Thursday, April 23, 2009

Diamonds In The Ruff

Believe it or not, despite my best efforts to claim otherwise, Reggae music still very much remains a relatively obscure genre of music. Yes, we have a Grammy and we have several artists capable of putting their albums on international charts, selling millions and selling out venues worldwide. But, for the most part, so many of our best artists go overlooked from the majority of the general public. But I've been paying attention thankfully and if you're reading this, then so are you. Therefore, I've collected a group of the hardest to find and BEST albums that maybe you should be looking for right. The list is based on BOTH criteria of how good the album is and how difficult it is to find (i.e. being the best album doesn't guarantee that the album will be ranked #1 on this list (and it isn't, it's ranked #5)). Thus, I submit for your approval, the top 10 Reggae diamonds in the rough of the last few years.
[note: The 'How Hard Is It To Find? ranking is a scale of 0/5. Five being that you can find it in almost any retail shop and anywhere online (thus, no 5's appear on this list) and 0 being that you'll only find it through scouring the underworld and VERY intense prayer and meditation]

#10. Turbulence - Turbulence/Xterminator 2000

Turbulence’s downright MYSTERIOUS debut album. The only thing which keeps this one from being higher on the list is that one year later, Turbulence made his big league debut on the excellent Rising album for VP Records which just happened to share a song or two with his debut and literally blew it out of the water in terms of quality. Turbulence was a good album still and a bit more edgy and raw than several subsequent releases from the artist.

How Hard Is It To Find? 2/5 - Damn near impossible. This album is probably into bargain bin category now but most likely it isn’t in any bargain bin anywhere near your house. You might find a few floating around online but not for long.

#9. Sizzla - Hosanna/Reggae Central 2002

There was so much talk around Hosanna when it dropped back in 2002, which just happened to be the same year of Da Real Thing. Amongst many hardcore Reggae hands they were even calling it BETTER than that very popular album. They were wrong. Very wrong. It wasn’t even close and in terms of Sizzla albums Hosanna is honestly somewhere right in the middle of the pack but the very dark Hosanna now has somewhat of a cult-like following amongst so many fans.

How Hard Is It To Find? 3/5 - This one is a victim of a label falling under. I know of two other releases on Reggae Central besides Hosanna, one was a compilation I believe and the other was a Louie Culture album (which was pretty good named The Uprising) and nothing after that. That being said, however, you should still be able to find a copy of Hosanna if you know where to look.

#8. Ky-Mani Marley - Many More Roads/Artist’s Only! Records 2001

By far the best album on this list so far, the best album of Ky-Mani Marley’s career so far and another victim of a fallen label. Artists Only had a very nice set up for awhile, even releasing (originally) Sizzla’s big album Good Ways and another album you’ll find on this list later. Many More Roads was BIG and it was nominated for a Grammy award (which I believe Ky-Mani’s brother Damian won) and deserved every bit of that. It has since faded away, in terms of popularity but for all who jumped on the Radio wave of Marley’s most recent album, MMR was MILES ahead of it.

How Hard Is It To Find? 4/5 - Thankfully a label by the name of Fractal Entertainment has seemed to pick up on quite a few releases from Jah Mike’s label Reggae Vibes (which produced Many More Roads) and they have made it pretty widely available digitally. I don’t think they’ve done the same with the hardcopy but this one is good enough to take it anyway you can get it.

#7. Mad Cobra - Snypa Way/DJR & In The Streetz 2006

Evil. Pure EVIL! Call it more than just guilty pleasure Dancehall Mad Cobra’s return on the calibrated Snypa Way came in very easily as one of 2006’s best releases altogether and definitely one of the real highlights of a year which, fittingly, also featured the return of Buju Banton. This double disc MASTERPIECE found its audience amongst hardcore Dancehall heads and, in retrospect, although it didn’t seem to get much spin as a whole, may just be the finest piece of complete work on an album of the Snake’s entire career.

How Hard Is It To Find? 2/5 - The flawed scope of pretty much all releases from In The Streetz (which, terribly, includes a riddim album series which included the Seasons, the Drop Leaf AND the Heavenly) is that they apparently didn’t have more than one or two printings and NONE of them are officially available digitally. Snypa Way is probably and unfortunately harder to find than almost any of them also.

#6. Baby Cham - Wow. . . The Story/Artists Only! Records 2000

[Baby] Cham’s debut album which, in retrospect has gotten a lot more important hasn’t it? This album introduced a talent to the international world (myself included at the time, still living in the States) which took around five or six years to REALLY warm up to him with the Ghetto Story years. This album was another double and another victim of a failed label. It was definitely HYPE, featured combinations with Mr. Easy and even Shaggy, Bounty Killer and Foxy Brown, and more importantly, most of Cham’s earlier hits like Boom Tune, Babylon Bwoy. Many Man and the SCATHING Man & Man.

