When you begin to think of some of the more polarizing artists in the annals of modern Reggae music, it’s quite a varied group to say the least. The one thing, however, which MOST such artists who elicit a wide array of emotions and opinions amongst their listeners, seem to share is that they have all risen to a point in their career where they can rather EASILY be considered amongst the most popular (and usually skilled) of their peers. It’s almost like ‘it comes with the territory’ so to speak. Also, you’ll notice in most examples that, along with that, the number of individuals standing in favour and against these artists generally have a very large scope with which they justify their opinions and, at least for the most part in my opinion, that forever stretching scope is one which stretches FAR beyond the studio. For example, although (hopefully) it’s coming to an end, the ‘Gully v. Gaza’ phenomenon between Mavado and Vybz Kartel definitely created fans on both sides (and did so almost inherently) and also created some of US who grew to detest both sides essentially after awhile. And you can take that and slide it right in, in terms of the highest rank in Dancehall, to replace the suddenly not so important never-ending feud between Dancehall aces Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. Another example would definitely be the individual who is probably THE most polarizing in the music currently, being one of the most loved and one of the most hated simultaneously (and sometimes within the same individuals at times), Buju Banton. Out of the studio Buju will have both detractors and supporters (and maybe even a relatively equal number of both) into perpetuity most likely, while inside the booth, while the questions of his material essentially stopped two decades ago (save for his horrible decision to voice the Wipeout Riddim), it is effectively his activities in the booth which are the ultimate source of whatever controversies and polarizations which still exist for him today. I might also mention Sizzla Kalonji, although much of that has died down in his case. There was once a point where Sizzla went from being looked upon as one of the brightest young Roots Reggae stars to being looked upon as one of the more controversial figures in the music almost overnight. And while BLIND diehards like myself went on the defense for his certainly questionable output, there were just as many less vision impaired diehards (which I am now), who ran on the ‘attack’ of tunes like ‘Pump Up’ (and others who just took it too damn far by linking his tunes with the fall of modern Reggae at the time). Of course there’re others who I could also mention such as the aforementioned Beenie & Bounty and DEFINITELY Jah Cure, but these are certainly artists who pretty much Reggae/Dancehall household names.
. . . Which goes to make the rather curious case of (Benjamin Button) Norris Man, even MORE curious. I’m not going to go too hard in defending Norris Man of today because, as I’ve said time and time again, I don’t think he’s doing very good CONSISTENTLY these days and by this time now I’m even under the impression that perhaps he’s simply passed his prime at this point (and I think Norris Man is 36-37). However, I’ve noticed a very quiet standing critique of the Trenchtown chanter over the years which I simply have to go against and I’m tapping what I feel is STILL his finest body of work to do so. The critique has nothing to do with (usually) with a few outside of the studio incidents (one in particular) (biggup Sizzla), but instead is of how Norris actually does his music and most notably his voice and delivery. I simply CANNOT defend either of these things in the ‘technical’ sense. Norris Man certainly won’t be mistaken for a classically trained vocalist by anyone with functioning ears, but as I’ve said in the past about artists such as himself and definitely the great Peter BROGGS - when they are at their best, their voices are PERFECT for the type of vibes they put out and in Norris’ case, while his career has been uneven to a degree, there have been more than enough examples of his absolute power in my opinion to put to rest notions of his style or voice being hindrances to him being an even bigger star. He is what he is. Of course, were I to put into tangible terms the greatest example of Norris Man at his best, I’d have to sail back to a decade ago, almost to the day (January 25, 2000), when he released his first of now eight studio albums (by my count), Persistence. The album was named so after Norris Man’s first sizable hit in the business and it is VERY evident of just how powerful a statement he was in the process of making that the album was released by industry leader VP Records (although they haven’t released a next Norris Man album since) and that certainly wasn’t the only thing it had going for it. Although (to my knowledge) Norris Man technically got his start with Richard Bell at the Star Trail camp (alongside Anthony B), the label who REALLY took he and his career to the proverbial next level was Iley Dread and Kings Of Kings (alongside Chrisinti). Of course if you disagreed with that, you’d say that it wasn’t Dread [Colin Levy], but instead was a next gentleman by the name of Colin McGregor of Jah Scout Records (which I think is now defunct) who worked things behind the scenes initially and would go on to produce two Norris Man albums essentially (Better Your Soul and Heat Is On). But it really doesn’t matter who you give credit to for giving Norris Man the first big step up in his career, because all three - Star Trail, Kings Of Kings and Jah Scout all had BIG hands on making him not only the artist he’s come to be, but also making Persistence the BIG album that it was. With all those things going for it and Norris Man in a genuinely top form, it’s DAMN easy to make the case that his style and voice aren’t at a complete loss when he is able to demonstrate his VAST abilities on material like this.
