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