, Akae Beka's "Livicated" for Zion High Productions, in support of what would turn out to be the riddim's title track.

Okay, while I am still very early into working this one out, I HAD to let you know about what may potentially be a downright SPECIAL song. There're some really strong selections on the Lifetime Riddim - not the least of which are potentially stellar efforts from the likes of Lutan Fyah, Jahdan Blakkamoore and the aforementioned Akae Beka. And, really, just having had a brief listen through all of the songs as well as the wonderful dubbed out version of the track courtesy of I Grade Records, there does not appear to be a miss here at all.


HOWEVER, with that being said, what Danny I manages to do with his cut of the Lifetime Riddim, 'Ancient Great [Tell Her That I Need Her]' is just... I mean...

"I've been searching for a while amongst the virtuous and the vile
Knew when I met you, you just stood out like a vibe
Time progressed and many noticed just how well we got along -
JUST LIKE TWO SEPARATE VERSES IN ONE SONG

I wanna tell her that I need her
And tell her that respect is due
That I'll never mislead her
That I need her point of view"

That tune is MAMMOTH! Absolutely reminiscent of 'I Know', his dazzling edition of the Songbird Riddim from earlier in this same series, in terms of its quality and its wholly subtle GENIUS. So, I'll stop myself there because I could probably go on and on and on and you know it. You can finish it off for me when you pick up the Lifetime Riddim from Lustre Kings Productions and The Zion I Kings when it reaches stores on November 18th.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

'The Grind': A review of "Salvation" by Spectacular

Seeking. I think that particular forms of music, and of art in general, lend themselves to the displaying of particular qualities far more than others. If you look on a Hip-Hop blog or read a writer of that genre, I'd like to think that while we may have some similarities, that our perspective and EXPECTATIONS come from a different place. The standards of what is 'good' and what is not would be different, outside of just personal tastes and the levels reached before you can declare something a 'success's would also vary and that is a 'good' thing. And, at least presumably, it would be the same each time you changed genres and, again, that's a very nice thing to have such a wide variety of changing characteristics when the people who listen to it, support it and produce it are ever-changing works in progress ourselves. One of the things I believe that Reggae music showcases resoundingly well is the kind of hard-working, sometimes struggling (sometimes not) and persevering archetype of an artist who plies his/her trade under virtually any set of circumstances. When you take into consideration the nature of the music, especially Roots Reggae music, and the messages and subjects it captures, this come through in a major way and it is a very charming and delightful aspect of what I (and likely YOU) consider to be the greatest and most powerful genre of music in the world. Even more fascinating is the fact that artists of all levels -- be it bona fide stars or the very early up and comers -- can be a part of this at any point in their respective careers and some even seem to revel in it. On the absolute highest end, in Reggae circles, I think of individuals such as Norris Man who, whether you realize it or not, has had such a powerful and just fantastic career, yet you may not immediately think of him in the same way that you think of someone like a Sizzla Kalonji, Capleton or a Luciano. But if I asked you (or asked the man himself) to think of some of the other artists who came up at the same time, many of them are LOOOOOOOONG gone and had nothing to offer the world in the way of longevity for one reason or another, but it's 2016 and not only are people still singing songs like (the very fitting for the sake of this review) 'Persistence', which is well on its way to being twenty years old, but each and every year he gives us new songs and new albums to sing as well. I could well place others such as Bushman and Turbulence and Jah Mason in a similar category and others still who just really go to demonstrate how far hard work (and GREAT, MASSIVE skill as well) can take you in a genre and field such as Reggae music.

Today we have the very, VERY rare opportunity to take a look at someone else who falls into this category and in a very unique way as for the first time in… several centuries or so, the Burning Spectacular has been reignited and is on our radars in a big, big way. Spectacular is someone who has fully taken advantage of the modern age of Reggae music and I don't mean that in a technological TWITTER-ish type of way. Given just how popular the music is and how far it has spread, Spectacular has ridden that wave and has ridden it for YEARS in building a terrific fan base, following and line of producers to work with throughout the whole of Europe. And he certainly isn't alone, I think of other Jamaican artists who have taken similar steps and made similar strides and can well include the likes of names such as Jah Turban (who, I believe, actually lives in Denmark or at least did at some point), Lorenzo, Hi-Kee from a few years back and others who have found large pockets of activity and successes in feeding Roots Reggae STARVED Europe and European fans. Within that scope, I'd actually put Spectacular at the head of that pack arguably as he has aligned himself with some of the biggest outfits and movements to the point where it never seems as if he is never too far out of the spotlight and, again, whether you realize it or not, he has already managed to have a stellar career in making Reggae music around the world. 

"Find Yourself" [2005]
So let's take another step forward! Of course, if you follow his career at all THEE label with which you most closely associate Spectacular with is Irie Ites from out of Germany. Along with many Jamaican vocalists, Spectacular has become a big favourite throughout the years with the well respected imprint and, together, they have made some outstanding vibes (my personal favourite would probably be… 'Badda Than Dem', with 'Rasta' being a close second). So, at least presumably, one would have imagined that with all of the good music that vocalist and producer have made together across a span of time which stretches back to more than a decade now (just as was the case with the aforementioned Lorenzo who checked in with an album from II, "Movin' Ahead", back in 2009) . Nope. That's not the case. Initially, Spectacular made his debut on "Find Yourself", which released way back in 2005, via DHF Records which, I believe, is/was also out of Germany (the same label also did albums for Perfect Giddimani and Ward 21). In retrospect, "Find Yourself" may have been a better record than most people gave it credit for being, with the lasting tune being '50 Push Ups' ["Do fifty pushups, hundred skip yow!"], but it was a decent set for its time and, particularly how frequent Reggae albums came at the time, one would not have thought it would have taken nearly a dozen more years for a follow-up and, again, one not for Irie Ites. But that exactly has been the case as the fiery chanter now brings forth album #2, "Salvation". This set comes courtesy of Rastamusic Connection as well as Carabeo Music which're Spectacular's own labels, I believe. Hopefully, somewhere down the line there still comes an album from the veteran and Irie Ites, but until then, going through "Salvation", I'm going to find it hard to believe that established fans of Spectacular's, specifically, are not going to find a great deal to enjoy about the new release. Let me tell you about it.

Okay, if you are not amongst his "established fans… specifically", Spectacular's style, as his name might indicate is very LARGE and aggressive. There are so many of his peers that I could compare him to but not entirely. Pick any of the 'usual suspects' (two of whom feature on this album) and you'll have an idea, but you have to include the caveat that only when they come through with a more forceful style. You're not going to get love songs and Beres Hammond (biggup Beres Hammond) moments from Spectacular and, as I said, he's managed to piece together a very impressive career for himself doing precisely what he does best (actually a pretty good comparison to make, now that I think about it more, would probably be someone like UT Ras) (biggup UT Ras, new album, "Up & About", in stores now. Old album, "Tha Bitter Stretch", which was better, still in stores). Spectacular gets busy putting those harsh skills on display with his brand new album, "Salvation, with a big tune in first, 'Taking It Easy'. I THOROUGHLY enjoyed the opener for this album because I took it in a way in which Spectacular is saying for everyone not to get so stressed out over everything and that life has more than enough of its own turbulences, inherently, that you really don't need to 'help' it out by finding strains and anxieties where they don't actually exist. 

