Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Choose Wisely: A Review of Soca Or Die by Destra

My Grandmother’s oldest child, my uncle, is a sixty-five year old year old man who acts as if he is sixty-five going on around twelve or so. Each and every Carnival season for Trinidad (and he gets to Grenada quite a bit also) this very short old man, who is my Father’s oldest brother, will absolutely lose whatever scruples he has hiding in his downright cavernous cranium and wild out for the entire time. I bring up my favourite uncle Vince because I speak a lot nowadays concerning how I’m getting older and my tastes are changing in respect to my aging (at least I hope that’s what it is and I’m not just becoming a codgy old bastard), but Vince is definitely an example of the fact that maybe we don’t ever have to really grow up at all. I’ll look through my collections and find album after album and tune after tune which just appeals to me in a way in which it didn’t previously (even going from BAD at one time, to GOOD not too long after, in some cases), but (THANKFULLY) there are exceptions. Like Vince’s the exception to my ‘growth’ has been and hopefully will always be Soca music which, when done at its best, at least should bring out the little kid in all who have ears for it. Now I could bring up names like Faye-Ann and Machel and Bunji and even Tizzy, Patrice or Skinny these days, but I’m thinking of going a little higher for this one, I’d like to take it to the source. The biggest source of my being a big grown ass man who feels absolutely no shame in acting like a misbehaving child (besides my daughter who I cannot in ANY WAY say ‘no’ to) is, of course, Destra Garcia. You’ll find people, like Machel, Lil’ Rick or Bunji at their best, who can go MADDER than Destra and you’ll find people like Alison Hinds who exude more CLASS in their music or even artists like Tizzy and, of course, the vocally LETHAL Claudette Peters who have more of a refined (traditionally speaking, but Peters’ voice is DEVASTATING) vocal style, but as far being the TOTAL and COMPLETE package, to my opinion, it’s Destra and then everyone else (although Hinds certainly isn’t very far away). I am, admittedly and shamelessly, partial because Destra was the first Soca artist to really catch my attentions and all these years later with so many new heads emerging, I still find that her music and especially her performances remain top notch and I’m not the only one who thinks so, as she place second in this year’s Road March race in Trinidad (and for my opinion, she’s the favourite going into next year). Despite not having the current ROLL of Faye-Ann or the years (at least it seems like such) of Alison Hinds, for me, Destra is the Queen of Soca and should she still be performing when she’s my uncle Vince’s age, she’ll still be.

However, right now I’m sure she has no complaints as just shy of her thirty-fourth birthday (which RIDICULOUSLY occurs only three days after the 10th installment of a very popular and familiar party in Toronto this year) and coming off what was probably her most successful season in recent years (and that’s saying A LOT), she may just be the single most popular female name in PURE Soca music these days. Destra’s 2009 season, highlighted by the aforementioned run for the Road March crown with what was probably the single biggest tune I heard in Soca 2009 altogether, ‘Bacchanal’. The year would also see a very nice album release for Hott and just what I thought was a GENERAL profile raising for the girl from Laventille. As usual, she was featured on the biggest stages, even taking the Monarch stage with a performance at half time which, were it entered in the main competition, would have earned her no less than second place in my opinion. Her season was GORGEOUS and you know what? It had to be. Why? Well Destra’s 2008 season wasn’t very bad either. As a matter of fact, her 2007 season was pretty good also now that I think of it. As a mark of her time in the business and seemingly refusing to take a step into the next phase of her career where she is quietly thought of as being a ‘has been’ (even though when that happens, people seem reticent to say such about an artist, so much so that I have the PERFECT example of such a person and I’m not going to mention his/her name (or their sex either apparently) AT ALL), Destra’s combined stretch of 2007-08 has to be considered one of the finest of her career (2008-0 wasn’t bad either). What a wonderful, wonderful coincidence it was that it was that Destra didn’t have an album for the 2007 season, so those tunes, in a sense, ‘carried over’ to the following year’s release, which means that WHATEVER it was that came out in 2008 with Destra’s name on it must have been a very good album, to say the very least. That album would have been her first since 2006’s Independent Lady and, again, MADNESS. The album was called Soca Or Die, which was very interesting because it shares a name with a VERY popular show in Toronto which I THINK was the first place I actually saw her perform in the early 2000’s and became HOOKED and where she is generally amongst the most anticipated attractions. The album had such an encompassing vibes and it really, in my opinion, went largely overlooked by the mainstream (which is a problem neither its predecessor, Independent Lady, nor Hott had), but it was arguably a DISTINCTLY better album than either of them. It also featured Destra alongside some very heavy hitters (in and out of Soca) and really just seemingly ‘toying’ with the music with which she has earned her name. The result was, in my opinion, probably her greatest album to date, although, again, very underappreciated. The album is definitely FUN and, although it lacks the SLEEK feel of Hott or the just all around insane feel of Independent Lady, is one which captures so many different sides of the artist who, for me, brought Soca from “that crazy music”, to one of the most JOYOUS and COLOURFUL vibes available on earth.

If you’ve been paying attention (and I have) the first thing you’ll probably notice about the album is the number of tracks. At seventeen in total it’s, FITTINGLY (because she missed a year), her most dense album to date and almost, again fittingly, like two album’s worth of vibes. Destra captures my thoughts EXACTLY with the opener of her 2008 album Soca Or Die, ‘Hooked’. It wasn’t until scrutinizing this song for the sake of this review that I realized something about: I LIKE IT! I hadn’t paid too much attention to the tune in the past, especially in the face of far more popular material on the album, but it’s very well done actually and with its pseudo old school style of approach, it manages to pull a VERY strong vibes for the kickoff. No such revelations were in order for the next tune, ‘We Luv Carnival’. This song, from 2007, was downright SPECTACULAR and had so many different colours and vibes going into it that it was really hard to call it anything in particular, besides amazing. You could call it a groovy tune or even a power tune, or an old school tune and there’s a pan somewhere lost in the madness also. It was just EVERYTHING you would need and it really showed Destra’s versatile range as simply NO ONE else in Soca (or any other genre) could have done We Luv Carnival justice as Ms. Garcia did here. BEAUTIFUL! Things go up an even higher notch with the DOMINATING vibes of what was probably Destra’s most popular offering from 2007 altogether and, it goes without saying, one of the best tunes on Soca Or Die (as is We Luv Carnival), ’I Dare You’. This one was far less indescribable than its predecessor on the album, but even more MASSIVE as it captured fans across the board and has arguably become one of Destra’s biggest tunes to date all around. From any type impartial side, I should probably call it the best tune on the album (but I’m not, because I’m not impartial). Yes. It was that good and it completed what was a more than “that good” start.

Joining Destra, amongst others, on Soca Or Die, is modern Dancehall royalty in the form of former sparring partners Mr. Vegas and the poster boy, Sean Paul. Vegas hops in on the very SMOOTH ‘On The Floor’ which is probably closer to a straight Dancehall tune actually. Of course, that’s Vegas’ world, but the star of the show more than holds her own. Sean Paul, for his part, helps on ‘Free It Up’. The tune was a definitive hit and it even spurred on some wonderful combination performances between the two. Oh. And it was ABSOLUTE MADNESS! As weird as it most certainly sounds, it’s probably the best tune I’ve heard Sean Paul on since the Trinity album! SOD also includes the road mix of Free It Up as well and it’s. . . everything you expect from a road mix. That being said, however, it’s the two Soca combinations on SOD which REALLY capture the light in my opinion. The first, ‘Last Lap’, is simply the biggest tune I hear on the album and it features Naya George from the big band Invazion. MADNESS! Madness on every street corner! Last Lap has definitely become one of my favourite Destra tunes of all time and I don’t think it received the attention it deserved, in retrospect, but I don’t really care either. This one didn’t even come close, I don’t believe, but it had ‘Road March’ written all over it. DAMN! On the other big Soca combination, Barry Chandler from Jabae joins Destra on a remix to his tune, ‘Flames’. I liked the original tune (which you can find on Jabae’s album (along with the remix) and on D’Soca Zone: The 7th Flag Up) for Flames, but the remix rendered it COMPLETELY useless to me at this point as Destra takes the already spectacular tune to even higher and more unbelievable levels for one of Soca Or Die’s most magic moments. Destra, back on her own, makes very good usage of Mr. Destra’s (Brian Morris) almost painfully addictive Banjo riddim, with the very popular tune ‘Saddle’, which I think is the only tune I can stand to listen to on that riddim. Another hit which follows Saddle, is the far more pedestrian and manageable ‘Wine It’. This song was BEAUTIFUL! A nice, kind of strangely paced, groovy tune was Wine It and it proved to be a VERY popular piece for the Soca Queen (and if you play this tune within earshot of a small child, be prepared to be BOMBARDED with “wine it, wine it, wine it” OVER AND OVER AGAIN for several hours, trust me, I know). The tune ‘High’ is a very interesting one, in terms of its delivery. The song features what might be sort of, kind of construed as a straight deejaying style from Destra and that’s A-OK with me (she does a good job) and it comes with a far less questionable and quite obvious edge to it as well, as it appears to be a kind of slap to the (DERANGED) critics she has. If that were the case then: Destra - 1/Critics - 0. ‘Signs’ is another tune which I feel didn’t get its just attention. It’s a bit more varied and definitely isn’t a straight forward tune by any stretch, but it‘s (whatever it is) MAGIC! This song comes through in a very sing-a-long type of ‘anthem’ style and it’s become one that depending on when I listen to it can generate a vibe as strong as any other on Soca Or Die for me. HUGE tune. Then there’s the title track for the album which is just BEAUTIFUL. The album has stronger tunes from almost every type and stronger tunes EXACTLY like the title track, but none are as FULLY encompassing as the vibes on the album and it’s absolutely no wonder why it was chosen as the title of the album. Soca Or Die comes to its conclusion in typical Destra fashion. She ALWAYS includes a couple of slow, ballad-like or gospel like pieces. This time around it’s a cover of Jody Watley’s ‘It All Begins With You’ and ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’. These type of tunes have never been my favourite, but you just come to expect them, like you come to expect Lady Saw and Bushman to do Country from time to time. It’s just her ‘thing‘, you’ll never hear me say a bad word about it and, as always, it goes to show her underrated ACTUAL vocal prowess to end the wonderful album.

