Friday, June 26, 2009

The Vault Reviews: Conquering Sound by Ancient King

I always find it quite interesting to check certain lines of ‘lineage’ in Reggae music as, unlike most other genres, its often the case that every style you hear in our music, has come from somewhere, be it a single artist or a combination of more than one artist. Of course, that’s almost always because of the size and the number of our performers and from where they come, namely Jamaica, so what happens a lot is not only does a younger and up and coming artist clearly show influences from another, more established name, he often gets to work DIRECTLY with that artist in a mentoring type of form. Now this isn’t to call upon the kind of clichéd and overused, in my opinion, ‘inspired’ tag where one artist will say whom he or she looked up to. For example, I’ve heard I-Wayne list Sizzla Kalonji as one of the artists that inspired him to get into the music. I-Wayne doesn’t sound anything like (anyone) Sizzla and if Kalonji never existed, I-Wayne would probably sound exactly as he does now. What I am talking about, however, is something like what happens when contrasting artists like Garnet Silk and Ras Shiloh. Of course, this (and my next) example is at an extreme end as Shiloh has virtually livicated his entire career to the late and great Manchester native in adopting a style SO similar to Silk’s that it STILL confuses hardcore Roots Reggae heads to this day sometimes as to exactly which of the two might be singing a particular tune or another. Another very nice example would be Luciano’s influence on Natty King. Again, this is another extreme example as Natty King was admittedly one of the Messenjah’s biggest fans and once pursued his career under the stage name Lucie B in honour of the legendary Roots singer. I should also mention that in both cases, Ras Shiloh and Natty King, it is a testament to the younger artists that they have admittedly taken large pieces of their favourite artists styles and STILL managed to distinguish themselves HIGHLY in the business. Other, more ‘regular’ examples of what I mean here would be someone like Bounty Killer’s influence on Aidonia, as it is Aidonia DIRECTLY and not Vybz Kartel or Busy Signal who seems to have literally updated the Killer’s style just as he had done to Ninja Man’s; Turbulence’s obvious ode to Sizzla so early in his career and even though now WELL into his own vibes (I think Turbulence will be 30 next January), you’ll still occasionally hear the Turbulence of old who sounded like a better singing voiced less lyrically talented version of the wizard of August Town; and you also can mention rather outlying examples such as Spragga Benz to Assassin (although from a PURE sonic point of view that one doesn’t hold up as well) and Admiral T to his direct disciple Saïk. Those are all FINE examples of lineages of style in Reggae music and the very fact that the music can be as STRONG and ORIGINAL as it is with that, is simply a testament to both the brilliances of yesteryear and today as well.

