Sizzla - Da Real Thing [VP Records, 2002]
If there were ever a consensus choice in terms of what would constitute an album which would fit the criteria and the notion of a MODERN REGGAE CLASSIC that certainly would be Da Real Thing. In retrospect, back in 2002 when it was originally released it took about two months or so to gain wide public support, but that seemingly immortal support is definitely still evident almost eight years later. But certainly its CORE support shouldn’t have been no surprise to anyone. The album was merely the third in a line (which unfortunately is still stuck on three) of albums, preceded by Sizzla’s opus Black Woman & Child and later the morbidly overrated Good Ways, which were done by a combination of arguably Reggae’s greatest modern talent, Sizzla Kalonji and unarguably one of its greatest producers of all time, the legendary Bobby Digital. Still, it is the album’s successes (in terms of the more than hardcore Reggae head) which are a surprise as oppose to its quality. The album probably gained Sizzla more than a million fans on its own. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of ‘yeah Sizzla was always around he was clearly talented, but I never REALLY paid attention until after Da Real Thing album. It is to that success, for a change of pace, that I’ll speak in synopsis of an album which, even more so than albums which are BETTER than it, has gone onto to make ITSELF a household name in the annals of modern Reggae music.
1. Mash Dem Down
Do you remember this one? Do you remember the very first time you spun through the album and the very first thing you hear is, “Just like in the holy days, chop off the pagan head and let it roll away. Praise The King everyday”? The tune with the very strange opening (whether you actually agree with the sentiments or not) definitely picked up the pace and ultimately it ascends to be a very COLOURFUL and ‘progressive’ statement of inspiration, despite the rather morbid shock of its intro.
Line of The Song: The entire first verse. BRILLIANT!
While the opener hasn’t exactly grown into a tune of great popularity amongst the masses (although it excellent), ‘Simplicity’ is an altogether different case. It’s obvious brilliant over the years (not so much immediately if I recall correctly, however) has made it one of the more popular efforts on Da Real Thing. Why? Because it was nearly VINTAGE Sizzla and, as general in that case, absolutely beautiful. It also presented a typically ‘abrupt’ Sizzla lyrical conundrum just looking at the title, although also in typical Sizzla fashion, by its end, the tune makes PERFECT sense.
Line of The Song: “It’s not the one bag of vanity. Nor the, animosity. Nor the, hypocrisy. Nor the, democracy”
3. Solid As A Rock
And we continue to go up. ‘Simplicity’ is surely one of the favourites from the album, still there are three tunes here which have separated themselves, historically, in the eyes of people worldwide and the first of them to appear on the album is ‘Solid As A Rock’. The tune is surprisingly dark upon further reflection and in an outstanding way. Built over a BEAUTIFULLY MALNOURISHED Bobby Digital version of the Cuss Cuss riddim (I THINK) ‘Solid As A Rock’ attracted so much attention, in my opinion, largely because of its rather ‘coy’ power. Sizzla lyrically goes on the attack, but almost seems to do it defensively in a ‘bend, but absolutely positively do not break’ style.
Line of The Song: “They can’t keep a good man down. Always keep a smile when they want me to frown. Keep the vibes and I stood my ground. THEY WILL NEVER EVER TAKE MY CROWN”
Is it wrong that I hear the Far East riddim and IMMEDIATELY start singing ‘Murderer’? ‘Rejoice’ had a ways to go before it could reach the levels of that legendary tune, but in its one not to mysterious manner, it certainly has grown to become unforgettable as well. Still, while ‘Rejoice’ is by no means one of the more popular tunes on the album, I don’t think that you can make a legitimate point that it isn’t one of the finest.
