Monday, September 27, 2021

High Sight: A Review of Vizion by Cali P & Teka

Calibrated. Today I think I want to talk about a wonderful word which people like me and others tend to [over]use quite a bit when it comes to music. Now this term has very strong roots, particularly within the scope of the types of music we deal with around here and it is incredibly broad and can be (and is) used in description of a wide variety of different things. It is a word which can go overlooked and, simultaneously, be THE main reason why we even listen in the first place. Of course I am talking about the word VIBES. What is a vibe? Can anyone define it??? Sure you can because it, kinda/sorta, means just about anything you may want it to. It is a noun -- "I love the vibes on this tune" -- and a verb "the way they vibe this tune is damn impressive" -- and, again, sometimes it can mean virtually anything you want it to me. However, most often when you use the word VIBES, in any form, what you're describing is some type of feeling (generally positive, but not always. There're 'bad vibes') that the music gives you or leads you into, some way or another. Just to show how damn random I can be: I'm thinking now of the review or two I've done over the years for instrumental/Dub albums and one of them sticks out in my brain. Waaaaaayyy back in 2008, Achis Reggae favourite, the incomparable VI Reggae wizard, Tuff Lion, would give us an album by the name of "Ten Strings" which has gone on to be declared a Modern Classic on these pages. My experience with the subgenre is not deep, I'll admit, but it's likely the finest of its kind that I have ever heard (still holding out hope that we may someday see an "Eleven Strings"). I bring it up here because, in writing reviews for that type of work, as someone who LOVES the spoken word and all of the healthy opportunities of analysis it offers, I find it refreshingly challenging to attempt to bring a review of this length to such a project. It is writing almost exclusively based on VIBES. Writing based on what I feel. And as someone who has not a shred of actual musical talent, I would imagine the feeling that it gives me is a similar one to an artist who walks into the studio and hears some sweet piece of riddim. Maybe they feel like I do. Maybe they smile. Maybe they go through a range of emotions. Maybe they even see a few things in their head. Maybe they start to hum or tap on something. Maybe they hear a challenge. Maybe they welcome it. The same happens when I do hear some master of wordplay. The challenge is just as interesting and compelling for me and, again, given my total dearth of actual musical ability, I wonder if a certain musician or a producer might look at working with a gifted artist in the same way. Maybe they look at making a composition which will bring out their best as that challenge. Maybe the approach is different for everyone. Maybe it's highly technical or maybe they work spontaneously. Maybe it's just about the vibes.

That same word can be and is often used to denote some form of unity or chemistry in music as well -- "on this one you can really tell that artist and producer really vibe together quite well" -- which may be (it will) one of the ways in which we use it today as we take a most WELCOMED look at the return of one of the absolute favourites of this blog. It's been a minute! Ever since his scalding debut, 2008's "Lyrical Faya", Gwada/Swiss firebreather Cali P has essentially been a mainstay on my radar. What I heard back then was an obviously gifted chanter who and one who, clearly, was sitting on a goldmine of potential. Since then, Cali P has done nothing but fulfill on what I heard on that excellent project and, in doing so, has demonstrated himself to be amongst the genre's brightest of lights. Subsequent albums have delighted as, chasing "Lyrical Faya" was "Unstoppable" (more on that in a bit) and "i Thoughts" and, somewhere within that timespan, Cali P became my one of my absolute favourite artists. He has vibes.

2009

And throughout his career, Cali P has been fortunate to 'vibe' with many a great talented maestros and producers, particularly on the European scene. Labels such as Pow Pow, Oneness Records, Weedy G Soundforce, Necessary Mayhem, Addis Records and a whole heap of others decorate his catalogue. Still, if you've been following the artist, then surely the label with whom you have come to most closely associate his work has been Hemp Higher Productions, who not only helmed both "Unstoppable" and "i Thoughts", but also a truly GOLDEN EP that Cali P would do in 2014 by the name of "Healing Of The Nation" ["Cause wi just give dem something, something weh dem neva si before. And di light weh wi shine pon dem mek dem run away fi sure!"] (BOOM!) (and biggup Hemp Higher, they're still hard at work, having released a single, 'Ma Lionne', for another of our favourites just earlier this year, Tiwony). But if you look into some of the finer details of Cali P's work, you begin to notice another very constant presence as well. At least two selections from "Lyrical Faya", 'Settle the Score' which featured Ras Charmer (biggup Ras Charmer) (Tiwony was also on that album as were Queen Omega & Straika D... you must be some kind of a damn fool if you haven't listened to "Lyrical Faya" by now) (no excuses!) (biggup Tiwony. Tiwony has vibes, like a lot of them) and 'Take Care of My Family' ["Righteous people ah go tek ova di globe and fi si dat, mi nuh need no blasted microscope!"] came via German imprint, Rootdown Records and producer Teka. Rootdown would also be involved on the "Healing Of The Nation" project with Teka building that GORGEOUS composition on which 'United We Stand' laid its head and were that enough (and it was), my absolute favourite song from "i Thoughts" was 'Guiding Shield' ["MI NO WORRY AND MI NO FRAID WHEN WI DEH PON DI BATTLEFIELD"] and I will give you one guess on who produced that one... some guy they call Teka on his fine Straight From The Fridge Riddim. And that's just material that would appear on albums (that I could actually source) they've also 'vibed' together on quite a few other singles (such as 'Tek De Beam', Cali's excellent cut of Rootdown's swinging Kokoo Riddim. And that's just THEM. I also VIBE with Teka's music. Personally, I can say that he's been behind more than a few of my favourites in the history of this blog such as Smiley's 'Distance' on the Tek A Train Riddim (which I just noticed that Teka may've named after himself) and, most notably, one of the best damn songs I have ever heard from anyone, the MASSIVE 'Slew U In The Open' ["Dem will dash you in the freezer til yuh frozen!"] from Natty King (which was on the iLove Riddim which also carried 'Need to Tell You This', a sizable hit from Ziggi Recado, who we also love). So, whether you know it or not, if you are a consistent fan of modern Roots Reggae music, you've probably also enjoy Teka's music at some point (he's really a fantastic, and predominately Roots, ace) (and just searching his name or 'Rootdown' on these pages reminds me how often we'd run into Teka's work over the years, working with the likes of Lloyd Brown, Dynamq, Hi-Kee (do you remember Hi-Kee???) (WHAT!). And, when you've been VIBING with someone for as long as Cali P and Teka have musically (going back nearly fifteen years as far as we know, but maybe even longer now), what comes next? Maybe they could make an album together?! Well, okay maybe not a full album, maybe you can build to that point and start with an EP... but when you have THIS much vibes, apparently one won't do it. Thus, Cali P and Teka bookended 2019 with a pair of EPs, "Vizion I" and "Vizion II", respectively. And I hadn't heard from Rootdown in quite awhile and that was likely due to the fact that Teka had moved away from the label and started his own LowLow Records outfit in Berlin which officially released the set. And CLEARLY the idea was that, because I was on hiatus when the EPs released initially and didn't have the opportunity to review them, artist and producer --having so much respect for me-- decided to take that logical next step and have now set out to the masses, "Vizion", the full album (there is absolutely no way in hell that happened like that) (NONE!). Both EPs featured four songs and they are combined with five others (a mixture of previous singles and new tracks) to bring the number up to a thicker thirteen in total. They've also been very attentive in regards to the promotion, with several tunes birthing videos (quite a few, actually) and digital singles as well. Someone, somewhere thought that "Vizion" had vibes. 

