Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Keep Your Joy by Jah Mason

For all five or six of us who routinely buy Reggae albums, when looking at a particular artist’s career and catalogue its almost always interesting looking back at their very first album and the circumstances surrounding it. This is especially true in the current era of artists who regularly release multiple projects each and every year (although within the last two years or so you find that less and less, assumingly because of the economy), that very first piece is often forgotten, or, at best in some circumstances, relegated to ‘collector’s item’ status, which is VERY unfortunate because in MANY cases, that very first album is not only pretty good but VERY INTERESTING considering what the artist did (or didn’t) turn out to become. I find that the most interesting cases are those who aren’t exactly how they appear to be today, in that they have made a significant (or semi-significant) career shift and lifestyle shift; like Capleton. Few would have thought that almost twenty years ago when the then foul mouthed Dancehall DJ Capleton released his very first album, the critically panned Lotion Man for VP Records (yep, even way back then), that all these years later he would have grown into being simply one of the STRONGEST ROOTS Reggae performers in the entire world. This, in spite of the fact that Capleton, back then, although pretty popular, wasn’t a SUPERSTAR and had yet to make the dent on the international scene which he would go on to make shortly after his sighting up of Rastafari. Similarly, just a year after Capleton’s Lotion Man, was Buju Banton, who was a potential SUPERSTAR at the time, debuting with his own album, Stamina Daddy. The same artist who pulled off Stamina Daddy, a BIG album in its own right, simply could not have done the forthcoming ‘Til Shiloh album, regarded as one of the strongest ROOTS albums EVER but that goes to show in just how many different directions Buju’s career has gone in throughout the years. Sometimes its still very interesting even though the artist doesn’t make such an obvious career shift, such as in Sizzla’s case. His very first album, Burning Up, way back in 1995 for RAS Records, and actually the first few after it (a streak which included his CLASSICS Black Woman & Child and Praise Ye Jah) DEFINITELY showed the August Town native as an artist worth keeping an eye and an ear on in the future, but I can’t imagine the once seemingly righteously unflappable Sizzla would have gone onto be involved in as much controversy as he has seen in his career, while simultaneously remaining arguably THE most dominant Roots Reggae artist over the same time span. Closest to Sizzla in so many ways would be his former protégé Turbulence. Turbulence’s self titled debut arrived for his home base label, Xterminator in 2000 and, again, showed him to be a very talented young artist. His FULL coming out party, however, wouldn’t be until the following year when he caught the eye of VP Records for the HUGE Rising, and both albums (which share a few common tracks) although fairly popular in their own right have definitely become seldom seen outside of the collections of truly hardcore Reggae heads and collectors at that. Hindsight being 20/20, there sure are quite a few interesting stories when talking specifically about debut albums and how they came to be.

If you REALLY dig into the annals of the REALLY obscure, you find even more interesting cases such as with the now MIGHTY but once virtually unknown chanter, Jah Mason. The Manchester native whose story I feel like I now know like the back of my hand (traveled from his home PENNILESS in order to get his big break auditioning for the legendary Junior Reid) now ranks amongst the most in demand Roots artist on the modern scene, but just as recently as a few years ago or so, toiled in ABSOLUTE anonymity like so many of his peers. Unlike many of them, however, the Mason had a level of TALENT which is undeniable and even though it took the well experienced yet discerning eyes of Junior Reid, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that he would have HAD TO have gotten through the door in another way had that been his course. I myself became aware of Jah Mason through a compilation which I now regard as nothing less than CLASSIC, the WONDERFUL Saddle To The East from the once powerful Brick Wall label. That compilation I bought while still living in the States back in early 2001 I believe and mainly because it had five new tunes (to me) from one of my favourite artists, Anthony B (including Good Cop which was a BIG tune). It also had four from one of my favourite underground Roots artists, the WICKED Steve Machete, who was then unknown to me as well, but beginning the album was five tunes from a “Jah Mason”. I was HOOKED on the Mason with tunes like Nah Left Mi Woman, Dem Gone and ESPECIALLY Life Too Pressure catching my attentions with his very SIMPLE but still impressive style. Jah Mason wasn’t the complicated ‘word visualist’ like Sizzla and he wasn’t as consistent as Anthony B, but he had this kind of ‘moody’ or ‘streaky’ appeal to him which I hadn’t heard in awhile, if at all. So, I was one who was VERY happy when later in the year I discovered Mason’s own debut album, Keep Your Joy (still waiting for Machete’s unfortunately) for the now (I THINK) defunct Ghetto Technology from (of all places) Seattle, Washington in the States (and my research tells me it’s the only thing they EVER did). Keep Your Joy has since become the first of, by my count, ELEVEN studio albums in the seven years since (not counting 2009 of course) with one more loaded and ready to go. You could also argue that it was one of the best. The album features a Jah Mason who, although CLEARLY still developing his talents, is an artist who has already begun in his maturity and is more than merely a foundation for the WICKED artist who would soon arrive (If he is a 10 now, during Keep Your Joy, he would’ve been a 7 or so).

Around the time of this album Jah Mason would have been one of the many faces hanging around David House, the camp made famous by the aforementioned Capleton, amongst others and, to my knowledge, along with only singer Moses I, Jah Mason is the an artist from that camp who has actually had an album (not including Munga who came much later or Fantan Mojah who apparently didn’t stick around too long) on their own (still waiting on both Military Man and Jah Thunder, longtime members). Getting things started musically on Jah Mason’s debut album, Keep Your Joy after an intro where Jah Mason (formerly Perry Mason) tells us about how he got his new name, is the COOL title track. Keep Your Joy is a tune which has become somewhat of an underground CLASSIC for Jah Mason. The song (and the album for that matter) arrived not too long after Mason’s good friend and frequent collaborator, Jah Cure went to jail and, I don’t know if he SPECIFICALLY wrote the tune for his friend, but that’s how it’s been taken (there’s also imagery and words to Jah Cure in the album’s liner notes) and has DEFINITELY helped the popularity fo the tune which was somewhat of a delayed hit and now you can see Mason still perform it occasionally. Big opening with one of the album’s best tunes. Next up is another nice tune, although not as nice as the title track, Impress, a tune livicated to the Afrikan woman. This one also has a much slower vibes to it, it’s interesting how he goes after these also because it sounds just a BIT awkward here (although not on Keep Your Joy), even though the chorus is SOLID, this tune is EXACTLY what I mean by him still developing here, Mason singing Impress now is potentially a hit tune. Solid enough here still. Completing the opening here is one of only (by my count) two combinations on Keep Your Joy and the largest profile of the two, False Hype, alongside underrated singer Chrisinti. The tune flows on the same King Of Kings riddim Capleton and Moses I DESTROYED with their tune Crazy Looks (which I’m pretty sure is a Jennifer Lopez remake) and these two offer a much more conscious spin on the riddim which is very impressive and ultimately one of the best tunes on the album altogether.

Listening to these now it kind of sticks out to me how much Mason sounded like a version of Capleton. Thus, the majority of the best material on Keep Your Joy is on a harder vibes as Mason had yet to REFINE the smoother style which would eventually score him hits like Princess Gone. A PERFECT example of this would definitely be my choice for the album’s best tune altogether, the WICKED Fire. Fire is a tune which came well within the ‘FYAH BUN’ stage of Roots Reggae in the early 2000’s and it went too far under the radar. This tune is an old school sounding Dancehall track over which Mason just BLAZES against corruption and all out nastiness! It is also a favourite of mine because it appeared on the Saddle To The East album as well, its large on either stage and on this one, it’s the largest there is. [Better] Be True is another one on a similar vibes where it’s hard hitting and it was actually one of the bigger hits on the riddim (its actually available as a single from Bulpus (who produces a bit here). And, keeping in the line, [Woman] Preserve It is a tune which definitely hits hard in telling the ladies to wait before meeting that special someone (preferably, by Mason’s wishes, a Rastaman) to become intimate and just generally keeping a positive vibes with as well. Keep It Like that is another heavy tune and this one actually features an American sounding rapper by the name of Jah Seven. The combination here is quite well and even though I’d NEVER heard of Seven (before or since) he definitely makes a nice vibes with the Mason no the WICKED tune, one of the real attractions on Keep Your Joy. The later tune, Smoke, is one which hits me on a few levels because I don’t know if I’ve heard it from somewhere else or I just know it from here, regardless it is a very BIG tune. It is, however, topped by the nearly EXCELLENT Zion Place which is a KNOCKING tune and downright addictive at times. This one will have you singing right along from chorus to ridiculously energetic verses throughout and it may just be the second best tune on Keep Your Joy altogether. As I said, Jah Mason circa 2001 still had a bit of work to do on the other, less intense portion of his game, but that’s not to say he was completely barren on the vibes and there are some pieces here which show the levels definitely to be solid on that side as well. They probably get no more solid than on the DIVINE Lift Up Di Name which is a straight praising tune for His Majesty, for Marcus Garvey and for Prince Emmanuel and I REALLY like this one. I say Mason has a very straight forward style at this point and Lift Up Di Name is a PERFECT example of what I mean by that with the free flowing style. HUGE tune. None Shall Escape is kind of vibed between harsh and slower as the delivery here is kind of odd at time with the Mason’s almost ‘jagged’ type of vocals. The tune really grew on me after awhile though and I have to say that it’s kind of my QUIET favourites of Jah Mason’s even today still. As Keep Your Joy winds down it goes to it’s finish with two very nice tracks which pretty much have gone unnoticed, Keep The Fire Blazing and Think All Is Well. Keep The Fire Blazing is, as I said, a pretty good tune, but it’s also pretty generic (unlike Fire), although it does have a bit of free-versing feel to it at times. Think All Is Well, on the other hand, is downright BRILLIANT at times. The BOUNCING tune which reminds everyone to really be careful and keep an eye out for EVERYTHING, lest we think all is well, when it really isn’t. Think All Is Well is easily one of the better tunes Keep Your Joy has to offer and a very fine way to end matters here.

