Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Righting The Wrong?: A Review of Ina Now by Midnite

If you’ve at all been paying attention to the international media these days and, in particular, the sports side of the news, you might find yourself hearing quite a bit about second chances and how they are given and earned in that world. And while, THANKFULLY, it isn’t at all normally the case of things that you have to forgive someone for doing the things that person did in that case, making it truly an extreme case, sometimes, if you listen to enough music, you, as a fan have to choose whether or not to give an artist a ‘second chance’ after having been ‘burned’ by a previous release. I cannot even begin to tell you (although you know I’m about to try) how many times I’ve come across an album from an artist, especially one I was really looking forward to, and been wholly disappointed with the results and then just as wholly confused whether or not I would buy that artist’s very next release. Of course, some of those names (such as in this case) don’t take very long at all to get to that “next release”, so you may be talking about a matter of a couple of months or so (or less) when you’re again faced with the second chance opportunity. Sometimes, however, things aren’t so simple. One of the most extreme cases, in terms of Reggae music, has definitely been that of Jah Cure who literally to some (I’m not included in those) had to gain a second chance, like the person hinted at, at the beginning. After having spent more than eight years in prison for rape, the Cure emerged a free man in 2007 and did so with quite a few people (yours truly included) cheering for his return not only to the general public but to the music world as well. However, there were quite a few people you would hear (including a very small but vocal bunch online) who held him to the fact that he was a convicted rapist and was, at least in their eyes, to be treated as such. Thankfully, the Cure has continued to impress musically and the lion’s share of his detractors have found something, or someone, else to detract from. I’ve always also made the case that, in terms of the Dancehall, an artist who might be experiencing a down stretch or such a situation is also (and always) up for a second chance as well. Merciless definitely would apply to this situation having seemingly quite successfully resurrecting himself after running through his ‘Warhead’ days which ended very negatively for him. And, back to the reason that we’re here, I have about six, seven or eight Sizzla albums which were just BAD and, of course, that would mean, in effect that I forced myself to give him six, seven or eight second chances, as you KNOW I had to have my hands on the next release, whatever it may have been. Sometimes it does wear thin however, as whenever Turbulence comes with something again, I’m not likely to check it (I’m probably lying right now) by virtue of the fact that he hasn’t delivered anything with staying power in quite awhile, earning his second (or fifth) chance. But it is Reggae, after all and we have different rules.

Don’t we Midnite and Rastar? I can’t exactly think of a situation which would be too familiar with what is going on here. Not very long ago AT ALL, Midnite (Vaughn Benjamin) release the To Mene album, which, in my opinion, has to be regarded as one of the very worst of their (his) ridiculously obese catalogue. The album was just strange as hell and thankfully, in retrospect, I wasn’t the only one who thought so as to date, almost every review that I’ve read of the album has been quite negative or completely neutral. Now, Midnite being Midnite (and Vaughn being Vaughn) that’s not very much of a problem at all. I’ve heard bad albums from them before, albums which just left me utterly vexed to the strongest degree due the ‘typical abstractedness’ (if such a thing can be typical), which rather easily becomes weird when not done correctly but its really not a problem because Midnite’s overactive schedule usually allows them to make amends (remember that word) quite quickly and never mention that Vaughn Benjamin is a genius. But that wasn’t the only second chance here. To Mene was released by Rastar, which was the same label behind the very mediocre African Be Proud which I hardly even listen to much, if at all, these days, from one of my very favourite artists. They managed to make Fyah look as bad (the album still wasn’t BAD) as anyone who has ever worked with him before in my opinion and that wasn’t all. Rastar also released a compilation by the name of Defenders Of The Faith which wasn’t too great after awhile and they also STILL (supposedly) have an album from Jah Mason already done on their shelves which has been seemingly infinitely delayed (as was the African Be Proud album which I’m sure was renamed at some point which would mean that it was delayed about two years or so!) and I am looking less and less forward to it everyday. So! You can imagine that given all of that mess that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the ridiculously fast turnaround from the label and Benjamin in now pushing Ina Now, merely a few weeks or so after the. . . thing that was To Mene (almost as if to apologize). And, of course, as I said, even if I were to pass it up, I wouldn’t have to wait very long for Benjamin to get back in the studio, its only August, he could seemingly whip up another four albums or so before the end of 2009 if he so chose. However, I decided to pick up Ina Now anyway, based largely on the strength and history of the artist. His VERY unpredictable nature would, in my opinion have made Ina Now a complete candidate to be a winner and I would have ignored it! And you know what? I did the right thing. Ina Now isn’t the best Midnite album (it isn’t even close) that I’ve ever heard but it is, from all tangible and semi-tangible aspects LIGHT YEARS ahead of To Mene and actually, if you really (over) scrutinize it, I think it kind of becomes what To Mene should have been. The focus (as you might imagine) isn’t too different but it is more appreciable and more ‘worldly’ (instead of Martian) to the point where what you end up with ultimately in Ina Now might be one of the more impressive Midnite albums of the last couple of years (which may be about ten albums).