"Hey, mi si sign, but mi neva wonda
Mi hear teeth and tongue always ah plunda
Fighting who? Dem waan turn over
Tell you flash yuh lightning and you go roll yuh thunda
Mi give praises to The King, no get caught pon di banking
Every ranking always get a spanking
EVERY GENERAL MI TELL YUH GET A EARLY BURIAL -
WID A FLASHY FUNERAL
He could live good and give praises to The Most High God"

Spectacular gives it all to The Most High and doesn't worry about small things on the sterling 'Taking It Easy'. Sometimes you can't go easy on everyone which the chanter is quick to remind us on the second effort on the album, the maybe even stronger 'Handle Dem Ruff'. Out of all the songs you'll hear on "Salvation", I think this one maybe makes as fine of usage of Spectacular's aggressive style as any of them. It isn't totally over the top but it definitely does have its overwhelming moments which I think was the intent and he ultimately uses that style, in contrast to the piece which precedes it here, to make the point that you can't be nice to EVERYONE… because everyone doesn't comprehend niceness (you know a whole heap of people like that - don't you!). And I also have to mention the riddim on that one which is excellent. Things slow down a bit as the title track comes through on the album named for it and it is, essentially, the solid praising tune that you would have thought. I do like this song, however, particularly for its vibe. When it gets going to its middle portions, 'Salvation' the song is absolutely delightful, a fine choice for a title and, appropriately, one of the best songs on the album. 
Combinations are fairly expected when it comes to albums, but you know you're always quite interested in seeing exactly WHO a particular artist taps to work with on their respective project and, for "Salvation", Spectacular chose wisely in a pair of instances (Rebellion The Recaller was on "Find Yourself", amongst others). First of all check the big social commentary, 'System Dread'. Featured here is none other than Lutan Fyah who, to my knowledge, has a musical history alongside Spectacular which stretches back VERY far, when both would have been near their musical nascence -- literally, ten or fifteen years ago -- and both have continued to work together on various ventures throughout the years. I don't know how many combinations there have been (PERHAPS my personal favourite would have been 'Coming Home' from the "Justice" album courtesy of Philadub Records) (biggup Gardian and Philadub, I wonder what happened to them), but 'System Dread', which I believe is a single from this album, has to rank amongst the very best the duo have produced thus far ["Babylon yuh system dread! DEM TEK AN ARM AND AH COME FI A LEG!"]. It probably rests more likely in the realm of fantasy (given just how infrequently Spectacular does full albums), but… I don't know… if someone wanted… to maybe do an album with Spectacular and Lutan Fyah… wouldn't be the absolute worst idea anyone has ever undertaken. With that being said, however, one could rather easily make the case that Lutan Fyah alongside Spectacular is the second best combination on "Salvation" as 'Rise' is a FANTASTIC song. This one finds the Burning one joined by the legendary (have we gotten to the point where we can start calling him a 'legend'??? He'd surely decline, but I think that we're getting there) Anthony B. Everything on this one is BIG. Anthony B is big, Spectacular can't be anything else besides big and the riddim and the background singers are BIG! And that is quality which comes shining through immediately as  'Rise' begins. Lyrically, the two dazzle and throw a MAMMOTH praise to His Majesty on a beautiful drop which is not to be missed… and if they wanted to do this again, I wouldn't complain about it either. 

"So mi have to give Jah praises when mi rise up
Give thanks for another day - open my eyes up
So when dem si di Rastaman, tell dem no size up
SPECTACULAR, ANTHONY B PAGAN DEM KNOW DEM TIME UP"

All of the remaining selections on "Salvation" stand out for their own various reasons. Certainly 'Things Been Good' has to considered one of the most interesting. I don't know that, at least musically speaking, Spectacular (with his style) is someone who you would instantly think of making a romantic type of song  -- I don't think he has a "ROMANTIC" setting -- but he gives it his best shot and actually manages to impress. This isn't Cocoa Tea and, of course, he yells but it works on some level and manages to be  a very pleasant piece to listen to, which is not something I would have imagined here. 'Nah Do No Crime', on the other hand, has less 'suspense' as Spectacular, basically, says the same thing I've been saying about life for year: I'm not trying to go to jail for ANYTHING or ANYONE. I love (some of) you, but I'm not doing it, I got stuff to do (… okay maybe I don't, but I'm still not going). This tune is all about a personal responsibility that we all have to at least make an attempt at being decent examples of human beings and I love that kind of direction. It isn't pointing a finger at anyone else. Spectacular wants YOU to take accountability for YOU and your own behaviour and to simply make better decisions in life because jail isn't a nice place to have to go and stay and, as Mavado once told us, there are no women there (this song reminds me of I Wayne's 'Total Annihilation' for some reason). Check 'Jah Children', which is actually the longest song on the album. There're songs here which I like more than it, but you'll do well not to overlook this effort because it takes a bit of time to grow on you or at least it did for me. Though fairly straight forward, it has an unusual kind of 'pace' to it in my opinion and just offers a subtly different sound than just about everything else on "Salvation" (and hopefully I'm not the only one who thinks that) (… but I probably am). Finally are two tracks which are genuine standouts for this album and, surely, amongst the very best that I have ever heard from Spectacular in any capacity. The first is the impassioned and Buju Banton-esque 'They Can't Stop Me'

"They can't stop me
Cannot flop me
Yes, I'm on the rise!
I'm on the go!

They can't stop me
Cannot flop me
I'm moving fast and I ain't moving slow!

Wid dem island powder and dem dirty vial
Hey round corners, mi seh dem ah beat iron
Haile Selassie I, HIM cut and clear all science
Man out dependent so mi moving wid self-reliance
Dem and those ah worship car, dem house and dem appliance
WHAT ABOUT CARING AND SHARING?
MAKE LIFE BALANCE
Every dog have dem day, every puss have dem four o'clock
YOU NO WAAN MI RISE, BUT MI TELL YOU SEH A MY TIME FI ACT!"

BOOM! 'They Can't Stop Me' is the single best thing that I hear on the whole of "Salvation". There're moments here when everything aligns perfectly for Salvation and he thrills and it, like I mentioned in regards to 'Handle Dem Ruff', makes a nearly perfect usage of what Spectacular's style is and what he does well. BOOM AGAIN! And lastly (literally, it's the final song on the album) is the fiery 'Big or Small'. There is a point and message here of how people change over time for no real reason at all, but I have to confess that I'm taking 'Big or Small' for its vibes! It is a POWERFUL set which gives the listener not an inch of space (BECAUSE YOU DON'T DESERVE IT!) and, for me anyway, it's just the final burst of energy one would have loved on an album like this as Spectacular misses no opportunity at all to bring his own trademarked edge to the music.

I do have a standing critique of "Salvation", but I find myself mentioning it so often these days that it may just be on its way to becoming more of a sign of the times, rather than just a point on a specific album [after eleven years, you'd think he have more to say than just ten songs!!!]. So I'll stop whining about that… or will I???
Overall, I have to say that I was THRILLED to see Spectacular come with a new album. It has been so long that it isn't something that you'd look at and say that you're so thoroughly anticipating it, but as has been the case with others who have taken similar steps in recent times such as Q'Shan Deya from a few years back or even Utan Green (new album, "I & I Culture" in stores now), who have made returns with album releases after a long absence: It just makes you feel good! It was just a good idea and the thought of 'why not' jumps into mind right away! In this particular instance, it isn't as if Spectacular has been difficult to find for the last decade or so, it's been quite the opposite, but hearing him in this type of form is sure to not only turn up quite a few new fans, but also reenergize and REWARD a group who has made him quite successful. So, while we do wish it could have packed on just a few more pounds during its decade+ long gestation period and it will be a DAMN SHAME if I have to wait until 2027 for its follow-up, "Salvation" is SOLID and a fine display of the high level of skills of someone in Spectacular who, whether you always realize it or not, just keeps strolling right along. Well done.

