Saturday, February 28, 2009

VI Reggae's #1 Draft Pick: A Review of Serious Matters by Revalation

It was just a few years back when I first caught wind of an artist by the name of Pressure coming out of the Virgin Islands Reggae scene that was supposed to be an updated, more ‘Jamaican normative’ take on the scene of the region dominated and flooded by the STRANGE sounds of Midnite and Bambu Station. Before then, my primary experience with Reggae music was through the aforementioned Midnite and Vaughn Benjamin isn’t exactly someone whose music I would give to ANYONE as a fair and accurate introduction and representation to/of ANYTHING besides. . . Vaughn Benjamin’s music. If I recall correctly as well, I had just gotten into Batch also and the piece I was focusing on at the time would have been the Jah Guidance album and, again, I wouldn’t exactly use the Jah Guidance album “as a fair and accurate introduction and representation to/of ANYTHING besides. . .” the Jah Guidance album (although its growing on me still to this very day). Pressure was like Sizzla, Capleton and Anthony B. He was FAMILIAR and well talented and just a few years later you see the fulfillment of that talent he showed which manifested itself on his debut album, The Pressure Is On (remember that). A year or so after that, WONDERFULLY I came across a next artist by the name of NiyoRah. Niyo was from out of the same St. Thomas camp as Pressure, the now famed Star Lion Family, and showed yet another side of the kind of chanting singjay (to this day I maintain that he sounds A LOT like Jamaican chanter Warrior King when he chants, but you can also think of artists like Gentleman (Niyo is a more talented singer) and Turbulence (Niyo is a less talented DJ and probably singer as Turbulence’s voice is WELL underrated in my opinion)) which was, again, very familiar. And while NiyoRah has yet to make the kind of HUGE dent which his good friend Pressure has but he is, in my opinion arguably more talented and maybe has an even larger upside in his potential should he get the welcome opportunity to show it in Jamaica. Those were two of the very first familiar type of sounding artists that I started vibing from out of the Virgin Islands. Since then, we’ve added names like Ras Attitude as a WICKED chanter, the fiery stone voiced Ancient King, baritone voiced Harry Mo and others such as Massiah, Volcano and another member of the Star Lion Family, Ickarus; all making music which sounds like what you’d find in today’s Jamaican Reggae scene.

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,, 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
Studio 340

Friday, February 27, 2009

Meet Goldee!


Meet Goldee! From out of Martinique, Goldee is a Zouk singer who makes a brand of Zouk which is VERY close to Reggae/Dancehall and has definitely gotten not only my attention but the attentions of many others, including that of Virgin who has apparently signed up the young singer for her official debut. Goldee is my current choice of Zouk's number one draft pick as the brand of music she makes is VERY accessible. Zouk is often criticized as being somewhat boring and not flashy enough and if that is what you have found to be true, then definitely check out Goldee.
While awaiting her official full length debut, you can check out her EP, The Remix Album

From B-Caribbean (to whom she is currently signed). Goldee was also featured on B-Caribbean's VERY NICE compilation, West Indeez Coast from last year

(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. (THE BEST WEBSITE I HAVE EVER SEEN AN ARTIST HAVE ALTHOUGH IT HASN'T BEEN UP'D IN A YEAR)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Review Of Vizionary by Batch