Kings Of Kings is definitely one of my favourite kind of second tier labels because of the STRONG vibes they’ve released throughout the years (including at least two albums from Iley Dread himself) and because of the interesting names that have passed through the label at points. Besides Norris Man and Chrisinti, also having experience with KoK is Sizzla Kalonji (remember who did the Blaze Up The Chalwa album) super producer Scatta and of course the divine and heavenly creature that is Ce’cile (more on her in a bit). Norris Man, however, is probably the artist most closely associated with the imprint and it’s no surprise why with material like what is to be found on his outstanding debut album Persistence which is LOADED with some of Norris Man‘s best material ever. Getting things started is a very nice intro which may be highlighted by the fact that it may have very well been one of the very first times anyone had ever actually heard Ce’Cile who dominates much of the actual singing on the piece which is basically a nice instrumental (as it is the beginning, so shall it be in the end). The first actual vocal tune (which also features Ce’Cile singing backing) on the album comes in the form of one its best also, the wicked ‘Bad Road’. This tune is a wonderful prelude to the title track (literally and figuratively) as it speaks of facing obstacles and not even necessarily overcoming them in a ‘hand’s on’ manner, but instead seeking the help of His Imperial Majesty to do so. The tune also features quite a few different vocal approaches by Norris Man and to my ear; they ALL work for him on the HUGE tune. Next in is the aforementioned title track which ascends to the heights of the album named after it, unsurprisingly as its finest tune altogether. ‘Persistence’ the tune was MAGIC! The tune builds on the ‘bad road’ by now breaking down what the actual problem is and how it exists and how it remains and how it effects the downtrodden and oppressed. Norris Man brilliantly speaks of overcoming things like depression and apathy in the struggle and just generally maintaining oneself and sanity in the situation. This tune, I’m sure, has helped and continues to help so many people around the world and if you haven’t heard it, certainly the time is now! Cleaning up the opening lot of tunes is another of the album’s heaviest of hitters, ‘Undiluted Love’. This one ups the tempos on Persistence a bit and throws in a bit more colour as well. This one is a comprehensive love tune basically and one which just pushes all the right buttons, again - strange vocals and all! GREAT start.
Some of the sixteen tracks on Persistence make up the finest and arguably most popular of Norris Man’s career to date, even all this time later, and justly so. Such tracks were both the MIGHTY ‘Greatest Reward’ (“this is something babylon could never destroy”) and the lover’s effort ‘Woman Have Patience’. The latter of the two is particularly interesting (even though the former is a bigger tune) as it takes such a nice and SWEET turn on the traditionperisal love song, all the while offering such a delightful vibes that you have to take note of it in any respect. ‘Let Jah Lead The Way’ probably isn’t up to those two tunes in terms of pure popularity, but it may just be better than either. This tune so wonderfully and skillfully plays to Norris Man’s skill and makes him sound DAMN GOOD by its end while he delivers a tune espousing the masses to seek the divine for reassurance along the journey of life. And there’s also the MASSIVE second best tune on Persistence ‘Hold On To Your Faith’. This McGregor produced number is a MAMMOTH social commentary which lends itself to the spiritual avenue when Norris Man rather skillfully suggests a new source of inspiration over the CLEARLY flawed one which is man. There’re also two combinations on the album which didn’t get too much in the way of spin and popularity in their time. Veterans Anthony Red Rose and Mykal Rose join on ‘Heathen Pt. 1’ and ‘Holy Mount Zion’, respectively. While Red Rose certainly adds a nice bit to the tune, Mykal Rose and Norris definitely make an excellent pair and push the latter to one of the biggest efforts on the entire album to my ears. This one actually did a nice bit of damage apparently, but certainly nowhere near to the levels one might expect (and Norris Man BEATS down that riddim!). What’s left on Persistence is still a very nice cache of tunes, but you’d probably never know it based on the fact that many of them are virtually unheard of outside of this album. Check a SEAMLESS tune like ‘Bright Days’. That tune comes on the heel of the opening and it doesn’t let the quality levels sag very much if any at all (leading into ‘Heathen Pt. 1’) and although it isn’t as joyful as the tune which precedes it (‘Undiluted Love’), the song brings a very nice THINKING inspirational vibes in with it. You’ll have to pay attention a great deal and he won’t just GIVE you the message (outside of the title, of course), but be sure that it’s in there and worth deciphering. Speaking of “joyful”, check the most celebratory tune on the whole of Persistence, the Ska-ish/Gospel-ish ‘It Hurts’. The subject matter on the tune is fairly saddening for the most part, but the vibes almost naturally lend themselves to the ‘things are going to be okay’ type of ideology (and so do the lyrics eventually) and definitely there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I’d also point your attentions in the direction of the BIG ‘Everliving Soul’ later on the album). This is another of the finest moments on the album and in every way it succeeds, being both powerful in terms of its message (speaking to the praising His Majesty and doing so KNOWING that strength lies within) and it just SOUNDS GOOD also. The final two tunes are on Persistence are pretty curious also. The first being a kind of funky/Hip-Hoppish remix of the title track which, oddly enough, seems to settle into a groove which doesn’t sound too far dissimilar to the original. And then there’s ‘Saxapella’, which is basically a saxophonic driven version of the tune I didn’t mention on the album, ‘My Happiness’, courtesy of the legendary Dean Fraser. It certainly isn’t exceptional and I have NO IDEA why it is on the album, but over the years, I’ve come to think of it (and the remix which precedes it) as largely harmless and not damaging to the album’s quality and appeal in anyway.
Overall, while OBVIOUSLY the examination of a decade old album won’t put to rest questions surrounding what Norris Man does with his music, I still tend to gravitate towards it as ‘Exhibit A’ to show just how effective he can be at his best. I don’t think that it’s too big of a shock that Persistence is also probably (in general) one of the more underrated gems of the modern era and therefore I’m almost under the impression that many of those who say that the way he delivers is bad or that his voice is off simply have yet to hear the album and the material which made it up. Be that the case or not, this album definitely still stands as the finest piece of work Norris Man has released to date and it may forever be the case and while it won’t end the discussions of his talents, it’s good enough to leave me scratching my head wondering what in the hell his remaining critics are listening to.