Overall, this is damn near CLASSIC material for me. I so LOVED this album, not that it was the greatest album that I had ever heard, but it just came for me at a time when I was going through my own things in my life (like sighting up Rastafari myself) that it basically HELPED me with that (as did Sizzla‘s Bobo Ashanti). As it stands, impartially, however, Keep Your Joy is still a very good album, Looking into Jah Mason’s subsequent releases I would say Keep Your Joy EASILY ranks in the top half of his eleven releases only clearly trailing Never Give Up (his finest) and the Wheat And Tears albums and alongside albums like Most Royal and Unlimited. If you are at all a fan of the Mason’s then you know that means very good and if you aren’t actually a fan, then Keep Your Joy might be a good place for you to start. Of course that is if you can track it down. Should you pursue it and find it, it’s well worth it. Keep Your Joy was the very first stop for an artist who has now fulfilled on all of the promise he showed back then, so going backwards, for your journey Keep Your Joy is definitely a fitting reward.
Rated 4/5 stars
Ghetto Technology

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Listen Keenly: A Review of Caribbean Girl by Nadia Batson

Its always been my theory that because of Soca’s somewhat seemingly blind obsession with making you either break your wrists waving something, or your ankles jumping somewhere, that the lyrical aspect of the music can often be lost. I liken it almost to stereotypical Roots Reggae where Artist A may make a song with the very typical catch phrases like, “Bun dung Babylon”, “Oh Praise Jah” or “Uplift the people” and such, while never really saying anything; the same can be said for Soca at times where Soca Artist B will come in with, “Jump up and wave, misbehave”, almost like a programmed bit. And even as someone myself who LOVES to ‘jump and wave and misbehave’, I have to admit, it definitely does get tiring and I can even appreciate someone who even SLIGHTLY deviates from that standard course. In Roots Reggae, with artists like Sizzla, Lutan Fyah and Buju at the forefront of literally DOZENS of very talented wordsmiths who either eschew the tired and formulaic lyrical approach altogether, or are capable of taking that route and scoring with big (and MEANINGFUL) tunes, even in spite of it. In Soca, definitely things are the same although there are less practitioners of the almost OVER hype style who can add a bit of lyrical dexterity in between jump ups. Of course, the primary example is and has been for quite awhile now Soca Monarch King of Kings Bunji Garlin who at times appears to come off as simply a Dancehall artist playing with a new toy. Dancehall is almost inherently more lyrical (although you listen to a few tunes from Ding Dong or Matterhorn and you might not know it) than it’s cousin from Trinidad, thus, for every Bunji Garlin there are three or four, Vybz Kartels, Busy Signals and Aidonias of this era. Bunji, however, is DEFINITELY one of the most talented Caribbean wordsmiths going right now, particularly in the wing of the freestyle. Just this past International Soca Monarch competition last month he DELIGHTED the crowd, after announcing his intentions to merely support his wife, Faye-Ann Lyons, by placing as first runner up, with freestyle after freestyle aimed at all of their opponents and his own unborn daughter who, through her mother, had taken a lyrical jab at her father just a couple of performances earlier. I’d place Garlin on the level of his aforementioned Dancehall peers absolutely and in particular in the area of freestyle, he may actually be peerless (although Ninja Man may take offense to that). There is also one Ms. Alysha, often described as the female Bunji Garlin. Alysha, although nowhere near Garlin’s level of accomplishment (yet) has been well regarded for her rapid-fire like flows and infusement of a more Dancehall vibes into Soca. Besides those two, there are veterans young and old like Maximus Dan, KMC, Mrs. Bunji Garlin and Jamesy P from out of St. Vincy who are wonderful lyricists as well as younger veterans such as Skinny Fabulous (St. Vincy), Ricky T (St. Lucia) and the CRAZY S.K.I.NN.Y. from out of Dominica, all of whom have proven themselves skilled at taking a more tactful approach to the jump and wave.

Now, I may be the only one who thinks this way but I don’t think that a LYRICIST is the same thing as a SONGWRITER. Yes, a good one of them tends to be a good one of the other, but I take the term ‘lyricist’ to be a more aggressive type of title. Like Bunji Garlin himself is a wonderful lyricist and could probably write a wonderful tune for someone like Destra in the context of a crazy Soca song, however, when Destra finds herself in the mood to sing one of her gospel fueled ballads, the first person she might want to link would DEFINITELY not be Bunji Garlin. However, it might just be someone like Nadia Batson who is proving herself t be equally powerful lyricist AND songwriter through her relatively short time in the game. I only (embarrassingly at the time) have REALLY been following Batson for the better part of three years and primarily within the last two as she has cemented her place as one of Trinidad’s most prominent and SKILLED Soca artists in that same time. The most REMARKABLE thing about Batson, however, is that I had actually heard ‘her’ before I really thought I had because of the EXCEPTIONAL level to which her career as a songwriter had blossomed before her own solo performing career took off. To her credit are tunes like the OUTSTANDING Sleeping In Your Bed from Batson’s good friend Michelle Sylvester which won Sylvester the very first Groovy Soca Monarch crown in 2005 I believe. Nadia Batson also wrote the very strong tune Flames from Jabae which was a HUGE hit a couple of seasons back and before it ran its course produced an even stronger remix which included Destra herself. Were that not enough (and it was) Nadia Batson, even if she never sings or writes another tune EVER again will hold a special place with me as it was actually she who wrote El-A-Kru’s MAMMOTH tune Expose which is most likely my favourite Soca tune of all time and one of my favourites altogether, regardless of genre. Well, now it’s Batson’s turn to take advantage of the good streak which has turned her own personal way and what better way to do that than putting out an album which encompassed the majority of her hits from 2008 (her biggest year undeniably) and back. That album, Caribbean Girl was EASILY one of the best Soca albums from the 2008 season and was a more than welcomed addition to the usual releases from Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano and Shurwayne Winchester. The Caribbean Girl album is her very first and only to date but it definitely went on to help establish her name on an international level, planting the seeds sewn in her meteoric rise on a local level, placing hers alongside her aforementioned peers, in terms of big name Soca artists. And did I mention that it was GOOD too? Caribbean Girl is just as wonderful and DIVERSE as the artist herself and in the proves to be a winner and a great addition to the collection of any hardcore or new fan of Soca music.

Given Nadia Batson’s history as a writer and an industry veteran, I can’t imagine it was THAT difficult for her to get her foot in the door in terms of beginning to receive the opportunities for herself which she had previously worked so hard for others to get. Thus, you have to hold Caribbean Girl up to a certain higher standard than the typical debut, luckily it STILL doesn’t disappoint even under those conditions. Getting the impressing started after a brief introduction which finds Batson giving thanks beforehand and explaining how the album is merely her expressing all the wonderful different parts of her creativity (indeed), is Batson putting her best foot forward with My Posse. I have heard BEAUTIFUL material from Nadia Batson (most of it is on this album), but NONE of it is as downright EARTHSHAKING as My Posse. The tune was a real contender for Roadmarch in 2008 (I think it may have come in fourth) and ended up netting her fourth place for Power Soca Monarch last year (should have been third). My Posse was definitely one of my personal favourites from the 2008 season and I still find myself getting into the vibes BIG TIME whenever I spin it and I love how it’s both a powerful and still kind of a romantic vibes at the same (“Slow, slow, wine back yuh bumpah. Carnival time so sexy woman take over”). The album’s finest, probably the finest of Nadia Batson’s entire career and a HUGE opening for her debut album, Caribbean Girl. Just as they pick up with My Posse, the vibes cool off with the ULTRA-COOL chutney tinged Love Of My Life [Meri Zindagi] one of the signature tunes from Batson and the album. This one just has a PURE romantic vibes and sounds so exotic that you almost expect a Zouk tune to break out at some point but Batson RULES it and begins to show off those crazy impressive vocals in the process. You love that one. Completing the opening for Caribbean Girl is Caribbean Girl the tune which kind of registers somewhere between the two opening tunes. This one is EXCELLENT as well to my opinion and is probably one of the best WRITTEN tunes on the album named after it. Like another tune later on, Caribbean Girl has such a SWEET Caribbean unifying vibes and message to it that should you happen to be West Indian (and I am) or of West Indian heritage, certainly it’ll strike a chord with you, just as it does with me. Altogether, a LARGE opening.

The thing which will most certainly stick out when looking at the tracklist for Caribbean Girl on paper is definitely the amount of combinations. With FIVE in total, Nadia Batson shares more than a third of her album, wonderfully with her friends on some quality tunes. The first is definitely the most high profile and one of the strongest and she is joined by Tobago superstar Shurwayne Winchester on Loving Again. The two do get quite HYPE, but all in all, it’s just a smoother type of vibes where the tune really excels actually on one of the more COLOURFUL efforts on Caribbean Girl. Next up is my own personal favourite combination on the album and one which won’t mean too much in terms of celebrity unless you’re a BIG fan of Trini Reggae (like your’s truly). Nadia checks in on a one drop riddim alongside one of the strongest Trini artists on the Reggae side, Marlon Asher spar Royal Dainties, on the WICKED My Joy. These two may actually be a pair for real, but even if they aren’t, they’re quite well at making music as My Joy is one SWEET SWEET tune. Of course, the Reggae head in me would like to hear Batson do a bit more (Nadia Batson - Queen Omega combination! WHAT!), and I’m confident in the coming years that we just might. Big tune. Its all Soca next as Nadia is joined by KES D Band on one of the bigger tunes on the album, My Land, another Caribbean praising big big song. Batson outshines her friend on the tune (KES lead singer Kees) but when he does jump in, he does well and the two DEFINITELY make a nice pair at the end of the song. Chica is a bit out of my tastes but I find myself frustratingly singing along to it at times. It features Mista Vybe and [Don] Iko and it is Vybe joining Batson again on the SCATHING Start De Race tune. Vybe is a former Caribbean Soca Monarch and I know him from the HUGE tune Ting 4 Da Road which is a big calling card. Start De Race easily is amongst the class of pure Soca tunes and not far behind the absolute best with its crazy powerful ROLLING vibe (listen to that riddim!) (and Batson and Vybe are VERY good friends he actually co-wrote Sleeping In Your Bed, Bounce, another Batson penned tune for El-A-Kru and even My Posse). When on her own, Batson, arguably, delivers even bigger such as the HILARIOUS tune Mind Yuh Business, a tune aimed at the rumour mongers and gossipers out there which just needs to be heard. She namedrops a few of her peers (like Destra, Faye-Ann and Bunji) which is funny and the tune is just so very well done. One of the very first tunes I heard from the artist would have been the BRILLIANT One Island (which was on the Soca Gold 2006 album). Again, looking for a ‘region-wide’ unifying tune, you draw One Island which is adult ‘edutainment’ for adults of the highest order. Think you can’t make a substantive sounding Soca tune, this one, just like the title track comes in with a nice and COLOURFUL message and vibes certain to please and it was one of her bigger hits actually (DUH). As Nadia Batson winds things down on Caribbean Girl she explores her R&B side a bit on both Ready For My Lovin and As My Pen Drops. Ready For My Lovin is VERY straight forward type of a song you’d probably hear from someone like the members of Destiny Child or someone like such and is the stronger of the two to my opinion. And As My Pen Drops may be stereotypical R&B as well, but it definitely pushes a few boundaries (it sounds like something R. Kelly might sing). And, thankfully, as if to make sure you don’t forget what the hell you’re listening to, ending things on Caribbean Girl is the typical jump and wave and misbehave tune and frankly, after the two slower tunes, I just don’t give a damn! The tune, Confusion, is MADNESS, it is one of her biggest hits to date and I love it! Excellent way to end an excellent album.

