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.