Overall, what can I say? Soca Or Die is, in my opinion, Destra’s best work in a full album form to date. You could make the argument that albums like Hott and especially Independent Lady are more TOP HEAVY and they very well may be (Independent Lady was ridiculous with Outta Time, Colours Again, Aur Chale, Max It Up AND Jumpin’), but from beginning to end, I simply don’t think you’ll find a more solid Destra album. Soca Or Die. This one shows off EVERY facet of her style and shows it to either its absolute best, or very near it. It really also goes to show what I mean that she has some of the best values of so many different artists and what she is and what she has been is simply one of the most colourful and vibesy artists in Caribbean musical history. With accolades like that and calling this her finest release to date, you KNOW you should pick up Destra’s Soca Or Die. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Don’t believe me? Well, next time in you’re in Trinidad you can always track down my old ass uncle Vince and ask him what he thinks. Well done.

Rated 4.5/5
Krazi Music Records


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Artist of The Month: Meet Dynamq!


Meet Dynamq! I try my best. Really I do! With my ultimate goal with this series being to eliminate what is considered the 'underground' of Reggae by introducing the masses to these very interesting talents, I have to be perfectly honest and admit: With this one, I've screwed up. The reason WHY I'm confessing is that the artist I bring you this month, Dynmaq, is apparently quite a big deal already. Not only that, but I had a very interesting experience with listening to his music, where I had his debut album, Sudanese Child, for a minute and just lost it and thought nothing of it for the most part.

That was until I received a message from a friend to "check out this new video from this guy from Sudan". Only to be the same Dynamq that I had previously come into contact with via his album. Of course, my misfortune continued as it took me both a minute to actually check the video and to actually recall that I knew this guy from somewhere! So who exactly had I messed up with? Dynamq is a SWEET SWEET SWEET voiced Afrikan artist who (apparently) now resides in Atlanta in the States, where he is quite popular and he's been stirring the pot and getting even further attention as well. This is evident by the fact that the 'clincher' of the thought I had to use him as my new artist of the month of September:

Was a new singer, Reggae Feeling for the very well regarded Tune In Crew from out of France (who has worked with Itation Records in building their World Go Round Riddim) (and wouldn't it be so nice to hear Dynamq voice for Itation in the future!). To my ears, just listening to the clips, Reggae Feeling is potentially his biggest tune to date as Dynamq very successfully taps into the role of sweet voiced old school Dancehall singer and plays it to perfection (including on the lyric "I see nuff Jamaicans rub a dub skankin with Afrikans") (BOOM!). The tune does not appear on the Sudanese Child (which is quite new to my knowledge) album and you have to wonder if Tune In is now planning a release of their own from the singer, or, at the very least, just more work in general on their releases. And, speaking of releases, Dynamq also featured on Swedish label Pleasure Beat's very well done Majestic Riddim:

Alongside Jamaican peers such as Luciano, Junior Kelly, Jah Mason, Natty King, Mark Wonder and Norris Man. And, yep, you guessed it. I also have the Majestic riddim and it never occurred to me, obviously, spend any kind of time on the anti-violence tune 'Inner City War' which is curiously sung by an artist by the name of Dynamq. . .

And (as if that weren't enough) (and it was), there is that video

and it isn't his only one

So! Take it from someone who knows and do not sleep on Dynamq. The artist is making big connections right now and his star is well on the rise and who knows with whom he'll work with next and how he'll develop along the way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Vault Reviews: The Uprising by Louie Culture

I often speak of these types of ‘hybrid’ artists who can equally or even at the same time drift their vibes between what we’d consider Roots Reggae and what we may consider Dancehall. These artists, in one way or another, simply dominate the current landscape of Roots Reggae and when you actually list them out, you see that they have for quite awhile and have been one of the most influential groups of artists that Reggae music has ever seen. The two most immediately visible members of this group (in the most casual scope of the music) would be Buju Banton and Capleton. The two have a pretty LITERAL line in terms of their actual mixing of the vibes where they spent the first half of their time in the music doing Dancehall music and later, after changing the route they walk in life and ultimately their music in full, they became artists who weren’t predominately Roots Reggae artists, in the traditional sense (MOST TIMES), but instead, they became these very interesting kind of djaying Roots artists. It sounds quite complicated, I’m sure, but just think now to ALL of the artists who came from that bunch such as Sizzla, Anthony B, Determine and to the newer artists who I mention each and every review (biggup Lutan Fyah). Now think about Reggae and Roots Reggae, in particular, if these artists (who DEFINITELY include Queen Ifrica) never existed. That group definitely isn’t one which you could call underrated by any stretch of the word, however, there are certain artists who, in one way or another, who would just as definitely be underrated and not in the normal sense. Of course, I could mention the rather standard response to such a situation by saying that people like Junior Kelly, Jah Mason and an endless stream of Virgin Island artists are underrated and they are. They’re underrated in the sense of today and eventually, be it through their own progression (and antiquity) where history will remember them as the brilliant talents that they are/were or, in the case of the VI artists, when their music becomes more and more worldwide. No, this is a very special type of underrated. So special is it that I can literally only think of TWO artists who fall into this category, one would be Prezident Brown and the next would be Louie Culture. These artists, in terms of their standing in the music, are very strange because they’ve never really had to make the ‘shift’ as great as Buju or Capleton (or Spragga most recently), but the changes they’ve made have definitely grown to solidify them and their talents as well. And while I think the still pretty active Brown may be in the process of gaining that next step up recognition (new album out, Common Prosperity), Louie Culture may even be a special case, within another special case.

Why so special (Mavado)? If you put the kind of dancehall ‘calls’ into action and preface someone by simply walking up to a random group of Dancehall heads and saying something such as, “Gyal Flexx!”, you’re likely to get a response of, “time to have sex!” The same (even more so) would go if you were to say, “Sim simma” and then receive, “who got the keys to my bimma” as a response. Well, Louie Culture gave to the world, on his signature track, the popular call of, “I was born to be free”, with the response being, “cause me a old ganga lee, ganga lee”. The tune has become just as much Louie Culture’s calling card as it has become one of the more memorable refrains in Dancehall history (it was also quite popular amongst the Hip-Hop heads, as were both Beenie Man’s Who Am I and Mad Cobra’s Flex which were the previously mentioned ‘call’ tunes). Therefore, with his status being rather strong amongst a VERY hardcore (and thus, small) group of Dancehall and Hip-Hop faithful, Louie Culture’s actual place in the music is often marked and looked upon incorrectly, (more likely) INCOMPLETELY or even not at all in some cases. So, you may not know that his TRUE talents lie more solidly in the Roots arena, despite his Dancehall successes. Having worked extensively with Roots labels such as Xterminator, Bobby Digital’s Digital B and Star Trail, Culture’s strength has ALWAYS been in Roots, but, again, you wouldn’t think of his as a name alongside some of these BIG name new half Roots and half Dancehall artists because of his very odd standing. Another piece of evidence of that fact would be his debut album, Ganga Lee from VP Records in 1995 (and you can tell by who released it, that Culture was once thought to be a big deal) which was a PURE hybrid (if such a thing exists) (and it doesn’t) of Roots and Dancehall and it showed what very few people seem to recall to this day: Louie Culture is VERY talented. He is probably one of the single most talented artists of the past two decades or so. After that album, Culture seemed to take a more occasional approach to recording, but he did give us at least one more piece (and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him one day have another). No. It wasn’t another from VP or Greensleeves (where he would have seemed to be a natural somewhere along the line). Instead, Louie Culture’s sophomore album, The Uprising, came via producer ‘Justice’ Halsall’s once pretty strong Reggae Central imprint. The same label is pretty well known amongst the Reggae underground for released a Sizzla album by the name of Hosanna, a year before in 2002 and after The Uprising, they promptly (apparently) proceeded to vanish from the face of the earth. However, between the two projects, they definitely left a rather large and prominent ‘calling card’ for fans to remember them by for their downright WICKED artist selection in terms of who to work with (after The Uprising, reportedly a release from Luciano which never materialized was on the way). The album itself was very impressive and it remains, to my ears, one of the harder to find gems of the past decade and it’s really a shame that it maybe forever relegated to being only even known to the hardcore Reggae fans. As if we needed more evidence to see just how underrated and underappreciated the SERIOUS talents of Louie Culture are, The Uprising’s standing is another LARGE chuck of just that.