Rated: 3.75/5
Rastamusic Connection & Carabeo Music
2016
CD [I THINK] + Digital

Review #540

Saturday, October 29, 2016

'Re-Decided': A review of "Homage To The Land" by Akae Beka

Sustain. If you ‘do' it well enough, being a fan of music, in general, can be a very rewarding experience. Besides just being able to listen to a wide variety of good music and benefiting from all of the good that it may do for you, what inevitably happens is that you begin to build these incredible moments which you not only attach to certain sounds or individuals, but to your life as well. For example, if I were to ask you to think of your favourite song, after lamenting the fact that you have to just pick one, when you eventually did, whichever it is you that choose will surely have some type of connection to your life. Be it a single moment or a specific time around when you first heard it or something which is ever evolving and you may even be able to discuss that right now as a still developing reason why it is #1 for you. Even more vivid, perhaps, would be the best concert you've ever been to, as you shared that moment with multiple you's and had this joyous occasion. When you take this view of some of your favourite artists, the link, hopefully, is defined inherently by a particular amount of evolution or at least it is for me. I can talk to you endlessly about how Soca music so wonderfully helps me connect to my children (I'm a very, very old thirty-five years old, but if you put on the right song at the moment (currently that tune is ‘Godzilla' by Skinny Fabulous) I will drop everything instantly and jump and lose it like a teenager and do so happily!) and how I envision being in my seventies with a pair of busted hips and repaired knees, still trying to jump up and wave with my grandchildren and I look forward to it! Similarly, I attach the prime years of Sizzla Kalonji to a point in my life, my young adulthood, where I desperately needed to make some changes and how much it helped me to get through those times. That lingers to this day where, with or without expectations, high or low, there remains a faint glow surrounding anything Sizzla does to my ears because I know where the ceiling is and how powerfully elevated it can be. And there're others such as Beres Hammond where my tastes finally began to cross those of my Wife's (so brilliantly extended by whom??? We call her Lugo. Sara Lugo) and even people like Turbulence whose career, in my mind, has been one of the most interesting, for better or for worse, of the modern era of Reggae music. With that being said, however, I think that when it comes to music making links in life, outside of Sizzla Kalonji, for me, that next great step comes when I learned that… yeah, I was getting older and in doing so, I realized I had suddenly become capable of tip-toeing, gingerly, through the musical kingdom known as Midnite.

…because it didn't use to sound like this. When I was younger, I heard skeletons. I heard obscure. I heard confusion. I heard no melody or harmony. I saw strangely intentionally misspelled song titles and wondered why (I still those, biggup 'Daughtaz & Sunz', but I just don't care anymore) and I saw a whole heap of curiously attached fans who were clearly very, VERY far ahead of me at the time and had limitless passion for something I didn't even comprehend. Unfortunately I also saw a few albums come and go that I had picked up and passed on to others for lack of quality (could have saved some money in buying some of them for the second time later). But I just didn't get it. I didn't hear what they did. 
"In Awe" [2012] & "Be Strong" [2013]
However, it is years later and OBVIOUSLY things have changed as I actually did pause for a second or two when I learned what had become of my suddenly precious 'Midnite'. It was only a "second or two"  because I had a feeling that not much was going to change. Last year, after spending the last few years crawling into my head to the point where 'their' music had become a part of daily and sometimes hourly routine, the Virgin Islands powerhouse had re-identified 'themselves' as AKAE BEKA. In retrospect, it actually seems as if many of their fans had a similar reaction as I did. I was curious but ultimately I was convinced that as long as THE principal had remained, that not much would change. Of course I'm referring to Vaughn Benjamin whose name had virtually blended into the Midnite. Anytime you saw 'featuring Midnite' behind a title, you knew what to expect and it was a guest spot from Benjamin. Because of that, to this day, I don't think that I've ever felt compelled to take in the entire story regarding the change (though I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the permanent change of members in the full band). My entire mindset as that fan looking for something to hold on to was something along the lines of, 'okay, it's Akae Beka… can I please have a new album from Midn… Akae Beka?'. Yes, yes you can. And who became the first label to deliver such a set? It actually was not one of the Zion I Kings (that would come second) (and third) but instead it was the also entirely dependable US based Fifth Son Records, with whom Vaughn Benjamin had already produced absolute genuine magic. Those miraculous moments came wrapped up in several albums with perhaps the most noted being the double set, "Standing Ground" from way back in 2008 ["He ever was so, Jah know, He ever was so"] [BOOM!], but more recently a pair of fantastic releases from Midnite and FSR, "Be Strong" ["Children running for nothing but the joy of creation. Ambivalent to everything but dem youth and strong"] in 2013 and definitely "In Awe" from the year prior (there was also the very solid "Momentum" and "Standing Ground" was re-released in a Dubbed out form). Those two albums, in particular, though they may have gone overlooked by many fans, have become favourites of mine and I could well make the case that "In Awe" is one of the finest sets ever featuring the work of Vaughn Benjamin. So, perhaps you'll forgive me for not having the largest reaction to the latest piece of work in this union, "Homage To The Land", as this landmark, first album from Akae Beka, but instead having the same amount of anticipation and FIRE for a the latest from a functioning artist/producer combination which has done nothing but impress and impress in recent years. There was no great musical shift and I've still yet to hear one (and will be completely surprised if ever I do) (can you imagine if Vaughn Benjamin turned… Mad Cobra one day and just started aiming at everything that moved). Instead there was more of the same mastery which had welcomed me into the next stage of my life. Let's take a listen.

In contrast to the ZIK releases and those from I Grade Records in particular (although given their first effort, I suppose I need not make that distinction anymore with Zion High Productions soaring), the Midnite albums coming from Fifth Son Records are typified by a darker and more subtle sound. The results of that approach, to my ears tend to be sets which require more time to grow and would seemingly be less immediately gratifying, especially to newer fans, but hold and infinite amount of power just the same. I've recently been digging into the "Be Strong" heavily, with tracks such as 'Bless The Nest', 'Dem Kinda Heights' and especially 'Dandy Lion' having taken off even greater. In a year or two from now I'll likely be saying the same thing reference to several tracks from the most recent drop from the newly minted Akae Beka and Fifth Son Records, "Homage To The Land", from last year (and some of them are currently at the beginning of that stage which makes this a fun review to write now). And maybe one of them will be 'All We Be' which gets the album started.

"Sounds like the uniqueness of the terrain
The land and the blood in the veins
The people took the character and the character took the demeanour
Of the soil and the survivours sustained
And Rastafari reigned"

If you've really listened to this track -- I mean REALLY listened to it, you already know what a bona fide GEM it was. It was an absolutely scorching composition which did its own form of rising throughout its four minutes. A slow and almost delicate sound becomes this horn-heavy dynamic symphony which well compliments the vocals. Speaking of those vocals, Vaughn Benjamin shines as expected. 'All We Be' is about living up to a standard, or at least attempting to, set by His Majesty and doing your best in life (being 'all you can be'). I really like how he doesn't personalize the message WHOLLY and instead he makes the leap that it isn't only about you 'doing you', but it's also about how you treat others and have relationships with them as well because it isn't you alone walking the planet. Next up was 'Promises' which goes even further into interpersonal associations with others. My opinion of this song has been that it is a word of caution from Benjamin as he vividly paints pictures of two different types of individuals and groups of people - one of which is entirely worthy of trust and the other… not so much. Of course, he goes into great detail regarding both and even seems to finely show where they split ["It have to do with paths chosen and good choices"]. There's also a fantastically simple musical display behind that one which is well afforded its own time in the spotlight throughout. The third song on "Homage To The Land", the skyscraping 'Just Decided', is its best and DEFINITELY one of the best from Vaughn Benjamin that I have EVER heard.