They were correct. "Vizion" becomes Cali P's fourth complete studio album and his first since 2016. Coincidentally (I'm thinking it was by coincidence), with the official release date for this project being the twenty-fourth of September 2021, "Unstoppable" was released on October seventh, 2011: That's fairly close (just thirteen days by my count) to being an actual decade. So, in honour of its tenth anniversary, definitely go back and check out the high-powered "Unstoppable". Before that, however, let's dive into "Vizion" which is actually constructed in an interesting manner. The album's five songs which did not appear on either EP are placed at its head. In particular, there's 'Innit' which wasn't one of the three prior singles either, therefore, it was completely new to me! 'Innit' is all kinds of interesting because it kind of just comes off as a 'vibe'. It seems relatively spontaneous and organic as it goes in a few different lyrical directions, but what I ultimately took away from it is that Cali P is showing gratitude for how his career and life have evolved and how people now react to him and show him love and respect. I also have discovered that I have to play 'Innit' now exclusively on my headphones because if I play it otherwise, I run the risk of my daughter hearing it, thus ensuring that, in some type of way, I will spend the rest of the day listening to the chorus of 'Innit' (because she WILL NOT STOP singing it). And it also needs to be said that the opener is constructed over a downright ambrosian track That riddm is FANTASTIC and Cali definitely does not let it go to waste, complimenting it with some the finest wordplay you'll hear on the whole of "Vizion". Next we have the album's most recently released single, the fresh 'Heartbreaker'. Like the tune preceding it, 'Heartbreaker' is very catchy and from the very first time that I heard it, the word COOL has stuck with me in describing it. Although fairly specific, 'Heartbreaker' is a song about getting older, maturing and just 'going through it'. We've all been through certain things, particularly in and around relationships, that have kind of 'scarred' us and left lasting impressions (and I've found the older I get, I blame myself almost exclusively for that stuff) and this is the story of someone experiencing that. Again, the overall SOUND of 'Heartbreaker' is very attractive and is sure to keep heads bobbing and feet tapping, just as mine are right now. Cali P has big purpose in mind for the next selection in, the resounding 'Hit Like Gunshot'.
 
"Slavery abolished
But nuttin demolished
The school and system support di damage
Media mek ya panic
Control economics
HISTORICAL BANDIT
I seh check how dem plan it
I CANNOT STAND IT
SI DI VIDEO - VOMIT
Humanity, damn it
Yuh needed the graphics
To feel how it tragic
Now go back in time -
When Iphone wasn't
Sad don't?
Mi nuh waan nuh pity
Tek a trip inna di real nitty-gritty
AFRICA SO PRETTY, STILL THINGS AIN'T PRETTY RIGHT NOW
Mi nuh waan nuh pity
Tek a trip inna di real nitty-gritty
And where is the justice for those who died?

Gunshot
Hit me like a gunshot
Gunshot
This hit me like a gunshot

My focus is home
To build up my zone
NO REASON FOR ME TO LEAVE AFRICA
AND BE KILLED IN AMERICA
I'm not here to beg please
You getting seized
400 years, still, we balling for justice and peace
Wickedness increase
Sometimes I can't believe-
How do we let down ourselves, like a king weh accept defeat?
MARCHING TO PROVE I AM HUMAN
ALONG WITH HUMANITY
SOMETHING IS WRONG, DON'T YOU SEE?
I CANNOT BREATHE

Gunshot
Hit me like a gunshot
Gunshot
This hit me like a gunshot"

Easily one of the finest songs on the album and probably of Cali's entire career, 'Hit Like Gunshot' is a piece of the times. The history of Reggae music is decorated with songs like this in regards to specific moments and actions (and DEFINITELY in the more expansive sense, with general social commentaries) and, at least as far as I am concerned, when you take a look at what has been going on in the world recently, you would expect the genre to DIRECTLY react and 'Hit Like Gunshot' is Cali P's absolutely TOWERING response (just thinking out loud here, you can go onto the next track if you like: It would be so interesting to look up if anyone already has written such a book (I would presume someone has) addressing the direct 'reaction' of Reggae to significant social moments of the human experience, throughout history. It's a very interesting topic and I remember taking a Pan African class in university and learning about the Negritude Movement and doing some brief research of how/if it had been addressed in (mostly French and Creole) Reggae music. Surely someone has already written extensively on the topic and if they haven't, maybe it's something I should look into, myself). If 'album building' and 'album sequencing' are such things that actually exist, in terms of how you place songs in order on an album and how well they flow together, then whoever was in charge of that on "Vizion" had a moment of full genius between #3 and #4, when they followed 'Hit Like Gunshot' with the similar but, arguably, even stronger (and brand new as far as I know) 'Care For Us', which is my favourite song on the entire album.

"You ain't for the people
You don't care for us
People still hungry and you don't care for those
Everyday new tv stories making up
Instead of telling people what really goes

More time I hear unuh talking
All I can do is laughing
My mind, it start imagine all the shocking things that happen
And now wi see these fathers dying
And see these children crying
AND STILL YOU HAVE THE POWER AS A LEADER TO BE LYING
You fighting terroists
I know you make them
I know you protect the fuckry that you projecting
Try put us in positions you selecting
And those you don't wanna see, you keep neglecting
Rejecting to the core
Mek wi feel it some more
SEGREGATE DI WORLD INTO 'RICH' AND TO 'POOR'
COUNTLESS WARRIORS DISAPPEARING FROM THE COURSE
CUZ ANYTIME WI SAY SOMETHING, YEAH, YOU START USE FORCE

You ain't for the people
You don't care for us
People still hungry and you don't care for those
Everyday new tv stories making up
Instead of telling people what really goes

Education is expensive-
Like it should be limited
NOW LOOK INNA DI FACE OF DI ONES DEM WEH LIMIT IT
Money money people wanna stay limited
READY FI SPEND THEIR MONEY JUST TO KEEP WI ILLITERATE
And always try to give us di impression wi so poor
Mek di whole believe wi need yah help some more
Charity, charity yeah fi hungry pickney
MI SI CHARITY, CHARITY 
AND ALL WITHOUT CLARITY
And there's people with nuff popularity-
WEH MEK PEOPLE FORGET DEM HAVE FAMILY
Mek dem live a life weh dem run fi vanity
No solidarity
Mi si pure animosity"

I mean.... DAMN! BLESSED (it is a GIFT. It is PERFECT!) with what may be the finest composition on the album as well, like the song ahead of it, 'Care For Us' is a knocking social commentary. This one is just a bit wider and encompassing in its direction but the lyrical precision is needle-point accurate as Cali P scintillates on a FORTRESS of a song. Lastly (besides the eight other songs I mean) is another previous single and the only combination on "Vizion", 'Rise Up & Shine' which links Cali P and Teka with African artists, Stonebwoy from Ghana (who we just ran into on "Pamoja", Etana's outstanding recent release) and Nigerian musical prince, Seun Kuti, son of the legendary Fela Kuti. Besides just being very nice to listen to (there's this really cool 'shuffling' sound in there somewhere), 'Rise Up & Shine' does take its opportunity to make a point as well ["My people keep shining. From Lagos to Holland"], reaching with a solid inspirational vibe. Songs like this can be inherently interesting based purely on the combination of styles (which is the main attraction, on paper, obviously) but sometimes you can have situations where so much is going on that it ends up as kind of a big ass mess. That isn't the case here and, for what it is, 'Rise Up & Shine' has very sleek and well put-together VIBES to it. 