Line of The Song: “Hey youth be humble. Don’t bad mind dem fi dem things. You work for what you want, that’s the powers of The King”
5. Thank U Mamma
For me and for most I believe THE lasting moment from Da Real Thing (Da Realest Thing, if you will) is easily ‘Thank U Mamma’ which is saying a lot. This tune was absolutely DEVASTATING and yet it flowed so effortlessly that it and it alone (NOT EVEN THE ALBUM ITSELF) would go and stand to prove my longstanding point: If songs like ‘Pump Up’ just ‘Dress Code’ fucked you up in the brain in regards to Sizzla, there was also THIS type of song waiting right around the corner. It was only a matter of WHEN not if, he would choose to be brilliant. ‘Thank U Mamma’ is an all time great and the most valuable on an album full of gems.
Line of The Song: “I’m here for a purpose. I’M HERE TO RULE”
6. Woman I Need You
‘Woman I Need You’ was sublime. Absolutely sublime. From strictly a sonic appeal or an ‘entertainment’ appeal, this tune is definitely one of the strongest on Da Real Thing. It’s very quietly a pretty aggressive lover’s tune, but it doesn’t sacrifice, in its intensity, any of the normal appeal one would hope for on a great love song. Although it most certainly requires a bit more effort on the part of the listener (because besides its intensity and overall sonic appeal, the tune’s actual identity and strength is well within its lyrical approach), ‘Woman I Need You’ is MASSIVE!
Line of The Song: “Woman I need you, like never before. Afrikan woman you’re the one I adore. I need you, like never before. And when you’re with me I feel so safe and secure”
7. Bless Up
From listening to the rather complex nature of the tune which immediately precedes it on the album, ‘Bless Up’, although by no means very ‘simple’ actually, sounds quite simple by comparison. The literal sonic appeal here isn’t as powerful, yet the tune is clearly a better one in terms of lyrics (which is saying quite a bit). This one I’ve kind of struggled with over the years, because it sounds a little older to me than the rest of the tunes on the album, for some reason. It has a feel to it which makes it seem older, which may even be a stronger attraction (for me) than the tune’s lyrical perspicacity.
Line of The Song: “Ah. Poor people blood di wicked man been drinking. Corruption slave masters been thinking. Anyhow I sight dem ship sinking. Black people they been lynching and pinching. For too long the poor man they been suffering. Them hail The King of Kings, what joy HIM bring. Make a juggling, a hustling, no trouble HIM. Outta life HIM a make alla living”
8. Why Should I?
This downright ROYALLY vibed tune has gone on to attract quite a bit of attention even though it didn’t seem like it started with such wonderful acclamations. It is EXQUISITE to my ears as we find Sizzla chanting down corruption in both the literal and figurative (and future figurative) senses. You can also say that it is an anti-violence tune, but things rarely tend to be so simple with Kalonji and they certainly (in my opinion) aren’t so with ‘Why Should I?’.
Line of The Song: “Why should I, want to hurt my brother just for vanities? Why should I, want to hurt my sister for the least of things? When I know I & I lives and reigns and rule over everything. Nothing and no one gonna stop us now, from doing the right thing”
9. Got It Right Here
This now unforgettable herbalist anthem didn’t have very much momentum when it originally dropped, but it has been pushed to near that select group of ‘three’ tunes on the album which are the most popular here. I think it has something to do with the fact that Sizzla himself seems to LOVE the song and sitting here thinking, in the maybe 8-10 times I’ve seen him perform in the years since the album dropped, he’s almost ALWAYS performed at least a piece of it, in retrospect and fans eventually (for that reason or another) began to get the point. ‘Got It Right Here’ was a big tune.
Line of The Song: “SMOKE IT TIL ME EYES DEM RED! Promote di marijuana, that’s what I said. Marijuana feed me, clothes me and school me. You can’t fool me. Gimme di good ole lambs bread”
10. Just One Of Those Days
BOOM! The last of the ‘triumphant trio of Da Real Thing is the RIDICULOUS ‘Just One Of Those Days’. This tune may very well be the greatest ‘jilted lover’ type of love song of the modern era (outranking tunes like Jah Mason’s ‘Princess Gone’) which is saying a lot. All the more fitting is the fact that it took the legendary Queen Majesty riddim along with it. Giving new life and a new identity to one of the greatest of all time with . . . Maybe one of the greatest of all time. Devastating tune.