Louie Culture has a very rugged type of style. I hesitate to use the tired phrase ‘rough around the edges’ (because it is truly TIRED), but that is exactly what his style is. However, when you really begin to listen to the artist, his skill and adroitness at wordplay genuinely comes to the forefront. Coming to the forefront first of Louie Culture’s album, The Uprising, is a very interesting (and brief) a cappella intro which declares Louie Culture’s allegiances and goal of the album. The intro also leads us into the very first musical selection on The Uprising album which is the album’s dazzling title track. This song is a straight Roots tune, but comes across so nicely paced (it almost sounds like a dance song at some points) and it’s just KNOCKING. The tune touches on a variety of different aspects of ‘the uprising’, with the prevailing vibes (at least in my opinion) being that wickedness, in general, and those who promote are going to have to deal with ‘the uprising’, whether they like it or not. The tune is definitely one of the album’s finest altogether and a strong opener to say the least. The sparklingly addictive ‘Dem No Know That’ is charged with keeping the quality of vibes high on the album as it checks in next. Where the opener had a very interesting pace, Dem No Know That is very straight forward, oh yeah, and it’s BRILLIANT. The tune, in my opinion, is one which speaks of general education and life experience and the effect that the LACK of having such a background can have on not only an individual or a small group of people, but on society in general. It’s a very multifaceted tune and one which I can (and have) spend quite a bit of time on, analyzing and just enjoying. The first of three EXTREMELY high profile combinations rolls in next on what is definitely one of the signature tunes from The Uprising as ‘The Messenjah’, Luciano, joins his good friend Louie Culture on the WICKED uplifting tune ‘Chant Nyabinghi’. This one is just HUGE and ‘threatens’ to overtake the tune which eventually reigns supreme on the album as the two veterans make a BIG pair on the tune. Also included, right in the middle of the album, is the nice riddim of Chant Nyahbinghi (a very interesting touch, as they were on the Hosanna album, but they should be at the end of the piece). Very impressive start with three of the album’s finest offerings.

The other two aforementioned high profile artists to join Louie Culture on The Uprising are (unsurprisingly) his ‘label mate’, Sizzla Kalonji and (more surprisingly) Gregory Isaacs. An expectedly over animated Sizzla appears on the tune ‘If We No Love’ and he does eventually calm himself on the BIG Nyah drum backed riddim to match Culture on the decent tune; while Isaacs appears for a remake of his classic hit ‘Tune In‘. I’ve been saying that Isaacs’ voice hasn’t honestly sounded too well in quite a while and here he isn’t in his finest form either, but the song still retains a touch of its timeless appeal. Still, even with the strong opening bit, a remake of a classic tune and a Sizzla combination to boot, my absolute favourite tune is and hs always been the SCATHING closer, ‘Ten Miles From The City’ which finds Culture delivering a history lesson of EPIC proportions! The song wonderfully speaks of ‘an existing paradise amidst the ruins’ and I could literally spend ALL DAMN DAY analyzing the tune, but instead I’ll just tell you that it’s MAGIC and you need to hear it. GREAT song. Aside from the two tunes which immediately precede Ten Miles From The City, you can stop very comfortably on ANY of the album’s other sixteen tracks and do so confident that you’re about to hear a big tune. Check (BIG TUNE) ‘Love That Land’. The tune is kind of a veiled repatriation anthem and it takes a second to get going, but when it does you have a LARGE tune and one which has me thinking about calling my travel agent RIGHT NOW. And then there’s the donkey song. ‘Donkey Back’ makes a very clever metaphor (which I won’t spoil for you) and builds an entire WICKED tune around it. It also has the very strange twang type of song and it grows on like you a fungus to the point where you’ll very randomly find yourself singing, “too much pressure pon di donkey back”. The tune ‘You Alone Jah’ features an a cappella lead in (as does Ten Miles From The City) which was actually more interesting to my ears before the acoustic riddim backing began and it isn’t bad then either. The tune definitely proves to be one of the better tunes on The Uprising. You’ll recognize a few riddims from the Hosanna album on the album, one of which being the piece backing the tune ‘Jah Is The Way Out’, where Louie Culture arguably makes finer usage of the BIG vibed Nyah drum backed piece than Sizzla did on the BIG Cut & Clear (the Hosanna album also features a clean version of the riddim. The very well done ‘Free Flow Information’ utilizes the same riddim you’ll hear on ‘Sharp Shooter’ from Kalonji who is clearly outdone by Culture. The same DEFINITELY goes for Herbs, Spice & Roots which just barely shines brighter than Sizzla’s offering on the same riddim, ‘Word Power & Sound’. And while Sizzla does enjoy an advantage between his tune ‘Hosanna’ and Louie Culture’s piece on the riddim ‘Spong and Spang Dem‘, in terms of actually comparing the two albums, it may be one of VERY FEW he has. The tune ‘Stagnant’ wastes no time in getting the quality levels of the album back up (with another talking tune intro) and doing so just in time before the two WORST tunes on The Uprising, ‘Here Comes My Lady’ and ‘Stay In Love With Me’ check in to break us down a bit before Ten Miles From The City rebuilds EVERYTHING for the ending.

Overall, of course Hosanna is far more well known, but, again, comparing the two, The Uprising is CLEARLY the better album of the two. And because he only has two albums to date, this one I would HIGHLY recommend to fans of the Sizzla - Capleton era. The tunes here are very well done, a big credit goes to Justice on that end, and they compliment the aforementioned rugged style of Louie Culture very well in that, although there is variety, there isn’t something which requires someone to be RAZOR SHARP (traditionally and categorically speaking. Louie Culture is razor sharp on this album for his own style) and credit goes to Justice again. What I took in full from The Uprising album was a reinforcement of everything I and just a few DEEP Reggae heads knew going in: Louie Culture is talented for EONS. And while most will assuredly continue to sleep on said talent (and he’s still recording), YOU shouldn’t make that mistake; you should track down The Uprising album as soon as possible.

Rated 4.25/5
Reggae Central

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Stuff Vol. 8

Back at my own house! Feeling like the world's grownest ass man! Only for a minute though, we'll be going back up, the next week Tuesday which is the 6th, so everyone who wanted to send me something (and just went straight looserish for damn near a month) you'll have about one more week, because after that, I won't be back up until the New Year, at least.

Anyway. Fantastic week this week. You look at my lineup for last week, go ahead right. New Lutan Fyah, Chezidek, WARRIOR KING (you can't buy any of them yet and Lutan Fyah and Warrior King's albums don't have any reviews up that I could find) and then (even though it was bad) Vybz Kartel's album, El A Kru, STEVIE FACE and The Mighty Right riddim (biggup Philadub). Crazy reviews, gotta lot of feedback, three of those, actually four, had label/artist feedback from it. And (biggup Philadub), I may actually be getting a bit more very interesting feedback sometime soon. I will be honest, however, that El -A- Kru album was hard to write for and I think it was because I hadn't written a Soca review in a minute, won't have any such problems this week, however. Speaking of this week, lets go:

  • I'm CHILLIN! I've got two, maybe 3 (probably 2) reviews lined up. One, which I kind of already started, is my first vault review in a minute, for Louie Culture's Uprising album (that might even be tomorrow). And the other is, as I said last week, a review of Destra's 2008 album, Soca or Die, yeah.
  • Other possible pieces for the #3 is the Biggest One-Drop Anthems album for this year (BIG BIG Lutan Fyah tune on that one name Genesis). And Can't Stop Us by Omar Perry. The Anthems album is guaranteed one of these weeks, still working with Perry, however. And you can look out for reviews of the Badman Riddim (yet another piece for House of Hits) and the Ghetto riddim likewise.
  • I'll probably also be doing the next edition of Modern Classics, which would be #10. So, of course, it'll be a Sizzla album and I'm 95% sure that it'll be for the I Space album.
  • I'll also be doing a preview, got new artist of the month also. New artist of the month actually has to come before the end of September, so you can expect that Tuesday or Wednesday definitely.
  • I'm thinking about doing an article and starting a new series like this. Where I simply just start talking about my favourite artists. I did the list, but it's kind of constraining, so yeah. Whether this week or next, expect a new article style series about my favourite artists. Nothing really really big in terms of ranking or such, just who I'm listening to, why I'm listening to them and why you should (Kind of like the long form reviews, but for an actual artist).

Next week when we go back up, I'm trying to go crazy on a couple of interviews. I'm pretty sure I'm bad at interviews, but I think I can get through them based on my knowledge. I'm at my own house this week, so I can brush up and I don't want to tell you who I may be talking to, but stay tuned, one way or another yeah. And I have three in particular and if you read my blog with any type of consistency, then you'll be well interested in those three. Yeah! And next week I may do a little video review type of thing. Crazy videos out there and I never mention them too much (biggup Thayna), so I should do a something yeah.