I’m currently working on an article trying to really list and recognize the most talented individuals today making Reggae music worldwide. These people in whichever way they are involved in the genre have, throughout their time being in the game, distinguished themselves COMPLETELY on the basis of their skill levels: I’m talking PURELY musical MASTERS of Reggae music. The first obvious direction, in my opinion where we would look would, of course, be the actual music making, which would mean the producers. Some of these names such as King Jammy, dating all the way back to King Tubby and Sir Coxsone Dodd also would appear in terms of being pioneers in their specific eras, but I’m not talking about them, I’m talking current producers and artists, so who fits? The first name to come to mind would be someone like Dean Fraser who has been responsible for now going on more than three or four eras of Roots Reggae artists. I find it quite wonderful actually that the same man once responsible for developing the likes of Luciano and Mikey General, then turned the same act for a young Sizzla Kalonji, then again for young Turbulence and Chezidek, all while working primarily as the musical director for the once mighty and now legendary Xterminator label under Philip “Fattis” Burrell (another name who would fit on this list, obviously, but as another pioneer, perhaps). And if that weren’t enough, currently Mr. Fraser can be found doing works for the likes of the brilliant Etana, Duane Stephenson and, most notably, Tarrus Riley who lists the producer/musician/artist/engineer/arranger as his main mentor. Next I would look at someone like Donovan ’Don Corleone’ Bennett who is currently, in my opinion, on the verge of delivering absolute GENIUS as simply becoming PERHAPS the finest modern producer Jamaica and Reggae has EVER seen. Originally just thought of as kind of a quirky producer of pretty odd Dancehall riddims, Corleone has since broadened his horizons and added PURE one-drop Reggae to his arsenal and can be counted upon to deliver some of the smoothest productions this side of Beres Hammond. Speaking of Hammond, his name might headline a list of TRULY masterful vocal artists of Reggae. I would also include the aforementioned Luciano, Sizzla Kalonji, Beenie Man representing the pure Dancehall side, of course and several others who really, even in spite of the fact that they may not be the most consistent (Sizzla), they obviously grasp this whole ‘Reggae thing’ infinitely better than even most of their very own peers and every single time they reach out with something, we are potentially dealing with a masterpiece.

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.

Rated 4.5/5
Itation Records

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Review Of Trinidad Stories by David Rudder

If you’re at all like me right now (and chances are that if you’re going to read this after seeing that picture and that headline) then you’re probably waiting to see what and who comes out of Trinidad’s recently ended Soca season 2009 and what exactly they come out with. Like pretty much each and every other year, its right after (and sometimes during) the season where many of the biggest names in Soca and Calypso go on the international road and with them, they take copies of they’re new albums! These albums can serve as almost anything as, usually, if you’ve been paying attention at all, an album will be generally no more than thirteen tracks or so and it will be complete with remixes and such and will virtually be a compilation of that particular artists work for that season. Thus, pending on the artist and just how much exactly you’ve been paying attention to them (and how much of a fruitful year they’ve had), besides a road mix or two there is a VERY good chance that you can get an album which is little more than a collector’s item as you know, word-for-word each and every tune on the album. Which means that they’re generally made for the somewhat ‘fair-weathered’ or ‘casual’ Soca/Calypso fans or those who just happen to be REALLY into the music (like your’s truly). These albums are also VERY easy to produce and compile for the one or two labels which put them out (because the work is already done) and, as I said, pretty good ideas for the artists and labels alike (especially for the labels because MOST people have no other way of getting these tunes). Just looking at this year alone, and I’m sure I’m probably overlooking someone already but two big names in Soca have already dropped albums, KMC and Destra. KMC’s album, I Am Who I Am is pretty solid and I do confess that I’m not a very large fan of his, but, seemingly I always enjoy his albums (which I guess that does, technically, make me a fan of his???), such as last year’s edition, Born As A Winner. And Destra’s album, HOTT, is a wonderful example as even before physically receiving (my copy will be home when I get there) I’ve already heard like eight of the ten tracks on the album). And being a BIG fan of hers I definitely look forward to it still. There are also albums around from the likes of 3Canal, Kes The Band, who aren’t usually annual players in terms of albums, at least not to my knowledge, with artists like Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin and perhaps even Patrice Roberts yet to come. Like I said, its usually for the uninitiated and the fans WAY in overdrive but sometimes, its REALLY REALLY helpful.

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.

JW Records

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More Pictures From Mavado's A Better Tomorrow Album

