Saturday, February 28, 2009
Now you can argue as to who is who in that pack and how TRULY talented they really are but you really can’t argue that all of those names, to a degree have had a hand in inspiring an even younger generation (and outside of maybe Batch and MAYBE Vaughn Benjamin, I don’t think I’ve named an artist here yet who has actually reached the age of thirty) of talented artists and now we’re starting to see that effect. Coming from the same EXACT set of circumstances which spawned the named internationally popular and well regarded Pressure Busspipe is Revalation. When I say same exact, I mean EXACT! Young Revalation, like Pressure, was born in St. Thomas and despite the fact that he officially doesn’t come via the Star Lion Family (which I think is only because at the time that group was coming together, Revalation was probably living in Tortola where he has apparently spent quite a bit of time growing and living as well) and developed in the more modern scene in the Virgin Islands and availed himself to many of the same channels as his slightly older friend. The VERY interesting thing comes here: Pressure’s debut album, the aforementioned The Pressure Is On, came via Tsuni Records (which has seemingly disbanded but if they NEVER release another thing EVER again, they will be remembered for that and that alone, whoever ‘they’ were) but t he actual production was done by Studio 340 from out of Florida by wonder-pair Dean Pond and Eno Stafford. Not only that but the same group (I think mainly Pond) was instrumental in the development of VI Reggae star Army’s early career as well (producing his first two albums, Yesterday’s News and Struggler). If that isn’t the mark of some FINE work and credentials then I don’t know what is (and you can add to that the fact that Pressure, now under the wings of Jamaican ACE super producer Don Corleone, STILL works with Studio 340 and the I’ve heard a few very recent singles from the chanter with the label as well). So if history can repeat itself (and it can) then EVERYTHING would tell you to bank on Revalation becoming the next big thing out of the VI Reggae-wise because that same Studio 340 unit (340 being the area code for St. Thomas where Pond is also from I believe) is on board for the debut of Revalation, the very well done Serious Matters. I have to say that I had NEVER even seen Revalation (nor his curiously spelled name) on any of the mixtapes that I routinely get from out of the VI which is astonishing to me as when I really got into the album you can OBVIOUSLY see what is going on with his talent level. I would make the comparison here to when I first heard Turbulence (everyone else as well) and noticed how much he, too having developed in the same Xterminator camp, sounded like Sizzla. Revalation sounds quite a bit like Pressure and just like Turbulence in the case of Sizzla, he too has things which he does better and not as good as Pressure Busspipe. Also like Turbulence, the case here will be to see how Revalation goes about distinguishing himself from Pressure. In this case for Serious Matters which is primarily about introducing Revalation to everyone outside of the Virgin Islands, that doesn’t seem to be the intentions as Pond and Stafford not only don’t steer Revalation from similar pieces as Pressure (although almost naturally Revalation’s style lends itself more comfortably to R&B than Pressure’s does) they even haul in Pressure himself.
The main difference between Revalation and Pressure to my ears is that Revalation has a fine singing voice which he relies on a bit more than Pressure does (who also has one). The result, as I mentioned can often lead to Revalation’s vibes being more along the R&B style which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at times. Getting things started on his debut album, Serious Matters is an EXCELLENT introduction for the artist and the album alike, Self Esteem. This tune has a spectacular sound to it with just a complex and LUSH one-drop backing it and Revalation offering a message of self confidence for the youths with is, of course, essential. Rocking way to start the album with one of its best altogether. Things don’t exactly dip in terms of vibes with Live U Live although it isn’t as strong as the opener (and is a VERY ‘Pressure sounding’ tune). The thing about this one is that it’s just POWERFUL, it grows on you so strong that I would say that from first hearing it I was almost apathetic to it, but you keep spinning and getting into the lyrics of it and you can’t help but appreciate it because of the very nice backing and the fact that over the duration of Live U Live, Revalation just reveals so many nice topics which is a very nice skill he shows several times on Serious Matters. The tune Joy which completes the opening here didn’t really have to grow on me at all, not calling it one of the best here, because it isn’t, but I’ve appreciated it from the very first time that I heard it. Its very well done and really although there is stronger material here, you really couldn’t have hoped for a bigger opening and introduction to the album.
