Friday, February 26, 2010

"The Wickedest Jab": A Review of The Gutter Riddim by Various Artists

As the world’s reigning greatest and most active Soca novice, each and every passing Carnival season, I tend to take what I feel is a more concerted and focused look at the music in much the same way as I do in terms of Reggae. I haven’t even remotely come to the point where the various labels, producers and even managers to some degree are, but hopefully someday I’ll get there, this despite the fact that I’ve been listening VERY closely for quite awhile and EXTREMELY (which is greater than just VERY) for the last few years now. So yes, I have been kind of slow going in that area, however, standing in my defense is the fact that being less laboured and ‘weighed-down’ (with all that brain power) fan of Soca is just so fun that often pursuing some of the knowledge of behind the scenes dealings requires dropping the absolute euphoria that the actual music itself often brings. So, if I’m well past forty years of age (I’m 28 and a half now) and I still essentially don’t know shit about Soca, don’t blame me! Blame ridiculously talented artists and producers making this music which keep me and my atrociously large vocabulary at an intellectual distance, but maybe I’m getting better (or maybe not), as over the course of the past couple of years or so, I’ve definitely increased my mental catalog in terms of ‘who’s-who’ with Soca producers and labels. Of course, the greatest aid in that has been through the (usually) wonderful compilations that the genre collectively releases each and every year with some of the biggest tunes from some of the biggest artists and a great deal of those releases are pushed by the actual labels and producers themselves, which kind of makes learning their names that much easier. I’m now actually aware of people such as Kernel Roberts, Da Mastamind, Dwaingerous (although I actually learned of him through other means besides observing his nice release Straight From BIM), Peter Coppin from Monstapiece, Masterroom, Studio 758 and a whole heap of others and I’m aware of their work as well and not just them as a ‘name’ (and I’m even getting to the point where I can actually identify their styles and sounds, which is a beautiful thing). Still, I’d have to say that out of the main various Soca producing hotspots (Trinidad, Barbados, St. Vincy etc.), with the slowly rising exception of Guyana, the one which has remained the most mysterious to me, at least behind the scenes, has definitely been Grenada.

But perhaps ‘things are a changing’ as, besides a compilation here and there (more on that in just a second) I think there’s been an uprising of sorts in Soca music from out of Grenada just in general. Last year there was a VERY strong compilation, Fully Loaded from Shawn Mitchell’s Homebase Entertainment which featured some of the best Soca talents from all across the board (including Patrice Roberts and Machel Montano) alongside some of the finest talents in the genre from out of Greenz ( like Tallpree and Mr. Killa). That compilation definitely helped things on the international level (and for me personally as well), but little did I know at the same time what was going on was something ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS! Meet Island Traffic Entertainment. The actual vibes from out of Grenada when it comes to Soca definitely have a more ‘loose’ feel to them than in neighbouring islands where the vibes are also very colourful (and we’re talking about Trinidad here where all colours, in terms of Soca, begin and end), but Grenada most certainly has it’s own thing going on. This “thing” hasn’t been captured on the highest level of the game more recently and more devastatingly effectively as said Island Traffic has with the MAMMOTH Gutter Riddim. This thing has arguably been the most popular Soca riddim, regardless of origin, across the past couple of years as, birthed in Grenada’s Carnival season it, as expected, stretched right into Trinidad’s season, picking up a couple of HUGE names in the process. STILL (as in right now), it is definitely the most popular Soca riddim going right now and although it certainly has a definitive hit to its credit, the Gutter has birthed several hits as well. So why is it so popular? That’s certainly up for discussion and debate, both of which in my opinion, however, would begin with the fact that this thing is wickedly captivating, almost regardless of who’s voicing it. The piece definitely has that kind of FREAKY sounding vibes to it which characterizes and simultaneously distinguishes Grenada’s ‘brand’ of Soca from all others, the ‘Jab Jab’. This unnecessarily addictive sound, when expressed through music, serves as one of the Caribbean’s most mysteriously PRECIOUS gems that there is, which is saying a hell of a lot (have a look around why don’t you). The Gutter Riddim caught this, recorded it and ‘sold’ it to some of the biggest artists to be found and now they’re trying to sell it to you and I (well apparently they’ve already sold it to me - mission accomplished - and now it’s your turn). I was VERY (pleasantly) surprised to the Gutter making it to an international level and that, in and of itself, is another very coup for Grenada Soca as the album not only comes digitally (check the note at the end), but also the actual CD will be in stores internationally soon as well which may just be unprecedented for a Grenada born Soca riddim (certainly of the modern era). On top of that, what I’m thinking is that this just may be how Island Traffic Entertainment (a group of three young producers from out of Grenada. Yes, I’m already calling them Soca’s answer to DASECA) ROLLS! To my knowledge, they haven’t been producing for a very long time and doing a project like this would certainly be a first for them, but maybe in the next couple of years we’ll see drops like such from the label pushing out routinely. The question, of course, will be can they reach the supreme levels of standards set by the Gutter. If they can, then I won’t be only fantastic novice who’ll need to take notice.