As I alluded to, the remaining balance of "Vizion" is filled with the eight songs which compiled both of its EP releases in 2019, so I think that the best approach is to separate them as they were released and VIBE them like such. First was "Vizion I" (DUH! Can you imagine if they released II in January, then came back and did I in November - like just because), which just so happens to have been headed by the downright DAMAGING 'Baddest' which was its brightest star in my opinion. The track found Cali P giving due respect and honour to some of his most powerful peers and, presumably, many of the artists who provided him (and You and I) with inspiration through the years.
"Drop it, wild it like Shabba
Powerful and mad like Cobra
Super Cat, di real don dada
Dem deh bad, bad, badda and badda
Mi look up to Buju, Killa, Peter Tosh, Kalonji dada
'WHO DEMMM', Capleton, Beenie - nobody, nobody madda
Gi dem, mi gi dem, mi gi dem it everyday 
Lyrical fyah
Keep up the work-
Represent straight, Mama Afrika
Buss up di place with Tiwony, Anthony B, inna Gambia
LISTEN TO MARLEY, BIG YOUTH AND BURNING SPEAR - 
FI GET WISER"

He goes on to make the priority of specifically mentioning a few of the pillaring women (Sister Nancy, Queen Omega and Queen Ifrica) of Reggae music as well as African artists (Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela) and REALLY just does what I'm going to call a 'humbling' tune. And I really appreciate it, in particular, because you hear songs like this in tribute to people who're either no longer with us at all or who've gone to a place of being living (ELDERLY) legends, but Cali P is giving those types the credit AND his direct peers. He's actually made music with Queen Omega, Tiwony and Capleton (and that's just from the top of my head, he may've worked with others he mentions as well). It's a wonderful way of telling someone that, despite that I'm standing next to you, vibing with you, I'm still a fan and am still inspired by and learning from you. Speaking of learning, next on "Vizion I" was 'Life Lesson', which was also wholly excellent. The way this one is written is pretty unique because it isn't as if Cali is talking about a single lesson, he's come to teach a few of them ["Everyday we get it is another life lesson"]. In its near four minutes, the artist goes in on things such as anti-violence, respect ["I, is not a punching. I, is not a hypocrite"] and injustice. Taken as a whole it is definitely one of the more interesting lyrical approaches on "Vizion" and one which I would well recommend anyone to spend more than a couple of spins on before deciding how you feel about it completely. Oh and even though I'm tired telling you just how good the music is on many of these most of these songs, it HAS to be repeated in this instance. I hesitate to call 'When You Hold Me' (ditto for this what I just said about 'Life Lesson' in regards to this one. And this one literally SCREAMS out for a Dub version) a 'love song' in the usual way we use that term (although I don't think that doing that is necessarily incorrect, but maybe just a bit limiting); instead, I'm thinking of referring to it as a 'relationship song'. The difference being that 'When You Hold Me' virtually comes off as a 'thank you' letter. It's as much about GRATITUDE, PRIDE and RESPECT as it is about love, at least in my opinion. The result is a song which most people will regard as a love song, surely, but in its defense, is one with possesses another element for anyone willing to take a deeper listen. And sending out "Vizion I" was 'When Things Go Up', another track whose value increases with the more attention you give it.

"As soon as things go up, some try fi bring it down
As a problem gone, a next problem come
Most High please don't let I drown
Lift up my head and keep my feet on the ground

Good to be feared
Better to be respect
And in this time, I think family is affected
SO KNOW YUH ACTION, IF IT'S WRONG, CORRECT IT
Or things ahgo come at you - really unexpected
Keep the focus, stay connected
Make use of yuh talents and don't be wreckless
Send up yuh prayers, stay protected
Practice nuff, yeah that's how you perfect it
Choose where you wanna be
Bredda better select it
And anywhere the good vibes dem, deh go collect it
And anywhere the bad vibes dem, deh go detect it
Fling dem outta di window and stay uninfected
Bad man is active, it's so fascinating
The love I have it keep mi motivated"

Along with being a display of some excellent wordplay, 'When Things Go Up' seems to be something that Cali P created to provoke thought (he literally says it at the beginning, "So mek mi tickle ya brain, like some good brain food") in his listeners and it does work. There is also a umbrella-ing direction (at least to my opinion there is) (you find me someone else who is using 'UMBRELLA' as a verb!!), which is a very relatable one as the artist takes a very colourful look at the ups and downs of everyday life ["Life fulla ups and down. For sure I never lose my crown. Real youths, firm and strong. Jah Jah keep wi safe and sound"] (BOOM! That's from an old song called 'Bless Me' - just felt like mentioning it). I like the relatively laidback tone of it as well as, while there is emotion here, there's never a panic, it's more like someone giving you advice rather than trying to admonish you.

For its part, released some ten months following the first installment, "Vizion II" features a selection which, despite its brevity (the shortest track on this entire release by twelve seconds and one of only two less than three minutes long) ('Heartbreaker' being the other), is probably my second favourite anywhere on "Vizion" at all. That song, 'Congo Natty' began "VII" and it was a chunk of BEAUTIFUL vibes. My daughter may not like it very much because, when her father hears it, she's likely going to have to spend the rest of the day listening to him sing the chorus, but she'll just have to deal with that (not my problem! Don't care!) (NOPE!) (NOT SORRY EITHER!). From its sound and its course, which is one talking about perseverance and maybe attempting to be less emotional and 'thin-skinned'. 'Congo Natty' is about knowing that you are secure in yourself and doing positive things. You can definitely take that a step further and get into subjects like CONFIDENCE and pride as Cali P strikes a MASSIVE blow in a [way too] short amount of time. Jumping ahead, there was also 'People Want More' (....time to be attached to 'Congo Natty') which is the obligatory ganja song from "Vizion". Cali P has scored heavily on this front previously. Perhaps, most notably, there was 'Herbalist' for Necessary Mayhem (which was GENIUS, it just was) from a few years back, but you might also remember the KNOCKING 'Sweet Greens' from "Unstoppable" and a fun vibes from years back called 'Bun Dem Herbs' ['Give thanks to Jah, cause HIM plant di marijuana, and di best a it mi find inna Jamaica"]. So there was some type of lineage to 'People Want More' and it definitely does not disappoint. 'Crazy', wonderfully, seems to celebrate all of the little idiosyncrasies that we all have. If you have someone special in your life (even a friend or a family member) you know that there is something that they do which is strange as hell but you find it adorable and maybe if you fall out with them, you'll complain about how much you hated it, but you LOVED it. It's a tune which is really just about relationships that we have with one another ["She asks, 'are you just like alla dem?' Now you tell me girl, did you try alla dem??"] and the things that we're willing to put up with and, in come cases, even honour to a degree. It's somewhat subtle I think, but there is a real substance when you dig into 'Crazy'. And lastly, with its Dancehall-ish and Hip Hop-ish vibes 'Girlfriend' stands as the musical changeup on "Vizion" (I guess you could call 'Rise Up & Shine' a changeup as well) on Teka's Whirlwhine Riddim. It isn't my favourite song on the album but it isn't bad at all and I'm actually glad that they decided to mix things up just a bit. If you go back and listen to "Unstoppable", you'll see immediately that Cali P has earned his stripes in the Dancehall as well (and Necessary Mayhem, albeit in a different way (they tend to more old school oriented), also touch Dancehall music relatively often) (biggup Mr. Williamz) and you can hear it on 'Girlfriend'. I also enjoyed reading the press release on the album which mentioned how this song (and others) organically evolved. It goes to show just how much producer and artist (and artist's lady) truly do VIBE together.