When you just scan down the tracklist for Serious Matters there are very clearly two tunes which stand out because of who Revalation voices alongside and those, of course, were the two tunes I was most looking forward to hearing. The first is the somewhat cleverly titles Real Revolutionary (did you see that? Did you get it?) which is the ‘square off’ between Revalation and Pressure himself. You know what? I think they could have done a better tune with it. Of all the times NOT to switch to a Hip-Hop vibes and drop in on the straight forward one-drop like the opening tunes, this was it! It isn’t a bad tune at all (nor are any on the album) but it should have been better. I will say that I think Revalation’s first verse of the song is the highlight here, but we wanted it bigger! Undoubtedly they’ll give it another shot at some point. Petty Thief doesn’t leave much to be desired when Revalation is joined by NiyoRah on one of the more head-bobbing tunes on the album. It comes in with a bit of aggressiveness and a noticeable EDGE to it (especially from Niyo) which is something I wasn’t expecting from the two gifted vocalists but it’s a real credit as Petty Thief proves to be one of the best efforts on the album. All of that being said, its WONDERFULLY away from sharing the stage with his friends that Revalation’s star shines the brightest of Serious Matters when he dips into the SCATHING Flames On! I have been playing this tune from since I first received the album to anyone who would listen and it is BY FAR the best representation of just how WICKED Revalation can be. Again, it sounds like something Pressure might sing but even in that case, Pressure being far more accomplished at this point, Flames On would be amongst his best as well. The tune is an anti-violence tune at its core and one of the finest of 2008, period. MASSIVE TUNE! The other real big solo tune here which sticks out and I’ve actually heard playing a bit around in the Caribbean is the very inspirational You Are Someone. It doesn’t hurt none at all that the tune has a very sing-along type of quality to it (best chorus on the album probably) of course, but it’s a powerful tune and far from a gimmick and one which you really should check out. Not far behind is Jah Is There which is simply about as SMOOTH a praising tune I think that I’ve heard in awhile. That riddim is SPARKLING! The tune features some of the best lyrics on the album as well (they are generally strong as well) and it also has a bit of a lover’s vibes in it as well. As I said, Revalation has a bit of R&B to his vibes as well and such a vibes make their initial appearance on Serious Matters first on Just Getting Even which, at least to my ears, sounds a bit like Pressure’s MAMMOTH Jah Alone on Corleone’s Cruising Altitude riddim). Also check the similarly vibed Hard To Handle which is an even stronger tune than Just Getting Even (that riddim could have been a straight instrumental added on, it is GORGEOUS!). Evil Doers is another such track but with a stronger message and one which, even existing ‘above the riddim’ is very well presented by Revalation. I’ll also mention the tune Bun Weed which is kind of a corny sounding (on so many levels, title included) Hip-Hop/Techno tune. But to be perfectly honest I found myself (shamefully) singing along at times, especially during the chorus, (watch me! “Bun weed! If you love the herb. I feel higher than the birds!”) on the obligatory herbalist tune. Typically don’t like so much mixing of the styles but as this is the first time Revalation is coming through, its a lot easier to accept it as simply part of his musical makeup. However, thankfully Serious Matters goes out on a very Reggae note in both Live It Up Right and Breath Of Life. Live It Up Right is about as average of a tune which is exists on Serious Matters (including the WHOLLY mediocre and crawling title tune) but Breath Of Life is SERIOUS! Coming through with a piano front over a nyah drum backing (interestingly enough which is being played by none other than Vaughn Benjamin himself!) the tune BEAUTIFULLY presents Revalation with a backing so EASY enough to deliver one of the most powerful vibes on the entire album to close things out and I come away wishing they had drawn for the drum maybe once or twice more.
Overall, looking at all of the young talents from all over the Caribbean making a way for themselves in Reggae music, you really have to put Revalation at near the top of the pack. Given the talent that he is already CLEARLY bringing into the game (seriously you need to hear Breath Of Life, I’m spinning it now. RIDICULOUS) on his own and combining with the very capable Studio 340 which has already proven their ability to churn out stars, Revalation is almost a ‘can’t miss’ artist and just as I was a few years back with Pressure, I’m wondering why more people haven’t already jumped on the bandwagon (incidentally, S340 also have a fine female singer name Michelle Gordon from out of Jamaica, www.myspace.com/michellegordonmusic, who sings backing throughout Serious Matters so definitely keep an eye and an ear out for her in the future as well). I’m seeing Revalation becoming a star definitely, you almost have to. In a few years time, you’ll probably see his name alongside that of Pressure because he will have earned it, becoming a household Reggae name and just as Fabolous and Hip-Hop: Absolutely DESTROYING properly spelling words, FOREVER. Yes, he’s that good.
Rated 4/5 stars
Friday, February 27, 2009
(someone wrote an EXCELLENT review on Amazon for that one)
Where she had three tunes featured including a remix for one of her biggest tunes to date, Baby Fly. The original of the song is absolutely stunning riding a Diwali-esque sounding riddim which gets VERY addictive, VERY quickly and was a pretty large Caribbean hit from awhile back.
There was also the STUNNING Pointe Des Nègres
So! If you're a Frenchie and you're maybe looking for something to bridge the gap between Reggae and Zouk, check Goldee.
http://www.goldee.fr/ (THE BEST WEBSITE I HAVE EVER SEEN AN ARTIST HAVE ALTHOUGH IT HASN'T BEEN UP'D IN A YEAR)
Thursday, February 26, 2009
But what about those outside of Jamaica? Just sitting here off the top of my head, I’m specifically trying to think about those who may be in Europe because as I come back on this side of the pond, there are definitely more names to look at. MAYBE I might someday consider the likes of Bost & Bim of French label Special Delivery to the list, but not quite. I’m sure I’m missing someone (like maybe Gentleman and Maxi Priest) but heading back to the West and just leaving Jamaica out of the equation for a second, of course our first stop should be the Virgin Islands, where we’ll find people like producer/musician/arranger/artist Tuff Lion, Vaughn and Ronnie Benjamin of Midnite fame and the artist in question today, Batch. Besides being someone whose ability in Reggae music should be at this point UNQUESTIONABLE, Batch also holds the distinction of being one of the most consistent players in the game today: Its one thing to have the ability to do something special, but its yet another to do something special nearly every time out of the gate. Besides being a very accomplished artist on his own, now six albums deep into his career (including this one), Batch is, and was primarily known as for quite awhile before picking up the mic, maybe even a better producer/arranger in the business having produced for the best and biggest names in the Virgin Islands Reggae scene (including an album for Midnite, He Is Jah from 2003). And, were that not enough, Batch is primarily responsible for introducing the world to one of the biggest VI talents to ever emerge, his own artist the SPECTACULAR Ras Attitude. Also, to my knowledge, he helmed the WICKED Higher Meditation riddim, which was released as an album from Itation Records and featured Jamaican Reggae royalty such as Freddie McGregor, Sizzla and Wayne Wonder (and Jah Mason and Queen Ifrica). Speaking of Itation, the next riddim they released, the even better Show Love, also featured Batch with one of the riddim’s best tunes, Righteously Striving. And they remain on board to bring to the masses Vizionary, Batch’s most recent album from 2008. Vizionary apparently comes through much of the same channels as the Royal Lionage album from Ras Attitude (2006) with Danjres of Revolution Sound and Batch handling the lion’s share of the production for the album. I’m ALWAYS very interesting in hearing more material from Batch as he is probably one of the very few BIG Caribbean artists (St. Croix) who I don’t really hear playing too much throughout my travels (and apparently he spins quite often throughout the VI where I just don’t get too much) so really the only time I get to hear from Batch himself are either the very rare times where he actually pushes a tune on a riddim or a mixtape (which is far more likely for Attitude and far less likely for Batch himself, at least that’s what I’ve noticed) or, even better, when Batch actually releases an album. Therefore, even though his albums seem to kind of ‘sneak up’ on you (he hasn’t had one which was promoted very well that I can think of, actually the best promoted one was the one just before Vizionary, Iver Strong which was released by the US based Greensphere with three other albums at virtually the same time), I always enjoy them, even if it takes me a little while to grow towards them. However, much like the Iver Strong album and the To The Root album (from Batch’s own label, Sound V.I.Zion, 2007) before it, Vizionary didn’t have that situation. I’ve LOVED it from the very first spin.