Overall, Nadia Batson is TOP NOTCH Soca regardless of how this album turned out and luckily it turned out to be VERY well put across. The album has a big claim to being 2008’s best Soca album from a single artist altogether which, in a PACKED year like 2008, is saying quite a bit. The album itself, just as she says it will on the Intro, turns out to be sort of a microcosm to Batson herself. It goes ALL OVER the place, yet it never strays enough or consistently enough to alienate the first group of fans which Nadia won over, the Soca heads, of course. It also just shows how SMART and INTELLIGENT she is which are qualities which aren’t necessarily thrown at musicians, but in this case it is VERY applicable: The woman can write! She can sing! She can arrange! Caribbean Girl is the first, of hopefully MANY more, attempts to show the entire world just how talented the woman is. Hopefully they’ll catch on. If not, then we’ll keeping jumping and waving when she tells us to. Even if we have to pay attention a little more than usual. Very impressive.

Rated 4.5/5 stars
Dynamic Entertainment


The Top 10 Sexiest Caribbean Artists

You wouldn't see a list like this on Amazon would you? The Caribbean is home to what are in my opinon some of the most beautiful women in the entire world. Whatever you like, we have it! And, of course, that is reflected in our music, which is just as varied as our looks. Thus, I submit for your approval, the cream of the crop, the Queens of Queens, the walking, talking murdahs.The Top 10 Sexiest Caribbean Artists in the World.

10.Misty Jean - Haiti, Kompas

Me still trying to figure out exactly what Kompa/Compa is and I’ve already identified my favourite artist and practitioner of the bouncy sounding Zouk-ish music, Misty Jean. I’ve actually known her name for quite awhile (I think the first time would have been on a Haitian mixtape headed by Wyclef or Top Adlerman) but now having a face and a frame to place with the name and WOW. Cutie! Misty Jean looks like someone you went to high school or college with, she is the ‘everyday, regular girl’ exaggerated with small hints of OOOOOH, here and there.

The look: The average girl. Like I said, Misty Jean has special herbs and spices which may very well set her apart from that type of girl, or she just may very well be her. Regardless, there seems to be something very COMFORTING there (at least for me, Misty is virtually twins with my ex) about her appeal which is definitely a plus.

The persona: PLAYFUL. That helps in the physical as well: I THINK Misty used to be a bit overweight, because she dances like a fat girl and I could honestly watch that all day! She also, at her best, makes very enjoyable music whether fast or slower paced she just loves the jump up (she recently heavily played Haiti Carnival apparently).

09.Faye-Ann Lyons Alvarez - Trinidad, Soca

To be perfectly honest, Faye-Ann may just belong higher on this list but she, even less than probably anyone else on this list, parlays her OBVIOUS sex appeal into even more success. Also, maybe it’s just me but, even in spite of the fact that you can go at it pretty much completely naked, Soca Music is one so powerful that you can ALMOST overlook the flesh for the jump or the wine.

The look: Faye-Ann’s greatest physical asset in my opinion is VERY unusual. Not because she’s the only one who has it, but because of the fact that because the new mother just had a child, it’s not known if she’ll ever have it again. Assuming she will, look at the woman’s FIGURE. Far from being a full figured woman, but the curves she does have are in all the right places, she is a walking, talking hourglass and she made women all over the Caribbean book a few extra sessions at the gym with the outfit she pulled off at 2008 Soca Monarch. And Faye-Ann’s face is highlighted by the most charming and cute gap which is so well hidden behind a mic, you might just not know that she had it at all.

The persona: STRONG. Faye-Ann is literally SOAKED in CONFIDENCE, she absolutely exudes it, through her skin. You’d think she won every award there was to win every year and not just that one and with this outstanding year, it only figures to grow. So confident is Faye-Ann that it extends from her, to her husband and even to their fans. I SO wouldn’t be surprised if Faye-Ann was a bit ‘tomboyish’ back when she was a kid as she very much so has that ‘go get em’ attitude even today.

08.Thayna - Guadeloupe, Zouk

Young Thayna is the woman with two, or three, or four different looks. On one hand, I’ve seen her look downright geeky and nerdy, but on the next, you could make a good case for her being #1 on this list even. The first of three Zouk artists on this list, Thayna’s undeniable appeal will simply reel you in and when she gets you, what you’ll find is one of the strongest young Zouk talents currently in the game, period.

The look: Which one? The nerdy Thayna isn’t at all UNATTRACTIVE, she looks quite harmless and has somewhat of a college student feel to her. HOWEVER, when she gets nice and dolled up, such as she did on her RIDICULOUS album cover for her debut album, Nouveau Depart, last year and then you’re dealing with someone drop dead gorgeous. Make no mention of the ‘surprises’ she ‘carries’ after you dig into the liners for the album (she is a very well endowed woman, is how I’ll say it) before reverting back to the cover for a pair of eyes that can stop time.

The persona: TWO OF THEM. My little knowledge of Thayna would lead me to believe that she is definitely less of the sultry Soca Diva you’ll find later on this list and more of the shy unassuming type, likely to play hard to get. But, look at that face again and ask yourself: Do you really care???

07.Nnika Francis - Grenada, Soca

Of course Nnika didn’t deserve to be on a TnT Soca Monarch stage last year and of course shenanigans were abound and of course controversy, controversy and controversy. But Nnika, you sexy! Along with one other person on this list, Nnika is SO my tastes, she doesn’t look like her in the face much none at all, but she is shaped like my own wife. Chocolate skin, curves in all the right places and more than a little flesh on her bones.

The look: While I’ve seen more than a few questionable hair care decisions on her part, apart from that Nnika, to my tastes, is the total package like I said. The chest, the HIPS! DAT ASS! And, of course, love the chocolatey, wonderfully skin. The greatest compliment I’ve ever heard paid to her is when my 18 year old cousin (who is also Grenadian) said about Nnika Francis, “She looks like she smells good”. Indeed, and the face looks like the stereotypical ‘girl next door’ adorable and completely approachable.

The persona: BOUNCY. Confidence is a trait shared by most female Soca artist and certainly Francis isn’t lacking in that department, however, I’d also say that she would be one of the COOLER and more leveled headed Soca artists as well, which isn’t a bad thing exactly.

06.Tanya St-Val - Guadeloupe/Martinique, Zouk

The elder stateswoman on this list, Tanya St-Val is a bonafide Zouk SUPERSTAR. The mid 40’s singer is still just as BEAUTIFUL as anyone on this list. She simply personifies and OOZES what is Zouk music. It is sensual and playful at the same time and she is all of that. So much so is that a part of Tanya St-Val that one of the most wonderful things you’ll ever see her do, is getting interviewed, her voice is just as sexy as the total package.

The look: I believe St-Val to have an immediate heritage which includes some East Indian parentage which would explain her EXOTIC looks to say the least (Thayna may also have some of the same ancestry). She somewhat reminds me of one of my favourite actresses, one Tisha Campbell, at times. Her looks are CLASSIC, everything about her screams CLASS and, yes, you may very well want to do. . . Yeah, but you almost have to feel a bit embarrassed and that your punishment is forthcoming (not that I’d have a problem with that). Tanya St-Val is just a lovely, lovely creature.

The persona: MATURE. The persona is classy also and like I said, it is literally the human form of the music she sings. She can be the sultry Zouk Diva, she can be the playful and almost Soca-ish type and she can also be the serious type, all in all, you just cannot ask for more.

05.D’Angel - Jamaica, Dancehall

Took one lady to tame both Dancehall’s largest names, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer and because at least half (and probably more at this early stage) of her career insofar has been marred in controversy it seemed as if it took people awhile to wise up to the facts: DAMN! D’Angel is sexy! Now they’re appreciating the skills of the not so surprising former model as a DJ, but she sure does cast a LOVELY site!

The look: I’ve had the pleasure of actually meeting and shaking hands with D’Angel two or three times now and she can be downright DEVASTATING! She has a look which appears ALWAYS as if she is simply a painting and every bit of her appeal was carefully crafted by some master artist somewhere (insert Beenie Man joke here). The result of that is rather easily (whether you want to admit it or not) a beauty which is SO appealing and marketable for the masses and just fine! She is Jamaica’s version of Tyra Banks also, as she has JUST A HINT of the unpolished but cool gyal from Spanish Town she is at heart.

The persona: REFINED. Despite all of the OBVIOUS effort to believe otherwise, D’Angel is quite a cool person (she signed like four autographs for my niece) and she has, in almost every public situation I’ve seen her in post-foolishness era, come off quite well. She also spends quite a bit of time working with charities, especially with youth girls. Sexy with a heart. Gotta love it.

04.Alaine - Jamaica, Reggae/Dancehall

If the forthcoming Sweety isn’t my favourite then CERTAINLY that distinction goes to Alaine on a musical level. Probably the best way to describe her is the second coming of Nadine Sutherland (who could also have been on this list) as just a BEAUTIFUL and NECESSARY singer in the game. Alaine’s music is just about as beautiful and lovely as she is as well: You look like that and can sing a song like that??? Are you perfect?

The look: Try really hard to find a picture of Alaine NOT showing off what is clearly her greatest physical asset: That downright INFECTIOUS SMILE. Alaine is, as a whole (no pun intended) probably not as attractive as some of the women whom she outranks on this list, but her smile is EASILY the best on this list, she makes you want to smile!

The persona: PRISTINE. Alaine has all the makings of someone who RARELY screws up at anything and as strange as it sounds, we need someone like that in Dancehall today. She is the complete opposite bookend to the Vybz Kartels and Bounty Killers of the world and as her combinations show with the likes of Beenie Man, Beres Hammond and most recently Tarrus Riley, simply her presence makes people want to do better.