Damned If You Do. . . A Review of Mr. Brooks... A Better Tomorrow by Mavado

The business of packaging and marketing Dancehall stars to possibly be the ‘next big thing’ internationally is one which CONTINUOUSLY evolves and confuses equally. While the currents ranks are literally SOAKING with potential new faces to spring on international ears, REALISTICALLY speaking, I don’t think the possibilities run that deep at all. For instance, take the case of Vybz Kartel. If the Portmore lyrics demon were going to be a viable candidate to receive MASSIVE international attention and make himself a star to those outside of the Reggae/Dancehall world, he would have already done so. What limits Kartel (like it did Bounty before him and like it will Aidonia after him) the most in my opinion is that you can virtually say ‘good luck’ to the Patois-challenged international heads who willfully dig into Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Beenie Man records for the riddims. Kartel is, essentially, ‘handicapped’ by his talent. If you can’t appreciate the torrent of lyrical genius he delivers, then you can’t really appreciate him as an artist. That’s one situation. Another is the case of someone like Sizzla who has already been through the process of glossy marketing and image building on a large scale with his major debut, The Overstanding album, from back in 2006 (and he may end up getting another shot at it, before too long). Normally, Sizzla doesn’t have the same language problem of Kartel, the Killer and Aidonia, instead, he has the problem of presenting a virtually entirely new genre to the masses to which many of them haven’t fully experienced in Roots Reggae. Of course, there was Nesta but Marley died even before I was born and others in smaller dosages such as Buju and Capleton, both of whom did solid, admittedly but eventually reverted back to primarily going after the Reggae audiences who continued to show them respect (Buju actually remains somewhat of a household name to Hip-Hop heads, however, in my opinion, but that’s largely due to his Dancehall hits which crossed him over before he crossed himself over (musically speaking, of course)). And if you can’t appreciate roots Reggae in its purest form, then you can’t appreciate Sizzla at the absolute height of his powers. Looking ahead now, there’s Busy Signal. Busy had his first taste of BIG time exposure last year when VP Records (who happen to be on the stage again in this situation as they will be in the majority of future cases; as they were in the majority of the past cases) released his sophomore album, Loaded and did so on the strength of a big time video single, Tic Toc. Apparently that proved to be a relatively big success as the label has already gone on record as being interested in following up Loaded in 2009, which is unheard of for Dancehall artists at the top of the game these days (not since Elephant Man ran with Greensleeves for four album, four years consecutively). Busy holds the ’advantage’ over Kartel and Aidonia and the likes because his actual ability doesn’t diminish if he isn’t the tongue-rolling captivating wordsmith he can be, like his peers at times. There are others such as Assassin (whose music (I THINK) is PERFECT the way it is), Tanya Stephens who has received a small bit of attention, Ce’cile, who will; and of course Baby Cham who is currently signed to a major label (Capitol) all of whom MAY be up for the next step internationally.

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!

One area where A Better Tomorrow does manage to improve on its elder sibling is on the topic of skits. A RIDICULOUS nine (9!!) were present on Gangster For Life (including two to start the album which is just fucked up) only two, by my count adorn ABT, however. Getting things started on Mr. Brooks… A Better Tomorrow from Mavado (where he takes a credit as an executive producer) (good for him) after one of the skits which finds ‘Grincha’ reprising his role of Mavado’s slain father hauntingly so, is the Daseca produced Every Situation. This tune is receiving quite a bit of early attention and that’s to be expected, but I REALLY don’t like it at all! The very dark sounding tune is actually meant as an inspirational (dare I say RELIGIOUS???) tune but it just doesn’t work. Not at all coming close to the MASSIVE tune Dying and it actually comes off vocally downright weird at times. Things aren’t looking too good at the opening here. Next is a can’t miss, easily one of the best tunes on the album and one of the best tunes Mavado has done altogether and certainly in the past two years as he rolls out On The Rock. I actually saw a pre-release tracklist for this one which hinted at the remixed version of the tune being present (which featured Hip-Hop star Jay-Z with the tune having caught the attentions of the international hitmaker) but even be that not the case, this one is a welcome addition chiming in over Baby G’s Mission riddim, proving to the opener that yes, you can be DARK and UPFUL at the same time. Older and more initiated fans may find it a bit old now (could say that about a few things on here actually) but for newer fans this should be one of the real attention getters on the album and even the older ones have to admit that they expected to see it here. Big tune always. Completing the opening of ABT is another pretty big tune from 2008 this time (I THINK On The Rock might’ve been late 2007 actually), the LARGE So Blessed. The Stephen McGregor programmed piece (over a riddim of the same name) is something which I could envision receiving single status at it definitely does have a big sound and is MELODIC simultaneously. And, unlike Every Situation, does a good job of showing off Mavado’s often overlooked and underrated vocals. Things got better after a downright strange start for A Better Tomorrow.

