Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Powerhouse: A Review of The Standing Firm Riddim by Various Artists

I’m trying to get some immense ‘ballpark’ figure into my head of relatively how many different Reggae riddims I’ve heard in my entire life. Adding up all the different numbers from all the various sources and tabulating them through VERY detailed methods (I.e. GUESSING) and I’m kind of struggling to get a number, but I’d probably say that I’ve heard somewhere in the neighbourhood of fifty-thousand or so. While that number is undoubtedly wrong, I say that to say, I’ve heard far more than my fair share of riddims (and your share also) and my mental database of them continues to grow basically on a daily basis. Therefore, when I hear one that REALLY grips me and my attentions, apart from the fact that I happen to like whichever particular vocalist is voicing it or what he/she is saying, when the actual riddim itself dazzles my senses, then I know that I’m dealing with something. I’ve heard riddims which, just playing alone can make the hair on my neck stand up, some that can render me completely incapable of remaining still and others yet which can flat out make me CRY! The prime case and point which I generally bring up in such a discussion is the MASSIVE drop from a few years back, the bullet proof Diwali riddim from Stephen ‘Lenky’ Marsden. I hate to operate in terms of ‘of all time’ (so I just don’t do it), but if you forced me to, I would definitely say the frustratingly addictive Soca-sounding, hand clapping Diwali would have to rank pretty highly on my list, but even if it didn’t, it (in all of its RIDICULOUS forms) brings out the Dancehall head in me to a perfect degree. In the Roots arena, things are a bit more muddled because, although I’ve heard far more GOOD riddims than in the Dancehall, the ones which TRULY grip me are often harder to discern from the most muddled pack. HOWEVER, that being said, should you grab up a riddim by the name of the Triumphant, then you’ll be picking up a composition which, through no help of anything else, can literally make me - GROWN ASS MAN - cry and cry like a baby. The thing is absolutely SPARKLING and the visual tricks that it causes my mind to play on me are equally part AMAZING and part CRUEL. So, if you ever you tire of me speaking of a producer by the name of Kemar McGregor, you’ll have the Triumphant riddim to blame, surely. There are others still, although many of them, such as The World Riddim, the Drop Leaf and others on that same level (like the Liberation) are also mentionable, but (I THINK) more because I’m unable to differentiate the riddim itself from the tune on said riddim, which I absolutely ADORE. Now, if you REALLY look at all of these pieces, besides all having LARGE effects on my senses, they also all come from very FAMILIAR places; being helmed by some of the biggest and most well known producers in Reggae music. So WHY IN THE HELL am I about to add a product of someone named SICK DONKEY RECORDS to that list?

Well, I’m adding it because it deserves to be in that company. I’ve said time and time again that if you make good Reggae music, I’ll find you (or you’ll find me), in one way or another and I’ve been fortunate enough to hear GREAT Reggae music from pretty much every inhabited corner of the earth and the fine folks at Sick Donkey seem to have a very similar method of thinking (based on who they voice, obviously). Perhaps it is that thinking which prompted the label to embark on the rather ambitious World Consciousness Unification Project (World C.U.P.). Billed as “a way of bringing conscious, positive and uplifting recording artist from all reaches of the earth together in, and for, unity”, the World CUP is apparently Sick Donkey’s ‘mission statement’ of sorts and, of course, their method of choice is a musical one and this is where I come in. I don’t know if I’ve seen such a LOFTY goal from a label, but I’ve certainly seen quite a few interesting musical concepts and definitely many of them were of the ‘flash in the pan’ variety as the vibes (and the promotion) simply weren’t there. While the promotional aspect remains a question, the boys at Sick Donkey, which is headed by DJ Sticky (who orchestrated this venture) and artists Essential I and Huckleberry (both of whom actually appear on the riddim), DEFINITELY won’t have to worry about vibes if their very first project is any indication as they add another PRIZED riddim to the group of my personal favourites which absolutely astonishes me, The Standing Firm, which becomes volume on in Sick Donkey’s aforementioned World CUP project. Last year one of the main attractions, as far as Reggae albums, was the very late in the year released Africa from the great Lutan Fyah via the San Francisco based 2B1 Multimedia imprint. Africa was essentially a compilation from various producers (and I shouldn’t have to tell you all of this because you should already have it) and it included a nice number of new(er) tunes. One of which, ‘Watch Over Me’, absolutely DEVASTATED (and continues to) my senses. Besides Fyah’s typical lyrical brilliance, the RIDDIM on this tune was absolutely ridiculous! And it (DUH), was the Standing Firm riddim. Thus, out of all the various riddim/label goals/initiatives I’ve heard of, BY FAR, Sick Donkey’s is off to the most promising start in recent memory with such a piece becoming its foundation. The album also (THANKFULLY) sheds light on the riddim’s origin as its builder, Jahson Ites (another artist, who apparently works quite extensively with Sick Donkey Records), says in the liners that he took inspiration from an old Jacob Miller tune by the same name of the riddim (and I knew I knew this thing from SOMEWHERE!) and it does sound like a very exaggerated form of that classic vibes. Now reenergized, reinvigorated and reincarnated, this Standing Firm riddim is MIGHTY! From the very first time I heard the very first tone on the song I was hooked. I couldn’t imagine that it would be the type of tune which would ultimately have its own album (although I was told otherwise soon after), but now it does and the album definitely proves to be one of the most INTERESTING I’ve ever heard also.