03.Lady Sweety - Guadeloupe, Dancehall

From a strictly musical standpoint, Gwada born infallible wordstress Lady Sweety is probably my favourite artist on this list altogether. What didn’t necessarily appeal to me when listening to her second album (which I thought was her first), self titled, was how sexy she was. As I said with Nnika, she was one of two who fit my personal tastes COMPLETELY, Lady Sweety is the other and perhaps even more than Nnika.

The look: Short, compact and curvaceous in all the right areas, CLEAR, STRONG and virtually undiluted Afrikan lineage reflected in that wonderful chocolate which wraps her body and a smile as cool as it is captivating. I don’t know if she has children (I’m pretty sure she does, however) but she also has a somewhat of a MOTHERLY look to her and I like that (I live and am married to one after all) which comes across as very comforting in her appeal as well.
The persona: THE PARADOX. Lady Sweety’s name is only somewhat applicable if you simply listen to her music and even look at her. She makes big and bad sounding music (like Ils Veulent Savoir) at one time and tries to project this bad gyal image (also check the MADNESS that is They Call Me Sweety on the massive Gang War Riddim), but in the very next spin, you’ll hear her big hit Chewing Gum or Fraggle Up (yep, you know how it sounds). You can’t make sense of it, neither can I and probably she can’t either. Nevertheless, sexy and pretty much anything you want her to be (and good at it!). Winner all over.

02.Jessye Belleval - Guadeloupe, Zouk

The sleeper on the list? Jessye Belleval is one of my favourite Zouk singers right now. Much like another of my favourites Fanny, she also just happens to be PERFECT in pitch and tone for singing Zouk music, she rarely, if ever at all, sings a bad note in her songs. Well, you do just a bit more research about young Jessye (who may very well be older than I am actually) and you discover that she is DROP DEAD GORGEOUS. . . Jessye I would not leave my wife for you, but the fact that I feel compelled to address that even though no one asked me (and it isn’t like it’s a possibility of it or anything) should tell you something. The woman is FLAWLESS, her look encompasses everything, she looks very young and energetic, but you get closer to her and you see there is a certain maturity to her as well.

The look: Jessye Belleval’s physical appearance is all the more appealing because it doesn’t look as if it takes her great lengths to arrive there (unlike the Peter Parker <> Spiderman like transition Thayna seems to undergo, and I say that with no disrespect). While certainly there would be some work, I would venture to guess that when she rolls out of bed first thing in the morning, she would be just as sexy, if not even more. I almost wish she were Jamaican or even American, however, as it stands, I and the rest of the Zouk loving world will GLADLY keep her to ourselves!

The persona: MYSTERIOUSLY SWEET. In the way she acts and comes off Jessye Belleval kind of reminds me of Alaine in the sense of the PRISTINE effect and appearance. However, in her field, the spotless world of Zouk, it’s a lot more difficult to standout because of that, than in the downtrodden groundzero that the Dancehall tends to be these days. I think it’s because Jessye has a bit of a secret, her eyes tell me that a little, although whatever it is, I’m not sure she even knows or care. I know I don’t, keep looking like that!

#1#1#1#1 Ce'cile - Jamaica, Dancehall
The Sexiest Caribbean Artist for me was a no-brainer when I started this list and despite the fact that I SERIOUSLY though of switching her out for either Lady Sweety or Jessye Belleval didn’t compromise her standing at all in the end. Were this a list of longevity alone, Tanya St-Val would be here; were this a list purely on looks, either D’Angel or Jessye Belleval would be top ranking; Personality? Of course we could slot Alaine here. . .
But all of those things combined and you get one answer.
Ce’cile. Fans of Dancehall have (literally and figuratively) watched Ce’cile grow up over the past decade or so in the business. Once destined to be the obvious heir to Lady Saw’s throne as the Queen of Dancehall, she hasn’t exactly waited for Saw to abdicate and has become THE most popular female pure Dancehall artist in the world over the last couple of years. Her looks have grown with her as well. Once lauded and criticized for her babyish looks (the cheeks!), Ce’cile (cheeks still there) is full on WOMAN now. SEXY, FINE, ATTRACTIVE, GORGEOUS WOMAN! Her personality is also right along with that. She is and has always been a little rough around the edges, she doesn’t make friends all of the time (think back to how she came on the scene with Changez and then later with Do It To Me), but should you talk to her, she is a very nice and sweet person. She is also the sexiest Caribbean artist in the world, period.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cool Again?: A Review of Guardian Angel by Natural Black

Despite what is on the immediate horizon in terms of Reggae releases there aren’t very many things these days which REALLY get my anticipations up and ready, waiting for a forthcoming release. Almost undoubtedly due to exactly how much material I do listen to, especially these days, I find it quite difficult at time to simply get hyped for pieces and, typically, I reserve that type of normal pre-release anticipation for the feelings that I get, whether good or bad, after I have actually received the project. For example, I can’t actually say that, unlike for his first album, I was all that tuned up for Mavado’s most recent delivery, A Better Tomorrow, not to say that I wasn’t looking forward to it but it wasn’t with the zeal I previously experienced, this in spite of the HUGE amount of press surrounding the release as well as Mavado’s own constant self promotion. the same could be said for one of the other BIG releases from a big artist earlier in 2009, the Rise Up album from Anthony B. this was also somewhat surprising to me as the chanted WOWED me in 2008 with the releases of consistently high material throughout the year which was peaked by his album, Life Over Death, his first release for his very own label. I could even take it a step further and include the man himself, Sizzla Kalonji (more on him in a bit), but I didn’t exactly find myself salivating over the potential of the then forthcoming Addicted album (and luckily I didn’t, because it just wasn’t very good) Of course there are exceptions, however. Incidentally, right now there are two releases on my radar for this forthcoming month of April which REALLY have me frustrated in waiting. The first is actually an album from the just mentioned Sizzla Kalonji, Ghetto Youthology for Greensleeves Records. The catch and the attraction with Ghetto Youthology is the fact that by all appearances it is a straight forward ROOTS Reggae album (anytime that situation arises from a Sizzla album, you’re potentially dealing with MASTERY level type of stuff) AND it’s produced by none other than his own band, Firehouse, which to my ears is every bit as inviting as if it were produced by former ‘boss’ Philip ‘Fattis’ Burrell himself of Xterminator (which would technically make it the first such album since 2004’s underrated Stay Focus album. Like his last Greensleeves album, I-Space, Ghetto Youthology has WICKED written all over it. The same could be said for Buju Banton’s FINALLY releasing of his Rasta Got Soul album which has been rumoured to be coming since roughly the turn of the century and is expected to be the literal follow-up to his opus, the CLASSIC Til Shiloh album. That being said, however, there are dozens of albums on the ‘soon come’ which simply don’t do very much for me, at all.

But are there any ARTISTS who I consistently look forward to? Well, with someone like Sizzla, my favourite, I do confess that my level of anticipation varies depending on what type of input I receive about the album before it’s release. However, there are two cases of two HIGHLY CONSISTENT artists with whom that is never a question. The first is DEFINITELY the great Lutan Fyah who has ignited my confidences in modern Roots in much the same way Sizzla did almost a decade ago. The second artist (speaking in a strictly roots capacity here, in Dancehall, I would probably say Beres Hammond, Assassin and DEFINITELY Tanya Stephens) is arguably even more consistent (very arguably) and almost unarguably more ENTERTAINING than even Lutan Fyah, the simply outstanding Natural Black. I would say that an honour I had previously believed would someday belong to the once promising, now ‘slumming’, Turbulence FULLY belongs to Natural Black: More so than any other relatively young or ‘new’ Roots Reggae artist to emerge in the last half decade or so at the top flight of the game, it has been an UTTER JOY to watch and listen to the Guyanese born chanter develop. Once, simply regarded as a HYPE Buju Banton clone (complete with the Beres Hammond connection and all) Natural Black, over the years has definitely come into his own as an artist, to the point where he is now regarded as undoubtedly one of the most well regarded local and international Reggae talents in the world, despite never really ‘threatening’ to crossover into the mainstream arenas at all. I ALWAYS look forward to each and every time Black releases an album as it is, typically, not only always full of appreciably SOLID material (and is, at times, even spectacular) but his style is one which, even when not at his best, can make a song worthwhile giving it SOME quality worth listening to. Thus, it was by a very comfortable surprise (if such a thing exists) that I received the new album from Natural Black, Guardian Angel, by my count, his eighth studio album to date. The circumstances surrounding this one are a bit unusual, but also (VERY) familiar. Unusual because releasing the album is a Bajan record label (which I have NEVER heard of before), Zion Roots Music (which is an offshoot of CRS Music, which I have heard of before, they released Kimberly Inniss’ debut, Come With Me, if I recall correctly). Barbados is Soca country but apparently they have a somewhat up and coming Reggae scene as well and ZRM is apparently at the forefront of that movement now. The more familiar (and significant) aspect to Guardian Angel, however, is that it is somewhat figuratively the follow-up to 2007’s solid Cool Nuh Black album as it is the second album which the chanter recorded for his native Guyana. Cool Nuh Black, if I recall correctly was a Guyanese production (meaning that’s where it was mixed) but it was largely recorded in Jamaica (for his lead producer/manager (I THINK, although Black has his own label now, Shagillia) Walter Fraser‘s Vizion Sounds label). Guardian Angel, however, was recorded at Brutal Tracks studio and is produced by what is apparently one of the finest backing bands in Guyana, the Brutal Jammers. The results here are typically REFRESHING and SOLID Natural Black, definitely not to be missed.

Although most of the Reggae listening world will know this album as Guardian Angel, it was actually released back in 2008 officially, in Guyana and several spots throughout the Caribbean, as Wise Decision. Zion Roots Music picked it up and threw together a new (and wholly more appreciable) cover and Guardian Angel was born. Several of the tunes were actually, unbeknownst to me beforehand, going in. Going in to Natural Black’s Guardian Angel, the first stop you’ll come to will be The Prayer, which turns out to be one of the stronger tunes on the album altogether. The tune is (DUH) a praising tune for His Majesty and a SWEET one, the one drop backing this one sounds almost ANGRY. I couldn’t tell you at all the name of the riddim, but I would definitely love to hear others voice it as well. Big opening there. The pace definitely kicks up a notch or two as Natural Black delivers the title track for Guardian Angel which is my choice as it’s greatest tune altogether. Black’s REAL talent is his ability to PERSONALIZE a track better than almost anyone in the game, which, although his subject matter my not be the most varied (not saying it isn’t), he is one of very few artists who can say that NO ONE else besides him can capture his vibes, he is truly one of a kind, That skill is ever-present throughout Guardian Angel the tune as Natural Black brings the VERY strong tune which would have been a real standout on any of his previous albums well. HUGE tune. Completing the opening of the album is a tune which took quite a few spins to grow on me full on, the NICE Calling On Him. This one has a very stereotypical sound to it (which is probably why I overlooked it) but Black’s usual special blends of herbs and spices really pushes the levels up on the tune as he reminds all of us to look to His Majesty in times good and bad. Indeed. Very strong opening.