"The Emperor - Haile Selassie I
I hail and acknowledge right -
The people who bear - the ignorance, scorn and the unfair pride
For the herbs life and disappear
THE LAWMAKERS IN THE EARTH BEGIN TO SEE THE LIGHT
The verdict come and destigmatize
PERSPECTIVES WILL HAVE TO REALIGN
ALL POINT OF VIEWS WILL HAVE TO REALIZE -
That many cities have just decided -
To let ganja contribute to the standard of life
HEALTH AND ECONOMICS DECIDED 
Psychology came following and finding light
Many cities have just decided - to regulate and moderate within state lines
Benefit the treasury in municipal eyes
Seeking truth and spirit and balance in time

You have seen many heroes in the villainous light
Seen many villains in the heroes' light
Set things in order as is 'good and right'
Realize who really paid the price
Prosecution say "Your honour, this ain't right" 
FORGET THE MISCALCULATION, LET'S ALL REJOICE"

Call it a 'ganja tune' (because that's exactly what it is), but it is more of a victory lap as Benjamin begins to celebrate the changing culture of and attitude towards marijuana throughout the world. Not only that but he also appears to bring in an 'all is forgiven' attitude if things are to continue to improve, which is remarkable! It is a piece which well has a HAPPY vibes surrounding it which is a rare qualifier to throw at a tune from Vaughn Benjamin, but you can literally hear him having a great time recording it. And speaking of that, I simply HAVE TO mention a stretch of perfection in this song which is about ten or twelve seconds beginning at ~2:35 in. It is SPECTACULAR. 'Just Decided' was MAMMOTH and has become the calling card and main attraction from "Homage To The Land" in my mind. And there was more such as 'Call Out To Jah' and 'Psalm' which immediately follow that giant. The social commentary former is, rather easily, one of the best songs on this album as well. Here, Benjamin deals with the confusion of the social state in the world today and does so from an all-encompassing perspective. Allow me to get ridiculous for a second here: Like I mentioned about the stretch in 'Just Decided', there is a lyrical blip from 'Call Out To Jah' which I found not only SO potent here, but also emblematic of how my own point of view of this music has changed - and it also so very simple:

"When just the joy of a child makes the day right
No one knows tomorrow clientele - wise
Who will be in need of what service, I -
Consult in HIM, Rastafari"

Such a run would have just confused me years ago and now it jumps up as such a skillful moment and you can listen to virtually any of this man's work and, while you may not LOVE everything you hear, you'll find flashes like this everywhere and I hope we all (or as many of us as possible) can appreciate that. And I have to give a musical credit here also as the riddim for 'Call Out To Jah' plays, essentially without vocals for most of the final ninety seconds of the song which is an excellent touch. For its part, 'Psalm' has a very interesting sound in both music and the kind of 'fainting' vocals utilized. Take just a superficial listen to the track and you'll hear a mountain being constructed. There is something being built there and it all comes together by songs' end. I love the free-flowing spirit behind a drop like this and given the amount of 'space' that it covers, it fits snugly and biggup the horn player here and throughout this homage.

The nearly six-minutes long title track from "Homage To The Land" comes through almost as a musical mini-film. This thing has scenes and moods and action sequences and everything that you would need for a most visual experience of sound, if such a thing is possible (and it is). During the first half or so, Vaughn Benjamin tells us to give credit to those who came before us. It doesn't matter who they were in your particular case (though he will tell you), but you have to pay them the homage they deserve for setting the foundation for you. And it is the ACT of paying that respect which you brings us closer to who we are to be in this world. Later on in the composition, Benjamin basically becomes the riddim! We hear from him here and there, but this GOLDEN creation of sound which backs him takes a most appropriate and deserved center-stage and it THRILLS for nearly two and a half minutes. And this isn't the type of sound I would expect to hear on an IGR release, it is uniquely a Fifth Son Records reverberation. It's bouncy but still kind of dark and unpredictable and, every few seconds or so, some new element is introduced. AMAZING! As is his habit from time to time, 'Right Away' is a quick homage of a different kind as Akae Beka makes a stereotypically multi-faceted praise to music. I've wondered if the title might not be better printed as 'Write Away' given the fact that I'm sure I cannot possibly be the only one wondering exactly how this man writes music like this and does so ENDLESSLY. It is a very nice song, centered around this music and the nice effects it can have on those fortunate enough to receive it. Check the beautifully unifying theme of 'World Citizenship' which sets out to bring us all a bit closer through the influence of His Majesty.

"No matter what dem nationality -
If dem see, see in evidentiality -
What world citizenship means
And international morality
RASTAFARI FORM SINGULAR PLURALITY -
Means each bearing fruits of Rastafari livity
The people I-nite around I Majesty peace and His throne
They see that inna HIM, is solutions a road, abroad"

For me this was a call to stop looking for things to separate one another and to really just focus on how surprisingly similar we all may be. Such a tune does a great job in complimenting the track which follows it, 'To Live', which, in its own way, serves a similar purpose. Here, the artist gives credit to and observes everything everyone does 'to get by' and 'to live' ["Make sure seh that the vendors have a niche and the people feel well-adjusted"]. Most interesting about this one is how Benjamin addresses it using exclusively the feminine pronouns. It is a very subtle touch but one which actually places extra life in the sound in my opinion. For me… say whatever you like, but things regarding PEOPLE and FAMILY just make more sense and carry more weight when they come via the Woman (things such as common sense). Finally, (yep, that's it) (more on that in a minute) closing out "Homage To The Land" is the downright ROYALLY vibed 'Cone' which I hold as one of its signature moments. Listen to 'Cone' with one ear, pay it very little attention and even in doing just that, you can tell that something very momentous is occurring. It has such compelling and gripping sound to it, that you can feel something special going on and the moment is not exhausted by the vocals. Those vocals come in with an ultra-focused and flaring sound (it almost reminds you, if you remember him, of Jah Rubal) (biggup Jah Rubal) (had an album years ago called "Fire Chariot", probably isn't too difficult find still) and, in my head they essentially pick up where our title track stopped. This is a tune about being respectful and mindful of things that happened in the world (and are still happening) before WE got here. It is giving credit to just how far we have come, as a species, over the years and just how necessary it is for You and for I to continue to make a similar level of progression. It is one of our greatest responsibilities as living and functioning human beings. Here, it sounds as powerful as ever and was utilized as a lovely bow on an awesome ["I hold His Majesty in awe"] ["In awe"] ["In awe"] gift of an album.

I do want to mention that, like its two most immediate predecessors from Fifth Son Records, there're only ten selections in full on "Homage To The Land". That isn't a lot and in the age of never-ending Reggae EP's, it is a number which, on paper, fits in more like such. HOWEVER, this album, like "Be Strong" and "In Awe" is no damn EP (not that I have a problem with EP's. Biggup Ziggi). Only one tune, 'To Live' is less than four minutes long (and only by a few seconds) and everything here is STOCKED with a clear attention paid to detail and, subsequently, it all combines for a most memorable set. 

Overall, while I attempted to stress this point somewhat consistently here (I probably didn't do a very good job of it), I'll do it once more: MUSICALLY, this album is excellent. Again, it won't register in the same immediately digestible way as some of the other Akae Beka/Midnite releases, but even that is a bit of a 'mark'. It so completely fills the cast of albums coming from Fifth Son Records with that SOUND. The interesting bit is here: As you listen more and more to those albums, not only do they begin to explode lyrically because they are Vaughn Benjamin albums, but they also do so musically and the results are ever evolving and potentially ever expanding musical experiences. "Homage To The Land" also ranks quite well with its predecessors in terms of its quality. This is a very strong release and one which has only an upside and I can speak from experience. We didn't review this one immediately from last year (because I took a year) (biggup being nasty and sick) (or don't) and I well hold it in (awe) higher esteem now than I did a year ago. So while it may be best remembered by most as THE FIRST OFFICIAL AKAE BEKA ALBUM [!], "Homage To The Land" was more of the same brilliance that fans have come to expect from the outfit over the years - under any name. 