The initial concern here on my part is that the Standing Firm riddim album, nineteen tracks in all, would seemingly be full of eighteen ‘fillers’ as each and every other artist basically sifts through the ruins of the utter havoc Lutan Fyah wreaked on the piece. However, that’s not the case and, fittingly, Sick Donkey seems to reach to some of the more interesting (and obscure) corners of the earth to grab artists to voice the riddim which definitely adds a nice bit of colour and spice. Our first stop on Sick Donkey’s World CUP tour with the downright deafening Standing Firm Riddim album is Sweden where we meet the ever-present Promoe, with his tune ‘Migration’. What I will say is that this tune DEFINITELY has one of the best choruses on the riddim (“my people move, people travel, people migrate and the music will make the planet gyrate . . .”). Promoe actually goes on to address quite a few different topics on the tune, but on the whole I’d say that this tune, along with being one of the best on the riddim, also identifies the prevailing message of the World CUP project and may/should become a soundtrack of sorts for it. Nice opening. Next up, wasting no time trying out his own riddim is Jahson Ites, with the riddim’s title tune. This tune I know because it appeared on his very ‘curious’ sounding debut Forward Outta Babylon. This one has honestly grown on me a bit (and I liked it a little the first time I heard it). Lyrically, it’s a bit better than I initially gave it credit for. Yes. Jahson’s delivery is still very strange, but as far as what I’ve heard from him, it remains one of his better bodies of work. Lastly in the opening lot of the Standing Firm Riddim album is ‘Watch Over Me’ from Lutan Fyah. I’ll spare you the speech here and instead I’ll say that, of course, this is the biggest tune on the riddim. It’s one of my favourite songs right now and it has been for almost a year at this point and if you don’t have it by now, then pick it up here, otherwise you and I can’t be friends anymore. The song is utterly RIDICULOUS and rounds off a very strong start to the album.