Although you’ll find the first few tracks of Guardian Angel to be of a highly spiritual nature and sound, the tides turn to bit more uptempo and less conscious material which is the things I had heard before. Thankfully the change isn’t an immediate one, however, as we are afforded the WICKED Buss New Riddim which may just be the best WRITTEN tune on the album as Natural Black uses the music as a metaphor as a life change as he says, “Buss new riddim. Buss new songs, after reading a psalm!”. Not the scathing piece the title might suggest, that’s saved for what was I THINK the album’s single, We Don’t Play. This is a fairly straight forward and DARK Dancehall tune, although it does have conscious lines here and there dashed in. Its not a HORRIBLE tune although it certainly isn’t amongst my favourites here and apparently it did some quite healthy business down in GT. The other similarly vibed tune is What You Looking For which features Black alongside Guyanese artist Jory Hector (who I’ve actually seen perform before I believe). This one is a just BIT better than We Don’t Play and, of course, I always like to see new talents getting the exposure and I’ll even say that there could have been even more exposing some MORE GT talents (what I want is a Reggae meets Soca combination Natural Black/Adrian Dutchin!). While the hype definitely goes down when the hype tunes do, the QUALITY amps back in when Black goes after the slower and heavier vibed material. Such a tune is the very strong Open Your Eyes, a tune urging the masses to take a stronger look for the more hidden forms of corruption around them. Very cleverly written song there, definitely give it a few spins through (“Open your eyes people, dem a practice DAYLIGHT EVIL!”). Arguably even stronger, however, than Open Your Eyes is the tune Life’s Journey which is definitely one of my favourites on Guardian Angel. This song is on a more intense (musically speaking) vibes than most other Roots intensive pieces on the album and really develops over the course of its duration from its somewhat ‘jumbled’ beginnings. Heads Of Government is another strong effort from Natural Black as Guardian Angel winds down. This one definitely carries a much more tangible message, speaking to our ‘leaders’ who have let the quality of life degenerate with now response virtually. The tune approaches the ‘art form’ or critiquing from a very tangible and DIRECT line which is, oddly enough, quite unusual and very refreshing for such a tune (by simply not blaming heads of government because “times getting red” or something like such). The ROCKING Careless Ethiopian is simply one of the best tunes you’ll find on Guardian Angel, period. This is a roots tune which stays within those borders quite easily, but at the same time allows Natural Black to do a few different things with the vibes. His primary delivery for the majority of the tune is basically just a TALKING style. The tune itself is just a reminder for us to stay on our toes and remain aware at all times while living in the corrupt system and I swear that chorus just grows and grows on you. Probably the best on the album altogether. The tune Music wasn’t what I expected at all. I had in my mind a FAR more jovial type of tune (almost the ‘changeup’ of the album), but it still ended up conveying the type of message which I hoped it may. It’s just an ode to the music itself, to the vibes, but it has much more than just that to it. As usual (at least this is what I get here), Black uses ‘the music’ as a metaphor for a whole heap of things, of course, most notably as LOVE, while simultaneously standing for the actual music itself. Perhaps he was trying to put across that music = love? Indeed Natural Black. Closing shop on Natural Black’s Guardian Angel album is the aforementioned changeup, the obligatory Nyahbinghi tune, Count Your Blessings. I always love these tunes and Count Your Blessings is no different, another very ADDICTIVE chorus on this one and Black actually shows off a bit of singing here and there as well. Just with the overall message of being THANKFUL for what you have comes in with the tune and to set up things nicely for those to come after you. Trying to somewhat make it all fit in my mind isn’t very simple in terms of the grand plot of the album itself, however, I’d still venture to say that while there are stronger tunes, none of them would be better to end the album than Count Your Blessings.

Overall, as odd as this may sound (and it will), while Natural Black DEFINITELY has had stronger albums than Guardian Angel (Far From Reality, Love Conquer Evil, Naturally Black), just as I said of the Cool Nuh Black, Guardian Angel, in the grand scheme of things, may just be his most important. You’re already starting to see Natural Black’s effect on the Guyanese Reggae scene with more and more artists reaching out with material (like Jory Hector) and I think that this album could have even done more (like a First Born combination, how does that not happen!???) . You’re also actually seeing a bit of backlash from Guyanese Reggae fans who feel Black isn’t representing Guyana so strong and I feel albums like this definitely do that in a tangible way, it shows him actually investing more in the culture. It also just happens to be one of my favourite artists dropping yet another COMPLETE and CONSISTENT set. Guardian Angel is recommended to most fans of modern Roots, probably with a Dancehall twist and of course fans of Natural Black, one of the most talented artist in the game. Well done and well worth the (short) wait.
Rated 4/5 stars
Zion Roots Music


Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's The Return Of The Queen: A Review of Eaze The Pain by Dezarie

Several years from now I believe that we will look back at this current era of time in Reggae music as the development and emergence of quite a few different trends. Of course, the one which critics will most likely point to will be the level of violence in the Dancehall and, by extension, it’s influence on society and everyday life, particularly in Jamaica, by artists such as Vybz Kartel, Mavado and Aidonia. Some, perhaps will also point to the increased levels of sex and slackness, heightened by the ‘daggering’ sensation currently sweeping the Dancehall (and Soca) world. However, me be the optimist that I am, I would look at more positive situations: Such as the globalization of Reggae music. The fact that the number of ‘popular’ countries in the world without somewhat of a Reggae scene, or a beginning of one is dwindling by the year and with that comes, of course, an increased level of commercial viability as the number of Reggae fans grow with it. That being said, however, perhaps the most significant occurrence in Reggae music over the past few years or so has been the increased presence of the once not so in demand female artist. Both in the Dancehall (and not just in the ‘typically’ cast role of over sexed and money craven vixen, although sometimes) and in the Roots Reggae arenas we’ve seen a virtual explosion of feminine talents taking to the mic and doing so receiving much more attention and successes than they have CONSISTENTLY at any one single span than I can recall in Reggae history. 2008 in my opinion was a landmark breakout year for the women of Reggae, despite the fact that she who is STILL probably the best known of them all, Dancehall Empress Lady Saw, had what was pretty much a quiet year, as did her closest contemporary, Dancehall poet Tanya Stephens. The Dancehall wasn’t altogether barren, however, as Dancehall diva Ce’cile continued her wonderful streak from 2007 by dropping two more albums (just as she did in ‘07) this time in the west and both of them, Waiting and Worth It are reportedly amongst the best selling Reggae albums in the world right now. She was joined by [Lady] Spice who also had a breakout year mainly on the strength of Ramping Shop, her MEGASHOT with the aforementioned Vybz Kartel but she was just generally on point throughout the year (lyrically VERY impressive). The biggest development happened on the Roots side though as young Roots Princess Etana, marked her arrival on the scene with the release of her debut album, The Strong One, the Reggae album of the year. And, of course, she was joined by Queen Ifrica who announced a deal with VP Records of her own, to release her forthcoming sophomore album, Montego Bay. Simply put the ladies were ruling all over in 2008.

Even outside of Jamaica. In French/Creole Reggae, following a 2007 where WICKED Gwada DJ Lady Sweety was in control, Malkijah from out of Reunion (getting back to the globalization I was talking about) took over, ‘erupting’ on the scene in a major way. And Trini Reggae monarch Queen Omega released an album, Servant Of Jah Army (and even in Soca, a woman, Faye-Ann Lyons, for the first time took a Soca monarch title in Trinidad), which is always a good thing. One of the most significant occurrences for women in Reggae for 2008 also took place outside of Jamaica, but in the far more familiar Virgin Islands. Besides just this, however, there were also smaller pieces of accomplishments for women in the region as well, such as Mada Nile releasing an album, On My Way, on her very own label, also The Positively Nelsons checking in with not one, but two full length studio albums for the masses. And there was development for some of the younger and up and coming VI female Reggae talents, such as Omo Lioness and Empress Nyingro. The single largest revelation of female artists in the Virgin Islands in 2008 and one of the single largest, period, across the Reggae board was, of course, the long awaited return of the most popular woman singing His Majesty’s music in the Virgin Islands, St. Croix EMPRESS, Dezarie. I don’t even know in what category or to whom I can draw a comparison to match the popularity of Dezarie, perhaps the best (and fittingly here) would be to Midnite (and by ‘Midnite‘, of course I mean Vaughn Benjamin). Just like with the top ranking group, I could probably find you thousands of fans worldwide who would have absolutely no problem in proclaiming Dezarie not only the top female in the Reggae game, but the top artist, ALTOGETHER. I find her popularity comes in some of the strangest forms as, although she isn’t very popular in Jamaica, the few people I’ve talked to who know of her revere her and her bountiful talents. That being the case, one of the year’s most anticipated releases was the return of Dezarie, with Eaze The Pain, her third album and first in over five years, since the Gracious Mama Africa album which helped established one of the most curious legends and reputations in modern Reggae history. Gracious Mama Africa followed her debut, 2001’s Fya for I Grade Records which I’ve heard called, by people whose opinions I respect, simply the finest Roots Reggae release from ANY female in Reggae history! So what is the attraction to Dezarie? My thought would be, again, somewhat in the same way as Vaughn Benjamin: Her style. Where Benjamin can be this ultra-cryptic rolling wordsmith, Dezarie simply doesn’t sugarcoat ANYTHING. She is very much so a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of singer. That’s first. Now, you take that and you combine it with the fact that she has one of the sharpest pens and deepest bag of lyrics in the current landscape of Roots Reggae, which she uses to write these really COOL, yet powerful, tunes which has made her fans worldwide. She has been arguably THE most popular touring female Reggae artist since the turn of the century (although in actuality either Etana or Queen Ifrica may match her in that fairly soon, probably Ifrica most likely) and her Eaze The Pain certainly came at a time to ease the pain for fans all over the planet who had been waiting to here some new material from her for a long time. No, it did not disappoint.