By far one of the more interesting BIG artists who has definitely left his imprint on the game is Capleton. Tracing the musical ‘lineage’ of Capleton’s style is such a contentious and polarizing point as critics and fans alike will seemingly either list those artists whom he has CLEARLY DIRECTLY influenced in terms of their style either VERY high or equally VERY low. The ones who believe that Capleton’s influence is wide spreading will go as far as to list artists like Sizzla, Anthony B and even Buju Banton and Ninja Man as people who have been taken Capleton’s style and worked it into their own ways. On the other hand, those who believe that he hasn’t had many TRUE musical ‘descendants’ will look upon those who have accurately followed his style to some degree as much more thin. I just happen to be one of these people in the latter and more slimming way of thinking in Capleton’s actual artist influence. Of course that’s no diss at all to the Prophet who rather EASILY ranks in my top five of artists of all time but when you look at those who have come not only with a similar style (which can be said with both Sizzla and Anthony B, whose own base style, at least in my opinion, CLEARLY overwhelm anything they may have (and probably didn’t) take from Capleton) but a at least a CHUNK of his musical mission and musical understanding as well. So who has taken the style constructed by Capleton which won him MILLIONS of followers worldwide? Well, the most obvious choice is the long underrated and almost forgotten chanter from Capleton’s own base, David House, Jah Thunder. The Thunder is an artist, like the individual in question here today, who has either COMPLETELY eschewed having a style somewhere in the middle grow, which Capleton himself has (see Good In Her Clothes) and instead has made himself into one of the most INTENSE Roots chanters of all time. A very good case could also be made for Jah Mason, who, again in my opinion, took what Capleton did further than anyone besides the man himself and added to it a FINE middle level of vibes built upon his own personality and downright MOODINESS at times. Another FINE example would be St. Croix born Ancient King. The former ‘Willow’ (his given name is Wendell Francois), made his international emergence on the strength of the highly regarded Conquering Sound album for the venerable I-Grade Records back in 2005 as the Fyah portion of the label’s biggest push to date, to my knowledge, Fyah - Earth - Wind (‘Earth’ was NiyoRah’s A Different Age album and ’Wind’ was the veteran Army’s I-Grade debut, Rasta Awake). Ancient King (then Willow) had apparently impressed I-Grade head Laurent ‘Tippy’ Alfred a few years earlier in 2002 when he delivered three very strong tracks on one of the label’s earliest releases, a compilation named Weep Not which also featured I-Grade staples Midnite and Dezarie. Ancient King, perhaps more so than anyone not named Capleton or Jah Thunder understood the concept of translating that FIERY style in powerful vibes and on Conquering Sound he delivered a vibes throughout which Capleton himself would have been proud of.

For me personally, within the Fyah -Earth- Wind releases from I-Grade, initially and maybe still I was most impressed with Ancient King (since then, my tastes have DEFINITELY shifted towards NiyoRah) as his style was something which was more familiar. At that time, still new listening to Virgin Islands Reggae, I hadn’t really found an artist who sounded like the Jamaican artists with the exception of Pressure (who I may have actually ‘discovered’ after Ancient King. He didn’t sound like Dezarie or Vaughn Benjamin or Army, his style was MUCH more ‘comfortable’ to me and required virtually no adjusting on my part. The first six tunes on Conquering Sound are WICKED and Ancient King launches into them in very nice fashion especially considering the comparisons I’ve drawn to this point. Getting the album started is the title track which features, of all people, Prince Pankhi, a former member of the David House Family and another artist who has clearly been influenced by The Prophet. Calling it the least of the first six but still a strong tune might tell you what to expect but make no mistake about it, Conquering Sound the tune is an absolutely DOMINATING vibes (with a subtle shot out to Mutabaruka by Pankhi) Next up is a BIG yet underappreciated tune in my opinion, Your Defense. The tune has such a big message shooting out against corruption and violence and is wrapped into a WICKED I-Grade riddim (more on that in a minute). Big tune in all and it might take a few spins to grow on you but definitely give it just that. Then things go even bigger. The KNOCK on the next tune Do Good is downright LEGENDARY at this point with the drum beating just as hard as Ancient King himself. You simply have to hear the song to get the real feel but its definitely worth checking for. Nah bow is another very I-Grade sounding vibes (this one I actually recognize from somewhere) and it plays a fine, yet understated backdrop to Ancient King’s REFUSAL to step his style back for any reason as he shoots right on through firing as you would expect. The last two of the first six are MASSIVE and the Conquering Sound’s best altogether. Battlefield Marshall is LETHAL to corruption and violence and utter nastiness everywhere and shows just how effective can the King can be. It makes way for the album’s biggest single shot, the SCATHING Access Psychologically. This one has been CRAZY for years for me. The highlight hear being that Ancient King gets about as deep lyrically as he can (at least insofar as I’ve heard him) which is VERY impressive as he warns us to REALLY look at someone thus accessing them psychologically) to learn their true intent and not just what they’re presenting AND he maintains the fire. Something Capleton, Sizzla and Anthony B have done effortlessly for years but very few others have had success in recreating. Mission accomplished Ancient King: HUGE tune.