In retrospect, its almost quite odd that Ras Attitude didn’t put out an album himself in 2008. Between Vizionary from Batch and the other Sound V.I.Zion artist, Mada Nile, placing out her own piece, On My Way (which was very very very very average) on her own new label, MAK, Attitude was, unfortunately the only member of the camp who went absent in 2008, hopefully a feat he doesn’t duplicate this year. Seeking to duplicate the big successes left by the To The Root and Iver Strong albums by getting things going on Vizionary is the SMOOTH Come Whatever. This tune is somewhat confusing, as if you just listen to that backing riddim (WICKED baseline at all), its fairly chilled for the most part, but Batch isn’t on that level, he’s much more aggressive with his delivery than you would typically expect and things REALLY kick up for the tune which reminds us that whatever we may face, the answers lie in His Imperial Majesty. Troddin’ Out is a far more ‘traditional’ sound for the Cruzan Reggae wizard as it’s thrown full of KNOWLEDGE in the vibes. The riddim itself is completely unspectacular (although it is quite complex actually), but its merely an afterthought as Batch comes through LYRICALLY ON POINT throughout saying it really doesn’t matter how Babylon views us as we’re soon to be trodding out anyway! Indeed. One of my favourite tunes altogether on Vizionary, Vanity concludes the opening of the album. Vanity is prototypical Batch! I can’t imagine another artist in the game today who could have brought so much STRENGTH to such an understated tune as Batch. He often has the type of Vaughn Benjamin-ish quality where he seems to either forego following the riddim at all, or, as is the case here, he’ll just PACK IN as much as he can say in the gaps in the riddim. It works wonderfully here as he warns of those who aren’t necessarily focused on the right things in life. All in all, very big opening, loving all three tunes.
As I said, there wasn’t much in the way of promotion for Vizionary going in but that’s not ALL true as there was quite a bit of buzz about two of the tunes on the album, we just didn’t know where or when they would appear on the album. The first of those tunes and, by far, the biggest attention getter on the album, on paper, is the SENSATIONAL Wicked World. This tune features not only the latest of several combinations between Batch and Ras Attitude but also thrown in is St. Thomas superstar Pressure Busspipe. I had been calling for an Attitude/Pressure combination from too long and throwing Batch in is a BIG bonus. For my opinion, definitely everyone pulls their weight but Batch shines brightest (although Pressure LETS LOOSE during the second half of his verse WICKED). HUGE tune. The other tune here which received quite a bit of buzz was the one which actually birthed the first video of Batch’s career to my knowledge and is the one which is my choice as Vizionary’s finest offering altogether, the MAMMOTH We Nah Lose. This one is a tune for the ages! Batch weaves a lovely praising vibes for His Majesty the level of which I’m struggling to think of him matching some point in his career (the one coming to mind is the RIDICULOUS Hail The King from the To The Root album), which is saying quite a bit if you know Batch’s music really. BIG BIG tune easily the best on a BIG album and one of the biggest of Batch’s career, period. Not to be outdone are several very strong tunes in the balance of the album, one of which, Jah Blessin’ is the very expected and welcomed combination with longtime Batch protégé, Ahfyah. Ahfyah constantly keeps linking such strong material with Batch that it’s a wonder why we’ve yet to receive an album from him, solo. Hopefully this will be the year, in the meantime, Ahfyah’s bit on Jah Blessin’ is as wicked as I’ve heard him, continuously impressing, hopefully we soon see the talent released full on in ‘09. There are two things you can expect when listening to any Batch album and Vizionary is no different in that respect: a BIG ganja man tune and equally sized tune for the Black Afrikan woman. The herbalist tune here is kind of free flowing and quite impressive, Sooner Or Later. I can go back in my mind and think of bigger such tunes he’s done (like Green Gold and Centripetal Smoke) but Sooner Or Later isn’t that far behind that level, definitely. Woman Like You is the tune representing for the ladies and this one is even stronger than Sooner Or Later. Just a SMOOTH tune really and considering that 2009 might also see the breakout of Batch’s own Empress (Ima), definitely a timely one. This one actually (DUH) my wife really likes and she’ll listen to it thoroughly several times in succession. Can’t blame her, your empress will like it too. Large tune. Righteously Starving of course is another tune that should receive a bit of attention as it was featured on the Show Love riddim from Itation as well and just as it was there, it’s one of the better tunes here as well. I’ll also mention another very big praising tune which could possibly be flying beneath the radars, Joyful To Be which boasts one my favourite choruses on the album altogether in my opinion. Batch’s sixth studio album, Vizionary, comes to its conclusion with the KNOCKING tune Savage. This one comes in with an introduction on an acoustic guitar but develops into a very powerful nyah drum backed SLAP to those living nasty and thriving in war and just human suffering and everything (if I were such a person, and I’m not, I would SERIOUSLY feel bad about myself after listening to Savage, it’s like a parent scolding his children with a song!). This one definitely isn’t encapsulating the main thoughts of the album (they should’ve switched it out with We Nah Lose), but you can’t deny the fact that it’s definitely one of the finest efforts on Vizionary altogether and, at least in that respect, a very fine ending.