Rated: 4.45/5
Fifth Son Records
2015
CD + Digital

Review #539

{Note: I didn't forget, it was coming}

Friday, October 28, 2016

'Identification': A review of "Livicated" by Akae Beka

Levels. When it comes to listening to music, a 'gift' of sorts that reviewing so much of it has given me over the years is the seemingly unyielding desire to qualify and quantify it in some way. I rarely ever hear anything without somewhat immediately casting it in some type of category in regards to exactly how much I enjoy it at the time. It almost gives me some kind of reference point should I need to go back to it and, even if I am wrong and change my mind (which does tend to happen, although less and less as I get older) at some point in the future, calling it something, whatever it may be, has given me a platform and a foundation to examine that shift - which is always very fascinating (more on that later) (…if I write this correctly) (…and I might not) (…and if I didn't I probably took this part out). And if you read my material to any degree you are certainly familiar with the fine dust and powder that I attempt to grind things down to, so if I am really tuned into something I can go on and on about how I LOVED a certain tune, besides the second verse or the intro or something obscure like that and because I am a giant nerd, I find experiences such as that to be infinitely exciting. Obviously at the head of something like that is when you find an artist, or an album, or a song, or a verse, or a performance which registers with you as something which you hold in the absolute highest esteem for one reason or another. It becomes a favourite of yours and, though it may sound strange, you essentially fall in love and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing. So with that being said, I can fully declare myself to be in a musical love with the work of Vaughn Benjamin/Akae Beka/Midnite - another gift given to me likely primarily by aging. In the context of what I am writing about today, Benjamin's work is basically flawless. Because of the way in which I receive his music, he always gives me something which rates highly and, as I have said in the past, it is the journey to comprehension. I LOVE to listen to his music and, whether I find myself initially amazed by what I hear is of less importance than for most others because I know that when I begin to take a deeper listen, I may hear something totally different. The result of that, because of his prolificacy, is this winding memory I have of songs and full albums in some cases (one in particular recently) which're either fully fantastic or have enough lyrical 'flares' of brilliance that they stand out, in sections, as just as strong. And, like I said, sometimes those sections begin to merge and what happens is that my "desire to qualify and quantify" gets a rewind of a significant degree and I reach this moment of wondering "… wait, was it THIS good all of the time?!!".

"Beauty For Ashes" [2014]
The prevailing allusion here is to an album which may just be my favourite album Vaughn Benjamin has ever done and is one which went through this same process, 2014's pretty much perfect "Beauty For Ashes". I don't know if I've ever heard an album so lyrically PROFICIENT. It sits at the same table as "Black Woman & Child" and maybe one or two others (that would be a fun list to do at some point). It was without worded flaw and it took me months to see it and I'm still working on it and likely will be, in some way, for the rest of my life. Now, "Beauty For Ashes" was one side of that phenomenon where something just continued to pick up steam and pick up steam to the point where it has risen so highly that I have to say that I've changed my mind on it so thoroughly - having gone from 'good' or 'very good' to some type of 'great'. What we have today, on the other hand, is something which I'd be absolutely shocked to see go through a similar process because it simply doesn't have the same 'starting line'… at least I don't think it does. 

It just so happens that helming the mighty "Beauty For Ashes" set was I Grade Records along with the Zion I Kings. If I've fallen in love with the music of Akae Beka, I've managed to do so on an even higher scale when it comes channeled through the ZIK. Their albums tend to be able to consistently locate and identify this wonderful groove where Benjamin's towering WORD is presented with a just as powerful and attractive melody. They're also very well presented, in general and it is always clear that someone has taken their time to ensure that the work is received by fans as best as it possibly can be. THANKS! The same could be said for both Midnite/Akae Beka sets since "Beauty For Ashes", 2014's instant chaser "Ride Tru" and "Portals" from earlier this year - AND now the all kinds of curious "Livicated". Unlike both "Ride Tru" and "Portals", "Livicated" comes to us via the 'Z' of the ZIK, Zion High Productions. I was actually surprised to read on the release that this album was the debut of Akae Beka/Midnite on ZHP. It seems like something that would have happened throughout the years at some point before 2016. There have been a steady stream of releases through IGR and even a pair for 'K', the Lustre Kings Productions (biggup LKP), "Infinite Quality" and its dubbed out counterpart, but "Livicated" marks the very first union of Akae Beka and Zion High Productions. It, of course, isn't the very first piece of work AT ALL yielded by the pair as Vaughn Benjamin has appeared on previous ZHP official releases. Most recently was just a few months ago as 'Described Peculiar' (which is peculiarly absent from this album) appeared on the Marketplace Riddim (which you already own), there was also 'This World Happened' from the Jah Warriah Riddim in 2014 and Benjamin also blessed the wonderful "Therapeutic" from Ziggi Recado (also known as Ivan The Terrible these days) that same year. And, again, having been prevalent and ultra-present in the run of the Zion I Kings, it seems like this had already happened, but surely has come in its proper time when you listen to the full album. I also feel inclined to mention that, over the past few years, whether you've realized it or not (and if you're reading this far into a review (which technically hasn't even begun yet -- that's the next paragraph -- ) you probably have) Zion High Productions has been on a TEAR in recent years. Works like "Livicated" and "Therapeutic" and the riddim albums and others coming from the likes of General Jah Mikey, Glen Washington ["Let your blessings fall on me"] [WHAT!} [BOOM!], Cornel Campbell, Mr. Lloyd Brown and who knows what I am forgetting -- I DO! -- "Jah Golden Throne"! All of that, for me, stands out as one of the most reliable outfits in the entire genre and, even on paper, combining that with Akae Beka is potentially special. So therefore, perhaps it shouldn't be very surprising to me at all that when I dug into "Livicated", I walked away with one dominant question, "is this album really THIS good?"

Yeah. Yeah I think it might be. First of all (all of that I've just written and I'm saying stuff like "first of all"} [HUH?!], I absolutely must mention what is going on with this album musically. There is something truly special going on with the sonics of "Livicated". It sounds fantastic from beginning to end and a major credited goes to the players of instruments who helped make it so (which includes, if I read correctly, Yami Bolo, who has clearly stuck around ZHP and I'm still hoping that someday artist and label can come back together and provide the world with a follow-up to their dominant "Rebelution" set, one of my personal favourite albums of all time). Strictly in that regards, it is certainly one of the finest Akae Beka/Midnite albums to date in my opinion and that is the case even before we get to the worded-work of Vaughn Benjamin. That work begins on the new album from Akae Beka, "Livicated", through the apparently already very well received 'Firmness'. The best way for me to describe the opener here is to call it COMPELLING. There is so much going on here in terms of the mood of the song -- where we have this seemingly ultra-focused and tuned in Benjamin -- across this SWEET composition. The result is a lyrical tirade which borders at times on the levels of infamous SCORCHERS such as 'The Gad' and 'Sha-Tee' in my opinion. What I ultimately take from 'Firmness' is that it is a composition regarding the indomitable will of [some] men and everything that we have been through, collectively, and the FORCE which has enabled us to remain so durable. This song, again, is aided in being so damn convincing because of its vibes - it literally stands up and glows on an album which eventually shows that it shines brightly in any way you look at it. We can also say the same of the second track on the album, the all kinds of curious 'Usward'. This one was SO much fun to work through from the direction of attempting to get to its meaning. Where I am with it now is that Benjamin is saying how important it is for us to do things and to live lives which are favourable and appeasing to His Majesty. He goes on to outline how easy and commonplace it is for us to be able to lose this route ["They saw confusion reign. Incomprehension, rule and shame. They saw anger, pride - and flame"] and, by extension, he also deals with the relationship between The Almighty and man. It is a fascinating tune and I'll be very interested to see how the masses react to it. ALSO, be very observant here of the music, which BEAUTIFULLY continues more than half a minute after the song's final lyrics (and biggup a Andrew "Drew Keys" Stoch for a scintillating horn there, if I read correctly) (…and I usually don't) (but big him up anyway because he HAS done a great deal of work throughout "Livicated"). Rounding out the first quarter of the album is another of its definitive highlights to my ears, 'Discreet'. Despite being the shortest offering you'll find here by nearly a minute, 'Discreet' is definitely a FULL musical experience.

