Friday, January 22, 2010

"2 Steps Forward ": A Review of Ms. Alysha Now by Ms. Alysha

One of the more common questions I get from Reggae fans (and just general discussions I find myself having as well) is to the nature of the ‘divide’ and the differences concerning Reggae - Dancehall and Soca music. Such discussions usually tend to go the route of a Reggae head explaining to me that they just recently heard some Soca tune or saw one of my reviews which caught their attention and they would like to know if there would be any type of artist around that they might be able to ‘get into’. Of course, me being me, I usually go about OVER answering their question, after mentioning “Bunji Garlin”, who is pretty much the ‘standard’ response to such an inquiry. Luckily, recently there’s also been what I like to call the ’BUNJI-EFFECT’ which has spread to some of the younger artists who are now adopting this concept of ’Ragga-Soca’ and coming up blending the two genres together, despite being specifically anchored as Soca artists (as opposed to being a Reggae artist at the core, who blends in Soca music) (biggup Buggy), so it’s making responding to this question far easier as every season passes. Definitely the artist that I’ve found being more and more appreciated by the strictly Reggae crowd has been two time reigning Vincy Soca Monarch Skinny Fabulous. Apart from being based in Jamaica (getting his education) Skinny has definitely proven to be one of the more lyrical young artists in the game and while he doesn’t go as far as Garlin does in terms of combining the genres, Skinny’s inherent style is something which does that naturally and Dancehall heads have DEFINITELY found something to like in tunes like ‘Leggo De Beast’, ‘Alien’ and especially ‘Head Bad’. That trend also figures to continue (hopefully riding enough to support his forthcoming album). Not too far from Skinny would be reigning Vincy Road March champion Problem Child, his brother, who also infuses a similar style (although one which is clearly more Soca oriented, to my opinion). I could well go on with naming artists like Mr. Killa from out of Grenada, St. Lucia’s Ricky T and ESPECIALLY Isla Man, the up and coming Fucha Kid from Antigua by way of Guyana and definitely veterans like Maximus Dan, Machel Montano and Alison Hinds, the latter of whom styles don’t really lend themselves to the type of ’crossover’ as everyone else that I’ve named thus far, but you’ll scarcely find a HEAVY Reggae/Dancehall fan who aren’t at least familiar with their work and are at least SOMEWHAT fond of them as well. Still, shamefully I’ve been overlooking one of the most obvious choices in addressing the matter for awhile and apparently she’s tired of my shit is now DEMANDING that not only I, but YOU pay her more attention than we ever have before.

Meet the delightfully WICKED Ms. Alysha. To be perfectly honest, were I to just began to list my absolute favourite female Soca artists, I’d probably get a dozen or so deep before I’d mention the name Ms. Alysha, but that’s certainly not due to a lack of SKILL. Of course I’d start at Destra and go through Fay-Ann and Alison and Patrice and Nadia, but on a CONSISTENT basis, if you come from a strict background of vibing Reggae music, despite how DIVINE much of their output may be to me at this point, you probably won’t be able to appreciate them as much as you should, but Alysha is BY FAR the exception to that rule. Not only that, but for what she does, I may even say that outside of Garlin, she’s the most DESTRUCTIVE of the bunch. Hell, FOR WHAT SHE DOES, I’d even put Alysha’s skill up ‘against’ some of the more talented of the up and coming female Dancehall artists also. To make that point even more so, were she a Dancehall artist, Alysha would definitely already be a bigger name than she is in Soca, in my opinion. So what does she do? Well, the complaint much of the time about Soca music is the fact that with its never-ending affection of the ‘jump up and wave’ type of vibes, it doesn’t really lend itself to being a very LYRICAL art form and it is with artists like Bunji where this trait is destroyed and Alysha is definitely one of those type of artists. Reading her bio, it says that she was primarily inspired by Dancehall artists (like Super Cat and even Lady Patra) as a youth and it goes to show as well in her output because what she uses, this ridiculously high powered and high energized FLOW is something which reminds far more of Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, than Iwer George and Super Blue. And I’m not even (not yet still) the most educated when it comes to Soca, but speaking of artists regarded as strictly or ‘mostly’ Soca artists, I’m HEAVILY struggling to think of any female that even comes close to equaling what Ms. Alysha does and is able to do with her ‘Matrix-Meets-Soca’ type of patterns and pacing. Despite her obvious and unique talent and a very respected standing in the music to my knowledge, I do still have to admit that I was quite surprised (although WONDERFULLY so) to see that not only was Ms. Alysha planning an album for 2010, but it was also coming from arguably the BEST Soca producer on earth, Shawn ‘Da Mastamind’ Noel (apparently virtually simultaneously along with the latest installment of his annual compilation release Da Mastamind Project 5) (AND the Soca Refix of Jah Cure‘s ‘Call On Me’ alongside the aforementioned Ms. Hinds). The album, Ms Alysha Now, I believe is her very first and certainly her first at this level - reaching worldwide and is so fittingly named after Alysha’s very familiar and forceful signature call. It is full of primarily her work in the 2009 and now 2010 seasons from a variety of producers and, in my opinion, is DEFINITELY a wonderful showcase of an artist and a side of a genre in general which doesn’t get very much in the way of showcasing outside of the Caribbean. By its end, Ms. Alysha Now proves to be a VERY solid project and one which is certain to entertain fans across genres. Yours truly well included.