Things haven’t been all like so bleak at Rastar and not with Midnite either. The two entities linked for two better albums also. One being Supplication To H.I.M from last year and, the year before, they released Better World Rasta. Supplication was decent in retrospect and at times pretty good but I was very high on BWR, it was very good and thankfully, in terms of quality, Ina Now follows that LUSH album more concisely than To Mene. LUSH might be an appropriate word to describe the tune which begins Midnite’s latest effort for Rastar Records, Get Through and the ‘fun’ times are back again. Get Through would have EASILY been the best tune on To Mene and its about fourth or fifth on Ina Now with a kind of a ‘veiled’ inspirational chant that Benjamin pushes before diving into the typically brilliant verses. Solid opener. The next tune, Wing Clip, is even better. Its typical, deaf flowed (you wonder if he can even hear the riddim at times), brilliance from Vaughn and it was the very first of a few points (the following two tunes show the same thing) where he absolutely LOCKS things off. When he approaches a tune like such, he’s one of the best in the world and its clear and on point, all of the dozens of topics which he mentions in the song. Speaking of locking things off: Jumping in at the end of Ina Now’s opening bunch is the best tune I hear on Ina Now altogether, the SHATTERING Ithiopia Millenium Deliverance. This tune comes in the line of tunes like The Gad from the Let Live album and others where the song has absolutely NO POINT but to give you knowledge! The riddim (which is very strange and actually quite nice) almost fades away and you REALLY have to pay attention to the words on this one as it features signature Vaughn Benjamin wordplay (like substituting “Genius” and “Genesis” for each other at the most opportune moments) with which the man is flawless. EPIC tune. I’ll stretch this bit to a forth tune actually as that next song, Selassie I Call is the second best tune on Ina Now. It has a very odd and wailing type of chanting style on it but lyrically it is damn near perfect. It also just happens to feature the line of Ina Now, when Benjamin says, “When di makers of di law a di breakers of di law. DEM SAY AMEN AND NO AMEND DI LAAAAAAAW!”. The thing is amazing and that’s the exact type of vibe you expect from him at this point but it still surprised and definitely impresses.