I do have a pair of standing critiques for "Vizion", one of them is obvious and the other is related in some (probably none) way I think. The obvious one is that if you're really into Cali P's music, then you're already familiar with eleven of its thirteen tracks. It will only give you 'Innit' and 'Care For Us' (which, I remind you, is its best moment for me) as entirely new work. The second is the music on the album. WHAT! Hear me out. Maybe I've grown spoiled listening to Zion I Kings albums but when you make VIBES that sound this good, I'd like to think that you'd want to show them off just a bit. Some of these songs have tracks (even 'Girlfriend', actually), that you'd want to hear more of and I think it would have been a good opportunity for Teka and company at LowLow to add extended versions of some of the tracks and just PRESENT the vibes of "Vizion" even more, because some of them (most of them) are exceptional and deserving of such treatment. And, back in his Rootdown days, when they would frequently release riddim albums, Teka often (not always) would include instrumental tracks for his riddims (and he even did it for the Whirlwhine). I wouldn't be against it if, someday, "Vizion" received some type of instrumental release because, again, that would be DAMN interesting and enhance the vibes of this big release. 
Overall, if you've hung around here to any length of time you know that they had me convinced at 'new Cali P album'. I was interested already. However, after hearing how things played out and really tuning in "Vizion", I'm still impressed. Cali P's style is so diverse and so open that he can work well with just about any talented producer, but in Teka, like Riga before him, he's found a nearly perfect musical match. They vibe amazingly well. And what sticks out here, in retrospect (allow me to turn into a giant nerd for a second) (you're probably a nerd too, however, after reading a review of this length), is that despite how the VIBE of "Vizion" never really makes a grand deviation (and it isn't a huge leap to put a Dancehall song on a predominately Roots Reggae release, especially given the artist's history), it has this lovey, OPEN, feeling to it. And I'd say that to the point where, ahead of any other Cali P album, I'd probably recommend "Vizion" to newer fans -- which allays, somewhat, my largest critique of it -- because it is a very strong introduction to one of the strongest and colourful artists of this current era. Older fans, like You and I, know what to expect and there is ample BULK to the project for us as well as "Vizion" hits a few different targets. I don't know if I actually managed to stumble across any type of 'correct' definition (I did not) for the term, but I do know that whatever a VIBE really is, "Vizion" has a warehouse full of it. Very well done.

Rated: 4.20/5
LowLow Records
Digital
2021

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Vault Reviews: Talk The Truth by Isasha

Un-characteristic. I suppose there is some walk of life or field or some other type of strange ass area where things such as uniqueness and originality are not good things, but music is certainly not one of them. I you really think about it, your favourite -WHATEVER- is your favourite because of how much it or they stick out from the proverbial pack. Even if your favourite song, for example, is a remake or a redo, you enjoy it more than the original because of just how different it is. And that is perhaps even clearer when it comes to particular artists. So many times they come up and are influenced (as we all are) by  the people who they grow up listening to and when you listen to them you can hear it; also, maybe they were fully grown and actually making music already but were still certainly taking bits and pieces of others to come up with their own style - and that's okay. However, it is still one of the absolute greatest of joys as a fan of music when you hear talents which, be it in great amounts or just in small bits and flavours which find a way to stand out. On one extreme end of that would be someone like a Jah Cure. Take a song sung by anyone -- anyone at all in history, it does not matter -- if it is redone by Jah Cure it is (most likely better) a different song. I guarantee it. He could not sing it exactly like the original if he tried because Mother Nature gave that man a voice and forgot how She made it. She lost the formula and no one since has had it (and anyone who may've had it prior to him died before human beings figured out to record audio). His music will always stick out because of that. Similarly, I look at great deviation from center in someone like Perfect. Perfect doesn't had this immense voice like Jah Cure (DUH!), but instead, when you listen to his music what you hear is personality. His vibes are quirky, they are spontaneous and, often, downright bizarre. But you make a riddim and voice ten average artists who turn in ten average and then call Perfect - there is your change up. His will not sound like the rest of them. There're other glaring examples of artists who, for one reason or another, inherently and organically have styles of entirely their own creation Aidonia's always an interesting case because, although he was greatly influenced by others, what he did was to take what they did and just... take it to outer space). But sometimes, things are more subtle.

Take for example someone like Sizzla Kalonji. Sizzla is, and has been for quite awhile (and likely will be until my days are done), my single favourite musician of all time. Yet with that being said, I cannot say that what he does is SO much different from everyone else. On his way up he was constantly related to the likes of Capleton, Anthony B and others and, if I can remember correctly (and I usually cannot), at times he welcomed the comparisons. Still, when at his full peak, Sizzla differentiates himself from the bludgeoning lyrical firestorm of Capleton's and the hypnotic, rapturous chant of Anthony B's (probably just me (it is), but Anthony B, on my favourite songs from him, almost always sounds as if he is in 'the zone' and could HAPPILY sing that same song for hours and hours) (I should probably review an old Anthony B album one of these days, it's been a minute) by becoming this alien-like amalgam of PERFECT lyrics, timing and sense of melody. But it isn't a gift which leaps out at you every single time you listen to him. I also think of a Tarrus Riley. If Tarrus Riley's music was a school, you would want your kids to grow up and attend it. He makes such a powerfully refined brand of Roots Reggae that it seems as if he were born and then nurtured to do precisely what he does (because he was). And I mention all of that now because today we're diving back into the vault (I missed a lot through the years) and taking a look at someone who, very much in his own unique way, has made a name for himself doing a style of music which, just in case you didn't notice, is his very own special blend.

2008

Of course we're talking about one of the genuine pillars of Reggae music from out of Trinidad, Isasha. The wonderful Kingdom of Soca that it is, Trinidad has produced a relatively steady stream of supremely gifted Reggae talents as well (none more so than the water-walking Queen Omega) and they have given us hits throughout the years as well. Names such as Marlon Asher (have two albums of his to write about someday), Khari Kill, Prophet Benjamin (who's also proved damn strong at Soca) and others have established themselves as big names while supplying the genre with a whole heap of unforgettable moments. One of them, which is on the album I'm about to tell you about, came from Arima native, Isasha way back in 2006-ish. That song was an UTTER JOY to hear (it still is today) and it would go a long way in introducing to the world someone who had such a PROFOUNDLY faintly (nowhere else will you find someone link PROFOUND AND FAINT like that, as if they are not kind of opposites) DISTINCT style. What I mean is this (now look how I explain my way out of this): You could listen to that song and many of the others on this album and enjoy what you hear. What you will be listening to will be dynamic. It will be exciting and it will make satisfying even the most cursory and casual of spin-throughs. Isasha is an entertainer and it comes through as organically as the subject in his predominately Roots Reggae output. Because of that, at least in my opinion, what you get when you take in his vibes is something which, in some way or another, is highly likely to stick with you. Even if you cannot remember the exact words, you'll walk away remembering  the MELODY. That will remain (and will be highlighted by Isasha's just COOL signature stuttering chant). Interested in an example??? Of course you do. Perhaps you should take a listen to what I believe is the artist's official debut solo album, 2017's golden "Talk The Truth". Previously, Isasha did have released "Real & Down To Earth" in 2008, which was a combination project with his biological brother, Million Voice (biggup Million Voice, who passed away of cancer in late 2018), but at least to my knowledge, despite his immense solo successes, Isasha had never done a full album by himself prior to 2017 (and, unsurprisingly (it was hard to find in its day), "Real & Down To Earth" has all but vanished and never arrived on the digital market) (how nice would it have been had someone written some kind of REVIEW for that album at some point) (OH LOOK! I found A REVIEW!). He had been featured on quite a bit of different projects including the "Reggae Roadblock" series from many years back, which was three better than solid sets featuring Trini Reggae artists, exclusively. On top of that, our old readers may recall Isasha's involvement with one of the finest sets we've ever featured, the amazing "Joyful Noise", from I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings ["Cah who Jah bless, no man curse. Alla di wicked unda dirt"].  Fortunately, "Talk The Truth" came super powered. Released officially by One-Soi Investments Limited (which you will likely not attached to any other release), it would come backed by VPAL -- distribution arm of VP Records -- which means that, in a few decades, it should still be readily available (they've also worked with Khari Kill). That is definitely significant It's already been out and about for four years now, however, and you should have taken a listen. Haven't yet? Been busy? Had something to do? That's okay. Let's do it right now.