Okay, I think that's it. If you haven't notice, I'm not posting today (this doesn't count because I don't have use my rusty ass brain to do it (biggup Susan) and uhmmmm. Biggup my brother in law, had a great time, see you back in a minute. Biggup John B, biggup Dale Cooper and biggup Philadub everytime. And Zoe and Zojak and all those guy. And everybody else. Let me find a songgggggggggggg, there you go, Jah Cure, pretty girl:


Pictured Stevie Face

Big man, big album

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Told You So! Told You So!: A Review of I Grade by Chezidek

As wrong as I undoubtedly am for doing so, I like to take a little bit of credit for having something to do with the word being spread of the talents of certain Reggae artists. These are names who I, for one reason or another, seemed to gravitate to fairly early in their respective careers and, having been won over by their vibes and their displays to some extent, I began telling ANY AND EVERYONE about them and to check them out. And while, again, I’m sure my influence has been minimal, virtually not a day goes by without me getting an email something along the likes of, “Thanks Achis for telling me about ______, the artist is mad!” Right now, I consider my greatest ‘piece of advice’ to DEFINITELY be Lutan Fyah. I’ve been telling literally everyone about Spanish Town’s finest for maybe seven or eight years now. Now what’s really interesting is that, around the same time I came across Lutan Fyah’s music (which would have been 2002 or so, while I was in college in the States), I also came across the name Chezidek as he dropped his very first album back in 2002, the STILL wicked Harvest Time. That was an album which didn’t do much damage (apparently) in terms of commercial successes, but I wasn’t the only one paying attention to the album from the very strange sounding singer from out of ST. ANN’Z (!). I didn’t push Chezidek’s name as hard as I did Fyah’s (or Queen Omega, Turbulence or some of the others I would have been just recently high on and expose to at the time), because of his “very strange sound” as, despite the fact that he came through not only my home town but my favourite label of all time (Xterminator) as well, honestly I just didn’t know what to make of him back then. Then, when you take into consideration that Harvest Time, while still big material (albeit short big material at only eleven tracks), was followed a few years later by what I still regard as Chezidek’s worst COMPLETE piece of work, the very strange and just DULL Rising Sun album, which definitely gave me and I’m sure many other fans a cause for concern. Since then, however, Chezidek has established his name as one of the most TALENTED and in-demand Roots Reggae artists worldwide. His subsequent releases (for the most part) have impressed and you could even make the case (although I’m probably not going to) that he’s managed to outdo the Harvest Time album at some point as well. So, again, as someone who’s been running the name Chezidek (and I even think he was billed as ‘Melchezidek’ at some point), for over seven years, allow me to gloat a little by saying, I TOLD YOU SO.

Along with the amount of excellent work Chezidek has done, he’s also made some very nice contacts. Besides doing work with and originally getting his start with ‘Fattis’ Burrell’s famed Xterminator camp, Chezidek has not only voiced with, but has recorded full on albums with the likes of Al.Ta.Fa.An, In The Streetz, Massive B and, of course, Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor’s No Doubt Records. I wouldn’t even bother to go through with whom he’s scored singles with, but trust there’s a virtual ‘who’s who’ of producers and not only locals, with whom Chezidek has voiced and voiced extensively. Earlier this year Chezidek added another producer and label for whom he’s released albums when the very strange Herbalist was released through Tad’s. And while I’ll spare you the exact circumstances of the strangeness of the album (although such information might be revealed to you through the process of clicking that link), the album was well high profile for the singer and undoubtedly opened even more ears to his vibes and his potential. Well, apparently Chezidek had a bit more to say in 2009 than was present on Herbalist (which was only like a half of an album or so) (biggup Al.Ta.Fa.An), as he now does his Lutan Fyah impression and releases a 2009 followup, the very SOLID I Grade. While Japan is slowly but surely (maybe not so slowly) turning into a hotbed of Reggae music and Reggae album releases, you also have to look at the European market and the European producers and labels in general who are now very steadily building more and more releases through Jamaican artists. With labels such as Pow Pow from out of Germany, of course Cousins from out of the UK (who released Chezidek’s aforementioned piece with Flava, Firm Up Yourself) Irievibrations from out of Austria, Gold Hear from out of Sweden (who did the MASSIVE Ghetto Skyline earlier this year from Daweh Congo) and just a seemingly endless stream of others. France has arguably been the single largest operator in this fashion as labels on top of labels release albums from great Jamaican and Caribbean Reggae artists. Not only do you have my favourites like Special Delivery, Makafresh/Makasound and Irie Ites but you also have some others who continue to make their presence known, such as Tabou 1. This label (who I was pretty sure was loooooooong gone) made itself known in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s via some very strong album releases which were largely produced by the Taxi Gang, Sly & Robbie (the biggest of which has to be considered Yami Bolo’s Freedom & Liberation which featured the SWEET Love My Woman). Well, apparently Tabou 1 is now picking up where they left off as they helm the new Chezidek release, I Grade, produced almost exclusively by, of course, Sly & Robbie. That’s the BIG DEAL here; Chezidek records an album with Sly & Robbie! So much so that Tabou 1 even mentions it on the cover (and if you dig up some of their old album covers (like Freedom & Liberation) you’ll see it pasted on a few of them “Sly & Robbie” in large blocked letters) as “Sly & Robbie Present”. So what exactly does Sly & Robbie present in I Grade? Well, the pretty bad title notwithstanding, what you hear on the album is a vibes which, although it takes awhile to grab onto you, is just SO nice, that from a strictly sonic appeal point of view, has to be regarded as one of Chezidek’s finest album to date. Of course there’s some substance here as well and such a combination of factors may just make it turn out to be just a very nice album in general.

It’s very interesting (and quite rare actually) that I don’t get any one particularly prevailing vibes from this album. Of course, musically it has a general SOUND, but it doesn’t really come away with any ONE sentiment and it’s pretty much all over the place in terms of subjectry, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (though, if you know me well, you know I‘ll probably be looking for a unifying vibe here for the rest of my days). The first evidence of Chezidek’s versatility (or ‘globality’) of vibes on his new album I Grade (his sixth by my count) for Tabou 1 Records, is the VERY nice tune ‘Change’. The first thought to come to my mind on the very first time I spun through the tune was ‘STANDARD’. However, and this, as I said, is pretty common for I Grade, the more you listen to it (and this one in particular) the more the tune’s inherent dazzling and colourful nature reveals itself. The song is definitely message music, but you really get a strong vibes from it musically as well and good luck getting to that message. Big tune and a big start for the album with one of its undeniable highlights. ‘Tonight‘, although not as strong as the opener, had no such ‘growing pains’ with my tastes. This tune is nearly lovers MAGIC. Oddly enough, I think that’s an under-explored topic in Chezidek’s music (and if anyone (not named Jah Cure) had the voice for such a tune, it would definitely be Chezidek) and if Tonight is any indication, he needs to invest more time in that vibes as well (there are other such tunes on the album also, quite a few of them actually, with maybe one being stronger than Tonight even) as the tune is just so SMOOTH that you have to pay attention. The final tune on the opening bit is also the best of the three, ‘Border Line’. This song has a very nice old school vibes to it and it really comes off nicely IMMEDIATELY. The tune kind of struck me as a bit strange lyrically as you already have in your mind what such a tune named Border Line is about, but it didn’t hold itself into that same “reach the borderline” and “time to overcome” type of discourse. Instead, Chezidek declares himself to be without a border line and not the type to be fenced in by any means (basically saying that he’s a grown ass man and can do as he pleases). I couldn’t agree more with the very interesting tune.

If you follow things along in a sequential order (and we do) the tune immediately following Border Line jumps in (very timely, on a great streak on the album) and does so as the biggest tune I heard on I Grade altogether. ‘No Surrender’ is an EPIC tune! It almost sounds like something (in terms of the vibes, certainly not the voice) that someone like a Mark Wonder would sing, as it’s this BIG sounding anthem-like tune. Chezidek OBVIOUSLY can do the same thing! HUGE tune. The tune ‘Who Start’ kind of caught me off guard a bit. I’ve gotten to the point where I can pretty much look at titles and know, more or less, what a tune is going to be about, but I had no ideas on Who Start. What the old school vibed tune is about, WONDERFULLY, is tracing back the plight of the Children of Afrika and doing so in support of WHO Chezidek says started the war. It’s so interesting that he would have come with such an approach, and of course, it doesn’t hurt that musically speaking the song is also very good. ‘Devil You Cah Bully We Out’ is another tune which reaches the heights of I Grade in terms of quality. There’s just something about this tune that I can’t quite put into words (maybe it’s the title) that’s really captivating to me and I’ve checked with just a few other people who’ve vibed the tune and have also heard two or three similar reactions. Speaking of titles, also check ‘Keep I Rolling’ which is, essentially, the title track for the album. I don’t enjoy it as much now as I did the very first time I heard it (it was actually my favourite here for awhile), but it’s definitely still well strong. The tune, as you might imagine, is the obligatory herbalist tune on the album (and you would have expected more, given the title), but it also speaks of NATURE in far more general terms which is a nice touch as well. And I’ll mention the potentially MASSIVE ‘Righteous Name’ which is probably my second favourite tune on I Grade. This one is SPARKLING as Chezidek urges all to give thanks and praises to He with the righteous name, His Imperial Majesty of course. As I mentioned before, there are quite a few lovers and lovers vibed tunes on I Grade (and you wouldn’t have expected to see that development on an album named I Grade, or at least I wouldn’t have), two of which even lead the album out. The first of the lot (after Tonight) is the decent enough ‘It’s You Girl’. This tune is fairly unexceptional, but I did notice the nice drumming in the background which is always a favourite sound of mine to hear (and it works in the overall composition of the song as well, it’s not just random drumming). ‘It’s Not Over’ has a much nicer vibes and isn’t the stereotypical love song (even though it sounds like it) as it has much more spiritual overtones and inflections and I’d actually probably go as far as to call it one of the better tunes, altogether, on the album. ‘Girl I Like You In My Life’ (is another title that’s entirely too long) definitely is that stereotypical love tune and I’m not really complaining about that AT ALL. This one has a nice SWEET vibes and is definitely one to play for the special someone in your life. The two final tunes on I Grade are also (kind of) lovers tunes. The first is definitely the strongest and probably the strongest such tune, period, on the album, ‘Black Woman’. This one is kind of two dimensional as it has both a laid back and dynamic vibes and it just SOUNDS GOOD. It doesn’t have that type of formulaic and stale approach (if you played the riddim out alone, it wouldn’t even sound like a love song riddim to my ears very much). And lastly is the corny and sappy and just lame sounding tune ‘Alone’ which sounds like tune from the 1920’s ‘doo-wop’ era. All of that being said I’m kind of miffed that I actually LIKE IT quite a bit. . . Yeah, I’m kind of ashamed but Alone is NICE and a very strange probably BAD way to end the album, but I can’t tell.