"The Little Bo Peep -
Has kept her sheep
And she knows where to find them
AND SHE KNOWS LOVE WILL BIND THEM"

To my (surely incorrect) ears, this is a tune about enlistment and positivity. I can say that about songs from just about any artist and you can, essentially, fill in the lyrics (even if the song is really good), but when you place such a moment in the hands of Vaughn Benjamin, what you end up with is a composition which flows in so many different powerful and colourful directions, that is certain to draw so many different listeners in each one of them. And though you'll get tired of me saying if you aren't already (get over it) (or don't, I don't care, it's not like I'm going to stop doing it) the music on 'Discreet' is exquisite!

The effort "Livicated" is named after is another one which has delightfully occupied quite a bit of my time in listening to this album. First of all is the music (I told you I didn't care) (AT ALL!): The merging of vocals and riddim here works surprisingly well and not just because of what is being said. It actually has a good pacing and melody to it which aren't things that normally jump out at me when it comes to the music of Vaughn Benjamin, who may be LESS dependent on actual music than any musician I've ever heard in my entire life: He pretty much just does whatever he wants. As for what he does actually say on the piece, 'Livicated' is a glorious tribute to His Majesty. I would think that the idea would be to hold the entire album as such a tribute and Benjamin does, subsequently, go on to identify his music, in the broad sense, as being just that: He makes music to glorify The Most High - but you didn't need me to tell you that. And then there's the BOOM! 

"Something to walk with inna di new generation
To help stay aware our focus needs to be strong
Haile Selassie I, The Conquering Lion 
Make the prophecy come to realization"

The finest piece of music I've found on this album was and remains the simply MASSIVE 'Daughtaz & Sunz' which, to my opinion, is a call of unity and to unify followers of Rastafari throughout the world ["Out of every nationality they come. Every foreign language, every denomination. Every background, creed, every occupation"] and just how important he feels it is that all stands up and are present and accounted for. 

"All who have and who no have no transportation
Friends moving together and inna caravan
Who inna sports car, who inna minivan
Some look well sci-fi wid dem innovation
Haile Selassie, The Conquering Lion
The wholly precious anointed the Christ-head one

Got the devil on the run and umm
Got the Satan on the run and umm"

Furthermore (and again), Benjamin goes on to make the connection that this is pleasing to The Almighty ["Treasured by The Lord is daughters and sons"]. The vibes on this one are just so powerfully SIMPLE that it is infectious as well. There's nothing which is going to leap out at listeners here, alone, but when you put everything together and pack it in front of a riddim which is a serene piece of brilliance, what you have is likely one of the best Akae Beka/Midnite songs that I have ever heard. I should also mention that this musical bit of candy also extends pass the final spoken words on the tune and down that stretch, which represents the album's longest track, it dazzles and is not to be missed (there is an ever-present sound on this riddim, I don't know what instrument makes it, maybe a guitar, but it is SOOOOOOOOOO NICE to hear!). You'll also be making a giant mistake should you not keep an eye and an ear on the next selection on "Livicated", 'Loose The Gates'. This golden drop takes a technological view of the world and isn't entirely dissimilar from routes traveled by Akae Beka in the past (most memorably would probably be 'All I's On You' from the aforementioned "Beauty For Ashes" set). I don't come away from ideas like this one thinking that it is the intent or attempt of Vaughn Benjamin to entirely eschew or usurp technology and the furthering of technology as a whole, but I think what he is saying is that it is VERY easy to lose oneself down that road and that there're many negative aspects of technology, and those commanding it, continuing to grow its seemingly never ending reach. Ultimately I think he speaks of caution and to be careful on yet another standout on this project. 

While the second half of "Livicated" may well offer a slightly more diverse and 'curious' sound than its first, it instantly proves itself to be on the same level and, perhaps at times, even higher. A nice example would be the lullaby-like 'Lifetime'. I don't know this for sure, I have no inside information (and I'm probably wrong anyway) but, as a father of two, my ears have identified this song as one inspired by the blessing of having children. Maybe it is just for me, but Benjamin appears to deal with the JOY and the proverbial ups and downs of parenthood and how it is the most imperfect of all world practices and the grandest of responsibility at the same time. It is a lovely sound as well and I have to give a credit to Jah Bless (who also had an album through Zion High Productions in recent times, the very impressive "Redemption") (I knew I forgot someone) who plays a very subtle and infrequent yet STUNNING trombone on this song. If you listen for it, you'll notice that it comes in at precisely the perfect moment and adds so much to things, again, at least for me. The biblical 'Have Heard' is another tune giving praises to His Imperial Majesty and is probably about as straightforward as you'll get on the whole of "Livicated" as, essentially, the chanter gives a giant THANK YOU to HIM on behalf of himself and all of mankind. This is actually just as much a showcase of the actual music as it is for the work of Vaughn Benjamin. Compared to… pretty much everything else he does, 'Have Heard' is very airy and light and because of that not only are we particularly treated to the artist's typical genius, but the work of his fellow masterminds on the instruments who stand up with one of the most powerful compositions on the album. Because of that, it actually goes quite well with the song which comes in next, 'Faith'. I have had SO MUCH fun with 'Faith' and will continue to do so long after this review. By his standards, 'Faith' is another kind of 'open' tune from Benjamin, but this is one is… completely saturated in… something very, very special for me. TEARS! And, somewhat in retrospect, I don't know its equal. This is an artist who clearly makes his way with words, when he gets to the point when he can kind of back off of that aspect and STILL have a similar impact -- what happens there? Like I said, I'm still working on 'Faith' and I expect to be doing so for quite some time, but where it stands now represents, potentially, the greatest form of growth on the "Livicated" album, as it may go from being a great song into being a possible all-time personal classic for me. 

Winding down, "Livicated" continues to churn out legitimate winners beginning with 'Handle Sumptin', where Benjamin begins to wonder if you have your priorities in order.

"Some of the costliest things -
It was not tangible, it's how you handle something
For what they can do
For all they can work"

There is yet another precious gem of a SMOOTH track supporting 'Handle Sumptin' and it clearly is not wasted in this moment as listeners are treated to a lyrical experience which, in full, rivals anything you'll find on this release. And, I should also say, that like the pair of tunes preceding it (and 'Daughtaz & Sunz') and, this one comes off effortlessly! A beautiful song! The emotional 'Eyelidz' is another one I had a great deal of fun with for several reasons - not the least of which is just how normal and relatable it is. If you live long enough and do it well enough, you'll encounter some difficult times that you must go through and things which're sure to have a significant impact on you, this a song about those things and how you react to them. Secondly, the mood of what is going on here, lyrically, melds so harmoniously with the music on the song, so what we get is this instance, so late on in the album and definitely not for the first time, where I'm still wondering if I just heard one of the best recent compositions from Akae Beka. 'Eyelidz' is magical. "Livicated" reaches its end with what has to be regarded as its changeup, 'Over Antichrist', a song I was well looking forward to hearing as soon as we saw the tracklist. What is different here is that should you go through most of the selections on this project, even some of the more enthused ones such as 'Firmness', the sound is very easy and immediately digestible, even in during complicated moments where you get these glowing combinations of smaller sounds. 'Over Antichrist' changes that with its large (by comparison) sound and dramatic piano (again, biggup Andrew Stoch) and it is a very welcomed and admirable change of pacing in my opinion. As you might expect, for his part Vaughn Benjamin produces a biblical master class, which is something he has been doing in different ways throughout his entire sterling career and this is probably one of the better pieces of its kind in that regard. And I'll also say that 'Over Antichrist', despite its immediacy, is still the type which requires a bit of time to grow, at least it did for me, but maybe I'm just not that bright. 