Overall, lets see, in terms of quality, where does Vizionary fit in Batch’s ever growing roster of album releases? My favourite Batch album to date is still To The Root, but I’m KIND OF inclined to take Vizionary right behind it and right ahead of Iver Strong and the Who You Are album. Vizionary is yet another example of Batch making what I believe to be about as surefire and ‘can’t miss’ music in all of Reggae: If you follow his rather safe, yet ever evolving approach, then you CANNOT POSSIBLY MAKE BAD MUSIC. On top of that, it definitely doesn’t hurt him that when left to his own vices, he’s about as talented individual in the game today. Therefore, while I definitely heard better material in 2008, Vizionary receives this claim that NONE of them did, at least not from me: If you like modern roots Reggae music, there is no way in hell you won’t like Vizionary. Period.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Welcome to sometime! There are but a few artists from out of the Caribbean who have genuinely made a powerful impact in the music who I would say that I don’t know a great deal about. The first that comes to mind would probably be Eddy Grant. The Guyana born music superstar might be the most embarrassingly glaring ’gap’ in my musical knowledge and even though I downright SWEAR someday I’m just going to start taking a heavy look into it, I never do (this despite having a Trinidadian Grandmother who grew in Guyana and plays Grant’s music in her house (where I am RIGHT NOW) pretty much endlessly). And another would be David Rudder. This perhaps is even more embarrassing as my own father (another Trini, born and grew) is one of David Rudder’s biggest fans and played his music in his house sometimes. David Rudder is quite easily one of the most respected names in Trinidad altogether, especially musically speaking and worldwide as far as their musical exports as you can literally see him playing in shows at ANYTIME in ANY corner of the globe to packed crowds. I actually, long before I was really paying attention to his more current productions was pretty much DRAGGED to a show of his by my father in (I THINK IT WAS) New York on the weekend of my 20th birthday (I THINK) and back then even though I hadn’t fully opened to Soca music (I was born and primarily raised in Jamaica until I was fifteen and Soca was, more or less, a bad word in my house. So obviously having since then becoming more and more into my Trinidadian side (and LOVING IT) and definitely being bitten by the Soca bug more than a few times over, its probably time I start to get to know about David Rudder. Being an album specialist and seeing as Rudder is still pretty active these days in doing just that, tracking down albums is an EXCELLENT way to catch up. Rudder also gave me quite a ’help’ as he has released tunes now in two seasons consecutively with some of my favourite modern Soca artists and both of them are now released on Trinidad Stories, David Rudder’s new 2009 album and, by my count, his first full studio effort since 2006’s The Cricket Chronicles (which I also now own) and he has released quite a few since the turn of the century, despite missing 2008 and ‘07. Trinidad Stories comes via one of the most frustratingly important labels in all of the world, J&W Records. J&W has some of the WORSE distribution from any label that I’ve come into contact with as they seem to almost REVEL (no pun intended) in the fact that they’re music isn’t at many of the majors distributors. This, despite the fact that they have released albums from ANYBODY who is prominent in Soca, Destra Garcia, Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano (even last year) KMC, Shurwayne Winchester and David Rudder (and if you happen to be from that label, Amazon! Itunes! Etc. . .???) they definitely have a large impact in the business and there are other labels like Faluma (who has done a VERY good job in the past few years or so and happen to be the international home for another of my favourites, Tizzy and El-A-Kru) as well but, generally, my first point of reference for a STRICTLY Soca label (which excludes VP) is J&W Records. Trinidad Stories is a bit more fun and up-tempo and ‘current’ release from Rudder and is a very good time throughout for new fans and old alike.
As I said, the real attraction for me on Trinidad Stories, tangibly, was the fact that over the past two years or so, Rudder has made himself more available to the youthful fans (of which I am) by doing combinations with some of the current Soca royalty and the Soca/Calypso MASTER definitely meshes well with them, some of my favourites. Getting things started on David Rudder’s Trinidad Stories is exactly such a tune and in this year in particular, you couldn’t get any bigger than this one. 3 Colours is a song just generally about Trinidadian pride for this season (which is generally a WONDERFUL theme throughout the album) and joining him are two of DEFINITELY the biggest and brightest lights to be a proud Trini (or half Trini) this year musically, Soca power couple Faye-Ann Lyons (who just officially took Trinidad Road March 2009) and Bunji Garlin. 3 Colours is MASSIVE! The tune is more on a lyrical level as opposed to the jump up and wave variety which Bunji and especially Faye-Ann tend to specialize in. What I thought when I first heard it was that he was attempting to do something on a more current level similar to one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard which took me FOREVER to figure out that Rudder had actually made, Trini 2 De Bone. 3 Colours isn’t quite on that level (that song is somewhat out in the stratosphere, one of the greatest ever made really) but its GREAT in its own right and definitely the star of Trinidad Stories. Holding the unenviable task of following 3 Colours is a tune which I THINK was on a promo that I had gotten actually with the opener (or it may have just had its own) the very well done Children Of The Flag. Again, as is the majority of the class of Trinidad Stories, this one is basically about Trini pride and also very lyrical as well. Children Of The Flag also has a ’bigger’ vibe to it in terms of the melody and I love how he talks about the diversity of the people on the second verse (I THINK) and it just generally pills a very nice feeling and is an excellent tune definitely. Completing the opening of Trinidad Stories is the other tune which finds Rudder coming through alongside current Soca royalty, Oil & Music from last year which features the legend alongside the soon to be legendary Machel Montano HD. This tune was also featured on Machel’s last album, Flame On (aka Wining Season) and is another very strong piece about loving Trinidad. It has a bit more flare and twists in it than either of the two previous tunes (such is Montano’s style) but really, at it’s core it’s a nice vibe and was quite popular last year (Machel also combined with The Sparrow last year for Conga Man). Very very well done opening for the album.