I should also mention that I Grade comes with a second piece which includes dubbed out version of the tunes. This is a nice idea and I’d like to see more of it going on (and maybe even on a digital level, as in an album is released and you can go through some of the digital retailers to get its dub or acoustic versions), so biggup Tabou 1 for that as well.

Overall, I’m fairly comfortable in calling I Grade Chezidek’s third or fourth album to date. I’d CLEARLY place both Harvest Time and Inna Di Road over it ultimately, but those (in my opinion) are the only two which clearly top it (its pretty close to the levels of Firm Up Yourself and I can’t quite pick between the two at this point). The thing about I Grade is its SOUND. Musically speaking (biggup Sly & Robbie), this album is top notch material. We’ve heard Chezidek, himself, in better form, but not much better and he’s so close to those levels that I would think it’s pretty imperceptible by those who aren’t HEAVY fans. While I lack to find a complete and gathering type of vibes on I Grade, maybe it lies outside of the album itself. This is the type of project which will only go to help to further his name (as all of his projects have done for the most part) as it’s very solid. Chezidek is definitely an artist to be mentioned with the ELITE of modern Roots Reggae and he’s well on his way with material like I Grade. Hate to say ‘I told you so’, but I did.

Rated 3.75/5
Tabou 1 Records

Friday, September 25, 2009

Well Look Who's Back!: A Review of Love Is In The Air by Warrior King

I think that if I were about six or seven years younger and an aspiring Reggae artist, I would have a pretty good idea as to how I would want my career to progress, knowing everything that I know now. First of all, I would try to find a nice manager with whom to align myself and preferably one who has things locked down on the side of production as well, someone like Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor or Shane Brown, for instance. After that, I’d attempt to keep myself physically and mentally prepared at all times, in order to take advantage of the sometimes strange situations Reggae artists (and musicians in general) often find themselves. From a musical point of view, although it’s impossible I know, I’d try to remain on point each and every time out in order to attempt to score as many early hits as possible to establish my name. Somewhere along this road, DEFINITELY, the mention of ‘VP Records’ has to occur if I wanted to help myself to progress along an international level through means of having an album. VP tends to favour artists who, although they may be young, have shown themselves to POTENTIALLY be in store for long careers through scoring a somewhat steady stream of local hits of varying degrees. Should you do so and ultimately sign with the label, you throw what is virtually unarguably the single greatest CONSISTENT brand of promotion within the Reggae community behind your name. Your face will plastered across posters across the globe, you’ll have albums released and not in a very long order (for the most part) (biggup Ding Dong) and with the thought being that Reggae artists don’t make very much money from album sales, but do their real business on the touring end, you’ll also have AMPLE opportunity to support your album by touring worldwide. Not to mention the money! Someone who could tell you quite a bit about how that entire operation might go for you would be one Mr. Mark Dyer [bka Warrior King] from out of Clarendon. The once EXTREMELY promising young chanter/singer established his name on the strength of several VERY successful big tunes (one in particular, more on that in a minute) and on the strength of the same body of work captured the attentions of Reggae heads worldwide, including those of the fine folks at VP Records. The label swooped down and signed up the young artist and, just as they had with so many before and with so many since, helped to push his name globally as his talent would have seemed to deserve. The union would also spur on two albums (of course), 2002’s debut Virtuous Woman and 2005’s Hold The Faith. Both albums were very well received (even though it took me awhile to catch on in terms of the latter), and, again, pushed Warrior King’s name even further.

The single relatively tangible downfall to signing with the big label that I’ve seen (and I’m not just ‘picking on’ VP either) is the blunted activity levels which seem to go with the deal. Not surprisingly at all, labels tend to want NEW(er) material. They don’t want an album with each and every tune a previous single, if they can help it, so a lot of times you get situations where some of the big artists aren’t always on the big riddims and just generally aren’t very active. Warrior King was DEFINITELY a ‘casualty’ of that. Like you currently see someone like Gyptian (to a degree) or I Wayne (PERFECT example) going through, if the King wasn’t very close to an album release, he just didn’t seem to be very active in terms of pushing new material. Also, as he signed SO early into his career, we never REALLY got to know him as an artist who could voice for almost anyone, thus, the mystery remains as to whether or not some of his inactivity in the studio was by Warrior King’s own choice or his recording status with his label. Regardless of the source of his past inactivity, the thing that we do know now is that WARRIOR KING is back and in a very very interesting way. I don’t actually know when his deal with VP was completed, but, again, not to stay on his inactivity, but even as a signed artist, Warrior King produced two albums in the last six years and not a single one in almost four, at this point. Just within the last few months or so, however, he’s had an increased presence within Reggae music. I was so delighted to see him featured on a tune, ‘Bad Boys’ alongside the legendary Linval Thompson (on which he uttered the unforgettable line, “can’t take ‘ini’, can’t take the ‘quity’ Rasta nah go dwell up inna Babylon city”) on his own comeback album from late 2008, the wonderful Ghetto Living. That album was distributed (digitally) through the peerless Zojak Worldwide and now Warrior King is doing the exact same thing as now ‘under new management’ Warrior King delivers his third studio album to date, Love Is In The Air for said new management, under a variety of labels such as Higher Level Promotions, Jadons Entertainment and Roots Warrior Records (which I would assume to be his very own imprint). What’s so interesting about Love Is In The Air is exactly what you might surmise from the album’s title: it’s predominately a lover’s album. Apparently the young veteran has either met a special lady or he has simply done something which he may have wanted to do for quite awhile which was previously not in the cards for him at VP. In either case, I’m SO less concerned with the King making such a move as I was when the oft-mentioned (around here) Perfect did so, with his album Karma (also on Zojak, incidentally) as Warrior King’s style has always been one which was far more easily transferable to the love song. Although both artists did originally rise to prominence on the power of a pair of STRONG lovers singles (Virtuous Woman and Handcart Bwoy, respectively), the King’s style, in all of his music, has been big and vibrant and beautiful and just something one would associate with a love song so, hearing him take this route isn’t something TOO far out of his skillset. That fact and the fact that the artist is and has always been just all around WONDERFUL to listen to helps to make Love Is In The Air, as brief as it is, a real winner by its end.

The first thing you might notice, as I did, if you just skim through the selections here is that the album has a very fresh vibes to it. I’m not saying that you’ll hear things that you haven’t heard or that this album is coming to “change the game” (whatever that means), but the vibes here are very new refreshing feeling to my ears definitely (and that’s coming from someone who is still WELL basking in the glow of the MASSIVE lovers rock piece that was Tell It Like It Is by Stevie Face, so you know that’s saying something). Up first to try and sooth your ears on Warrior King’s spanking new album Love Is In The Air is the title track which is very nice. It features an unnamed (on my copy) songstress who well compliments Warrior King (she sounds a bit like US R&B singer Syleena Johnson). The song does suffer a bit from the “love, dove and above” phenomenon lyrically speaking, but I like the duet style combination and it is a setup which is (kind of) revisited later on the album. SWEET opening. Things take a dip in the next tune up, ‘Pretty Lady’ which definitely isn’t one of my favourites on the album, but it isn’t too bad and I like it more each time I spin it. The tune has a bit of a Hip-Hop vibes to it which I don’t melds too well to the King’s style, but again, it’s not necessarily a bad tune and should I keep listening to it, it may actually grow on me someday. Not having a similar situation AT ALL, is the final tune at the birth of Love Is In The Air, the increasingly MASSIVE ‘I’m Cold’, which to my ears is the single best tune on the album. TEARS! If you, for whatever reason may not be able to be with the special person in your life (or you just don’t have a special person at this time) then you shouldn’t even listen to I’m Cold because it is my prediction that it will BREAK YOUR ASS DOWN! Period! The tune punctuates and uplifts and otherwise decent start.