There are predictably a nice number of new artists and some who I’ve yet to hear of at all who voice the Standing Firm, who inevitably impress to varying degrees. (CUTIE) Elaine ‘Lil Bit’ Shepherd (not that Lil Bit), from out of Canada is definitely one of the most impressive as her BEAUTIFUL ‘Judge Not’ comes near the top of the class of tunes on the riddim. Sick Donkey co-founder Essential I also does fairly well with his effort, ‘More Strength, More Life’. The tune appeared on his album for Sick Donkey, Freedem Souljah, which I skimmed through but wasn’t very impressed by, so perhaps I should take another listen based on the solid piece here. I have NO IDEA (at all) who Wisdom is, but his rather poignant tune, ‘Bubblin’, is pretty nice as he poises the kind of anti-stereotypical question, seemingly trying to blend the spiritual or the metaphorical into the tangible world, “we bubblin, we bubblin, but what are bubblin for?”. Oren B. Scripture (whoever he is), despite the fact that he sounds like a small child, is lyrically ON POINT with another of the stronger tunes you’ll hear on the Standing Firm riddim, ‘Mr. Evil’. And closing things out is Haji Mike (from Cyprus of all places), a VERY interesting Spoken Word/Dub Poet and his ‘Babylon Time’ is nearly outstanding. I LOVE the fact that an artist like he is on this project as he well adds another dimension to the vibes and outside of the occasional glance of Mutabaruka or DYCR, you just don’t see such a thing very much and certainly not often enough. Joining those lot of up and comers is a healthy pack of solidified names as well. Check Rocker T (who I should probably call an up and comer, but I like everything I’ve heard from him thus far), who chimes in with the hypnotically unifying ‘Harvest Time’. Rocker T is potentially a MASSIVE artist so definitely keep an ear out for him. I could also say the same of Adrian Xavier, who is apparently a friend of Sick Donkey’s (your joke here), he actually plays guitar on the riddim. Although Xavier’s piece here, ‘High Grade Strain’, isn’t amongst the very best I’ve heard from him, you can well expect a lot of big things from the VERY talented artist from out of Seattle, Washington USA. Ras Attitude’s ‘Fret Not Thyself’ had to be the single most anticipated tune for me to hear on the riddim and the Cruzan chanter definitely doesn’t disappoint with a tune which appears, at least to my ears, to be somewhat of a freestyle as he continues to prove that he can literally do ANYTHING vocally. Prezident Brown’s ‘Lionheart’ had to grow on me just a bit, but now it registers EASILY as one of the best tunes on the riddim (maybe even as high as second best). The message on the tune is kind of varied, but ultimately what I take from it is the notion of trying to live in the moment and appreciating every moment that we have here. Belizean artist Ras Indio continues to impress with his tune ‘Burn Them Out’ as does Ms. Triniti who gives the Standing Firm a decidedly ‘poppish’ spin with ‘Dapper Swagger’. And as things wind down, two very interesting combinations pop in. Jah Sun continues to attempt to prove himself the master of the combination tune, this time linking with Norris Man on the very STRONG ‘All For Myself’ and we’ll forgive them for the autotune. That nice pair, however, is outdone to my ears by the increasingly MIGHTY Ishi Dube (not bad at the combination tune either) who joins legend Half Pint on the ‘Show It’, a tune seemingly existing for the sole purpose of encouraging people to SMILE (“and mek yuh face stop hurt you man”). You can’t argue with that as the pair set a nice stage for the aforementioned Haji Mike to close things out here.

ONE THING MISSING: If you look at the back of the CD case (and everything here is presented so nice, the layout and everything is done well), you see the tracks situated with ten on one side and nine on the other. That, to my eyes, GLARING space, beneath track #19, Haji Mike’s ‘Babylon Time’, would have looked SO nicely filled by a CLEAN VERSION OF THE RIDDIM! Especially after Chezidek ‘teases’ us with such a thing as he seemingly misses his cue to start singing on his very nice effort ‘Music Is Love’. And credit goes to Sick Donkey because, although the Standing Firm riddim doesn’t glaringly deviate from its sound, it does change in small ways throughout with varying intensities and such, which is always nice, giving quite a few tunes even more uniqueness and originality even apart from the vocal artists.

Overall, I think I’m of two minds when it comes to the Standing Firm Riddim album. The first, greedily, is the fact that with such a BEAUTIFUL composition I can’t help but imagine what some of the more powerful and accomplished vocalists such as (ESPECIALLY) Capleton, Sizzla, Luciano and others (Ziggi) may have done with it. However, that it counterbalanced by the thought of exactly what Sick Donkey’s intentions were with the World CUP project, as far as SPECIFICALLY going out and getting as varied a ‘crop’ of artists that they possibly could, which is a great idea, but I’m greedy as hell and if they wanted to do a World CUP Vol. 1.5 before they got to Vol. 2, I wouldn’t complain about that. Whatever ends up happening, as it stands, in all honesty, the Standing Firm riddim itself has a MAJOR claim on being the single best riddim I heard altogether in 2008 and its subsequent album is truly one of the most INTERESTING that I’ve heard in quite awhile and should have a place FIRMLY in the collections of most fans of modern Reggae, worldwide. One of the best riddims I've ever heard. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something to listen to.

Rated 4/5
Sick Donkey Records


  1. Straight out of the Okanogan Highlands! Way to go Bluejay!

  2. Thanks Bluejay for making this music happen! Your vision is just what we need! Jason, your riddim rocks and Silas you are so very essential. Oren is truely a prophet. Love Adrian Xaviar snd I'm very excited to hear more from all!