Just like with the previous album, Gracious Mama Africa, Dezarie taps Midnite producer/arranger/bandleader Ronnie Benjamin Jr. (Vaughn’s older brother) and Midnite’s Afrikan Roots Lab label for production and distribution. Benjamin has helmed many projects for Midnite and others as well and is widely regarded as one of the most talented producers on the VI Reggae scene (along with names like Tuff Lion, Laurent ‘Tippy’ Alfred and Batch). Getting things started on Dezarie’s third album, Eaze The Pain is a tune which honestly (and shamefully because it is beautiful) took awhile to start growing on me (besides on WONDERFUL stretch), the downright haunting Hail Jah. Again, as I said, Dezarie is very much a ‘no frills’ type of an artist and Hail Jah is a straight forward MASTER CLASS of a tune giving praise to His Majesty. Later in the tune, which is so sullen, almost like a funeral march, things pick up as Dezarie and company just start throwing “HAIL HIM” from the heavens across the board! HUGE tune which you’ll miss completely if you only spin it once through. Holding the unenviable task of following Hail Him is the more keyed in sounding What A Mornin’ (the one-drop kicks in on this one). This song definitely proves to be another in the class of the album as the tune begins to shift things in a more melodic direction, besides offering one of the sweetest mental images on the entire album. Completing the opening of Eaze The Pain is a tune in Always Remember You which doesn’t really appeal to me sonically speaking but is probably one of the best DELIVERED tunes on the album. Dezarie’s voice in normal circumstances is one which generally receives praise although you do hear the occasional critique that she doesn’t take many ‘risks’ with her tones (which she doesn’t but, if it ain’t broke. . .), yet Always Remember You finds her going all over the place vocally and not really sounding too stressed about it. It is a very natural LOVE tune and the music does pick up with the sax comes in later. All in all, a strong opening.

Despite the fact that the opening tracks on Eaze The Pain are pretty solid on their own, things REALLY pick up after them. The main attraction on Eaze The Pain the album proves to be Eaze The Pain, the song, which is downright SPECIAL to my ears and has been since the very first time I heard it. This tune has such a powerful vibes and the music is well on point setting the stage for Dezarie who attacks the riddim with a chant on RIGHTEOUSNESS and supporting righteous ways to spread healing around the world (and thus easing the pain) which is so beautiful, I had tears in my eyes the first time I heard it! MASSIVE tune and the album’s best. The other tune here which I find many people really love and is simply amongst a few of similar class for me, is the dazzling Set Da Flame. This tune has a BIG vibes in it which I’m sure fans are appreciating all over the world with a riddim that just ELEVATES the tune. Dezarie sprinkles in her usual brilliance and you just have one bonafide WINNER with Set Da Flame. That being said, after Eaze The Pain the song, the next best thing I hear on the album named after it is the closer, Ras Tafari. This one has a very nice old school vibes and Dezarie just begins to teach the virtues of His Imperial Majesty to the masses and this one, even more so than the title track is one which I feel should really (if it hasn’t already) have an impact. Definitely not a ‘throw-away’ tune there and a big vibes. Going back, there’s a tune earlier on the album name Real Luv which, outside of Set Da Flame, may just be the most ADDICTIVE vibe on the album. The tune really, at its core, is simply a piece about how to treat people, good and bad, accordingly and how to uplift the masses while doing the same for yourself at the same time which is a great message and one which isn’t exactly over used in Reggae, surprisingly. Concern is probably my choice for the best WRITTEN tune on Eaze The Pain altogether. It also doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of melody either. What Dezarie does is write a song in a way where she basically has all of these things and concepts like Concern and wisdom and people as well, calling out to the listener to live a more righteous and positive life. You really have to hear it roll out on that KNOCKING riddim as well. One of the album’s best right there. Angels, which follows Concern, isn’t quite as good throughout, but what it does have going for it is one of the SWEETEST vibes you’ll find in Dezarie’s entire catalogue in my opinion. I don’t know if it were the intent, but she literally sounds like an angel singing the tune in praise of His Majesty on another knowledge packed tune which has the sounds unlike most others (be careful listening to that one, I’m listening to it now for the first time in quite awhile, I forgot how Easy it grows on you). Heading pack towards the ending stretch, you get three really strong tunes before Ras Tafari closes up shop on Dezarie’s Eaze The Pain. The first is The Truth which definitely has quite a bit of an edge to it, perhaps the most you’ll find on the album, at least this side of Set Da Flame. I really like this tune, Dezarie pushes a pretty straight forward Roots DJ style (which she tends to do quite often) which is very impressive on the ROLLING tune. I hear something in Anotha Revolution which, unfortunately, just isn’t there, but I think Dezarie may have heard it as well in singing it. Had the riddim for this one been just a BIT faster, you would have REALLY had something special in the tune and it isn’t necessarily BAD as it is. I envision in my head, strictly in terms of the riddim, something to the effect of Collie Buddz’ Come Around, where that slight step up could have really made it WICKED! But the call to arms tune is definitely still a highlight here as Dezarie’s lyrics and delivery in general are rarely stronger on the album than on Anotha Revolution. Lastly, setting the final table for Ras Tafari is the LOVELY For The People, By The People tune. This one is just a simple vibes for the people of the world, the ghetto people of the world surviving in Babylon’s corrupt and nasty system. It doesn’t do much until midway through the first verse where it really picks up and stays at that level for the remainder of the track, proving to be a tune which although maybe easy to overlook, definitely carries a wonderful vibes which you, the listener, will miss at your own peril.

Overall, I could say how much Dezarie’s fans will really appreciate Eaze The Pain, but it pretty much goes without saying that the majority of them picked this one up IMMEDIATELY as her fans definitely tend to be amongst the most committed in all of Reggae. To the others, however, what you’re getting here, although I made the comparisons earlier, is something which isn’t much like Queen Ifrica or Etana at all and you have to take into account that Dezarie DEFINITELY personifies he VI Reggae sound where they have a far more traditional Roots Reggae sound. That being said, if you aren’t a normal Dezarie fan and you have a taste for modern Reggae with an old school twist, then this one is a REAL WINNER for you. For me personally, in retrospect, I could have very well ranked Eaze The Pain as one of the best Reggae albums of 2008 altogether, it was THAT good. What you have here is one of the most significant women in the game, at what is truly the highest level in her career returning to a scene which is much more full than last we heard from her. Yet, in the VI, Dezarie’s Eaze The Pain shows who the real queen is and maybe even beyond.

Rated 4.5/5 stars
African Roots Lab

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lyrics to Unseen Corruption by Messenjah Selah

Nothing no name so. Unseen corruption
Nooooooooooo! Intention.
Nooooooooooo! Invention.
Corruption Babylon can't conceive.

Operation. Subliminal
They hide the truth under symbol
Check dem language, dem codes and dem signals.
Pleasing Satan.
Is their number one. Now them a Luciferan!
Guess what, is their ultimate plan: Annihilation.

Who you think, Are the biggest drug pushers?
Who you think are the corporate gangstas?
Who you think are the criminal sponsors?
Guess who is best friends with the pastor.
Who you think, kill in the name of love?
Who you think, sweep it under the rug?
Do you think, your filthiness can wash off in a tub?

Nooooooooooo! Intention.
Nooooooooooo! Invention.
Corruption babylon can't conceive.
Experimentation! Secret invention, weapons of mass destruction.
The population. Genocide.
Increase incarceration.
Debt wide perscription. Global pollution, its your corruption addiction.
From the Egyptian. Mi seh di secrets came from.
Caan test gifts from the King of creation.
Who you think, hide inna di confession booth?
Who you think a molest di youths?
Who you think a rape and rob?
Then invite me to dem synagogue.

Yo who you think, implement these laws.
For what you think? To cover up their flaws.
Ship sink! Your soul is loooooooooost!

Nooooooooooo! Intention.
Nooooooooooo! Invention.
Corruption never go unseen.
Nothing no name so. . .

Taken from Messenjah Selah's album Breaking Babylon Curse.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Progression!: A Review of The Universal Cure by Jah Cure

I think after having listened to as much Reggae music as I have over the years, it is often quite easy to become somewhat disillusioned as far as what exactly is going on in terms of the message being delivered, particularly on the Roots sides of things. I mean I can pick up any album or any single in my arm’s reach and hear any dreadlocked or turban clad performer in a studio singing “times getting red”, “Babylon must fall” and “praise Jah”, but what really, if anything do they mean? Are they merely regurgitating the things which they’ve grown up hearing people reap the successes for singing or is their a full meaning of something or another behind their words. This happens even in music which I can say that I honestly do enjoy listening as it does strike me in some melodically gifted concept but I can come away FULL ON believing that the particular artist is merely talented at going through the motions of performing the message and MAY NOT actually believe what they say. So who do I feel REALLY believe became an artist to get the message across, rather than learned the message to become a performer? Well, these days I would, of course, like usually point to the fairer sex who tend to be more emotional creatures, thankfully, for the sake of the world. I would have a hard time believing that you could roll through ANY release from someone like Queen Ifrica and pick it up in front of her and have her not throw her full support behind it, in any way, shape or form. This, I would say in spite of the fact that the diminutive Tony Rebel protégé from out of Montego Bay, isn’t exactly the most emotive artist you’ll find around. Instead the conviction of her vibes comes well through via the fact that she often comes off as TEACHING instead of singing, and of course, the very TANGIBLE messages which she relays in her music; often sounding as much like a council leader, rather than ‘merely’ a musician. Then there’s young Etana, currently on a meteoric rise to Reggae superstardom, who, unlike Ifrica, is VERY emotional in her tunes. Besides her voice, which is wonderful, Etana just has the vibe about herself, as a person, which blends so nicely into her music: The perfect example of this, of course, being the tune Roots, which affirmed not only her walk in life, but her arrival on the scene as well. There are male performers who share similar characteristics such as Natural Black who blends HIMSELF into his music perhaps better than ANYONE in modern Reggae to my opinion and of course Sizzla Kalonji whose rather back and forth nature of making music often steers those away from the truth about his rather open and non sequestered living situation, just as he says in his music. Truth be told, not everyone does it (I could name you several big name artists who I feel are going through the motions) but for the few that do, I think they could REALLY make progress and they are.