"Talk The Truth" was as much of a collection of previously released work as it was a new release. I listened to an interview Isasha gave around its release and he spoke about how he sought to please fans who both wanted new material and wanted a collection where they could find some of their favourites in one place. This album delivered on that (with one exception) and so much more. You would have found both a new song and a familiar one at the head of Isasha's debut full studio album, "Talk The Truth", 'Jah Is With Me'. In the literal and actual sense, as far as I know, 'Jah Is With Me' was new at the time, however, he had a combination with Million Voice of the same name years back (it's even on their album). The older version was very strong and the newer one was sublime. You get a double dose in this one as it comes through, initially, very nice and laid back, but Isasha begins to burn in its second half on this wonderfully DUSTY and GRIMEY vibed sound (it sounds like they made it on just a feeling and didn't do much editing or anything and what resulted was a masterpiece.  'Peace' was a new one completely to my ears and eyes appearing here. As one of the strongest lyrical efforts you'll find on "Talk The Truth", in order to illustrate his point (which is almost Tosh-esque to my ears), Isasha stands on the shoulders of immortals.

" 'Can't be a nation without a country' - that's the words of great Marcus Garvey!
And 'darkness cannot drive out darkness' - Dr. Martin Luther King said this!
And 'leadership don't mean domination' - those are the words of The Conquering Lion!
So teach di youths about Marley and Malcolm and di rest of warriors who die fi wi freedom"

'Peace' is just INTELLIGENT. It is an educated and smart song to have written and I was damn impressed at first listen and I still am right now. Speaking of being impressed, while 'Warn Them' can be harsh (and fittingly so, it should be when you're discussing these type of things), it is no less at all just fantastic lyrically.

"The whole place gwan different-
An wi act like, yow wi neva si dat 
From ah caught inna babylon system, too many youths dem ah move like idiot
Look how brother kill  brother and sister kill sis
Father kill mother, mi ah ask dem wah dis
MAGISTRATE GIVE BAIL TO A CHILD RAPIST
TEK DI BRIBE FI DI CASE DISMISS

Ah warn dem again!
Unuh ah tell dem that di beast is roaming 
Protect your children 
Cause like a raging storm, it's coming

Time fi stop di shedding of di children's blood
Through nature, send an earthquake or flood
Teach di youths dem goodness with kisses and hugs
HOW YOU MEAN YOU A THIRTEEN PEDDLING DRUGS?
Sometimes mi haffi wonder down inna mi soul-
HOW ONE MAN COULD MURDER A FOUR-MONTH OLD??
Like di heart of mankind getting so cold
YOW YUH JUDGMENT WILL BE TENFOLD!

Ah warn dem again!
Unuh ah tell dem that di beast is roaming 
Protect your children 
Cause like a raging storm, it's coming

Tell mi how come Jah so love mankind?
Children a di only reason I can find
Vanity in all wi heart, soul and mind
Worse yet when envy and rage combine
Mek wi win this war that Satan sign
Put away di violence, break up all crime
Love reign supreme, hate stop shine
Cause wi live inna di end of time"

This ^ is one of those moments where I felt as if I had made my point and wanted to stop, but each time I did, Isasha said something else that I thought would be good to include. 'Warn Them' was just mighty and aimed at those who do THE WORST in the world by preying upon the pure and defenseless. You may know the Signs Riddim for having backed Khari Kill's HEAVY 'Bird Pepper' track ["RUN GO HAIL SELASSIE I, THE FIRST! THINGS WILL BE BETTER!"] but its creator, the once mighty Studio 53, also voiced a few others, including Isasha who dropped the most memorable 'Who Jah Bless' on the track (incidentally, Million Voice's song on the riddim, '11 Days, 11 Nights', may've been even stronger than his brother's), which was a nice sized hit for the artist in its day. This tune was about perseverance through His Majesty and it had such a nice, aggressive vibes to it and, like I said, it will stick with you as easily one of the most sonically pleasing on the whole of the album. And I'm all but certain that I hadn't heard the oft-hilarious 'Complaining' ahead of it appearing on "Talk The Truth". Isasha is pissed off and tired as hell of the woman in his life whining and complaining over and over again ["Can't stay late inna di studio. She complain about girls inna my video"]. Despite its title, I do not take a song like this one very seriously at all (although relatable... to some of you I'm sure, not me) and as I alluded to, it seems like a piece Isasha just wanted to do to have some fun with and, if so, mission accomplished. 

On the other side of 'Complaining' would be something like the SWEET 'Tell Me', which was a single from "Talk The Truth" and just an excellent love song. i mentioned it briefly earlier that, if you aren't familiar with it, Isasha has this really cool stuttery thing he does in his music. It is all his, I've never heard anyone else do it and it SO NICELY livens up the relationship driven 'Tell Me'. Just on the heels of 'Tell Me' is the very curious marriage-ish 'I Do' which, although it took more than a few spins, did ultimately end up growing on me to at least some degree. The song has what I would call an unusual vibes to it and it's nearly acoustic, but what ends up developing is lovely and has some redeeming value and I do not know if that's the case if you give it to anyone else or at least more than a few 'elses'. I would say that if it does not immediately strike you, to give it some time and do not give up on it because what is lost would be yours and yours alone. And after giving love to his special person, Isasha goes special-er on the album's obligatory mama song, 'Big Up Mama'. This one may be a little more lively than you're accustomed to, but it well works for what the song ends up being (and is nice for a change in the vibes on something very much a nearly REQUIRED entry for such an album) (if you make Roots Reggae music, you need to be able to make mama songs. You just do), which is an attempt at a slightly more all-encompassing effort than usually present on these type of specific sets. And we'll just keep the love flowing all over "Talk The Truth", this time in the form of 'Red, White & Black', an ode to Isasha's place of birth vibed by Martian Music. I am sure I must have heard someone do a song like this one at some point (specifically meaning Trinidad) (seems like something Bunji Garlin may've done), but I can't actually recall it, specifically, right now, so biggup Isasha for answering the question. As for the song, CLEARLY Isasha has a whole heap of pride in being where he is from and Trinidad is an amazing place and he should feel that way. Its lasting impression may be in how detailed 'Red, White & Black' is at times with the artist referencing so many different aspects about the country including, at one point, legendary cricketer, Brian Lara, by name. As someone who comes from Trini heritage (biggup my Dad), it is a very nice tune to hear.