What’s kind of strange here is that Tippy and company have definitely created the aforementioned ‘I-Grade sound’ and it’s not full blown on Conquering Sound. Instead, they impressively adjusted to the artist, offering him heavier and faster vibed compositions which really increases the quality of the album. This is more scene in the beginning and particularly at the end when things get downright DARK, right up Ancient King’s alley apparently. Check back-to-back shots Heading For Failure and Here It Comes. These two songs have an even more different kind of style as Ancient King, at times, drifts into a Hip-Hop cadence (which Is a good thing here), especially on Here It Comes and for its part, Heading For Failure is a much more DARKER vibed piece from anything I’ve heard from I-Grade to this point (and it features the typical Tippy/Tuff Lion combination playing on it as well). The long titled Faith, Courage and A Just Cause also has an unusual vibes but it also has a built in ‘excuse’ of sorts as it is the third of three official combinations, this time with the always odd Vaughn Benjamin who is apparently a very good friend of the King’s. Benjamin, to my ears, dominates the tune (master of the weird) but the two definitely make a nice combination on the KNOCKING tune. Of course that’s not to say that Ancient King completely avoids much of the standard I-Grade route which he ‘drives’ almost completely through the middle portion of Conquering Sound. Check the LUSH She’s So Awesome which I originally had left for dead (you can’t sound like this and make a solid lover’s tune) but the tune takes a much more lyrical turn than the expected ‘moody’ type of vibes which usually pervade songs like this for the most part. The tune St. Croix Run Red rides the same LOVELY riddim which backs the aforementioned Pressure Busspipe’s combination with Yahadanai, Best Thing (on the latter’s stirring One Atonement album *see here*) and although Ancient King doesn’t reach those HUGE levels, he does quite well with an obvious Vaughn Benjamin singing backup throughout. Children Of The World is a decent tune with another familiar vibes and features an unknown songstress Empress Michel (who also sings backup on the title track) from out of the States. She compliments the King quite well and nicely levels off the vibes on what is one of the better tunes on the album altogether. And finally, Ancient King’s Conquering Sound ends with a more familiar I-Grade vibes with JAH (apparently making up for the taking up of title allocation words from the tune which immediately precedes it) and Wake Up & Live Up. JAH is a very nice tune on its own but whatever that riddim is behind Wake Up is absolutely SPARKLING and downright hypnotizing to a degree. Both tunes carry a heavy message (and probably from a lyrical point-of-view JAH is stronger) and both provide a very nice leveling of the vibes to end an album which at times threaten to overwhelm the listener with an edge by an artist who doesn’t seem to moderate or limit himself too well in the helpful hands of producers and players of instruments who apparently know how to do just that.

Overall, its quite interesting that, in retrospect, as active as Ancient King (apparently now renaming himself (again) Incient King) has remained, I haven’t been REALLY into what he has been doing. In 2008, he released his sophomore album, the very unimpressive Judgement and tunes here and there (he is even present with two tunes on Midnite’s most recent release, the stirringly ODD To Mene) which have featured Ancient King engaging in PURE yelling as opposed to the skilled fiery chenter he is on Conquering Sound. So perhaps that is an even greater statement to the power of his debut and also Tippy and company as those who so CLEARLY gotten the best out of the artist. The album is recommended to fans of MODERN Roots Reggae both new and old. With the connections to be drawn to Capleton, still being quite obvious in my opinion, you have to maintain that one area where Ancient King hasn’t proven himself, as of yet, is CONSISTENCY at that level. Should he get to back to doing what made Conquering Sound nearly special and so well received anytime soon, he may have conquered that art as well.

Rated 4/5 stars
I Grade Records


  1. Ziggy Marley performs live at the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu with Zion, Mysterious and Rovleta Fraser on August 15th.

    Reggae has had such a big impact on Hawaii, many of our local artists are inspired by the Marleys and now they get to see one perform.

  2. ancient king is a freaking headcase!