So what of the aptly named Jah Cure? Well if EMOTIVE and EMOTION is what you’re looking for, then I could very well make the case that Reggae music and perhaps music as a whole has RARELY seen a more emotive artist than Jah Cure, or so it seems. Regardless of the case, Jah Cure, by far one of the most controversial figures in the history of Reggae music as a whole, has convinced me and millions of Reggae fans across the Caribbean and the planet as a whole and since his release from prison in mid 2007 following a stretch of more than eight years served in the Jamaican prison system for a conviction (which he has thoroughly denied and was under a VERY strange set of circumstances to say the least) of rape. In the year and a half following his release from prison, just as the year or so prior to it, Jah Cure has been one of the most consistent artist in all of Reggae music, aligning himself with some of the biggest hitmakers in the game, which does in his case say quite a bit: Can you imagine what kind of PROGRESS he may have made had the large eight year gap in his career not existed? Besides aligning himself with the likes of Sizzla, Anthony B, the aforementioned Queen Ifrica and Etana and most recently Tarrus Riley, as artists capable of making bonafide Roots Reggae hits, the Cure has also set himself up with the very strong Danger Zone camp of which he is seemingly the musical centerpiece. Danger Zone, headed by industry veteran/producer Della Drummond has been one of the most CONSISTENT outfits in the same time since Jah Cure’s release and besides the Montego Bay native, DZ boasts a stable which includes the likes of Reggae legend Junior Reid most notably (and most recently) as well as now very successful Dancehall diva Ce’cile. Last year was one of the most interesting in the recent time for Danger Zone as well the most successful. Besides officially inking Junior Reid to a contract, they also released two Ce’cile albums on their very own (she also released another in the European market), Waiting and Worth It (a special digital release of Waiting) as well as a riddim album for their very popular Journey riddim. What they had set to cap off 2008 was a potentially MIGHTY release from Jah Cure himself, instead, however, they merely set the stage for it by flooding the place with singles and promotions. Now, bright and early in the first third of 2009, they finally release that album, The Universal Cure, Jah Cure’s fifth album to date and his first full length piece recorded (except for one tune) after his release from prison. The Universal Cure, whenever it actually arrived, was set to be one of the biggest pure Reggae releases of the year and so it is in 2009, it becomes after Mad Cobra’s Helta Skelta, Anthony B’s Rise Up and Mavado’s A Better Tomorrow, one of the first big releases from a MODERN Reggae artist currently in the game. So how is it? The Universal Cure is arguably Jah Cure’s second best album release to date and fans are certain to be happy with the results, new and old.

Despite the fact that his three previous release came via VP Records, the largest distributor of Caribbean music in the world, and his last one A New Beginning, was much talked about as it was released the same week as Jah Cure’s own release, you could also make the case that The Universal Cure is the singer’s most high profile album to date as well. It comes via Danger Zone (Della Drummond executive producer) and SoBe Entertainment, a very strong up and coming Miami based company (they also have Brooke Hogan). As this may be the first sample of Jah Cure for many, you’ll have to get accustomed that VOICE, trust me. Getting things started on the downright BEAUTIFUL The Universal Cure from Jah Cure is one of my own personal favourites from the singer, Sticky on Danger Zone’s own Jam Down riddim. As much as I’d like to save the honour for a less familiar tune: Sticky is the best tune on this album. Period. EVERYTHING about is DIVINE! The song, the riddim, Jah Cure’s singing (DUH) and even the video! It’s one of the best songs he’s ever recorded which is saying a lot in his case and if you don’t like Sticky and you’re a Reggae fan, then something is FUCKED UP with you! MASSIVE TUNE! (old, yes. But MASSIVE nonetheless). Up next is the first combination and one of the highest profile tunes on the album, Hot Long Time. The tune features the Cure alongside Hip-Hopper Flo Rida, and the aforementioned Junior Reid and Mavado (who I can’t seem to stay away from these days). It’s not a bad tune actually, I can say that it has grown on me over the year or so since I first heard it as a Cure/Reid combination alone. It’s done, primarily, for the international heads, certainly, and I think they’ll appreciate it in this form. Now I could go back and remind you what I said about emotion for the tune True Reflections, the oldest on the album and the only, to my knowledge, voiced while the Cure was still incarcerated. I don’t even know, really, why this song is on the album, however, in any form, this once PEERLESS and still highly inspirational is to be appreciated and if you (have been under a rock) haven’t heard it, you should rush out and buy this album for just that one tune, I mean REALLY. More than a solid opening and it gets better.

The three tunes here which I’m sure SoBe would like you to most pay attention to definitely are Mr. Jailer and the title track as all of them feature Jah Cure alongside SoBe stablemate Phyllisia, an R&B/Pop singer from Florida (I THINK). Mr. Jailer has been receiving a HEAVY push lately and is an official single from The Universal Cure. The tune is actually an IMMEDIATE remake of a tune from Nigerian born songstress Asa (also very impressive) and apparently it struck a chord with someone at SoBe, its okay, but steadily growing on me as a very fitting tune for Jah Cure. The title track here has no such ground to make up with my tastes and is SPARKLING. The tune is just beaming all around as Jah Cure actually places a word to his ‘cure’, Love. Phyllisia’s role here is playing backing singer for the most part and her small helps with the tune pushes it even higher, she almost sounds like an echo and definitely keep an eye for her forthcoming SoBe release as well. Big big tune. Even better than both of them is the SWEET lover’s tune near the end of the album, Call On Me which is a duet of EPIC proportions. This tune could literally, in my opinion, buss internationally RIGHT NOW. I’ve loved it from the first minute that I heard It (when everybody thought that it was Keyshia Cole instead of Phyllisia). I just read that a video has been shot for it recently and if SoBe is thinking correctly, they’ll use it to push Phyllisia in the US market because I really feel that they, like me, will love this song. REALLY nice vibes and I‘ve heard it recently playing around these parts as well. That being said, however, most of the class of The Universal Cure is made up of more familiar and less flashy tunes. Such a tune would be the BRUTAL Soon Come. Tears! Tears flow down the sides of my face when I hear this one from the opening, “King Selassie I you’re my everything. And everything is everything”. The tune is a message from the Cure to his loved ones that “Soon I’ll be coming home!” and it just has HUGE and undeniable vibes as he throws those vocals around like a football! The song really has a profound effect and I imagine if you happen to be locked up, you just might breakdown listening to Soon Come. Easily one of the album’s finest offerings. The same could and is to be said about the similarly vibed tune Freedom, which may actually be even stronger than Soon Come. This one is less personal and more of an announcement to the entire world as he pronounces himself a new man under the guide of His Majesty and “here to reclaim what’s mine” for the time he missed. If Soon Come broke you down, almost assuredly, Freedom will rebuild you. MAMMOTH tune! Stuck smack in the middle of them both (one song away from each) Soon Come and Freedom is perhaps the even stronger (YEP!) and reflective My Life. This tune is somewhat of a sequel to True Reflections, as a newly freed Jah Cure looks back on his time in a tune so lovely and poignant that it challenges Sticky as THE ‘cure’ of this album and is arguably every bit as powerful as True Reflections in its prime. Journey was the title tune for the aforementioned Journey riddim from Danger Zone and I’ll tell you that DEFINITELY not having heard this tune in a couple of months or so has increased my appreciation of it GREATLY! The tune is a MAD symphony of beauty. I’m kind of confused how it didn’t hit me the first several times through, but here, this thing is WONDERFUL. The two tunes immediately following Journey are also very strong and I hadn’t heard much of them at all prior to the album actually. The first, a full on lover’s tune named Forever, took about three spins through to grow on me. After a pretty sub-par the tune really develops into something worthwhile as it finds Jah Cure in a more free flowing style which is one he doesn’t usually tap very often, especially not on a lover’s tune. The other tune U Believe In Me, although kind of corny, had no such developing to do as it is little more than a showcase for the crazy vocals. Seriously, if there is a more talented vocalist in the HISTORY of Reggae music let me know! Because I don’t know of them! Were there anyone who was PHYSICALLY created with a set of windpipes to sing music for Jah, it was Jah Cure, U Believe In Me could have even been an accapella and not suffered a bit! Ridiculous. The very familiar herbalist anthem Green Grass sends things out for The Universal Cure. The tune was one of several hits from 2008’s Mission Riddim from Baby G (the biggest of which was probably Mavado’s On The Rock). I’ve never been really all that high on Green Grass (did you catch what I just did there???) figuratively speaking, of course (!), but I wasn’t surprised to see it here and its not at all a bad tune and actually a nice change of the vibes, picking up the pace to close things out.

Overall, okay, the only drawback here, which has been the case on every Jah Cure album besides the first two (Free Jah’s Cure and the FLAWLESSNESS which was Ghetto Life) is that, for the more established fans, you don’t get much in the way of new material. And given the fact that Jah Cure has simply been on his game, there’s a good chance that more than 75% or so of The Universal Cure will already be somewhere in your collections and perhaps even on official releases. I would have loved them to include More Thanks For Life which was a (underplayed) combination with Gyptian as well, something especially for the Reggae heads (and eventually SOMEONE will HAVE TO give me a combination betwixt the Cure and Ce'cile). Be that as it may, judging this album as simply an album and those circumstances notwithstanding, The Universal Cure is every bit as strong as the A New Beginning album to my ears and, given the fact that Freedom Blues was all but admittedly a greatest hits piece, I’d go to rank it as the second best project Jah Cure has ever done (of course after Ghetto Life, one of the best of all time). And thankfully so here because of the assured advanced promotion it will receive. What you have in Jah Cure’s The Universal Cure is an album from an artist seemingly at the height of his powers and one who can take this music not to the level of ’mainstream’ and all of that, but to a level where something can finally be done in the name of all of this WONDERFUL music. There simply aren’t functioning ears on the planet capable of ignoring Jah Cure.