As I mentioned, Mavado is seemingly taking things more easy on this album (a very quick turnabout from the fire breathing monster he was trying to be on Boxing Day), so you get tunes which you just wouldn’t have seen two years back. One such is the biggest (not best) tune on the album and commercially the most viable of his career to date, (I’m) So Special. This tune comes across TJ’s controversial Unfinished Business riddim (and is seemingly the largest chunk at state in Dave Kelly’s suit against TJ for being too close to his own Showtime riddim) and was a hit virtually from the very first time it spun anywhere. I do actually like this one and it is well powerful (and just COOL) for the dance floor. Equally nice is the closer for the album, previous single Overcome which is just EXCELLENT! Easily one of the best tunes on this album and if you want to call it THE best, I’m not arguing. The McGregor produced piece was on VP’s recent Strictly The Best #39 (where it reigned supreme) and I’ve loved the sufferer’s anthem from the first time I heard it. HUGE track. Another tune worth mentioning (and another McGregor piece) is the WICKED Jailhouse which, although it isn’t necessarily the most upful vibe in the world, it definitely is one which is more positively vibed than negatively so. I don’t recall hearing this one before really and it quickly won me over (lovely backing vocals from an identified songstress) with the downright addictive sound which is probably more R&B/acoustic, but it works, trust me! That being said, I can’t help but delve back into the violent stuff when it comes to the album’s finest overall and Mavado wouldn’t be Mavado if he COMPLETELY eschewed from the gun altogether and thankfully he doesn’t. To my opinion, A Better Tomorrow hits its highest point when Mavado rolls across TJ’s Beast riddim (built by Daseca) with Gangsta Don’t Play. This HUGE gunman tune, in my opinion, rivals others such as Weh Dem A Do and, of course, Amazing Grace. And while Mavado is currently (at least seemingly) going through a metamorphosis, the Kartel aimed Gangster Don’t Play proves that he hasn’t completely emerged as a butterfly just yet. WICKED WICKED WICKED! Almost by design (and it was) immediately trailing Gangster Don’t Play is the lion’s share of ABT’s gun tunes with both Real Killer and Chiney K. Real Killer is the better of the two as the tune was quite a nice sized local hit for Mavado as it boasted to be coming in with No Chorus. Of course that begs the question (at least to me) were you too lazy to write a chorus Mavado??? Regardless, Real Killer is a BIG tune coming across Di Genius’ equally BIG Day Rave riddim. Chiney K actually has some elements of an (at least somewhat) conscious tune, but at its core it’s another gun tune and a fun one at that (nother McGregor production there, riddim of the same name).

So what’s wrong with it??? After Jailhouse there isn’t really anything which I would necessarily call GOOD on A Better Tomorrow besides the aforementioned Overcome. Both Don’t Worry (Daseca) and Money Changer (Jukeboxx, Shane Brown, Warning riddim) are decent tunes and I actually used to like Money Changer a little more than I do currently. Money just draggggggs things down and is soooooo predictable really. And I don’t think Mavado could come up with a big gal tune to save his own life! In Di Car Back which some people actually like (WHY???) is just BAD over McGregor’s Work Out riddim. But it’s better than Which Gal on the same producer’s WICKED Bee Hive riddim which is completely useless wherever you may find it and certainly on A Better Tomorrow. Thankfully, Overcome chimes in to save the day at the end.

Overall, I’m kind of confused here: Mavado and VP are obviously attempting to change his image (I actually read an interview were it said he wanted to be a ‘pop star’) (UNBELIEVABLE) and the result of that is A Better Tomorrow and I’m definitely not about to fret over a man trying to increase his fan base and, thus, the food on his table. BUT. Maybe album number two wasn’t the time. Mavado, STILL, at his best is a gun over gun type of artist. When he isn’t that, he can be an artist who can adapt that style and deliver upful sufferer’s tunes like Overcome and On The Rock. OCCASIONALLY he can also find something like So Special as well but that’s it. He’s not one to be making tunes about making money and flossing and the likes and he belongs as close to a gal tune as Luciano belongs to a Soca Monarch stage. A Better Tomorrow will essentially be Mavado’s introduction to a broader international audience with the promotion VP figures to (and already has) pushed behind it. What they’ll find is an obviously very talented Dancehall artist who has the potential to make very big hits and has been doing just that back home over the past four years or so. Unfortunately what they won’t find, for the most part, is his best.
3/5 stars.
VP Records

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review of Mad Cobra's Helta Skelta