I’m always so happy to see Soca albums like this reach the level to where they can appreciated through the more familiar digital sources (I.e. iTunes, Amazon and Emusic), because outside a very few, it’s very rare and a name like Ms. Alysha’s along with Nadia Batson, Bomani, Berbice and Faluma’s artists (namely Krosfyah & El-A-Kru) are some of the more impressive (and RANDOM AS HELL) as of late. Of course, a direct advantage Ms. Alysha has in bringing her brand new album Ms. Alysha Now to the masses is that because it comes when it does, the music is likely to promote the hell out of itself and be readily promoted all over the internet as well. Promoted to the starting position of the album is a tune in ‘Riding’ which, although not one of my favourites here, is pretty much a can’t-miss for another reason. The tune comes across the truly RIDICULOUS Gutter Riddim from Grenada’s Island Traffic label and it, like everything else on it, comes at a certain quality level which you just cannot miss (you could very well play this thing for a few hours and I may not tire of it). As I said, I don’t think ‘Riding’ is a GREAT tune actually, but if you’re just hearing it for the very first time, good luck getting it out of your head anytime soon. The allure of the Gutter riddim is replaced by a far more familiar (and sexier) allure as the DIVINE Alison Hinds steps in for ‘Fly Away’, the first of five official combinations for the album and it, like she, is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! I’ve loved this tune for the better part of a year or so and it just gets better and better. Hinds has proven again and again that she can make a BIG TUNE with just about anyone and while certainly ‘Fly Away’ isn’t a surprise given the combination of talents and it’s ultimately a rather ‘normal’ tune for Soca (and I can name you a few tunes of the same title) (biggup Zoelah) (and Machel & Collie Buddz) in terms of subject and approach, it is a winner on EVERY level and one of the three best tunes on the album. And lastly on the opening bit is a tune which I also like a lot, the dangerously captivating ‘Go Down Low [& Wine]’ which features solid group H2O Phlo. This tune is just crazy catchy and it can literally fuck your day up! It will stay and stay with you and if you’re looking for a reason of why I’ve talked up our heroine thus far, look no further than this one as early own, Ms. Alysha . . . Does what she does and destroys the scene on this multi-layered, multi-interesting and just cleverly addictive tune to wrap up a very strong start to the album.