Rated 4.5/5 stars
SoBe Entertainment/Zojak Worldwide


Monday, March 23, 2009

The Vault Reviews: A Review of Set The Captives Free by Prince Theo

Over the years I have accumulated through my own means, what I have bought and what so many others have given me, a VERY nice collection of Reggae music albums and singles alike. I have so much material that I almost routinely run into things in my own possession which I not only have never heard before, brand new CD’s and LP’s in their original sealing plastics and details, but things which I have not even HEARD OF before. Likewise, were I to take such pieces even to radio stations throughout the Caribbean and Jamaica directly, there’s a pretty good chance that music directors of those stations haven’t heard of these artists either. Of my more recent finds (in my own collection, mind you), perhaps the most impressive remains the SPARKLING Mykal Somer from out of St. Kitts. His album, Element of Surprise, I found in its original seal and dug into to what turned out to be one of the most Reggae debuts that I’ve heard in the past half-decade or so and we’re definitely looking forward to hearing more from the singer in the future. There’s also someone like Guyanese chanter Ras Mac Bean whose debut album, Pack Up & Leave STILL manages to find its way into my players every so often. RMB actually has since managed to maintain a nice name for himself as he has found a home with Frenchie label Irie Ites (who also put out the album), releasing singles for virtually all of their very nice riddims and hopefully we can finally see a full length sophomore album from Bean at some point this year (more on him in a bit). There’s also one name Heart Ah Joy from UNUSUALLY TALENTED Sabbattical Ahdah from out of St. Croix who I have heard bits and pieces from through the years (including a combination with Anthony B), but never matching the BRILLIANCE shown on the album. Sometimes, these things work out even better and I’ll get something from someone seemingly on the highway to success. Such was the case when I got two albums from one of Ras Mac Bean’s countrymen, Natural Black, named Spiritual Food and World War. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, then you know about Natural Black’s successes since, as he has made himself into a CONSISTENT force in Roots Reggae music over the past few years (and recently, they released Spiritual Food digitally, World War is still quite hard to find, however). Other pieces still, such as the very hard still hard to find debut albums from Nadine Sutherland and Chevelle Franklyn (Nadine and Joy, respectively) as well as very hard to find albums from the likes of Norris Man (including Unity, a combination with Determine), Queen Omega (one of my greatest finds) and, of course Sizzla Kalonji. Simply put: I have some gems!

Mind you, if you impress me ONCE, I’m VERY HARD to let down. I say that to mention roughly a span of a month or so back in what was probably either 2004 or 2005 where I received three VERY good albums from three VERY unknown singers to me at the time while living in the states. One of the three was the aforementioned Pack Up & Leave from Ras Mac Bean from out of Guyana, for Irie Ites which, as I mentioned is still up and going and is very strong these days. The second was from another artist who would definitely fit into this category, the very talented singer Mark Wonder, named Break The Ice for UK based label (I THINK) Redbridge) . Since then, Wonder has remained prominent and become even more so with the release of another album, Victory: The Mystery Unfolds and recent word of yet another album coming in 2009, produced by the very reputed production crew Al.Ta.Fa.An, definitely looking forward to that. The third in the bunch was apparently a very good friend of Wonder’s, Prince Theo, who was a COMPLETE unknown to me. Prince Theo put out his own debut album (and only to date so far), the very impressive Set The Captives Free on Trinity Records throughout Europe via one Jahmaik, also the lead producer on the album (alongside Prince Theo himself). What attracted to me to Prince Theo was that he came well into the same style of singing as several of my favourites, Bushman, Natty King and, of course, Luciano, as being a baritone voiced Roots singer. That, in contrast to Mark Wonder CRYSTAL CLEAR high vocals, and Ras Mac Bean’s varied singing (although VERY IMPRESSIVE at times, in his case) and chanting style, just stood out and, of course, in my opinion it was a bit of a proven formula as far as getting my attentions. Prince Theo’s sticking points didn’t stop there exactly as he also had a connection (which is probably why ANYONE might know his name if they didn’t pick up on this album and hadn’t heard of him since) with Reggae super group Morgan Heritage and he had appeared on the group’s Family & Friends compilations, both volumes one and two (I think there may have been a part three as well) with tunes which appear on Set The Captives Free. This album would have been one of the final ones which I actually PURCHASED completely without hearing a word of (this was back in the day online when they just didn’t have sound clips and you’d still be fairly hard pressed to find audio clips of this album somewhere online) and I was WONDERFULLY surprised with the results. Although Set The Captives Free was his first official debut studio album, the St. Thomas native Prince Theo did have a previous release with the aforementioned Mark Wonder (which I’m still looking for) which was a live set in Switzerland, where both are apparently VERY popular (and Jahmaik is Swiss also apparently), starred by Wonder, where Wonder was apparently the star but was opening the door for Theo who is apparently now a star in the northern European country as well (like Cali P now as well, big artist). Set The Captive Free remained on my players for approximately a year or so and, just like I do still do today, I told just about any and every one who would listen about the singer. The album has since become one of my absolute favourite pieces to draw for occasionally, making it truly a diamond in the rough of modern Reggae music albums.

The first thing you’re certain to notice about Prince Theo is his excellent voice. Again, much in the same style as Luciano or Bushman or Natty King or Prince Malachi, Prince Theo has a very full and rich baritone voice. To my opinion I would say that, of those singers, the one which Theo most closely resembles vocally is probably Luciano (his tone tends to change more than the others). Vocally getting things started out on his debut and to date only studio album is Prince Theo with the very SOLID and SMOOTH Jah Never Leave Us. This song has one SWEET SWEET vibes behind it which really go to make the overall tune sound stronger. When Theo does reach the riddim, he introduces himself as a very strong singer and songwriter who, with this tune, delivers a very inspirational and uplifting sound for the masses. The tune is a sleeper on the album and may be one of the best here altogether. The word ‘may’ isn’t necessary for the next tune up, the title track, which proves to DEFINITELY be amongst the class of the album named after it. This tune is just so well done and was the one I would most often point to in championing the ‘cause’ that was Prince Theo. The tune peaks near the beginning of it when the Prince just starts naming off certain pivotal figures in the history of the Afrikan Diaspora, in and out of Jamaica and the Caribbean by extension. Such a powerful tune is Set The Captives Free that, even just sitting here today, I wonder what it might be able to do RIGHT NOW, given the proper promotion behind it. Of course, I’ll never know the answer to that, but what I do know is that is a big tune here. Finishing things off for the beginning of Prince Theo’s debut album is another CLEAN (just the prevailing feel to the vibe on this one CLEAN and REFRESHING, despite the familiar style) sounding tune, the newly freshened tune, The Music. This one comes in sounding downright SPECTACULAR at the beginning and it turns into a tune sounding like something directly out of Luciano’s catalogue, spiritual and highly meditative. The tune is basically an ode to the music and the vibe and it’s force is one which would surely make ‘the music’ quite proud. You have to see why I like this after this outstanding opening.

The two tunes on the album that Morgan Heritage are definitely amongst the CLASS of Set The Captives Free. The first. Giving You All, rolls through on the Buss Barriers riddim (Mass Media from Capleton also on the riddim) and is another tune sounding like Luciano is behind the mic. It is one of the (not THE) best lover’s style tunes on the album and definitely check that one. It is topped, however, by what is, in my opinion, the album’s finest tune altogether, Can’t Forget The Times which comes on the Morgans’ HUGE Liberation riddim (Capleton’s MAMMOTH Jah Jah City on the riddim). This tune is a repatriation and general suffering anthem, at its core, which finds the typically SOAPY Prince Theo getting a bit GRIMY with the nature of the tune. It definitely carries a bit of a different vibes than most of the other tunes and, truth be told, maybe it’s the riddim that just does it for me, but I LOVE this tune, always have, always will. WONDERFUL vibes! The only other tune here not produced by Jahmaik or the Morgans is the WICKED Show Some Love, credited to one Lincoln Thompson (who I’m guessing is the same as the late Prince Lincoln Thompson of the Royal Rasses, even though he would have passed before it‘s voicing) and features two unnamed guests (they are credited by name, N. Clarke and C. Stephenson but not as artists). The tune is just ROCKING over a nice up-tempo riddim with an addictive and consistent nyah drum hidden in the back. I don’t know who the friends are, again, but the first of them is very impressive with a very strong (but short) verse before the next guest (who maybe a female) takes their shot as well. Show Some Love is a big unifying vibes, not to be missed here. Another special guest, who also goes unnamed chimes in later on the tune Children Beware, but this one, Mark Wonder himself, is far more familiar to my ears. Children Beware is another very powerful tune as the duo reminds the ‘children’ (meaning EVERYONE) to be conscious of their surroundings and to be observant and obedient of The Almighty. Another highlight I would point to going back would be a song like Love Has Got Me which is easily the best of the lover’s tunes on Set The Captives Free, which, at the risk of sounding too repetitive, sounds EXACTLY like something Luciano would sing and is actually singing on the tune here. It’s just a sweet tune definitely the ladies will appreciate. Jah Rules is another SMOOTH Roots anthem definitely worth checking as well. Getting into the second half again, Chant A Bingi Song HAS TO be regarded as one of the best on the album as well. This tune comes in with a high stepping type of vibes built around that ironclad one-drop which doesn’t waiver even for a second. The tune is a praising vibes for His Majesty and I’d stand behind it. Big song! Born To Be A Lion is kind of one which is polarizing because what I’ve found in playing it for people is either they absolutely love it or it’s the worst tune on the album for them! Incidentally its also polarizing for me, sometimes I find it kind of corny and at others I’m loving the vibes. Right now? Loving it! Give Love A Chance is another one vibed like Show Some Love (in terms of message, he actually says “show some love” in the hook”). Although it doesn’t reach those heights on that wicked song, its not that far behind and as far as a BASIC Roots track, its about as strong as it gets of a straight forward nature on Set The Captives Free. And ending things on the album, Prince Theo gives us the long awaited changeup with African Dreams. This one is definitely something different! I’m assuming it’s the same poet from Show Some Love (although neither N. Clarke nor C. Stephenson are credited in the liners for the tune) and, as a whole, I’d rate African Dreams a stronger tune between the two. The tune is vibed like an Indian/West African stringy arrangement over which the Prince and the mystery poet deliver a DIVINE piece of history and knowledge of AFRIKA! Seriously, if you happen to be a person of Afrikan descent (and I am) the piece will pull such a heavy vibes with you I’m sure. Excellent way to end things with what is undoubtedly one of the album’s finest offerings in full (and I LOVE when that heavy drum picks up at around 2:20 into the tune).

Overall, do yourself a favour, be you a fan of modern and maybe even old school era Roots Reggae music and track down Set The Captives Free by Prince Theo. I always keep an eye out to see what he has doing and he has kept quite busy, particularly in Switzerland, although no new album has jumped out and I haven’t heard anything about one forthcoming, although he would seem to have enough material to support it. I would love to see Prince Theo involved in the future project with Mark Wonder and if/when he does put out something else, I’d also like to see him do a combination with Natty King who would be his neighbour in ’the East’ (as they both say) and perhaps even Swiss based recent Gwada standout, Cali P in the future. The possibilities with someone who is so CLEARLY talented as Prince Theo are literally endless. However, just as I said, most of the even hardcore Reggae heads, even here in the Caribbean have virtually no idea who he is. Do you? If you don’t Set The Captives Free is an excellent place to start. One of the most ‘worth it’ hard to finds you’ll ever hear. Very impressive!
Rated 4.75/5 stars
Trinity Records