Line of The Song: “Dry cry, even tears. Even my heart cries, but who cares. Who‘s fault? No one but myself. Things do happen, words can‘t explain”
11. Trod Mt. Zion
This lovely tune borders on lyrical perfection throughout (and I’ll make this point quickly). The concept here is basically the ‘providing’ of a Zion-like place on earth. That thought that death need not be a prerequisite of entering the Kingdom (WICKED Pressure tune in my head right now) is very interesting and here Kalonji suggests that it is possible and attainable because through disrupting corruption and destroying the wicked, we can ‘Trod Mt. Zion’ literally on earth. Crazy crazy lyrics here.
Line of The Song: “They act is if they don’t got no sense. And I know them under false pretense”
12. It’s Amazing
This rather seemingly VERY simple old school vibed tune is one which lyrically goes into the nearly high-tech by its end. If you just give a glance to ‘It’s Amazing’, you may come away with the simple thought that it is merely a tune about the Afrikan Diaspora and while certainly that is a large part of it, that bit, at least in my opinion, goes into the larger and prevailing message of PERSEVERANCE and determination. I’ve subsequently broken the tune down into three different stories, through the three different verses and they all play a very critical role in the lovely display of this bonafide masterpiece of a tune.
Line of The Song: “It’s amazing how we never die. When the system what they set was just to slave I & I”
13. She’s Loving
Much like the final tune on the album, ‘She’s Loving’ has essentially gone under the radar insofar as anything on this very popular album could have, but not rightfully so in my opinion (of course I don’t really care, I’ve paid it attention). It’s much more of a ‘regular’ love song than a tune like ‘Woman I Need You’, in the sense that it doesn’t immediately strike you as being amazing, but when you scrutinize it (especially to the point of doing something like this), yeah it was kind of sappy but not to the point of taking away from a very well done song.
Line of The Song: “Take a woman and make her your wife. Intimate loving shall create another life. Make her an apple of thine eye. And take it worldwide”
14. Boom & Go Through
This powerfully Hip-Hop vibed tune was once the sole tune on this album which didn’t do much for me. And by no means is it now one of my favourites, it’s definitely a lot stronger than I gave it credit for being (for around five years or so). The tune has a very free-flowing nature to it and although a point (and a strong one at that) certainly is made ultimately, it REALLY sounds like Sizzla set out to just almost do basically a freestyle and have RIGHTEOUS good time. Mission accomplished.
Line of The Song: “Dem evil invention mi know it ahgo flop. Sweep out corruption, wickedness haffi go stop”
15. Touch Me featuring Rochelle
And lastly there’s ‘Touch Me’ which holds the distinction of being the sole official combination on Da Real Thing - featuring backing singer Rochelle taking center stage. This tune is a kind of smooth and jazzy type of vibes and along with the tune which precedes it, it stands as the changeup of the album and of course I have no problem with the vibes flipping up a bit. Here, it’s done very nice as, honestly, Sizzla is outshined by his SULTRY voiced partner here and although Rochelle hasn’t made much waves by herself as a solo artist (at least not to my knowledge) I do still keep an eye out for her name credited as a backing singer because she more than proved her value on this tune.
Line of The Song: “My skill, my will, it doesn’t take much. Simple words of will keep us so in touch”
As I said, instead of doing what I normally do here and try to come up with some type of prevailing meaning for the album, I would look at exactly why Da Real Thing ultimately went on to achieve the successes that it did, however, I would like to look, just for a second, at a possible collective meaning for the album.