As I alluded to, ‘Fly Away’ was one of three tunes on Ms. Alysha Now which seem to set themselves apart from the pack and comprise the class of the album. One of the other two, incidentally, is the other very high profile combination on the album also and probably the very first time I REALLY took note of Ms. Alysha and her talents, ‘Party’, which features none other than Soca supernova Fay-Ann Lyons herself. I believe this tune was from 2006 (it’s on Soca Gold 2006) and it is MASSIVE! What a coming out ‘party’ ‘Party’ was (did you see that, did you catch me???) and it was so interesting because it featured Alysha, this big new and unusual talent alongside (even then) one of the best in business in the more traditional sense. I’d LOVE for them to link up and have another go at this, but even if they don’t ‘Party’ was well strong enough for nearly endless vibes, still. Managing to outdo combinations with Lyons and Hinds is Ms. Alysha all by her lonesome who bless the album named after her with its greatest effort, ‘We Own De Road’. I’m still a Dancehall head at heart, but I like my Soca straight up and ridiculous and that’s exactly what is to be found on this HUGE tune. You can just see the colours on it and in retrospect it was a very big tune for Alysha and its presence on the album was downright mandatory! EPIC, EPIC tune and I don’t know who she wanted me to tell, but I have the phone in my hand, just in case. One the other two combinations, definitely the vibes stay high and manage to introduce a new artist in the process. I don’t know who Alysha Boodoo is, but she joins Ms. Alysha on the wicked chutney vibed ‘Moti’ and the Alyshas do HEAVY business on the tune which should definitely be a hit. I haven’t been too high on Peter Ram for a minute or two (since 2007), but he’s always been very good on combinations (which don’t include Aidonia) and ‘Coming Down’ is even one of his better ones as he accompanies Alysha on the winning tune. Ms. Alysha DOMINATES on the flow here, she kicks it into a higher gear and although she outshines Ram, the veteran he is - he certainly doesn’t come off as being out of his depth and the end results are outstanding. The balance of the tunes not only serve to keep the quality high, but as SHOULD be the norm on Soca projects, they are FUN AS HELL! Dancehall heads should enjoy tunes like ‘Stamina Man’, ‘Crazy Love’ and maybe even ‘Picture Frame Gyal’ (all Madmen Productions I believe). The first is the class of that lot DEFINITELY (‘Stamina Man’ was serious!). And also certainly not to be overlooked is the FUN and very colourful ‘Bumper Catch A Fire’. This tune didn’t have to do much growing on me at all, even though I don’t recall hearing it very much really, if at all. I like it here! You’ll also take note of the hypnotic ‘Cyah Teck It’, over this simple, yet crazily vibed, riddim. The actual tune in full here isn’t one of my favourites on Ms. Alysha Now, but I could easily see it growing to become such, that riddim is one of the more creative you’ll hear anywhere and I’ve heard one or two other very strong efforts on it as well. And lastly, wrapping things up is the Mastamind produced craziness which is ‘Riddim Band’. This tune should be BIG and you should be tired as hell of hearing it in a month or so and the tune is more than strong enough to put a big and beautiful ribbon on the album.

Overall, I’m definitely recommending Ms. Alysha Now (and Ms. Alysha in herself) to Soca heads (who probably already have it) and even a certain and plentiful number of curious Dancehall and Reggae fans also, but I do have a couple of things I would have liked to see here also. The first doesn’t exist (at least not to my knowledge), but EVENTUALLY Ms. Alysha and Bunji Garlin HAVE TO do some crazy, nucleic exploding tune together . They HAVE TO in order to maintain all semblance of balance in the world and it would have been so nice to see such a combination included here. The other thing I would have liked to see is much easier - Last year (maybe even 2008) there was a tune Alysha did by the name of ‘Jookin Meh’. I LOVED THAT SONG. It’s smart, it’s hilarious and it’s just big (and now that I’m making requests, ‘J’ouvert Jam’ would have also been nice). However, as to judge the album on what is here, Ms. Alysha Now is a big winner. I was so glad to see it forthcoming and it certainly didn’t disappoint in the slightest. I’ll probably continue to get those letters about Reggae and Dancehall fans trying to find some ‘bridge’ to crossover into Soca and I’ll definitely continue to mention Bunji and Skinny Fabulous. However, I’ll also be sure to point them in the direction of this GEM of an album from Soca’s reigning lyrical Queen.

Rated 4.25/5
Mastamind Productions

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