Overall, while you can question my own mental luster, I'm having a really difficult time doing it in reference to this set. When it comes to individual artists, I'd like to think that I judge them fairly, but do so in a category which is uniquely their own, which is obviously the case when it comes to artists I'm  more familiar with. I say that to say: AFTER WRITING THREE OR FOUR DOZEN OF THESE THINGS, I THINK I MIGHT KNOW A GOOD AKAE BEKA/MIDNITE ALBUM WHEN I HEAR IT. Whether or not "Livicated" is any 'good' is not up for question, but I am thinking that it may be several levels ahead of that - right now. What's missing? I don't know. The argument could be made (and I'm going to make it right now), that it ranks, rather easily, as one of the best sounding albums from that vault. As I've said several times, a major credit goes to Zion High Productions, the Zion I Kings, all players of instruments and company because the music here is sensational throughout. I also want to mention that, despite featuring twelve selections (which is a pretty good number these days), "Livicated" is FULL. During nearly an hour's worth of music, it seems as if someone was of the same opinion as I am and made a point to allow the music the opportunity to shine as well as the vocal artist and after recently having albums which seemed to come and go too quickly for my tastes, that is not an issue here at all. Lyrically, the album also glows with the central theme rotating (as it always does) around His Imperial Majesty. Specifically, however, in this case many of the songs tend to deal with issues which are within the behaviour of people and how our actions and feelings can bring us closer to HIM. So, as I continue to attempt to qualify and quantify "Livicated", the latest from Akae Beka, I have to say that if there is something truly wrong with this album after more than 3800 words, I'm having a really hard time finding it. Excellent.

Rated: 4.80/5
Zion High Productions
2016
CD + Digital

Review #538

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Soul-full. Passion-full': A review of "Soul Rasta" by Fantan Mojah

To change. Everyone needs something to differentiate themselves from everyone else. Diversity is definitely one of the most wonderful aspects of the world and is exhibited in virtually every single facet of life and, when it comes to music and other forms of entertainment it becomes most apparent. No one wants to see hear the same song every time (no matter how much you may enjoy 'Jah Reveal It' by Ras Army) (VERY MUCH), in the same way that no one wants to see the same film or watch the same game or… do whatever else you like to do. You want some variety! For myself, I can lift up and look through a list of my favourite artists, current and past, and get certain things from all of them which satisfies particular parts of my personality. If I'm trying to relax, for instance, I'm probably not trying to hear Mad Cobra absolutely destroy EVERYTHING he can get his hands on and probably a few things that he can't. But if I'm looking to blow off some steam and frustration, the world's angriest serpent might be the first name on my mind. Similarly, if I'm lost in thought and would like to remain there, there's an essentially endless line of Vaughn Benjamin/Midnite/Akae Beka tunes for the occasion. And when I don't feel like kick-starting the brain, I can lose what remains of my mind with Fay-Ann Lyons and Skinny Fabulous and behave as poorly as I want and there's nothing wrong with that. They're all examples of favourites of mine (and yours) who have risen to the point of not only involving themselves in my DAILY existence, but have also done so in a way which is unique to them. Furthermore, these artists have managed to distinguish themselves, not only from one another, but from even more closely related peers and done so in genres of music which don't necessarily have the reputation, amongst more casual observers, as being pillars of musical multiplicity. But every time you turn up a Soca tune, it isn't only a "jump and wave" and every time you start Roots Reggae, it isn't just "praise Jah", there's a scope and certain people make discovering that range SO MUCH fun. Today we take a looooooooooong awaited and overdue next look at such an individual who, by virtue of a searing quality of his own, has managed to grow himself into such a respected name of his era and in 2016 he returns with a big new project for the masses. 
Fantan Mojah
Where Vaughn Benjamin has his legendary lyrics and the inimitable kind of deadpan delivery of his genius and where Jah Cure has what is seemingly the greatest voice ever squeezed into a human being, Fantan Mojah has PASSION. He probably has more of it than what he needs to get through his daily life and could probably lend trucks full of it to You and I and be just fine. But he has made a mighty career out of practically perfecting the usage of his zeal musically and grown a very nice audience as well -- if you've ever been fortunate enough to see him perform, you can even FEEL it. It has, however, been quite a while from the last time that the strongest branch of the Macka Tree has put this on display in an album form, but he's set things right on that front in early 2016. You'll recall it was now a disturbingly long ELEVEN years ago that he blessed us with his debut album, the monstrous "Hail The King". That album featured the all-conquering title song as well as fantastic others such as 'Corruption', 'Search', 'Thanks & Praise', 'Nuh Build Great Man' alongside the previously mentioned Jah Cure and others still (like 'Authentic Love' with Mr. Flash [BOOM!]) (that album had FIRST BORN on it!) (biggup First Born). That release detailed many of the tracks on which Mojah rode to prominence initially and, in retrospect, can probably be looked upon as a bit of a borderline classic. It was one of the best debut albums of the modern era. Three years later, 2008, he followed up on "Hail The King" with "Stronger" and you could make the case (though I'd disagree with you), that the album was exactly what its title suggested. There, you'd find standouts such as the title track, 'Tell Lie Pon Rasta' ["CONSPIRACY!"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!], 'No Ordinary Herb' and 'Most High Jah' - probably my favourite Fantan Mojah song ever. Both of those albums came via Greensleeves Records (when the label made a WONDERFUL turn from releasing virtually nothing but riddim albums and added some Fantan Mojah, Natural Black, Nasio Fontaine, Lutan Fyah and even Ras Shiloh to its constant rotation of… nothing else but Sizzla Kalonji) which isn't what it was back then, having been inhaled by VP Records, but FINALLY, Fantan Mojah has managed to deliver a severely overdue, third album, "Soul Rasta"

"Hail The King" [2005] & "Stronger" [2008]
The new set comes via Young Veterans and Warriors Musick Productions and is brought to actuality by (GUESS!) the amazingly inescapable wizards at Zojak Worldwide. We've also seen Mojah's own Mojah Music credited here as well but all of that is technical stuff you don't (and probably shouldn't) care about very much - because it's a new Fantan Mojah album! Based on the title of the album (more on that in just a second) and a few other things, I would even think that not only is it overdue from a common sense point of view but maybe something happened more recently than the last eight years to delay "Soul Rasta"  in coming to fruition. Thankfully, however, it was apparently obvious to all who had the power to make it happen that album #3 from Fantan Mojah was a necessity and, as they say, it is 'better late than never' (I've also heard 'it's greater later'). The most fittingly titled "Soul Rasta" album does continue to show what was done throughout not only both of its predecessors but the myriad of dependably tough singles Mojah has done over the course of the last decade or so as well and, despite its brevity, proves to be another thriller. Let's discuss it!