How Hard Is It To Find? 2/5 - As time goes on two things happen here: The first being that Wow becomes a hell of a lot harder to find year by year, however, the second is that the chances grow more and more likely that Cham will do something which will make someone invest money in it’s rebirth. The numbers say it all - When Sean Paul broke out, his debut album, Stage One, started selling again and the same for Elephant Man. Wow would enjoy the same type of attention if it ever comes back.

#5. Pressure - The Pressure Is On/2005

The single best album on this list in terms of quality. If you ever needed an instruction course on how to BUSS Reggae artist these days using an album, you’ll call up the fine people at 340 Studios who brought the world this downright EXPLOSIVE talent from out of Rock City, St. Thomas, the incomparable Pressure Busspipe. This album STALKED the internet for quite awhile before the hardcore heads started catching on that Virgin Islands Reggae wasn’t just about Vaughn Benjamin and a much more familiar sounding FORCE was soon coming.

How Hard Is It To Find? 4/5 - RIDICULOUSLY whoever and whatever Tsuni Records is/was either made so many of the original printing or continues to this very day to float copies around of the album. How many? I’m willing to say not many more but who knows and if it helps the album was also re-released through a Japanese company (thus the new cover). So while you probably won’t be able to walk into your local store and buy it or plop down your iTunes account and download it, if you REALLY want The Pressure Is On (and you should) you’ll be able to find it.

#4. Prince Theo - Set The Captives Free/Trinity Records 2004

If I’m the only one championing this album then so be it, but to my ears Prince Theo is BIG. The big baritone voiced singer from out of St. Thomas parish made his solo debut with the damn near brilliant Set The Captives Free which attracted almost NO attention at all. The album has to be considered one of the most underrated and overlooked of recent memory and today it remains little more than a relic to all besides those VERY select few of us fortunate enough to hear it.

How Hard Is It To Find? 2/5 - You can actually find it bumping around on quite a few European based retail websites and if you’re willing to pay for it, you can have it. The problem is, of course, I believe I paid around $13.99US for it on websites like reggaecd or reggae source ‘back in the day’. But those days are unfortunately LONG gone for this one.

#3. Chuck Fenda - Better Days/5th Element Records 2004

This one just gets better and better with time. In terms of quality on this list Better Days comes in maybe as high as third but no lower than fourth (between it and Many More Roads for 3rd/4th) and it remains the best of Fenda’s two albums. I was just IMPRESSED by this one in full and have been ever since. It featured tunes like the title track, Ruff Out Deh, The Prayer and of course I Swear which marked Fenda’s return as a top notch Roots artist, The Poor People’s Defender.

How Hard Is It To Find? 2/5 - Two things here. If you want this beautiful copy in that I have in my hand which is the original 5th Element release, then unless someone is running it on Ebay, it isn’t likely to be found. HOWEVER. Better Days was re-released not once, but twice. Once it was dropped by a Japanese company (which means it will run you about $40US to get) and WONDERFULLY the other time, it was brought back by JetStar. Now JetStar doesn’t release any more hardcopy albums anymore however, but they did run it and print it more than once apparently and late last year saw the digitization of much of their catalogue. Better Days wasn’t included. . . At least not yet.

#2. Jah Mason - Working So Hard/KJ Records/2002

If I recall correctly after his debut, Keep Your Joy, which would have been 2001, Jah Mason, the following year released both his second and third albums, Unlimited and Working So Hard within a month or two of each other. Unlimited STILL is out there (another Jah Mikes album) but WSH has VANISHED! The album came from the odd KJ Records which I haven’t heard of since or even before, featured twelve tunes from about nine different producers and even contained the two combinations with Jah Cure, Run Come Love Me and the title track. Big credentials for something many aren’t sure if it even exists.

How Hard Is It To Find? 0/5 - Easily the hardest unconditional album to find on this list. Outside of some back alley STRANGE retail website (probably European), I don’t even know what to tell you! I THINK I got it from reggaecd (who now has it listed as Sold Out and will NEVER change), but, again, those days are long gone. If you don’t have Working So Hard now, most likely you never will. I don’t even think Mason himself has a copy (and you know it's hard to find when you can barely find a picture of it online!).

#1. Queen Omega - Queen Omega/Greenhouse Family/2001

Noticing a trend here? Debut albums done for labels which simply aren’t around anymore are VERY difficult to find. Queen Omega’s debut is still one her best albums and one of anyone’s best albums. This one featured the infamous tune Warning with Sizzla and Capleton and a whole heap of other big tunes in it’s eighteen in full. It’s simply one of my favourite albums in my collection and you won’t find too many people (actually NO ONE) who has anything bad to say about it, the beginning of one of the most talented artists in the game these days.

How Hard Is It To Find? 2/5 - Queen Omega the album only really has one thing going for it and that is the fact that JetStar picked up its distribution a year or two after it’s release. Thus, if you’re really cunning you’ll find that version floating around online (like on reggaecd right now), but after they’re gone completely, you won’t find it anywhere. And that’s all but guaranteed unless JS starts digitizing again. But that original Greenhouse version/ Fuggetaboutit!

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