Part of the reason 'Red, White & Black' is so nice is just the general vibes of the song and the same could definitely be said for the album's closer, 'Pull Up' which is given a very curious... 'pull up' as not only present is the original track but also its radio edited version. It's the radio edit which means that the only changes are in some words being omitted from the original. I don't know why they chose to include it - my guess would be that they either assumed it would be quite popular or it was popular and someone told them that it may have difficulty getting played, so instead of leaving it to someone else to cut, Isasha and company took care of that themselves. Were that the case, it's not surprising. Coming across the lovely old school Dancehall licked Armageddon Riddim from Lion Twin Music (which is worth looking up, it had three other selections and two of them, from Princess Kazayah and Black Loyalty, respectively, were nice), 'Pull Up' goes in a few different directions which just makes me think that it was a vibe. Isasha heard the riddim and, organically, he came up with this one. That isn't to say that it's lacking at all, it's actually one of my favourites on "Talk The Truth" (and Isasha actually reminds me a bit of Fantan Mojah on the song with his delivery at times) (biggup Fantan Mojah) , and it does have a centralized theme of just enjoying oneself and putting away the negative things. The Meddi Riddim from Optimus Productions backs the solid 'Chatty Chatty' where Isasha addresses nosey ass people who have great difficulty keep their mouths shut.

"Yah caan live in glass house and throw stones
YAH CAAN CLEAN PEOPLE HOUSE, NAH CLEAN YUH OWN
Everyday you ah live yuh life one way yow
You waan mek my business yah own
Yuh too badmind and false
Quick to rejoice and laugh when dem si yuh cross
Stranger bless yuh, dem act like they shock
REMEMBER, RAIN NUH FALL ON ONE HOUSE TOP"

Negative people are also the target of the EXCELLENT, explosive title track. In succession, 'Chatty Chatty' and 'Talk The Truth' pack a knockout punch because, as I said, they have a similar objective in mind ["Dem boy deh too evil. Dem nuh really give a damn bout people"] and the title track steps up the levels considerably over an already strong selection. A big credit goes to Outlaw Muzik who provides the POUNDING Classified Riddim for 'Talk The Truth' (that thing is VICIOUS!). And I also have to mention (because it's on the album and... I talk about all of them) 'Live Together' which was actually produced by another big name in Trinidad Reggae, Jamelody, for his big Guidance Riddim (if you remember the well gifted Daniel Bless, he tore into that track with 'Judge Not', which you should look up) - about as NICE of a one-drop as you'll find here. This song didn't do what I would have expected it to, 'Live Together' has HIT written on it to my ears and eyes and it's gone largely overlooked, but you can rectify that for yourself. Lyrically, it is easily amongst Isasha's best work to date ["Tell dem wi burn di animosity. Bun out hatred, wi burn out all vanity. Wi no waan no more hatred and jealousy. More love, yeah, we want in every community. Tell dem, tell dem fi stand up as a people. Tell dem di battle will between good and evil. Don't let di system pollute yah temple. Caw when Jah wrath, di evil shall go get trampled"] (WHAT!) and well worth digging deep into. 

NOW! With all that being said, the absolute reigning class of "Talk The Truth" is found in two songs. The first of them was one which I was SO happy to see included, 'The World Is Inna Mess'. Featured on Studio 53's BRILLIANT (IT WAS SO GOOD! One-drop with a steel pan!) Show Version Riddim (which may be THE finest Reggae riddim from out of Trinidad that I can remember), Isasha's cut was the strongest of them all and, even about a decade later, it has not lost a damn thing! The song ranks as one of the three finest that I have ever heard from the artist (curiously one of them is missing, more on that in just a second). As for THE best song of Isasha's career. It comes as no shock that they also chose to include 'Don't You Know', which is probably.... one of the thirty-ish best that I have ever heard from ANYONE, EVER. It's well traveled at this point and it was actually on "Real & Down To Earth" as well (whenever he gets around to making another album, I would suggest they put it on that one also), but who cares! 'Don't You Know' is Isasha's signature and if he spends the rest of his career attempting to reach its level, coming close, but never actually getting there, he will have been very successful (because it isn't as if anyone else is reaching it either). 

Overall, I was surprised to see that not included was the syrupy sweet praising track, 'I Know Jah', which was a combination with Million Voice ["Heeeee's my Kiiiiing"]. I have no idea why it isn't on this release. It should have made it here, but it is readily available should you want to hear it and you do. As for what actually is on "Talk The Truth", it was a very strong release and one, in retrospect, which may have come as somewhat of a very nice surprise. At the time, it just kind of showed up one day (but don't they all??), there didn't seem to be some type of sudden push towards an Isasha album, but "Talk The Truth" arrived and, when it did, it IMPRESSED! Again, if you REALLY tune it in, what you begin to hear on this release and from his music in general is just how different Isasha can be. Placed together in a form like this, what you would have had is of the more exciting releases of its era. In a career full of blazing singles, "Talk The Truth", unsurprisingly, proved that the style transferred very well to an album form as Isasha shined throughout.

Rated: 4.25/5
One-Soi Investments Limited
Digital
2017

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Vault Reviews: Rootz And Kulcha by Ras Batch

Wizard. Roots Reggae music, more so than any other we deal with here, is an artform very much based on the message. It is about an artist who has constructed an opinion and a point of view coming up with a way to express that idea and then presenting it to the masses for our digestion. At its best, it provokes thought and action and really just challenges the listener to do more than just sit and enjoy what they are hearing (although you can do that as well). These messages... you know them very well if it is your intent to read a review such as this one, are staples of the genre. They occur so frequently in the music that people like me often use the term 'obligatory' in describing particular songs because there is a virtual 'checklist' of requirements in terms of certain foundational ideas of Roots Reggae music. And it is still music, which means that there is an inherent 'show' or entertainment aspect to it (it has to sound good, at the very least), but the messages behind that music can be so strong that... well I don't even have to explain it. You can go through the archives of these pages and see just how appealing and moving some of this material can be and I have not even scratched the surface of tiny percentage of what has existed during our time. On top of just how plentiful and popular the music can be, it does have a ROOT and a purpose. Though we may tend to overlook it or maybe people like You and I have listened to so much of it that it takes something truly extraordinary to get our attention on a higher level, it is still present and the very fact that the music is so populated may just be the greatest piece of evidence that a great deal of work remains to be done. Now when you get into that next aspect of individuals who at least seem to take that next step and actually apply it to something further than making a song (and we don't know them, we don't live in their houses and we cannot say what they do behind closed doors or what is going on in their thoughts), I think that the list of those type of artists becomes much less populated. SURELY one of the individuals who carries the mantle of not only making a certain type of HEAVY Roots Reggae music and, again, at least seemingly, living it as part of his everyday life is St. Croix veteran, Ras Batch. Batch is someone whose presence I have so wonderfully grown to appreciate as I've gotten older and while I would not say that in my youth his work was unattainable or incomprehensible, I would have been absolutely SHOCKED had you come to me... a decade and half or so ago and told me that I'd wake up one day and he would, rather easily, be amongst my favourite artists. I surely appreciated his work and was coming around more and more to know about everything he had his hand in at the time (more on that in a second), but I never would have imagined that I'd wake up one day in 2021 EXCITED about writing a review for a four year old Batch album.