'Rasta Got Soul'

When it comes to the actual music, Fantan Mojah's aforementioned passion is shown in a tremendously captivating and often addictive style. The best compliment I can most likely give to him is to say that, when he makes his songs, Mojah gets the absolute most out of them that he possibly can. I won't name names (I don't need to), but certain artists (most of them, actually) have moments which aren't their best and that's forgivable (you don't do the best at your job everyday either). With Mojah, however, even if you don't like every song, you come away thinking that he has pulled it together and given it everything that he possibly can - it is 100% full effort all of the time. It is a quality which has made its way to "Soul Rasta", the third studio album release from Fantan Mojah which gets us moving with the recognizable 'Never Give Up'. This tune came from a few years back and it shares its origins, Warriors Musick Productions, with more songs from the album. As its title would suggest the opener for this album is all about perseverance and maintaining oneself through the challenging times of life. This piece, in particular, has a subtly INFECTIOUS vibe about it. Underpinned by WM's solid Fresh Medz Riddim, Mojah makes the most of the moment (DUH!) and not only blesses this album with a genuine highlight, but probably also gave the riddim its single finest drop as well, in retrospect (Jah Penco also had a really nice song on the Fresh Medz). Things go even higher with the next one up, 'Jah Give Us Life' which, WONDERFULLY, is exactly what you think it is as Fantan Mojah invokes the Wailing Souls' classic for a splendid remake. I guess I'm feeling nostalgic because this is THE best moment on "Soul Rasta" to my opinion -- an absolutely indomitable song and I probably couldn't think of anyone to better handle such an update. 'Roots & Culture', Mojah's well traveled cut of the Herb Family Riddim courtesy of More Life Productions. This song is a very nice and durable one (what I mean is that, in the way that it is done, it is kind of difficult to shake. It didn't turn into some giant hit, but this is easily the type of song that will be as good at any point in the future as it is right now) which really speaks on seeking pride in the things that you have and being, in general, very proud of yourself and who you are. I also really enjoy the pacing of it. 'Roots & Culture' is very slow and deliberate, but Mojah doesn't turn down and we get this compelling contrast and a nice level of energy with this very heavy riddim.

'Roots & Culture'

The DELIGHTFUL Mightiest Riddim courtesy of Frenchie and co. at Maximum Sound backs another of the heaviest pieces of arsenal (biggup Arsenal) to be found on "Soul Rasta", 'Out Of Many'

"So many people fight for it
Don't come tell me you're an activist
So many innocent die for it
Blood, sweat and tears inna di soil for this
United we stand
Divided we fall
Rastafari love us
UNITED WE STAND
DIVIDED WE FALL
RASTAFARI EVER STAND TALL!"

If you go through this album looking for that one major captivating and infectious moment, you're likely to have found it in 'Out Of Many', though you'll have to find it and 're-find' several times because, for some reason, that song comes in seeming SO short (by my count it is the album's third shortest offering) - but enjoy it still. Essentially the title song here, 'Rasta Got Soul' also lays a weighty claim on being the most 'attractive' on the album [basically] named after it as well as being the single most well known selection here. This one is probably best emblematic of my idea for this review in looking, principally, at Fantan Mojah's PASSION for what he does. 'Rasta Got Soul' literally DRIPS in excitement but it does it in a way which isn't this type of overpowering vibes and while I'd not call it 'subtle' (it isn't) (not at all), what we have is this brilliant, predominately (but not fully) lyrical display of zeal and an infatuation which Mojah has clearly enjoyed for his entire life -- like You and I -- for Reggae music. The highlight comes later when he invokes some of the names of the icons of the music as well as some of his peers (and, BEAUTIFULLY, even makes and allowance for some others "If mi no call yuh name, please catch mi inna di next song - cah di list of di name too long"). You've surely already dealt with this song if you're reading this far into a review like this, but there's no reason at all not to revisit what is definitely one of the best songs here and one of the finest that Fantan Mojah has ever given us. Not much of a deviation from the title track is 'Cool & Irie', which chases it here. This song was fresh to my ears on this album as it was featured on Young Veterans' relatively recent Soul Hearts and it just expands on 'Rasta Got Soul' in adding to the love of Reggae music to the love of Reggae music and Jamaica. Mojah goes to celebrate both simultaneously while presenting and positioning, fittingly in my opinion, as Reggae music being Jamaica's WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL gift to the planet. The obligatory herbalist tune on the album, 'Hydro', is a pounding changeup which is CANDY to my ears. Again, one of the biggest sets you'll here and one whose sound has no equal here - it is definitely one of a kind. 

"Mi tell dem from Amsterdam to California to Westmoreland
Tell di farmer dem to plant acre pon di land
Di kush good fi nerves a coulda neva something wrong
POLITICIAN PUT IT IN YUH BUDGET
PUT IT IN YUH PLAN!"

Capleton and Turbulence (both of whom are mentioned during 'Rasta Got Soul') join Fantan Mojah for a meeting in 'Kingston Town'. This tune attracted a whole heap of attention around the release of "Soul Rasta" and, clearly, justly so. A trio like such not only would garner that type of notoriety just on paper, but in the actualization of the music, you would have hefty expectations and they did not disappoint. I do have to say that, at least for me (and maybe only me) (I don't care), Turbulence steals the proverbial show. To this day I'll maintain that, when properly motivated (and when you can keep him from making CONSTANT love songs), Turbulence remains undeniably one of the genre's most talented figures, capable of doing… pretty much anything including downright spectacular results. Flying solo again, Fantan Mojah wraps up the album in fine fashion with three at least firm efforts. The first of them, 'Heavenly Throne', may also be the oldest as well the strongest of them all (it's actually clearly the strongest in my opinion). Another track from the vault of Warrior's Musick -- this time across the golden simple guitar highlighted Duplicity Riddim -- 'Heavenly Throne' stands out as a very cool, but involved type of praising piece. It is "involved" but somewhat broad at the same time and the result, as expected, is a thrilling effort which, as expected, is made the most of by Mojah. The chanter then calls for a big STOP of the highest order from The Most High on the all kinds of interesting 'Red Light'

"Life is a two-way street before us
Only the right light can keep me focused
Got to move on, can't sit down
Standing firm, I hold my ground
Dem sacrificing and despising all di youths in di city
Meditation in di east keep mi away from di wicked
Heavenly glory in my soul, so they can't turn mi into ashes
Fire come to Babylon weh waan give wi lashes"

I have so many thoughts about this tune, not the least of which center around one of the largest compositions on the whole of the "Soul Rasta" album, the Homewrecker Riddim via Frankie Music, and just the general organization of it as well. Still, I definitely have to mention the lyrical direction of 'Red Light' where Fantan Mojah really just calls for a slowing down of things because the behaviour of certain individuals has just gotten out of hand. Finally, bringing the album to its conclusion [ALREADY???] is its only love song, 'Travel So Far'. This isn't the type of selection which I normally associate with Fantan Mojah and it isn't a glaring favourite of mine from the album, but it isn't a BAD song either. 'Travel So Far' surely isn't a stereotypical love song, it is rather complicated, but give it a few chances just before you go on to the end of the album. 

Overall, though I find myself saying it more and more often these days, I will say it again in reference to this release: I wish we had more of it! "Soul Rasta" registers at just a blip over forty minutes between eleven tracks and, after waiting so long for it, I could have gone for something more in the range of an hour, but I think that may be more of a sign of the times type of quality for these days. Still, judging it based on what it is and based on what is present, it is a nice release and one which continues the run initiated by its absolutely thunderous predecessors in Fantan Mojah's catalogue. So, while in 2016 it may be just a little dated and definitely on the short side, ultimately Fantan Mojah works his typically atypical magic and delivers a satisfying set with "Soul Rasta".

Rated: 3.85/5
Mojah Music & Zojak Worldwide
2016
CD + Digital

Review #537