Two of the songs on Love Is In The Air are apparently getting quite the push from Warrior King and company. Both tunes come complete with videos (even before the album drops, they’re two videos already) and, luckily are pretty good. The first to appear on the album is the COOL ‘Wanting You‘. This tune has a very kind of hypnotic and dazzling vibes to it and although it too tends to fall into the same lyrical pitfalls as the title track (“love, dove & above”), it doesn’t REALLY hold the tune back so much and it also seems like Warrior King had a very nice time singing it as well (and check the CUTIE who appears in the video). The other pushed tune ‘Wanna Give You Love’ is probably the better of the two songs (another CUTIE in that video also) as, although it lacks the sonic appeal of Wanting You (and that’s not to say it doesn’t impress on that level, because it does), is simply a more FOCUSED vibes. Wanna Give You Love is a ‘DEAL CLOSER’, if you know what I mean *(**wink wink**), trust me, I know. It’s also a very good tune and one of the strongest on the album. Similarly, the tune ‘Girlfriend’ is one which I was familiar with even before the two aforementioned singles as it was (I THINK) a piece from Max Romeo’s Charmax label (it even appears on their album ‘Charmax Allstars‘). And, you could make the case (and I will) that it’s even stronger than both of the other two. The vibes here are just so laid back and so ‘healthy’. I love the subtle Nyah drum almost hidden in the backdrop and it’s one of two or three songs here which made me question if my favourite tune, I’m Cold, was really my favourite tune. Yes, it’s that good. Although my wife liked it almost instantly (she’s a bit smarter than I am) the kind of frantically vibed ‘Hold Me’ is one which took a few spins to REALLY grow on me. I PROBABLY still wouldn’t call it one of my favourites, but again, each time I spin it back there’s something that I find I enjoy more and more (and I recognize this riddim or something about it from somewhere, I just can’t quite figure out from where). And then there’s the VERY interesting ‘Loneliness’, another tune which could give I’m Cold a run as the album’s finest tune. This tune is not only produced by Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor of Big Ship (which I THINK marks the first time the King has voiced one of his riddims) as it utilizes his SPARKLING Forever Riddim, but it also features [Nateesha] Stream, the First Lady of House of Hits who I can’t seem to escape these days. These two sound EXCELLENT together as they deliver a message which not only speaks about the unfortunate condition of being lonely, but also how we should seek in The Almighty, for He is always with us. That’s a big tune. As Love Is In The Air begins to wine down, it saves two very strong tunes for last. The first, ‘Girl’ is guaranteed to have old school heads (and shoulders) bobbing and swaying IMMEDIATELY as it comes through SO nicely and sweet. The tune was literally made for the slow dance floor and it’s one of those types of tunes that will (or at least should) strike a chord within you if you LOVE Reggae music (it also, arguably, features THE line of the album, “Every female knows that dissatisfaction is the reverse of a reaction”) and it’s clearly one of the best songs on the album. Lastly is the HEAVY ‘Yesterday’, which comes across Lazeme’s nice Riverwalk riddim. This tune speaks of the closeness you have in a relationship and takes it to a broader degree and not just within specific moments in time. It also features a RIDICULOUSLY addictive saxophone which is constantly present on the tune, but also gets a nice little solo segment near the end of the song. Beautiful song and an equally beautiful ending for the album.

Overall, the only thing that I can say is that I wish Love Is In The Air had a little more ‘love’ to give. At just ten tunes, you kind of finish (especially with the final two tunes being two of the best) just when you REALLY get on a good vibes and, definitely I would have loved to see this one stretched to at least twelve or so. However, that being said, this album isn’t apparently the only piece on the trail for Warrior King as he reportedly also has already completed a Roots album for veteran producer Colin ‘Bulby’ York as well (which I cannot wait to hear at this point). It would also be nice if he could throw himself out there a bit more, Flava has an entire catalogue of riddims basically which I would absolutely LOVE Warrior King to voice (that’s not happening, but a man can dream). But for Love Is In The Air, it’s solid, it’s not the best I’ve heard from the artist, but I’m just so happy to see him back that almost anything would have sufficed. Luckily Love Is In The Air does a bit more than just “suffice”, the album is very well done, as sweet as could be and marks the return to action of one of the more talented faces on the Reggae scene who obviously isn’t doing too badly for himself after the VP days.

Rated 4/5
Roots Warrior Records/Zojak Worldwide

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Zzzzzzzzzzz: A Review of Pon Di Gaza by Vybz Kartel

The list of artists of whom I have been very critical, at least in my opinion, is very short and I always like to think that I have good reason for it. Almost always the situation which is most likely to draw my ire is simply making BAD music or, even more likely, an artist who has proven him/her self capable of doing much better, making BAD music. The ‘perfect’ case and point (watch this now) would be Perfect, the somewhat radical chanter from out of ST. ANN’Z (!). It is my opinion that, up until very recently, Perfect’s material was very substandard and, unlike many of his peers, there’s not much of a middle ground with Perfect’s music, his style, itself, almost prevents him from being AVERAGE, thus, when he’s not good, he’s generally BAD and that. Perfect’s (in my opinion) bad streak bottomed when released his most recent work Karma, however, as I said, his troubles seem to be in the past these days and the few pieces I’ve heard post Karma have been more of the obviously and unusually talented chanter in a finer form. I’ve been even more liberal with throwing around critiques for Turbulence who was once one of my favourite artists in the game and one who is just so talented, considering his ability to chant, DJ or sing (and do so in a VERY powerful voice) that I felt (and still do) it was a real shame that the now nearly thirty year old artist spent his time in the studio singing INCREDIBLY mediocre love ballads and not doing the BEAUTIFUL Roots music through which he earned his stripes (and even better love songs back then also). There have definitely been others on similar situations and scales, such as Norris Man and even Sean Paul to a lesser degree of whom I’ve had to think once or twice that, “something simply isn’t right here”. That being said, however, by far one of my STRANGEST ‘targets’ of critique over the past year or so has been Vybz Kartel. This is true despite the fact that over the relatively same period of time, Kartel has enjoyed some of his biggest commercial success (especially locally) in his entire career, as with a seemingly endless supply of chart toppers being dropped, he has almost unarguably propelled himself to Jamaica’s number one Dancehall artist at this point. Yet, while I’ve been sure to give due credit to the DJ when he’s done well (as he DEFINITELY did with his most recent album, the MASSIVE The Teacher’s Back, which was easily one of the best hardcore Dancehall album that I’ve heard in quite awhile), to my ears there has been a noticeable shift in his music, which hasn’t exactly met my tastes so well.

So what’s been this “shift”? Well, awhile back the hanging question was always whether or not (and, by extension, HOW) Vybz Kartel could evolve his music. How can you go from a lyrical master of the ‘Three G’s’ of Dancehall subjectry (Girls, Guns & Ganja) as Kartel was, to being an artist who places his proverbial hat into several different things musically speaking. And what Kartel evidently came up with was this very mechanically vibed style which, at least to my ears, made less usage of his main talent (which is, of course, his lyrical ability) and I would even go as far as to say that he did it largely because of the backlash he received from countless upon countless people telling the artist just how much power he had and just how much positivity he could spread. The style he adopted offered only occasional glimpses into the UNDENIABLE BRILLIANCE he once exhibited and more closely resembled the rather ghoulish slow style of vibes you’d hear from Bugle. The difference being that the style is exactly what Bugle is and, unfortunately, it’s what Kartel has become. Apparently I wasn’t in the majority with my thinking because, as I mentioned, Kartel’s popularity hasn’t suffered at all and his ‘empire’ continues to grow for the most part and he’s now attempting to add a jewel to his crown as Vybz Kartel releases his fifth studio album (by my count), Pon Di Gaza and he does so under the most unusual set of circumstances. The album, Pon Di Gaza is apparently (at least initially) only offered to the world digitally, which isn’t very rare these days, but it’s also being pushed by his own Adidjaheim label (in conjunction with the label of his new favourite producer Notnice) and Kartel is an artist who most likely would need only to say ‘Yes’ in order to have a deal with the industry’s leader, VP Records. But, always the trendsetter, Kartel is doing his own thing, as usual and the result is what IMMEDIATELY became one of the year’s most anticipated Reggae/Dancehall albums the SECOND it was announced. However, musically speaking, Pon Di Gaza is a (very) poor man’s version of The Teacher’s Back album as, although it similarly vibed to a degree, it’s literally light years away from that downright destructive piece. I had such a bad feeling about this one going in because, listening through the initial sound clips, the first thought I had in my mind was “BORING”, and as polarizing as Vybz Kartel and his music can be that’s simply a word you should associate with him AT ALL (even if you hate the tunes, it shouldn’t be BORING) and having spun through it extensively by this point, my first thought in reflection is that. . . Well it is boring and it’s kind of flawed also. Vybz Kartel is one of a very select group of artists that we have today who, by virtue of simply being himself, creates a vibes to his music which is his and his alone and, even if you may have not liked them all (and I pretty much did, for the most part) what you’d have to say about his previous albums (Timeless, Up 2 Di Time, JMT and The Teacher’s Back) is that NO ONE in Dancehall could have made those same vibes sound anywhere near as good as he did. Not that he’s just this insane talent (and he is), but that Kartel’s music, like I said, is so categorized by the elements of his own style which is his and his alone at this point. Pon Di Gaza? I could probably name you more than a couple of artists who could have not only made this album but made it BETTER than Vybz Kartel at this point unfortunately.