So what changed? What clicked? I wish that I could tell you about one specific thing or moment, but I think that I may be able to come close to doing that if my memory is correct. in 2005 Batch had an album by  the name of "Jah Guidance". I heard it, I thought it decent and I put it down and moved on from it. Fortunately I hung on to that set (which wasn't always the case and I have passed on some GEMS in my day, but fortunately I still own the physical disc for that album) and, somewhere down the line I gave it another listen. I could force my memory to attempt to be able to explain what the shift was or I can just tell you that an album that I had once set down and marked as "decent" had grown to the point where you will now find it listed as a Modern Classic on these pages which as distinct an 'honour' that we give to full studio releases. "Jah Guidance" is one of the finest albums that I have ever heard. It just is and, what is most remarkable, is that he's managed to top himself since then, with an even stronger project.
2005 & 2012

In 2012, Ras Batch would FINALLY link up with the Virgin Islands' dominant label for Roots Reggae, Achis Reggae favourite I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings collective. That union would birth the downright STUNNING "Know Thyself", another modern classic (probably time we got around to doing a few more of those), and really take Batch's career to another level in terms of notoriety. Prior to that, Batch's career is one of someone who has had to GRIND. The man has seemingly been one of Reggae's hardest working soldiers of his era. Starting out on his own Sound V.I.Zion Records imprint, Batch did virtually everything there was to do with his music and for that of other artists as well. He played instruments, he wrote, produced and put it out (PAID FOR) on his own label. He was also very instrumental in bringing to the world, fully, one of the most naturally gifted artists we have ever seen as the first two albums from the great Ras Attitude, "Happiness" and "Love Life" were Sound V.I.Zion productions as well (they also took a credit for the "Trodding Home" release as well) AND, were that enough (and it was), the label also released an album called "Ah We Deh Ya" in 2012 by an artist named Ima, who is Ras Batch's wife. As I said, it has been a grind and he has been someone who has CLEARLY embraced it and doing the work required. So, following the step up that was "Know Thyself", I was damn interested in seeing what the next move would be for Batch and it took half a decade, but in 2017, the chanter returned with his eighth studio release to date, the most fittingly titled "Rootz And Kulcha". The set would mark Batch's first album released through Sound V.I.Zion Records since 2007's "To The Root" (which was excellent. It was so good!). And, like "To The Root" and "Keep The Faith" and "Who You Are" before it, "Rootz And Kulcha" was a project steered by Batch himself. I heard him say in an interview that there was about ten people, totally, involved in the work of the album, including his own son. That's the type of thing that you're going to get from someone TRULY dedicated to doing this work and getting the message out to the masses (in the very same interview, he would go on to say that he had, years previously, come to the conclusion that the work he was doing would not bring him economical success, but he felt it still so very important to do the work. He felt like he HAD to do it). There's no one over his shoulder, telling him what he has to do or about a deadline or anyone talking about a performance or anything like that. It all comes from Batch, himself, and when you look at exactly what he's managed to accomplish in his career, given that he has had to be self-motivated and, for the most part, self-sustaining, it makes it even more striking. Strictly on the music side, Batch's style has remained so wonderfully simple and direct, that I have made the case in the past that he may be someone who has actually ahead of his time. That, years from now, someone will come up heavily influenced by Batch and doing their own fantastic work. Until then, however, we're in a position to APPRECIATE the artist for what he has become.

Which is very strong. These days, I don't worry about Batch's music very much (and it's been a minute since I have, actually), in terms of the quality or the actual sound, for the most part. The formula he has used throughout the years is well proven and he knows it. He is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses and you know precisely what you're getting into when you listen to his work. I don't know when his next album is coming (hopefully it is in the works, it's been four years now since this one), but I can tell you already how it sounds and that it's going to be some type of excellent. Reasons supporting that prediction can be found throughout "Rootz And Kulcha", the most recent album from VI Roots Reggae wizard, Ras Batch. The title track and, I think, the second official single gets us up and going. If you were going to name Batch's entire career -- like a greatest hits album -- 'Rootz And Kulcha' might be apropos. The way this one is written almost has a double meaning if you take it just a bit deeper. Along with the 'roots and culture' being a clear identifier of the style of the vibes you're listening to, Batch also takes the tune to African shores and uses it to say that he will always be observant, respectful and prideful of his origins ["No tree can live without roots. How can it stand? How will it bear fruit?"]. When you combine the two, and the general structure here, you end up with one SWEET offering and one of the finest on the album it titles. Another highlight, 'Bless Up', is second and it definitely keeps the levels high as, following an electric beginning, it ascends into this sparkling Roots set which is geared towards reminding us all to take a moment and appreciate the things that we do have in life No, everything isn't perfect (it never will be perfect and if it were, it would probably drive you crazy), but you do you have something good in your life and something to be thankful for. I also really like how Batch specifically directs this one to his own community and neighbouring areas in the Virgin Islands, which is something that I don't recall hearing very much, although it is not at all surprising coming from him. Though "Rootz And Kulcha" gets off to a fine start with its initial pair of selections, its third, 'Rastafarian Chant', is even stronger. Beginning with a traditional chant, the song goes on to SOAR!

"With the drum beating, from deep in the wilderness
A royal gathering-
To see the Rasta kinship and the Rasta Empress
Everyone feeling the best
Fragrance from the frankincense and he myrrh incense
Headstrong come deh and kette ah beat 
Judgment, hotta fyah fi tun up di heat
Crushing devil unda feet
When Rastafarian ah chant!"

In my opinion, 'Rastafarian Chant' has no equal on "Rootz And Kulcha". It reigns supreme here as one giant piece of praising tune and, from someone who is EXCELLENT on the subject (he had a tune on the "To The Root" album called 'Hail The King': TEARS!) (had another one that I'll you about in a minute as well), it still ranks very highly in his catalogue. 'Burdened' with following that giant effort is 'Truth and Redemption' and it actually does just that quite well. The vibes of 'Truth and Redemption' are a bit difficult to describe maybe. Something about, the pace or something, is very unique at least to my ears, but in a very subtle way (probably doing a horrible job of describing something that no one else has ever felt about it). Whatever it is, Batch uses it to deliver a social commentary with its feet, very much, on spiritual grounds. The point here being made is that when we turn to a Higher Source, many of the problems we have in the world will be corrected. We definitely have to be aware and to carry our load and do our part, but an absence of His Majesty will leaving us wanting more. It is a very interesting lyrical composition as well and one which I have, wonderfully, spent quite a bit of time on working through and you know I will continue. And definitely make sure you take it in its entirety as, later on, Batch dazzles. 'Chant Down Babylon' is a bit more straight-forward, but it also kept me quite busy and I've well enjoyed it. You can take this one in a few different ways (two in particular) and it will work out for you. The first would be that Ras Batch is telling us all just how important to call out and point out nastiness and injustice ["Them think forever dem injustice gonna last. Jah judgment ah come down fast"] wherever you may encounter it and. And you could also, specifically, apply it to the artist, himself. He's talking about how much it means to him, to personally be in a position to make this type of sound and put a flame to those who mistreat the world. As I said, either course (or both simultaneously) will lead you to a fruitful destination... so yeah, you may want to try both. 

Though you'll find my single favourite selection on it in its first third, the next 'batch' of songs on "Rootz And Kulcha" is, arguably, even better in many ways. The biggest attraction here (literally) is the downright EPIC 'Only Truth'. Checking in at a delicious six seconds just south of six minutes, 'Only Truth' is absolutely EVERYTHING you need it to be and probably a bit more. The basis of this one is education. The more you know and the more you are you aware of what is going, the more capable you will be in identifying negative things and negative actions against you. That's the foundation; and Batch begins methodically building on it with a message which reaches out to subjects regarding religion, slavery, history and others. It is a fantastic tune and which now has me questioning my favourite song present here. I also should mention the vibes. 'Only Truth' CRAWLS! It comes through on a divinely slow-paced HEAVY Roots track which is also amongst the album's very best. Surrounding 'Only Truth', right in the middle of the project, are four more stellar efforts. Check the unity-driven 'Live as One', where Batch chants down infighting and disharmony amongst oppressed people, while THE ACTUAL OPPRESSOR walks away unscarred (kind of reminds you of a piece he did with Achis Reggae favourite, Messenjah Selah, from "I-Ver Strong", called 'Us Against Us') (big tune ["Cah di ignorance and folly deh ah gwann fi too long. Waan cut each other throat and still can't get along"]. I loved the background singer on this one as, whoever she may be, she really does a nice job in enhancing the URGENCY of the topic and as it progresses, Batch does the same thing as well. The background singers found on 'Word, Sound, Power' also do very well in helping set the tone of things. They come in with a gorgeous African chant. 

