Bushman - Higher Ground (Greensleeves Records, 2001)
Sometimes it takes awhile for me to catch on. Released back in 2001, Bushman’s Higher Ground, in the face of some HEAVY competition remains his finest overall outing to date in my opinion. But I, myself, didn’t catch on until around 2003-’04, and when I did, I was blown away. Just as its two predecessors (both also for Greensleeves), 1997’s Nyah Man Chant and 1999’s Total Commitment, Higher Ground found the Bushman in company with EXTREME production talent as, just as on Total Commitment, the St. Thomas singer found himself in company with the legendary King Jammy who supplied him with some of the strongest material available ANYWHERE with which to work. Definitely not reaching up in terms of high profile releases in respect to even his own career, Bushman’s Higher Ground was simply exactly what the title suggested it would be. It was him playing on a station many didn’t know if he could and it provided the artist with that MANDATORY BIG album release in terms of quality and one which, although well underrated, proved to completely unforgettable.
#1. Yadd Away Home
If you ever get tired of me saying this, then tell all these wonderful artists to STOP MAKING GOOD SONGS but- TEARS! I love this damn song and have since the very first time that I heard it. Bushman’s wonderful style of making concrete points with semi-concrete or downright abstract or spiritual reference points has never sounded better than on this rather veiled repatriation anthem which was GLORIOUS throughout. It stood up to being not only the best tune on Higher Ground but one of the best of the Bushman’s entire career. AMAZING!
Line of the song: "One nation can’t be doing the work while another gaining the glory”
#2. Your Love
SWEET! Your Love was one sweet ass song! This song doesn’t really even have the typical kind of laid back feel of a lovers tune but that’s essentially what it is. However, for the grandiose and LUSH way in which it is presented there is certainly a reward hidden beneath for those (all nine of us or so) who actually can manage to sift through all of the sweetness and UTTER AMAZING VIBES to get to the core of the song: Bushman most certainly is in love and that is what he is expressing on Your Love but the object of his affections, the one who is ‘rushing through the corners of his mind’, is perhaps really The Almighty.
Line of the song: “Through my darkest cloud you are my silver line”
#3. Robbery Aggravation
Bushman’s a writer of the earth. I always stress that as the significant difference between himself and Luciano to whom he is most often compared, of course, and Luciano would never, full on, write a song himself such as Robbery Aggravation. The tune is a SCATHINGLY real social commentary, which finds the Bushman simply writing about the things around him and in his community with no leniencies whatsoever and despite its rather jovial vibes, the tune was about as hard-hitting as anything Bushman has ever sang.
Line of the song: “Inflation in the economy, it is making my people paranoid. And there’s only one solution: To be governed by Rastafari”
#4. On The Road
Easily one of the most transferable and accessible tunes on the album, the rather ‘sing-a-long’-ish On The Road was definitely meant to get heads bobbing and fingers snapping and that’s certainly what it did. Besides that, also, it’s a very inspirational tune and if you really listen to it, it contains, to my ear, the only expression of the title of the album making it, in effect, the title track. Not too hard to see why (Higher Ground does sound easier to remember than Yadd Away Home or definitely Robbery Aggravation.
Line of the song: “Cause I know Jah is consistent and in HIM I put confidence. HE will never leave me alone or astray”
#5. Make A Change
TEARS! Not a cover of the late and great Michael Jackson’s song but a song which broke my ass down! This thing has steadily risen in my opinions throughout the years since I’ve had the album and at this point it may just be the second best tune on the album and seriously if you wanted to call it better than Yadd Away Home. . . The song was, in my opinion, was a call to action and not to discussion. Too many times people get caught up in analyzing and discussing a problem and if they ever get around to doing something about it, the problem has become something bigger or downright different than what they discussed! Time to get off our asses is what the Bushman is saying here.