Two things you should know about Pon Di Gaza before you decide to pick it up, even if you fancy yourself the hardest of the hardcore ‘Gaza fi life’ screaming Kartel fans: The first is that it’s entirely too long (although shorter than The Teacher’s Back) and that should be obvious. Besides being at least seven tracks too long, Pon Di Gaza is also (more importantly) EDITED, so beware. ‘Yeah Though I Walk’ is the first tune you need to beware of, but not too much as the ‘duty free’ song is probably the best tune on the entire album altogether. The story behind Pon Di Gaza is that a down Kartel penned the lion’s share of it last year and, again, that isn’t his style with the HEAVY and almost depressed type of vibes, but Yeah Though I Walk is strong stuff and I could pluck it off and it would fit rather comfortably on the TTB album definitely. Too bad things don’t stay this good! They don’t get bad actually (well, not ALL bad) and certainly not on the next tune, ‘Ghetto Youth’ [aka ‘Haffi Mek It One Day‘]. This tune is one which threatens to prove me wrong as, although it is just a touch mechanical, it’s still a very nice and poignant song. Yes, Kartel can do this type of song (he CAN do any type), but it generally proves to be hit or miss in terms of quality, luckily Ghetto Youth has quality written all over it and it was thusly well received by the masses also. ‘Bail For Me’ concludes matters at the head of Pon Di Gaza and, again, it’s not bad at all. The song, at times, almost seems like it’s about to fall apart and it, by no means, is one of my favourites, but it’s doable and Not Nice’s SCATHING riddim of the same name is downright spectacular and not to be missed. All in all, Pon Di Gaza’s is an opening which packs some of the biggest vibes of the albums in one small section and, tellingly, even IT could have been better.

Now to the madness. Two of the most (including THE most) high profile tunes on Pon Di Gaza have been disgustingly mutilated. The first is former MASSIVE hit ‘Romping Shop’ alongside Spice. The tune was a huge hit for the pair and was pretty x rated. However, you listen to this THING on Pon Di Gaza and not only is it with the remixed (I.e. legal) clunking riddim, it’s HORRIBLY edited. Some of the words cut out and replaced by noises include ‘breast’, ‘nipple’ and ‘ride it’. At least it got to keep its name though. Why they chose ‘Versatility’ instead of the original tune ‘Virginity’ is an absolute mystery to me. The original was a hit, because of the change; however, the remix makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE linguistically. And while those two tunes suffer from the censor’s axe, several other tunes on Pon Di Gaza suffer from the far more sinister BAD or WEIRD. The latter rears his ugly face on the forced ‘Broken Cry’ which features a moving sample from one of Martin Luther King’s speeches (it also features Kartel Portmore Empire protégé Blak Ryno) The song goes absolutely NO WHERE. It would have, in my opinion, stood better as an interlude with just the speech alone as the actual tune takes REALLY takes away from it. ‘Can’t Frame Me’ seems to try and follow in the footsteps of the opener, but it doesn’t have similar lyrical success and although it definitely isn’t a BAD song, it never really catches on and is ultimately forgettable. ‘For Love’ is just BAD. The song takes its hook from, of all places, Bobby Caldwell’s 1970 something hit What You Won’t Do For Love (which is a good song!) and flushes it right down the toilet. Kartel changes things up (not really) on the pedestrian Love of Money across the decent Slaughter House Riddim and it has some solid wordplay (duh), but nothing really that strikes of the DJ at his best. This is child’s play for Kartel. The wine up - wine up tune has never really been his forte and ‘Whine Up You Body’ on Pon Di Gaza isn’t terrible, but Kartel can definitely do better (see ‘Beyonce Wine‘). ‘Get Wild’ isn’t very good, but STILL it happens to be one of the better tunes on Pon Di Gaza. You’ll hear and you’ve heard several tunes like this one from Kartel in the past and this one doesn’t feature anywhere near the level of lyrics as some of the others, but it’s decent enough for the circumstances. Jump ahead to the Chimney Records vibed Movie Star riddim which backs the tune ‘Like A Movie‘, which is similar to Get Wild in the sense that it’s also one of the better tunes here, but ultimately nothing special AT ALL. ‘You A My Baby’? Another decent number, but the evil censor rears is back taking the adult goodness from the tune which used to be quite popular. See now you take that and fill in the gaps between the mentioned tunes with those which I didn’t bring up, ‘Love At First Sight‘, ‘The World Turns’ and ‘Gaza Love’ and you take a decent stretch and basically ruin it. Of those three, The World Turns [aka Move Ya Body] DEFINITELY gets off to such a nice start before descending into something which sounds like Kartel is making it up as he goes along pretty much after the very first verse (however, the riddim on that one is RIDICULOUS. Another one from Tarik ‘Russian’ Johnston, who also helms Virginity/Versatility). Three tunes down the stretch of Pon Di Gaza actually get my attention and do so in a good way. The first is ‘Life We Living’ which is a very SOLID social commentary and rather easily climbs to the heights of tunes on the album. There’s also the very strange sounding ‘Struggle’ which, initially, sounds like the theme song from some TV show from the 1980’s. The song is a similar one to Life We Living and at first I didn’t like it too much, but it definitely grew on me after about five spins or so. You may not favour it very much (or you may LOVE it) and if you don’t, at least give it a few spins before giving up on the song completely. ‘Tear Drops’ another similar one actually started much higher with me, in terms of my appreciation of it compared to Struggle (I now rate Struggle higher), it didn’t have much ‘growing’ to do at all and it’s still a pretty decent song, although at this point I’m dying for that finish line. Said line comes in the form of Want My Weed which, unfortunately, just like the other tune from the last bit Vybz Kartel’s Pon Di Gaza which I didn’t mention, ‘Video Recorder’, is damn near terrible from all ostensible levels. It’s not a great ending, not anywhere near it, but at least it’s OVER!

Overall, I’m pretty sure this album is going to do well and I’m pretty sure the fans are going to enjoy it for the most part. And I would even go on to predict (as I have in the past) that with this newfound digital linking from Kartel and his crew, we could very well see a rather steady stream of albums coming out of the Portmore Empire and not all of them from Vybz Kartel either. As for me, however, I just don’t like it. The ‘version’ of the artist I liked was the one who was full of CONFIDENCE and knew that he was the baddest lyricist in the Dancehall. Maybe this version still knows it, but the downright depressed and boring vibes I heard on Pon Di Gaza just doesn’t seem like he does. For the hardcore Kartel faithful, again, I’ll remind you that this one is edited so if you see your favourite tune here, you might want to listen it first. And to the newer fans, either pay the arm and a leg for The Teacher’s Back or pick up JMT. Pon Di Gaza while definitely the biggest album in the Dancehall right now in terms of star power, just doesn't pan out, at least not to my ears and he can do SO MUCH better. Maybe I’m just a ‘hater’, but if I am, material such as what is to be found on Pon Di Gaza doesn’t make my job very hard at all.

Rated 2/5

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Greatest Show On Earth: A Review of De Road Show by El-A-Kru featuring Tizzy

I’ve always described myself, in terms of my musical tastes as 51% Dancehall head and 49% Roots Reggae head. Even still, the most entertained I find myself listening to music is when a devastatingly talented Dancehall DJ is on the mic and I can watch accordingly, in awe, as the deliriously lazy and tired seven year old in me can reemerge, wishing that was me. However, as I get older, as much it pains me to admit it, my tastes have shifted and I find myself either harder to please in the context of Dancehall (and Roots, for that matter) or maybe just absolutely SURROUNDED by less than stellar work within that context. So maybe I have to readjust my percentages. Now, if I’m actually going to do this I’ll also need to factor in, somewhere, the fact that the previously mentioned lazy seven year old Achis has now gotten quite the ear for Soca music. So much so has it infiltrated his tastes that, near the beginning of OCTOBER, the insanely hype musical art form still comprises roughly 20% of what he listens to. And, of course, this didn’t just happen over night. Thus, while spending the last few weeks with older albums and the occasional new piece or single which slipped through my nets earlier this year, I definitely needed my Soca FIX, needed it in great order and what a better way than with one of my personal favourites? Say hello to Tanzania ‘Tizzy’ Sebastian and El-A-Kru. I ran into Tizzy and co. a couple of times during this past Carnival season, most notably at Trinidad Soca Monarch (more on that in a bit), where I was pretty surprised to see her actually open the entire competition as the first participant in the groovy category and although her crowd response wasn’t very good (as you might imagine), I, WELL PARTIAL, definitely enjoyed her performance, however. It certainly wasn’t the first of Tizzy’s performances that I enjoyed and it definitely won’t be the last as I have been HOOKED on her and El-A-Kru a few years and running at this point. And while my initial interest came via the strength of a song which was so ridiculous that I spontaneously break out in tears TO THIS DAY whenever I hear it, by the name of ‘Expose’. It’s definitely to their credit that they’ve maintained my interest in the subsequent few years since the explosion that was Expose and I routinely and continuously find ways to give my support to the group (my most recent work happens to be what you’re reading now actually).