As someone who is still getting to the point of REALLY learning Soca/Calypso I always find it interesting to look back at the elder artists, because a great deal of them typically don’t really vibe the way the ‘jump up’ artists do today but they tend to specialize more in the finesse than the strength style. Such a downright GLORIOUS display does Rudder put on when giving respect to his hometown and Belmont. This one is just BEAUTIFUL from start to finish and it’s very accessible (I would definitely recommend it to R&B and Pop heads). One of the album’s finest. Things pick up (in terms of tempo) when Down Time rolls through with a slightly more Soca-ish techno style. I do have complaints about this one because of the odd vocals which I can’t tell if they are intentional or by accident but they don’t quite seem to be right. The lyrics are quite nice though and border on funny at times, definitely check out that one, one of the stranger offerings on Trinidad Stories. Speaking of Soca and ODD, check the damn near addictive Carnival Tuesday. I don’t think there is actually ANY music on the tune, instead the ‘riddim’ is composed of 100% mouth noises (dare I even say beat-boxing!???) which provides the backing for a tune which went from annoying as hell, to one of my favourites on the album in a matter of about 5 spins or so. DEFINITELY check out Carnival Tuesday (which was yesterday actually). Trini Prance is a tune with a live feel, I don’t actually know if the entire tune was recorded in Germany or if they just used that intro, although the entire tune does have that feel. This one is a dance song (DUH) with a sweet Calypso vibes for the older heads, I think I like my Calypso (at least sounding) with a more live feel as well (biggup Chalkdust) so at least for me Trini Prance is one of the best tunes on TS. Speaking of SWEET, while I think Lullaby kind of misses the boat on that one, Burma certainly doesn’t have a similar problem with just an EXOTIC sound to it and I don’t know if I want to call it an R&B or maybe even a Gospel type of vibes as Rudder delivers a tune obviously inspired by a recent trip he must’ve had to the Southern Asian country (you literally hear chimes and birds going behind the riddim on the tune). The tune itself is definitely of a social/political nature but that sound (ESPECIALLY! The beginning) is divine. Zimbabwe Mash Up is a similar political vibes on the tune (instead of the other type of mash up, I was hoping for) and definitely not as strong to my ears as Burma, but its still something to check out as well. Trinidad Stories comes to its end at an Oil & Music remix called In De Coil which is essentially a stripped down road mix of the original. It’s okay (as is the Belmot Remix) and a decent, yet expected, end to the album.
Overall, I think I’d go into the fans who I’ve heard quite a bit of saying that when Rudder moves into more of the political and social commentaries music isn’t quite what it is when he goes into the more fun vibes. I like the tunes here which have somewhat of that vibes but does it where its about Trinidad, of course you can’t just tell the man to do songs like that (because he’s a grown ass man and can do whatever he wants) but his history (or just the bit of it that I know) would suggest that. That being said, Trinidad Stories is still a very solid album. Its not just some Soca album so if you’re looking for the jump up and you’re not too familiar with David Rudder’s music then you may want to stay away for this one if that‘s what you‘re looking for. Trinidad Stories is one for the more mature crowds. Its often said that Soca music isn’t a style which exactly lends itself to be very politically structured unlike its sibling Dancehall and Reggae. If you’re looking for something to bridge the gap then Trinidad Stories is for you and join me in digging for the rest and learning the legend that is David Rudder.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
And then there’s Mavado. Were you to ask me as recently as a year (probably even six months) ago, I would have said NO WAY IN HELL Mavado can crossover. Why? Mavado, at his best has a style which is probably the single most DARK and downright EVIL we may have consistently ever seen in the Dancehall and DEFINITELY for a singer. On his debut album, Gangsta For Life: Symphony Of David Brooks (also from VP), two very very short years ago, Mavado hadn’t reached a level where he could adequately make tunes offering a variety of different vibes. In the time since, Mavado has most notably involved himself in the HOTLY anticipated clash versus the aforementioned Vybz Kartel and regardless of what you may think (or more importantly, who you may think won), the ’Gully Gad’ definitely well held his own, which was remarkable. Musically speaking, to be perfectly honest, Mavado has shown just a hint of evolution in his music but there is still work to be done. He has scored hits outside of the violent tunes (most notably a VERY big one which is on this album) which are at least respectable (as opposed to Squeeze Breast, which was atrocious) but also the long running feud with Kartel at least allowed him to continue to record the violent tracks as well. Now, Mavado is the latest in line to receive a big push from VP Records as they push forth his sophomore album, the MUCH MUCH MUCH more light, Mr. Brooks. . . A Better Tomorrow. The comparison between the two album covers, A Better Tomorrow and Gangsta For Life, tell a story on their own. The very dark cover on GFL told a story in and of itself where you could almost FULLY know what that album was going to be about and was projecting, even if you didn’t know the artist. Whereas A Better Tomorrow, at least in theory, shows something far more ’bright’ and perhaps more importantly, ’bright thinking’ with the brighter (not exactly sunny, there are a few clouds) skies. Mavado has what is apparently an angel shirt on in the cover photo and in the liners there are quite a few other ‘upful’ looking photos as well. Now as far as the music goes? There are definitely more upful minded tunes, more emotionally neutral ones (meaning the sexual ones for the most part) and, of course, A Better Tomorrow is highlighted by a tune which was made for the clubs and is apparently doing damage internationally with the help of a video which is in heavy rotation (which you’ve undoubtedly seen before if you’ve read this far into this review). The interesting thing for me personally is that I was quite vocal of saying that Mavado, when he was able to, would do good to add a different dimension to his vibes: But I think I miss the old evil Mavado!