Imagine, if you will, a virtual ‘time clash’ of Dancehall’s finest practitioners of the art of verbal combat, all at their peaks, round robin style to see who is the WICKEDEST of the wicked. Spread it out, or take it to a single stage (making it the greatest ‘one night show in Reggae’) on a single night to settle it all. Like it or not, the evolution of the Dancehall clash and, thus, the evolution of the gun tune is something which has held the fascination of fans of Dancehall music ever since the genre itself was born. It almost IMMEDIATELY becomes a required part of any young DJ’s repertoire the second they proclaim themselves to be the ‘next big thing’ and even now, recently we’re starting to see singers and even females getting more and more involved in the situation as well (keep an ear out for one Lady Ali, signed to Assassin’s Boardhouse label). Who could clash who? Well, for starters, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to see part two of Mavado and Vybz Kartel. While the winner is STILL being questioned even now (although I favoured and still do Mavado because he kept it close when close was the last thing anyone expected), we could, as part of this miracle tournament throw it in the first round. Speaking of rematches, why not rematch Bounty Killer with a suddenly reinvigorated Merciless. There was a roughly two year period (2000, ‘01) up until the second Sting where Merciless, the famed ‘Warhead’ was definitely far in the lead of his much more popular rival. So much so that, in retrospect, had Merciless been able to maintain his status after Sting 2001, he and he alone may have essentially ended the now well TIRED Beenie Man/Bounty Killer war by taking up far more of the Killer’s attentions. Who else? Of course clash business is NO discussion without involving Ninja Man who took the art of clashing and repainted it, rechecked it’s status and went a very long way to making it an albeit very violent, but still acceptable art of performance. Provided Kartel could get past Mavado, wouldn’t we just love to see who would win this time if a Clash between Ninja and Kartel could actually play out, of course only if Kartel could keep his hands to himself this time. Throw Super Cat back in and rematch the Ninja (maybe even Junior Cat as well), Bounty Killer .vs. Kartel; Merciless .vs. Kartel; Aidonia would be free game as well representing for the new generation with the high-tech skills; Spragga Benz! The possibilities are endless even with Ninja perhaps being the odds on favourite to be the ‘last man standing’.

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.
Overall, immediately Mad Cobra’s Helta Skelta becomes the early favourite for Dancehall album of 2009 and as I said, Mavado and company will definitely have a big level to reach should they try to remove the Cobra from that role. I don’t see it happening really but regardless, even if it does, Helta Skelta is worth tracking down and HOPEFULLY someday some label picks it up (like Greensleeves) (don’t count on it). Throw Helta Skelta in with Vybz Kartel’s The Teacher’s Back from late 2008 as one of the ANGRIEST but BESTEST hardcore Dancehall albums you’ll find in recent times. Now maybe Kartel .vs. Cobra? I’m taking Cobra as the last man standing taking Kartel’s own words against him, “Big man a big man, child is a child!”. Big album, go get it.
4.9999999999 STARS
Out of 5
DJR Records

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The International Soca Monarch Finals 2009 (pt. 2)