Ina Now is status quo for Vaughn Benjamin in a find form and features tunes which are so characteristic of his (and his only) vibes, throughout. Check a song like At Once which isn’t really what it appears to be at all. Benjamin quickly shows you that he doesn’t mean ‘at once’, he means “at wants”. And he once again absolutely FREEZES the listener when he says, “For none have come to power outside universe of authority. FOR NONE ARE KINGS WITHOUT THE SAY-SO OF THE ALMIGHTY”. Choices is a tune very much characteristic of the VI Reggae sound (it sounds like something Batch or Tuff Lion might vibe), which is, of course, right up Vaughn Benjamin’s alley and he delivers what is, in my opinion one of the best AND most sonically appealing tunes on Ina Now (“fatigues are the overuse of your function”). The HEAVY Roots From Time is arguably even better but less appealing (with a pacing which is COMPLETELY USELESS to you as an artist if your name isn’t Vaughn Benjamin) as you get what turns out to be a very well hidden history lesson, which becomes more and more revealed throughout the song. Rather surprisingly the title track pushes to near the head of the pack and becomes one SERIOUS tune (they usually aren’t). First and foremost, I’ll tell you that with the POSSIBLE exception of Selassie I Call, Ina Now the song is the tune you’ll still be left singing at album’s end, with its downright enchanting chorus. The song is so nice and freeflowing (it actually sounds like a freestyle to a degree) that it grows on you almost at once (or is it at wants?). The highlight on the tune and one of the biggest moments of the entire has to be when Vaughn calls down the rain and it obeys! LITERALLY! Huge tune and if you wanted to call it the best here or the second best, I wouldn’t argue too much. The very nice Mexicanadamerica, which is ALL OVER the place and in a nice way, begins a very solid stretch of tunes which give us the ultimate conclusion of Midnite’s Ina Now. To my opinion, the best of those songs is Vibration, which is a cool, smoky room sounding piece of brilliance. The tune is also, as you might imagine, very heavy and its one of the few tunes that you’ll hear from Benjamin which gives a bit of more personal information (or at least foundational information) to the very mysterious chanter. Betta Do Good (EVIL one-drop and all) isn’t the best written tune here but the actual sound here do help to make up for any shortcomings and its not like the tune is bad. Ras People slows things down almost to a crawl but, in doing so, it gives Benjamin the opportunity you know he wanted, to up the levels lyrically again as he waxes poetically about the ills of society as only he can and does so as if trying to either lyrically separate Rasta or to warn Rastas to keep themselves from such activity. I’m actually still working on developing how I EXACTLY feel about the tune but the wording here is top notch definitely. Lastly, locking off the lights and closing the doors is the tune Row which is far from my favourite here and a tune which, in all likelihood, would have probably sounded better if it were buried amongst like-vibed tunes in the middle of Ina Now but its not at all bad and I wonder if it might not be a tune which will grow to be even stronger after a bit of time.

Overall, maybe I should be wondering the same thing about Ina Now as a whole. As I said and will stress again, the album is NOT AT ALL the best Midnite I’ve ever heard and I’d probably rank it behind one of the other Midnite/Rastar links, the aforementioned Better World Rasta but ahead of Supplications To H.I.M and, as I said, wayyyyyyyyy ahead of To Mene. I also may be overrating Ina Now due to how much better than To Mene it was, which remains to be seen (ask me in a couple of months or so) but I think its clear the differences between the two and the fact that, in general, Ina Now is Vaughn Benjamin in good form. Of course, old and established fans will eat this one up and justly so but I don’t know that its necessarily that accessible to new heads (as always, you new fans should check Rule The Time) but not at all closed shut from them. What you have hear, regardless of comparisons, is one of the undeniably most skilled talents in Reggae at the moment near a top form for him. Vaughn Benjamin is literally off the charts and, although definitely not by design, he comes in to this one, at least for me, having to make up for a clunker and he does that and them some. ‘Second chance’ granted. Mission accomplished.

Rated 4/5 stars
Rastar Records
2009

Midnite Website [Buy Albums Here]

3 comments:

  1. we,re in charge not the media. u dont know where we rasta people is coming from and you never will. talk about the wolves in sheep clothing and stop talking about vaughn jah choose him to do this work which no other can do SELASSIE THE FIRST WE PRAISE not u the pen and paper.rasta to the bone

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  2. Hey Anonymous, quit clownin'! One need not be RAS to feel or "know" where Brother Vaughn is coming from. Perhaps you're the one who doesn't get it. Roots music is INCLUSIVE-dont hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for being RAS-ONE

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  3. Really strong album. Especially after To Mene.
    Mexicanadamerica absolutely destroys me.
    Get this cd.

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