Monday, February 23, 2009
That is of course just the odds. For my money if any clash ready or ALMOST clash ready DJ/singer to ever hold a mic in Dancehall were to be thrown into one giant war, the ONLY ‘survivor’ would be Mad Cobra. If you aren’t necessarily the most experienced of Dancehall fans but still know a bit about the genre, chances are that if I gave you the running start lyrical lead in of “Girl flexxxxxxx”, you could, without hesitation complete it with “Time to have sexxxxxxxxx”. The Cobra was one of several artists to take full on advantage of the Reggae ‘boom’ of the early 1990’s in which major foreign labels came down to sign up nearly ALL of the talented Dancehall acts after seeing exactly how prosperous such a thing could be in light of the successes of Shabba Ranking and Patra. Cobra, along with artists like the aforementioned Spragga Benz and Super Cat (probably the most successful after Patra and Shabba) and a whole heap of others (like Louie Rankin and Terror Fabulous) made widely distributed major albums, some of which you can probably still find on shelves today. Cobra’s effort was Hard To Wet, Easy To Dry which spawned the aforementioned hit. Flex, and thus made Mad Cobra somewhat of a household name in the annals of international Dancehall and Hip-Hop to a degree as well. Meanwhile, back at home, Cobra had established his name largely on the fact that he was one of a new top notch crop of artist (along with the Spraggas, Bujus and Capletons of the world) and he was willing almost to a FLAW to take on ANY DJ in competition having infamous clashes with Ninja Man himself along the way and even Buju (in what turned out to be a one-sided ambush of Buju). On the album front, although well behind the scenes, Cobra has also remained somewhat active, releasing pieces for all the big Reggae labels (and making a major return with the AWFUL Milkman in 1996 for Capitol) with VP (Exclusive Decision, good album), Greensleeves (Venom, an okay album) and even RAS (Goldmine, one of his best, released twice, once with a dub out of most of the tunes, very good). He now returns with the second of two self-releases the HOTLY anticipated Helta Skelta. Cobra has been virtually telling anyone and everyone who would listen for the coming of this album even before he released his first, the WICKED double disc set, Snypa Way (which I believe he released with In The Streetz, back in 2006). Helta Skelta sort of continues on the same type of vibes as Snypa Way in its almost OVERLY violent approach which is one which only seems to work for someone like Cobra outside of the new artists (like Aidonia). Cobra’s method of building gun tunes has always come with a bit of humour as well as he’ll often say things which will make a listener question if he really did say what you thought you heard, or if you just didn’t hear properly to begin with. Helta Skelta is the first of several HUGE Dancehall albums in the chamber for 2009; with Mavado’s A Better Tomorrow set to come in next in early March, Sean Paul in the spring, both Beenie Man and Bounty Killer later in the year, Tanya Stephens and (as VP recently tipped their hands at) maybe even an immediate follow-up to Busy Signal’s 2008 album Loaded. Each and every one of those albums will be downright lucky as hell to approach the standards set by the Cobra on Helta Skelta, the early favourite of Dancehall album of the year for 2009.
Cobra used to (admittedly so) sound a lot like Ninja Man back in the day but after finding his own vibe and his own identity I struggle to find an artist to compare him to. He’ll rarely kind of top it off (almost to a teasingly frustrating degree) but when he does, Cobra is able to release a turbulent flow where EVERY word is calibrated and fits PERFECTLY into the vibe. After a FUCKED UP intro getting things started on Helta Skelta is the very familiar Watch Face from Big Ship’s Dark Again riddim. Were you under any delusion of grandeur that Cobra just might take it easy for picking the first tune, let all those be they are all thrown away as he dashes in on what was one of the riddim’s finest efforts altogether (incidentally, whenever Stephen McGregor rails back the tempo on his riddims, like the Dark Again, Cobra is a PERFECT choice for to voice it). Big opening. Up next, Cobra addresses something which I’ve ALWAYS felt would be something to speak on and I NEVER engage in myself. On One Lip To A Spliff, as the title would suggest, the Cobra sprays venom at the odd and FUCKED UP practice of sharing a spliff amongst multiple men! Sharing a spliff = sharing saliva = you might as well just kiss him in the mouth = NO THANK YOU. Flowing over the epic Eclipse riddim (from like 2006? I want to say) the tune comes in making PERFECT sense and if you’re one of those guys who smoke with other dudes and just CALMLY and CASUALLY float the herb into a next man’s direction. You need to listen up CAREFULLY and more than once. One of the biggest tunes on the album altogether. Completing the opening is the rather comically understated (remember that phrase) sex tune Bedroom Gangsta. This tune isn’t the only of it’s kind on the album and it’s not the best either but its still quite solid. The tune extends from an ‘interlude’ placed at the end of One Lip To A Spliff as another man’s woman ‘invests’ in Cobra. At times hilarious and an a pretty nice start altogether.