Line of the song: “If we don’t change up the valleys and rearrange the system, we’re always gonna be another victim”
#6. 100% [The Highest]
Bushman can make almost ANYTHING sound CRITICALLY important and crucial and that’s exactly what happened on 100%. The obligatory weed tune was a downright POUNDING (no pun intended) tune at times. I also felt like he went a little bit into Peter Tosh style (wouldn’t be the first or last time for the Bushman) which really helps lift the tune to a heights and just a style in general that weed tunes simply don’t go to, for the most part, these days (ESPECIALLY the final stretch of the tune, complete with just as urgent sounding backing singers).
Line of the song: “Only the sensi that can stabilize my mind, so gimmie it plenty, cause I need it all the time”
#7. Fire Pon A Deadas
In retrospect, Fire Pon A Deadas, a very STRONG tune pushing the vast health benefits of a natural food intake, is probably the most popular tune to sustain itself from Higher Ground altogether. The tune was, at times, kind of funny to a degree and it should have been: You are what you eat and you eat something that’s how many days dead? Madness!
Line of the song: “Nothin weh mi eat it no cry and that’s no lie”
#8. Give Me Some More
No Give Me Some More didn’t make me cry but I probably wasn’t very far from it several times during its 3:57 duration. The tune is actually wrongly titled I believe as it should be Give Some More, without the ‘me’. Its another social commentary and, again, wonderfully focusing on the things which the Bushman sees in his community and particularly, in this case, the really terrible conditions the poor are living in and, by contrast, the rather MASSIVE difference between the haves and the have-nots.
Line of the song: “Deceiving the people with blood money every time. Black people mi ah beg you no kill your brother for a dime”
#9. Rasta Party
Don’t you dare push that button and skip over this tune because of the very hip-hoppish styled riddim playing behind it and the corny ass title because there is so much more substance here. Rasta Party is essentially a metaphor of the coming up of Rastafari and Reggae music and culture in general and much less the rather stylized get-together the title and the vibes may suggest. If you look at it like such and far more lyrically and less musically or sonically, then you potentially have something quite mighty.
Line of the song: “Roots wine and ital, lentil peas and greens. So just tell you bone sucker dem seh no come in cause Rastaman no keep no bloody feast”
#10. Love Of The Heart
Another corny ass title but an even bigger tune. Love Of The Heart is actually quite similar to the earlier tune on Higher Ground, Your Love, in terms of how its presented. However, in this case, Love Of The Heart is clearly far more culturally aimed and armed. Its certainly the type of tune which can kind of fade away and has done just that but each and everyone who picked up this album and made sure to stop at track #10 will attest to its quiet brilliance.
Line of the song: “Tribal war can’t solve the problem, only love of the heart can solve them”
#11. Nah Go Far
Another tune with a kind of veiled aggressiveness which built itself up throughout the duration of the song and definitely added to its overall effect, despite the fact that the Bushman doesn’t ‘acknowledge’ it in any way, at least not obtrusively. Instead what he focuses his efforts on is getting across the message that not all of the time what seems the best is the best and certainly not when pertaining to the more material matters of life (I.e. money) which aren’t always worth the immediate effort they require but a long and diligent effort instead.
Line of the song: “Mi pray for God and I go work fi it. Buy a new pants and a shirt with it. Buy mi woman alla blouse and a skirt with it. Nah go tek mi money and go flirt with it”
#12. Blood Out
Riding the captivating old school Dancehall piece, the You Should Have Known Riddim (WICKED tune on the riddim from Bounty Killer named Kill Fi Fun) Blood Out definitely reaches to heights of Higher Ground as one of its best tunes with a downright addictive mid-tempo vibes. Of course the message is clearly on point but just following this one through was the main attraction here.
Line of the song: “What’s revealed to the babe and the suckling it was hidden from the wise. Now the youths they have check out their past and they’ve got it pacified. All I know that in this time Babylon is gonna get a surprise, cause they youths have read between the lines and see that you’ve been hiding the light” MASSIVE!