And then it was time for Power. I confess to being nearly a complete wimp for jump up songs, if you make one pretty average, rest assured I'll probably like it. Although I have to confess that following last year, which was insanity (although we didn't attend (remember that one year old I mentioned?)) what I've heard so far this year has been pretty disappointment especially since one of the genre's biggest players, Machel MontanoHD, hasn't really pushed anything SUPER, unlike last year.
This, again, is 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.
Now to the B-Mobile International Power Soca Monarch 2009 which included some of the winners from all over the region from last season and definitely brought back some good memories.
1. Shurwayne Winchester - You Energy: Shurwayne won this competition (via robbery) a few years back (that's okay, the next year Iwer repaid the favour and robbed him back) and, despite a 'flub' last year he pretty much always brings the energy and this year was no different. I don't like this tune AT ALL but he made about as convincing argument for it as he could.
Overall Grade - B+
Could have done better in - Getting a better draw. Its never easy to open and considering what came DIRECTLY before him (more on that at the end) he was up against it to say the least.
2. Blaxx - Tusty: My favourite tune last year as a whole was probably Blaxx' Breathless and he followed up with a similarly themed one this year. His performance was better this year and although he didn't have as strong a tune, he still had one of the best altogether. His performance was madness, he just kept bringing out stuff! At the end there were delrious bear/abominable snowmen/monsters spazzing out on stage and Blaxx kept TEASING the breakout line of the song (I TUSTEEEEEEEEE!) which was frustrating but it's punchline ("I don't know bout you but I come right now to get on BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD. . .") which is downright ADDICTIVE was ever present.
Overall Grade - B++
Could have done better in - If you know AT ALL what I'm talking about then you already know. Blaxx was COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED about 5 minutes into his set.
3. Patrice Roberts - Sway In D Mas: I like this song and I liked this performance but I was about the only one. Patrice did GOOD but the crowd for some reason just wasn't feeling it and marred what was, in my opinion, a VERY good performance. She shouldn't have been in it to begin with but that's a different story. She looked beautiful and the show was big. . . at least to me (okay and I'm pretty partial towards her as well).
Overall Grade - B
Could have done better in - Switching out for Nadia Batson. Someday Patrice Roberts will take the groovy crown, that's her best style, but it'll have to be a BAD year for her to even place in power (Oh and maybe not going into the crowd so early next time).
4. Khiomal Nurse - Unleash The Beast: I just hope he had a good time. After falling flat for most of his (too long) set, young Khiomal, dressed as the (not so) Incredible Hulk left the stage only to return with a big plastic. . . Godzilla? Costume. The single worst performance of the night (even worst than Zan because at least he knew when to quit).
Overall Grade - F-
Could have done better in - Staying home.
5. Skinny Fabulous - Head Bad: I looooooovvvvvvvved this tune last year! Skinny took the throne from long reigning Vincy Soca Monarch Fireman Hooper (who I believe had won the title 600 times in a row) last year and I think he had a good chance to at least place here. To me, he did just that. Coming in Star Wars style, he incorporated something that (even if you didn't like it) you just won't forget and following Patrice and Khiomal when fan response was at a MINIMUM at the most, he slowly started winning people over (and I had actually heard and seen him on Trini radio and TV in the week before quite a bit). To me? One of the night's best and what turned out to be the night's biggest case of highway robbery.
Overall Grade - A
Could have done better in - Getting that damn spaceship out on stage a little faster.
6. Berbice - Traffic: Talk about partial. Traffic is probably one of my favourite songs EVER! I was so glad to see Berbice make it to the finals and I expected from him exactly what he delivered. He didn't do anything too special (actually it was pretty much just a larger scale of what he had done in the semis) and the crowd didn't give him GREAT participation but they definitely respected him. Not bad at all from a song damn near 3 years old.
Overall Grade - C+
Could have done better in - Singing Demon.
7. Luni Sparks & Electrify - Clear D Way: Another of my favourites from last year, Grenada's reigning Soca Monarchs Luni & Electrify were the second Grenadian act in a row and they didn't even seem to get as much response as Berbice did. They did join Skinny as the best costumes of the night, dressed as. . . Indian Kabuki chiefs?
Overall Grade - D
Could have done better in - I don't know. Maybe calling up Mr. Killa and Berbice again, and Miney and everybody else. Couldn't have hurt!
8. Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez - Meet Super Blue: She did okay. Anybody who knows Soca (even just a little, like myself) envisioned this moment from the very first time they heard this tune play, the only question would have been HOW it would happen. Fay-Ann tipped her vanishing and reappearing act the semis 2 weeks ago and brought it again this time. Two moments here were the two biggest moments of the entire: Super Blue came shuffling across the stage saluted by Fay-Ann's backing dancers and as if that wouldn't have sufficed (it would have) the very pregnant Fay-Ann held the mic to her belly and allowed her baby to 'sing' the verse most people assumed belonged to her father. A baby (a girl apparently) trumped her own grandfather (and her father) the King Of Kings in terms of monarch, before she was ever even BORN! I was a grown ass man with tears in my eyes and I wasn't the only one.