The title itself I know is quite random, even though just looking at it you can tell where it came from. I believe there was an interview with Sizzla where he said that he originally planned the album as a gift to his mother and thus had planned to name it after its finest and most impacting tune, ‘Thank U Mamma’. However, he ultimately relented to Bobby Digital who came up with the title which it ended up with. So I couldn’t, in any type of standard which wouldn’t require me to OVERDO things (even by my standards), take the title ’Da Real Thing’ as shedding any light on the subsequent overlaying message. HOWEVER, what I can take into account in doing that are the actual tunes, two in particular. The first is, of course, ’Thank U Mamma’ and the second is ’Trod Mt. Zion’. These tunes, for me at least, stand out in terms of rationalizing a dominant meaning of the album the album because they (along with a couple of others, like the love songs) give it a far more terrestrial and relatable feel to it. Also, when you listen to the tone of these tunes (more on this in a second), it’s not as HUGE and domineering as some of Sizzla’s other work at the time, it’s much more laid back. So that, to my opinion, would suggest that he seriously had a goal here and whatever it was, he wanted to get it across. That goal? I think it was to show and discuss various different aspects of LIFE. Life is at the center of the album and I know you’re thinking, ‘that’s it?’ But yes, life would seem to be the centering force here and I’d suggest to you (and I just may do it my damn self at some point), to go back and see how common a them that is with Sizzla. Also, I’d draw comparisons to the last time I did this in reference to him, on the album I-Space which I felt also had a similar theme, HOWEVER, I-Space, at least to my ears is far more personal and less ostensibly relatable of an album (although I do still favour it over this album). Da Real Thing is about life IN GENERAL - Sizzla’s life, my life, your life etc. All life.
As far as the album’s intense popularity, I think it has quite a bit to do with Sizzla himself and the album would kind of reflect that in HOW it became popular. As it said, it didn’t have the same type of appeal we saw in an album like More Fire from Capleton (or any of Capleton’s albums actually) or something from Beenie Man and such, this one was almost remarkable in how it came to be popular, because it kind of exploded from the inside out. Like any Sizzla album, the initial joy from it came from you and I, the hardcore Reggae heads and it extended to a very select crowd of casual fans and then to a very not-so-select crowd of damn near random casual fans, many of whom (maybe even YOU) are now hardcore Sizzla fans at the very least. That, given the relative ‘obscure’ nature of our music is kind of strange on a huge level like that. Of course it’ll happen in smaller dosages, but I can’t exactly think of a similar album which had such an effect (although the one coming to mind right now would be Tarrus Riley’s Parables) on the actual market and it’s still going on, nearly a decade on. And when I say “Sizzla himself”, being part of that appeal, what I mean is that, at the time, Sizzla’s standing is pretty much what it is today. He was never actually THE MOST popular artist, however, he was definitely one of the most popular and definitely regarded as one of the, if not THE most talented Roots artists at the time and because his immediate past was ‘littered’ with tunes of questionable nature and it had grown to a point where the criticisms had even reached HIM to the point where he would feel the need to address the, straight on (and if you listen to enough Sizzla interviews, you quickly find out that it isn’t his way AT ALL to do almost anything straight on). The planets had aligned properly and the stars had shifted making the time ABSOLUTELY PERFECT for a classic album from him and it would almost need to be the one which was going to receive the most attention (a VP album) and in my opinion the greatest piece of ‘evidence’ for this is the fact that the other relatively ‘big’ releases of that year, Ghetto Revolution and Blaze Up The Chalwa from Greensleeves and Jet Star, respectively, which were nowhere near as good as DRT were treated like so. Also, both of those albums retained much of the material for which he was criticized in the past. DRT, on the other hand, was virtually spotless. It is also still surprising to me that the album itself is pretty DARK. It’s not the kind of jovial type of a vibes you might think it is on only a few runs through and scrutinizing it again for the sake of something like this DEFINITELY sheds light on that.
Also it is definitely worth mentioning that, amongst the hardcore heads at least, the paring of Sizzla and Bobby Digital in and of itself would definitely carry quite a bit of weight on its own. Walking on downright hallowed ground in Reggae terms, set five years earlier by Black Woman & Child and reset by Good Ways two years later, that alone would have provided a very solid foundation for DRT in terms of potential appeal.
Regardless, however, of WHY it exploded, why we liked Da Real Thing is clear. It was and remains a truly GREAT album. What else? A BONAFIDE MODERN REGGAE CLASSIC!