"Just can't keep I down
Rastaman word, power and sound
Jah lifted I face off the ground
HIGHER ELEVATION BOUND"

From a strictly sonic point of view, this one may just be the best listen on this entire release (and that's saying quite a lot, especially considering some of the later ones). What I ultimately took away from it was that Batch was attempting to infuse some PRIDE in his listeners and to be proud and HONOURED of our heritage and what we come from. Again, the method he uses to make this point is a GOLDEN one. It is so nice! And, taken as a whole, you have another highlight from an album which is proving to be better than the rating I had in mind for it (which is part of the reason why I write the way I do, when you scrutinize EVERYTHING, you get so much more detail as a listener). There're also two more 'colourful' tracks in the mid portions of the album, the scathing 'Hue Man Race' and 'Red, Gold and Green'. The former actually deals with race relations to a degree in the world an, clearly, it is a topic for which Batch carries a whole heap of passion. 

"Is it because of my broad lips, I dark complexion-
I am targeted, fit description and di colour for detention 
Still remember slavery, mass genocide
Ethnic-cleansing families, conquer and them divide
Like we don't know eugenics, immunization and abortion dem a whoa
While we stay drunk-
Pharmaceutical vaccination pon di people dem ah dump
To control conception of specific people
Marginalizing, discriminating get I and I people"

Batch makes the comparison of the race in the song to an actual race ["The race is on, all bets are in. And a time fi start, so let's begin"] and it is such a wonderfully detailed expression of his ideas, that it comes off as if Batch was standing there not just singing a song, but also teaching some type of class (biggup Reemah) and your fee is free. 'Red, Gold and Green' is another strong piece about being proud of who you are and where you come from and it is outstanding. I won't rank it (even though I really want to, I'm not because I'm going to start working on the last few tunes and then hear something that will make me have to come back and rewrite this), but there is not a single thing on this album that is considerably better than it and if you were someone to say it is THE best, that would be fine as well. It has this very large sound at times, which mixes with a more laidback sound which Batch and co. utilize to near perfection ["For so long, wi ah wave this yah banner, for so long. From father to son"].

Along with the title track, there was one piece on "Rootz And Kulcha" which caught my eye from just looking at the titles and that was definitely, 'Healing of The Nation'. What was so special about this one? It, sort of, shares a title with a previous Batch song from the aforementioned "Jah Guidance" album (which is officially called 'Healing', but you listen to the song and they share a punchline) -- and he's done that before, having one song on two different albums, as the towering 'Zion Kingdom Come' from "Jah Guidance" was originally "Zion King Come" from "Keep The Faith" ["IT'S A PRIVILEGE FI SEEK OF ZION KINGDOM! AND IF YOU SEEK HIM, THEN YOU KNOW WILL LIVE LONG"] (WHAT!) (BOOM!) -- but while similar, these two are different. I won't compare them directly, but I will say while both are strong on both fronts, one is stronger lyrically and one has a finer sound, in my opinion. Of course, they share a subject and that is one of Batch's favourites  as he LOVES singing about the medicinal and remedying effects of the herb. Batch's ganja songs have always been big and 'textured' (my favourite probably is 'Green Gold' from) and you can really tell his love of the plant (I've also heard him on an interview talking about the topic and saying how much better the world might be if everyone indulged). So for something, CLEARLY, so important to the man, he gives it the quality it deserves and he always has. If 'Hue Man Race' was Ras Batch teaching a class, 'Teach Dem' is a full honours course. Batch takes this one in a variety of different ways, with the prevailing theme being one of Africa being an ancestor for not only people, but for knowledge and education, in general.

"It is a long  time dem ah tell lie pon wi
Talking about some kinda supremacy
When every nation come from wi 
Melanin Mama, and di child di belly
Longtime dem plagiarize history
Ah still ah try to hide di truth from wi 
Remember culture, our story
Di African science, math and philosophy

Come fi teach dem
Come fi teach dem
Recognize di brainwash inna di system"

The roots in this one go REALLY deep and, as it progresses, 'Teach Dem' wonderfully begins to acknowledge legendary African intellects and others. This is the type of song that you KNOW he did his research for, he refreshed some ideas and placed them together in such a gorgeous package. There's also 'War Fighting' which doesn't have the sound that you would think its title would dictate. It isn't at all aggressive and, instead, its actually more of an anti-violence set and not the kind of commentary that I envisioned (which was probably just a mistake on my part). Regardless, it is solid and one which I would suggest you spend a bit of time on. 'Still Have Love', on the other hand, is pretty much precisely what one would expect in terms of sound. It's course, however, is something different. I was thinking it would be a love song, but it's actually about perseverance. I THOROUGHLY enjoyed the direction of this one which, if you replace certain aspects of it (and what I mean is that 'love' can be a very specific thing, but if you 'broaden' it and make it just general 'positivity' -- meaning, though I have been through so many things, I still have a positive outlook on things, I do not think the world is ending and the sky is falling) it GLOWS! And, I think it's actually quite unique. As I said way back at the beginning of this review, there're certain messages which are foundational to Roots Reggae music, but this isn't one of them. Occasionally things can seem a bit bleak and desolate, but a song like this is damn reassuring in the small and large senses. You take 'Still Have Love' in anyway in which is resonates to you, but to my ears, it's one of the most satisfying on "Rootz And Kulcha". And finally, Ras Batch is sure to give a massive praise on the golden 'Hail Jah' (THE foundation of Roots Reggae) before sending us on our way. As I said, Batch's musical history is brimming with tracks like this one and they are always very impressive. 'Hail Jah', which is quite detailed and specific, is certainly not an exception. It's also excellent (and I would also recommend you check out a tune he did with an artist by the name of Haile Israel called 'How Excellent [Pslams 8]' for Israel's "No Worry Yah Self" album from last year). 
Overall, I want to talk about TIME briefly here. There're fifteen songs on "Rootz And Kulcha". Its run time is sixty-nine minutes. By my count, out of his eight albums now, six of them have been at least an hour long and one of the two which is not, "I-Ver Strong" ["Africa a weh wi from!"] (BOOM!), was more than fifty-nine minutes. The smallest was "Vizionary" (which mysteriously has not gone digital) (whatever happened to Itation Records???), but it only had twelve tracks and eight of those were at least four minutes long. On the opposite end would have been "Keep The Faith", which was more than seventy-five minutes in length. The point being that Batch does not make that kind of 'cookie cutter' brand of Roots music. His is far more involved and developed. He is most certainly not the type of artist who some producer/label could give a bucket of riddims and then churn out a release in a week or two. His work is so RIPE with material and, when you combine that with the fact that he does so much of this work on his own and with a very small unit of  people, it becomes that much more impressive. He is his own boss here and the 'quality-control' is, ultimately, his responsibility alone. Throughout "Rootz And Kulcha", in that respect, Ras Batch is EXTREMELY responsible, but in a career and a LIFE which is seemingly gone in courses like his have, that comes to no surprise. Lovely, as always. 

Rated: 4.35/5
Sound V.I.Zion Records
2017
CD [Good luck finding it] + Digital