Overall - A+
Could have done better in - Fay-Ann could have walked on stage and laid down and placed in this competition. For obvious reasons she had more to give last year (which was magic!) but given these circumstances, the only thing she could have done better was to have actually given birth on the stage, passed the mic to the newborn and had her sing and dance.
9. Ricky T - Wheel & Come Again: Ricky was damned even before he reached the stage and he knew it. I LOVE this tune but he should've brought it to Sting, not Monarch. After the "Mr. Undertaker build them a coffin line" (fitting, ain't it?) rang in people were STILL chanting for Fay-Ann. And he got his biggest forwards (which weren't even big) in conceding to her the crown.
Overall Grade - D
Could have done better in - Nothing. It didn't really matter what he did.
10. Iwer George - Ready: 'D'boss' is one of the few who could have actually followed Fay-Ann but I'm sure he's glad he didn't have to. Ready was an okay tune from Iwer and he (as always) was one of just a few artists to have a REAL chance of winning the competition, but even he, at times, had lagging crowd response. I do favour his tune last year, Ova Yuh Head, but Ready has this STREAM of 'ready' he would have to complete at least 5 times without taking a breath (I did it once) to have a shot. It got to the point where Iwer was using other stuff (including Machel's alleged thumping of Shurwayne Winchester) to get some kind of response. Ever the professional, whatever works for you.
Overall Grade - C+
Could have done better in- Performing before the BOOM
11. Bunji Garlin - Clear D Road: Up until the point Garlin dove in on this tune I didn't particularly like it. If you played it right now in a normal version, I probably still wouldn't like it. But with people singing the hell out of it, it sounded AMAZING. Bunji didn't pull up the tricks this year (i.e. setting himself on fire, propelling down from the sky etc.), instead he brought something even more impressive, LYRICS. Long regarded as the line where fast chatting dancehall meets jump and wave Soca, Bunji launched into freestyles aimed at his closest competitors and even (hilariously) at his own daughter who had took a slap at her daddy earlier. He also, more importantly, stated his mission. The four time Soca Monarch (should've been five when Shurwayne robbed him) had come to keep the crowd away from his wife, Fay-Ann and eliminating ALL questions. He was clearly the second best show of the competition and one of the best all night.
Overall Grade - A
Could have done better in - It remains to be seen what happens next year, but should Bunji combine this year's lyrical side with every other year's flare for the dramatic, it will be damn near impossible to beat him.
12. Claudette Peters - Bring It On: The second cursed artist of the evening. CP ended the competition with her BIG tune, Bring It On. The two time reigning and defending Antigua Soca Queen of EVERYTHING represented LARGE. Of course you wouldn't have known it because the crowd was basically ignoring her. It wasn't her finest hour but definitely better than it seemed.
Overall Grade - C
Could have done better in - Of course getting a better draw. She also could have used her voice a bit more, far and away CP has the best vocals of anyone who has EVER competed for a Monarch title on ANY island.
The official results were
1st - Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez
2nd - Bunji Garlin
3rd - Iwer George
4th - Blaxx
Which unfortunately makes the same top three placers from last year and only Blaxx jumping in, in place of Nadia Batson who didn't make the Power finals.
My own list would have been
1st - Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez
2nd - Bunji Garlin
3rd - Skinny Fabulous
4th - Blaxx
And that's the competition! Fay-Ann also took home what was essentially a viewers choice award which netted her 50k to go along with her 1m in prizes for winning. She offered an unforgettable show and was leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. . .
Of course the only person coming close to Fay-Ann was Laventille's finest Destra Garcia who, between Groovy and Power competitions had the stage for what seemed like an eternity. She launched through hits after hits, even sang some of Beyonce's hit Single Ladies (unfortunately) and had people in tears going through her catalogue of hits such as It's Carnival and most on point, Tremble It. She also went into the newer stuff with Sassiness being a big hit, the biggest until she called up BOTH Denise 'Saucy Wow' Belfon and Bajan Soc Queen Alison Hinds for an unforgettable rendition of their tune for this season Obsessive Winers. The song itself is VERY AVERAGE, the performance was FAR FROM AVERAGE and gave one of the night's real highlights as all three waged a 'Bumpah Clash' of EPIC PROPORTIONS! It was unjudged, but for my money, Mrs. Hinds, who the blessedly rotund Belfon deemed 'HUMONGOUS' in the back, took the crown! Left to her own, Destra ended her set with her MASSIVE tune for the season Bacchanal. Were you to just take out that bit with Bacchanal and juck it into the Power competition, Destra places no less than second and if baby Fay-Ann didn't decide to 'participate', she might've won the whole thing. Yet another reason why Soca Monarch isn't even more popular as talents like Destra and Machel, on the island and COMPLETELY available don't participate. The talk now is that MAYBE Destra may compete next year (I doubt it).
She will compete in another way, however, very soon. Meet Super Blue and Bacchanal are two of the top contenders for Road March. Either Fay-Ann will complete one of the most magical seasons in Carnival history or the criminally under-awarded Destra will FINALLY receive her just due.
Soca Or Die.

The International Soca Monarch Finals 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 (, 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