There is some SERIOUSLY WICKED material throughout Helta Skelta for which a case can ultimately be made is one of the (if not THE) best albums of Cobra’s career, period. While the flames definitely burn high, they NEVER burn higher than on the album’s closer and finest piece altogether the COMICALLY UNDERSTATED and downright brilliant Poetic! This one is just a shot aimed DIRECTLY at all you nasty living, dirty and fucked up people who know right but still push on wrong. The first verse brilliantly sets the tone as Cobra legendarily utters, “Inna di club dem a par wid b***y man. Talk, walk, eat, drink, link wid batty man and come a talk, even worsah dan di batty man!”. If you are living nasty, if you are living hypocritical, Poetic will get you, again, including you guys who like to share spliffs with a next man (“Mi a beg man di dem stop share weed and blunt. How you fi pheewwwwwwwww weed wid a man weh nyam cunt?!”). MASSIVE tune! Shooting flames also (by definition almost in this case) is the album’s second best tune to my ears, the scathing Devil’s War. This tune reminds me of an evil version of Lexxus’ Divine Reasoning as Satan himself pays the Cobra a visit only to be shot down in every which way lyrically possible (“Helta Skelta a you mi come fuh! Fi wah? Who yuh bredrin? Come fi yuh mumma!”). It also has funny lines at times and is just something SO original on the album. A tune which definitely caught my ears be it coming over one of my favourite 2008 riddims was Freestyle over SSMG’s COOL riddim of the same name. Freestyle the tune tops Busy Signal’s Cool Baby as my favourite on the riddim altogether . It comes off as a completely straight headtop style freestyle which is always a plus as the Cobra literally lyrically goes pacing all over the place with the tune (even on the choruses). When We Chat is VERY interesting because it is a WHOLLY average tune on the album but that tune could do DAMAGE in a clash (like against Merciless who he also stocked the LETHAL Waste Man for). The same goes for the slightly better Mad Head over Scatta’s ‘update’ (which sounds exactly like the original) of the HUGE Martial Arts riddim, the Self Defense. While definitely the attention on that one was paid to Mavado and Kartel taking shots at each other (both of which were pretty good, Dem A Fag and Sen a Hell, respectively), the biggest baddest tune on that riddim leaving victims is definitely Mad Head. Want more? Lead Poison sounds like something of an alternative/rock album but the Cobra is PRECISION on the riddim with a master class of a flow. That song is WICKED and, again with an understated style, it works on so many levels, deepening an already bottomless bag of tunes should someone fuck up and call the name again. Remember I mentioned the tune Bedroom Gangsta on the sexual vibes and I mentioned that it was nice, but not the nicest such tune on the album? That distinction belongs to previous single (from just last year I believe) the smooth Gangsta Flex (lotta gangsta don’t?) . Consider it an update of his previous mega-hit (my words, not Cobra’s) and I’d imagine were it giving a similar rinsing internationally, this one would definitely launch him right back into that limelight. There’s even more gangsta (if you wanted more) (and you know you did) on the wicked A Nuh Gangsta which is the only one you’ll find Cobra sorta kinda denying the gangsta, of someone else that is. From the title you can imagine what this one is all about and it gets REALLY low at times. Big tune still. From people I’ve been playing it for and that I’ve heard speaking about it, Hustler is one of the favourites. This one is definitely more lyrical to the point where you REALLY need to pay attention to the lyrics throughout (and that chorus is downright addictive). Also DEFINITELY to be heard is Hungry Dawgs, one of the album’s finest efforts. This tune sounds like something which would be playing behind the action scene in a movie and I won’t even bother beyond that trying to explain it, just check it out. Skelta features three pretty high-profile combinations this time around (off the top of my head I can’t remember any on Snypa Way, although I may be wrong) (too lazy to look now!) and four overall (not including Sandy Starr who helps. . . ‘odd out‘ Hungry Dawgs). The lesser known of the lot but a big tune still is Me And My Crew features the Cobra alongside Hip-hoppers Ru’Ral and Beast (neither of whom I’ve ever heard of before). It’s a pretty nice and HEAVY vibed tune which is actually a remake of an older tune Cobra did for Jam 2 (Columbia riddim about a half decade ago). (Lady) Spice who has been on a roll as of late joins Cobra on the tune Dat Me Want for the Daggering riddim. I swear I know a version of this tune where Spice even participates more but as it is here, it’s still very good with Spice showing quite close to the Cobra, QUICKLY becoming an artist to watch in 2009 and who knows, maybe her official LP will arrive this year as well. The recently retired Mr. Vegas joins the fun on the changeup of the album Whoi! (aka Galang So). This one is strong enough but the fact that it’s here to level off the vibes is a plus in itself definitely. The best of the combinations, however, to my opinion comes when the ultra-talented Demarco on Trap We which comes through on a Hip-Hop vibes and REALLY grew on me in a short time. I’m definitely not calling it the greatest here but as Helta Skelta winds down, it definitely adds the many many attractions heading out.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Okay so, this yea went representing St. Maarten and didn't see so many SxM flags but probably saw more than Jamaican flags which just never should be. Almost each and every Jamaican flag was attached to a Trini flag or a Grenada flag or whatever. But we were Dutchie this year (A big Jamaican grown ass man, a Jamaican one year old who lives in St. Maarten and a big grown ass American woman), so be it.
Just my own personal take of the performances this year at Monarch, which is, at least for us, the main attraction of the Carnival experience.