#13. Live Up
Complicatedly brilliant. Following such a tune as Blood Out, Live Up has rather large shoes to fill and upon slipping on the shoes, they begin stretching at the seams as its BIGGER than Blood Out, in my opinion. The song is very stereotypical in many ways, mostly the premises, as it urges the masses to ‘live up’ as opposed to ‘give up’ but this wouldn’t have made the cut on its own. And the moving ride Bushman takes his listeners on in support of that overall message is undeniably golden.
Line of the song: “And don’t you be like the careless King who let his people all astray. He never listened up, so he got swallowed up in the sea”
#14. Never Have It Easy
You’ll find the every tune down the stretch of Higher Ground is damn near EXCELLENT or even passed but didn’t receive even a fraction of the attention that level of quality would seem to require, Never Have It Easy was definitely no exception. This tune kind of slows things down a bit with, again, the message becoming the focal point here. Never Have It Easy really tries to encompasses the struggle of the children of Afrika throughout history and does a fine job in relating it to more current events and situations.
Line of the song: The entire second verse, a math lesson of EPIC proportions.
#15. Hey V
The one undeniable straight forward lovers tune on the album and a nice one at that, Hey V can really catch you off guard because you don’t know exactly what to expect. The lovers tune has never been the Bushman’s strong point AT ALL but its always interesting to see him try and after the MAMMOTH Arms Of A Woman tune, Hey V is definitely one of the best here.
Line of the song: “My love is coming at you, 150 MPH”
#16. This World [Hold Strong]
As soon as this tune comes through Bushman himself seems to be trying to tell us that it may be a bit unusual, “watch this now”, he says before diving into the seemingly murky and dark closer of Higher Ground. The vibes are indeed quite different (though I would probably still call them more Dancehall than Hip-Hop) but, you guessed it, the message is key here as throughout all of the changes in the world, Bushman urges all to hold strong.
Line of the song: “Mine eves have seen kings of the earth set themselves against the ways of Jah. Nobility it has slowly divert and such short morals in mentality”
Synopsis: “I present to you another piece of my ongoing task. Let’s glorify words, sound and power, every second, minute and hour, like a ladder you cannot reach the top without making the first step, ‘Nyah Man Chant’; the second ‘Total Commitment’; NOW to my fans, friends and family, every second of life is to be glorified, which will take you to ‘HIGHER GROUND'
BLESSINGS : BUSHMAN"
(Bushman liner notes, Higher Ground)
Its interesting that Bushman almost appears to be trying to reveal some type of overall goal or connection between the three albums, Nyah Man Chant, Total Commitment and now Higher Ground, when he didn’t exactly do so previously. In the liners for NMC, there is an introduction to the singer without any (literal) contribution from him and in on TC, he does offer his general ‘THANK YOU MESSAGE’ where he thanks the usual cast of characters thanked on albums, before leaving us with, “I hope when you listen to these messages they will inspire you and soothe your mind”. So the interesting question becomes (outside of why the hell almost half of the writing credits on the album are given to D.(wight) Duncan (Bushman)/Unknown, as if they couldn’t call him and ask him who helped him write the seven or so tunes) was it, in fact, a plan from the onset, which would have encompassed such a great deal of his early career, to produce these however many albums with one joint goal of glorifying (a word he mentions twice here in two different forms) life? Well, with such a generic and broad wording of it like that, such a goal is perhaps the overall goal of EVERY tune the Bushman has ever done in his career so I doubt you would get much from there, however, what such a thing does do is denote some type of a planning, which is why I bring it up. If there were ANY type of tangible planning to run his music and, by extension, Bushman’s career to this (that) point, amongst these albums, then you may be dealing with one of the greatest masterminded events in modern Reggae history (be it by Bushman or someone else, like his friend Unknown). I’ll just occupy and satisfy my curious side by assuming that such a framework was knowingly established and that it all was some big, grand plan worked to perfection. The crowning jewel of said plan was SURE to be Higher Ground and it was all that and then some. What else was it? A bonafide MODERN REGGAE CLASSIC!