So what is it about El-A-Kru and Tizzy? Well first of all, I’ve only recently come to the realization that, much like in Zouk, I’m just incredibly partial towards the females in Soca (in Zouk it’s even more pronounced. I basically won’t even listen to male Zouk artists AT ALL) and in particular, those who remind me, in some way or another, of the ball of energy that is Destra Garcia and Tizzy definitely has that and then some. Of course, sounding like Destra shouldn’t be and isn’t the only reason El-A-Kru gets my respect, they also have a very interesting style in terms of being able to add a bit of CLASS to Soca which I don’t think is necessarily a critical connection that many people (fans or musicians) actually speak of too much, especially not in the midst of the jump up. You can just see it every time you see the group perform or hear their output that they have OBVIOUSLY spent quite a bit of time not only perfecting the performance, but on the musical end, El-A-Kru’s leader and mastermind Rohan ‘Sylky’ Hector and songwriter and musician Glenroy ‘Zamba’ Richards have clearly done their job as well. And on the DIVINE Tizzy’s end, she presents herself as one of the quintessential Soca divas as she (seemingly with the flag of the group’s homeland, Antigua, eternally GLUED to her hand) stores enough energy into her frame to jump and sing for entire shows and could probably do so first thing in the morning if she were needed. Wonderfully, like quite a few of their peers, El-A-Kru has maintained a very steady album release schedule as well, to coincide with any given year’s Carnival season and they’ve actually (by my count) released an album for every single year, dating back to the late 1990’s. Also wonderful is the fact that they linked, a couple of years back, with European Soca specialty label Faluma who has made the music of El-A-Kru available worldwide and they even began to handle some of the back catalogue for the band as well. In fact, at least by my observations, either Faluma decided to take a break in 2008, or they just FORGOT, but you’ll also be able to soon pickup the band’s piece from last year, Rocket Launcher, which was, to my opinion, one of their absolute finest albums. NOW Faluma is delivering, right on time, El-A-Kru’s offering for the 2009 Carnival season, the somewhat conceptualized De Road Show. I remember hearing quite a bit about this ‘show’ to the point where it almost seemed like a poor man’s version of what Machel did with his season and subsequent album release. I don’t think El-A-Kru’s intents were at the least bit strange (as were Machel’s) or ‘mysterious’, if there was an overlying intent at all and I ultimately just think there goal for 2009 would have been (like it should be from everyone every year) to make the best vibes possible and to take them as far across the globe as you possibly can and if that were, in fact, what was meant by ‘De Road Show’ then I feel incredibly confident in saying, ‘Mission accomplished El-A-Kru’. De Road Show is a very nice trip through the equally lovely and COLOURFUL vibes El-A-Kru brought this year (with a special shot towards last year’s season also) which ultimately, in my opinion, form one of the better Soca album releases of the year (and we’re still waiting for Bunji. Anytime now king). The album is very fresh and it definitely covers a variety of different styles, which is definitely fitting for Tizzy’s sound and approach. And on a personal note: I’ve been reviewing an almost endless line of HARDCORE and heavy Roots Reggae pieces for a minute now and young Achis really needed something which will help him to JUST LOSE HIS FUCKING MIND!

Something stands out when you skim over the cover of De Road Show, or at least it did to me. I believe that just for the past two seasons (and everyone one indefinitely from here forward) that Tizzy has been El-A-Kru’s sole lead vocalist. Following a time (and albums) where she shared the duties with Blade and Naycha Kid, Sylky and EAK declared her their one in only and apparently on the cover of De Road Show, it is they’re intent to push the name Tizzy even further (as in billing it as “Tizzy & El-A-Kru”) and I’m not complaining about that at all. While the album doesn’t exactly offer the insanity that I mentioned (and, honestly, I didn’t expect it to) it does definitely deliver it’s maddening moments such as the opener for El-A-Kru’s (featuring Tizzy) 2009 album, De Road Show, the ecstatic ‘I Luv Carnival‘. Not only is this the best piece of pavement that you’ll find on this Road altogether (and it is), but the tune was also probably EAK’s signature tune from 2009 and it is absolutely GORGEOUS! The tune finds our heroine in FINE form as she, rather proudly declares the love of her life to be exactly what the title suggests it is. It’s hype from beginning to end and even though I think it might’ve done better later on the album, you can’t deny its power wherever it is. I Luv Carnival is HUGE and the album’s best. Things tone back for the next few tunes in terms of intensity (they almost had to), but do so nicely as up next is the very jovial and pulsing ‘Ride It‘. I’ve been kind of high on this tune for awhile now. It almost seems like the type of song which would grow on me, but instead I liked it immediately and I’m pretty sure you will as well. The same should be said of ‘Wine Gyal’, which is pretty clichéd actually and definitely nothing special, but I found myself liking it simply because of the ‘COOLNESS’ it exudes. It never gets too crazy, but it comes close and it also keeps you paying attention. With the slightly early including of I Luv Carnival, De Road Show’s opening is very strong.

Although the second and third tunes on De Road Show, respectively, don’t go there, the listener doesn’t have to wait too far for another reason to jump and shake away those last remaining brain cells as the RIDICULOUSNESS that is ‘On De Road’ comes in at track #4. On De Road is exactly what I mean when I say that EAK & Tizzy have a classy sound, even when the vibes are this crazy. On De Road is downright complicated at times, but no one misses a beat and the sound vibes SO BIG making it, at the very least, the second biggest stop on De Road Show. ‘Push’ is a song which, again, seems like one which might take a minute or two to warm up to me, but I liked it almost instantly. It is, of course, another exercise in ‘wineology’ from Tizzy and this one is a bit more complicated as what she wants you to do is give her the wine she requires, BUT you cannot touch her! She wants your hands where her eyes can see them at all times. Tizzy if those are your only conditions then I’m the man for the job! The two tunes immediately following Push change the vibes of De Road Show drastically, but that’s not a bad thing as they both are, to my opinion, two of the stronger tunes on the album. The first is the very sensual ‘Groovy’ which is one that I’M SURE could do major damage on international were it given that type of opportunity as it never gets downright sexual (DUH) and the vibes are pretty much akin to faster paced R&B/Pop music which would transfer right across and so very well. Just to my ears and I usually don’t like that type of song, Groovy is a real winner. And then there’s ‘Ghetto Boy‘, a song which I’m REALLY sure I should hate, but I like and I like it shamelessly too! Ghetto Boy finds Tizzy RIDICULOUSLY plundering the melody of ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ from the world’s creepiest band, The Fine Young Cannibals (which, in its original form just makes me itch for some reason), to talk about how a special young gentleman from the ghetto has gotten her attention and she is completely unable to get him out of her mind. You may or may not have a similar situation going on but good luck to you to get this song out of your head anytime soon because it’s just not happening. And after the two song changeups, things are back to normal on De Road Show and steering us out is Tizzy’s own tune, ‘TZ Wine‘. This song is hyperactive silliness and I like it (and it also marks the second consecutive album I’ve reviewed which mentioned Scooby-Doo). TZ Wine is another one in wineology and apparently Tizzy doesn’t give a damn what you do with your hands this time around. ‘Tek Meh Picture’ was the one tune on De Road Show which I didn’t remember AT ALL and hearing it here may have been the very first time that I’ve heard it altogether. Regardless of where or if I know it, Tek Meh Picture is MAD! This one is more on the higher scale of intensity, but it has so many different levels that it doesn’t just feel the need to knock you over the head and finish you. Instead, it knocks you down, picks you up, dusts you off and knocks you down again! The tune is easily one of the biggest vibes on the album altogether. And to finish everything off is the remix of one of El-A-Kru’s biggest 2008 efforts, Wuk Meh, alongside Richard Trumpet. This is the tune Tizzy performed (with Trumpet) at TnT Soca Monarch and, even though the rest of the crowd didn’t seem to think so for the most part, I thought they did a very nice show and I’ve grown fond of this tune since. I still prefer the more ‘involved’ original version definitely (which you’ll be able to hear on the Rocket Launcher album), but the remix is pretty big and was one of their popular songs from this season and a more than adequate last stop to this road show.

Overall, yeah, the usual complaint about EAK albums still holds true on De Road Show: It’s only ten tracks. I don’t mind that, however, as they CONSISTENTLY give you new tunes and new albums every season (and not too many of their peers, at the highest could actually do a ten track album from this year’s tunes alone), so I give them a bligh on that. For what is actually on the album? You simply have to rate it. De Road Show is one of the better complete Soca albums I’ve heard in 2009 and no, that’s not saying such a great deal, but trust me, it’s solid. Of course, you’ll take it into consideration that I’m EXTREMELY partial with all things Tizzy, but even removing my Antigua flag coloured glasses, this Road Show is one you, fan of Soca, new and old, do not want to miss.

Rated 4/5
LA Music/Faluma