First the International Groovy Soca Monarch 2009
1. Tizzy & Richard Trumpet - Wuk Meh: This performance was something out of a Burlesque era Broadway show. I'm kind of partial (read VERY PARTIAL) to anything with Tizzy's name on it so I was kind of surprised to see reaction kind of mixed about the performance. Not really too familiar with Trumpet and DEFINITELY thought the tune was better without him but he helped the performance full on. I thought they did very good and they had the misfortune of going first (even though Patrice turned opening up into a second place showing last year).
Overall Grade - B
Could have done better in - Getting a better draw. Crowd participation was at a minimum, as expected.
2. Patch & Mastamind - Rum & Roti: I was full on neutral on this performance and this tune. It is one of those which is better when done live in my opinion but still this was pretty standard and straight forward. Mastamind is one of the biggest producers in the game and, like they're doing back home, the producers are starting to try to turn into stars now. The tune had just done decent in Chutney Monarch and just decent here as well, I guess.
Overall Grade - C
Could have done better in - . . . Uhmmmmm, hmmm. I don't know.
3. Hunter & Friends - Jep Sting Naina: Probably the most FUN performance in all of the Groovy competition. Hunter brought in his people with Ravi B, Hitman and, of course, Drupatee. My wife called this one as the winner when it was finished but I would have been shocked if they placed (they didn't) but it was very very nice. But they had also just placed in Chutney Monarch as well (4th I THINK). Near the end they started going through older hits (which is technically grounds for losing points) which probably hurt them but Hunter declared himself and co. there to just have a good time and definitely they succeded on that account.
Overall Grade - B
Could have done better in - By just singing the one tune if they wanted to win but that wasn't the point here.
4. Zoelah - Wine Up On Me: Zoelah was on point! With a tune that was absolutely made for a competition like this and dropping the official video (FINALLY!) just a day before (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NSWbimWDXA), Zoelah is starting to tangibly fulfill on all of the potential she showed with Fly Away and such. Highlighted by starting out with and ending with R&B versions of the song and just generally having a good time, Zoelah was one of the best performances of the night.
Overall Grade - A-
Could have done better in - Zoelah got a little tired by the end! Certainly not to the degree of someone who we'll mention in a bit but just a little. And she appeared to be 'carrying' more than she did at Vincy Monarch last year which is the last time I remember really seeing her.
5. Biggie Irie - Big Girls: Biggie will ALWAYS be a threat to take this title whenever he enters. I don't think he necessarily had the best tune this time but he made the most of it, incorporating backing dancers EXACTLY as the title would indicate. He also went off and sang another tune (a Marvin Gaye song I think), which would have hurt him (technically) but a very good performance still.
Overall Grade - B
Could have done better in - Nothing, that was Biggie Irie. MAYBE could have cut it shorter.
6. Nadia Batson - Bumpers Rule: Didn't like this song and the performance was kind of maddening. It wasn't horrible, of course, but it actually made me like the tune less (I'm playing it straight right now and it's not bad really).
Overall Grade - C
Could have done better in - Switching places in competitions with Patrice later. This was a Power performance in a Groovy show and. . . Okay, yeah Nadia talks a little bit too much instead of singing.
7. Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez - Heavy T Bumpers: I think I'm one of the few people who REALLY didn't like this tune (my wife LOVES it) but this performance was WICKED! Decked out in a white gown with her dancers dressed in similar but coloured attire, Fay-Ann presented a set which was the epitome of PROFESSIONAL. The definitive highlight being when she drew up none other than Calypso Rose who HILARIOUSLY played right along.
Overall Grade - A
Could have done better in - As was expected, her voice wasn't as strong as it may have been.
8. Zan - Hold You Down: You see, it isn't always the song. This song, I liked. This performance? Whatever. He didn't like it either!
Overall Grade - F+
Could have done better in - Where do I start? Maybe just faking an injury and not reaching the stage. Keep your performance money!
9. Shurwayne Winchester & Maxi Priest - Make It Yours: From the first time I heard this one I said how cool would it be if Shurwayne could lure the Priest in to perform at Monarch! He did (even got him for a video, which was absolutely HORRIBLE) and I was right! The Red Boyz produced venture (which you can find on their last album Mo' Fire Blazin') BLAZED!
Overall Grade - A
Could have done better in - Getting Maxi Priest's mic tuned.
10. Kerwin Du Bois - 2 Days: EXCELLENT! Didn't expect much here but Kerwin showed up excellently! Energy, energy, energy! If you sing a song, even if its garbage (and it wasn't) but you seem to love it, people will love it also and that's what happened here. Kerwin didn't have the greatest crowd participation but he won the people over (your's truly included) with one of the best performances of the show.
Overall Grade - B+
Could have done better in - That was the best he could have done there. Guaranteed.
11. Benjai - Drunk Again: The former and current again and former and current again member of the HD Camp/Asylum had no problem with crowd participation, I didn't particularly like it too much though. The vocals weren't there and the original song itself, I just am not too high on. But respect goes to him because he didn't employ a soul! Benjai reached the stage with Benjai and Benjai alone with some lazers and some smoke! Less is truly more.
Overall Grade - C+ (I think I'm in a small minority here however)
Could have done better in - As odd as it may sound (because I just gave him a C+) but had Benjai actually spent some money on some dancers and some show and some backing singers, he might've actually took the crown (at the end of his set he proclaimed himself new groovy king and everyone seemed to agree about it).
The official results were
1st - Faye-Ann Lyons
2nd - Shurwayne Winchester
3rd - Benjai
4th - Zoelah
My own list would have been
1st - Fay-Ann Lyons
2nd - Shurwayne Winchester
3rd - Zan (just kidding) Kerwin Dubois
4th - Zoelah