In terms of the actual artists tapped by Island Traffic Entertainment to handle the riddim, you really get a HEALTHY dosage of some of the better equipped powerful Soca artists across the board. There aren’t that much in the way of newcomers (I only see two that didn’t immediately jump off the page at me), but perhaps that’s a good thing as nothing was left to chance in providing the riddim with potential hits. Speaking of hits, getting things launched on the Gutter Riddim album from Island Traffic Entertainment is definitely the biggest hit of them all, as Greenz veteran, the incomparable Tallpree, steps up with ‘Playing A Wicked Jab’ (that’s not the official name of the tune, but who cares, that’s what you’ll remember). This tune has grown and grown on me from the very first time I heard it and it is STILL doing so (and I liked it originally too) and SERIOUSLY if you don’t like it and if it doesn’t get your head rocking heavy, then. . .well I just don’t know! Love the tune and you well knew the album was going to get started that way. In terms of recent work then the biggest name on the riddim rolls in next with ‘Thinking Of Something’, Fay-Ann Lyons. This one had a bit more work and growing with me as far as my appreciation of it, but it’s also done that like the opener. It’s definitely more lyrical than some of the other sets here (and I’m finding that to be the case with Lyons’ work in general) and when you get into the wordplay and PERSONALITY she displays, the tune definitely rises up to the upper half of tunes on the Gutter. Perhaps another entry on that side is the ADDICTIVE ‘Am A Slave’ by the largely unknown Zee 1. Should he have a future with more drops like this tune, his popularity will definitely run to an all-time high and he probably runs THE line of the riddim when he says, “I’m a slave under rum. I’m a slave under gyal. I’m a slave under Soca music for the Carnival!”, I won’t cosign on the first one, but the second two - YES!

Under ‘Wicked Jab’, there’re two other BIG hits from the Gutter Riddim which aren’t to be missed (for different reasons). The first is one which I DON’T actually like, ‘Pipe’ from Trini Patch. I’m not going to say I HATE this tune, because I most certainly do not, but I don’t like it anywhere near the degree where most people seem to, so you’ll probably like it too. Patch is selling pipe and later on he gets a most unsurprising of buyers. The second of the two is another veteran from out of Grenada, the fucking insane Lavaman. Lava blesses the Gutter with its title tune, a not so clever play on words and innuendo and I DO love this tune! Lavaman has quietly been one of my favourites for awhile (especially last year, WEH YUH GLASS!) and ‘Gutter’ didn’t do a thing to take away from that. Technically I can also add to that the Gutter Riddim remix to 2009 St. Vincy Road March winning tune, ‘Mad House’ from Problem Child, as far as hits. But me personally? I cannot stand this tune, the original is MADNESS on top of MADNESS and the remix is madness of a different kind (as in - Bad Idea).

That being said, however, the most scintillating of moments on the Gutter Riddim comes via a most expected source, Bunji Garlin, who just DESTROYS whatever is left of the thing with ’Mad Carnival’. There’ll always be other artists like Tallpree and there’ll be newer lights like the next name I’m going to mention, but when it comes to CRAZY flows and CRAZY lyrics in Soca music, Bunji holds the crown indefinitely in my opinion and let this tune stand as ex.#4409! ‘Mad Carnival’ is insanity at its highest possible level and although other tunes (like the ones I’ve just mentioned) were more popular, Bunji Garlin OWNED the Gutter. Sifting through the ruins of whatever is left of the riddim after Bunji smashed it, thankfully, is Skinny Fabulous who offers the nearly as intense ‘Badder Than Everybody’. Skinny is also in the process of carving out a place for himself as one of the new school of INTENSE artists who have an obvious tinge of the Dancehall in their styles and he is the HEAD of that class. This tune fits in line with several of his releases and it’s probably one of his more impressive lyrical outings also (now let’s see if we can get an album for Vincy Mas this year).

Grenada’s own Vibes International checks in with the more than adequate ‘Jab Jab’ and in doing so joins a pretty nice group of veterans making up the balance of artists on the riddim. Both Mr. Slaughter & Ms. Alysha take a go at the Gutter to mixed results. I don’t really enjoy Slaughter’s ‘Do As I Say’ very much at all and I haven’t taken too kindly to Alysha’s ‘We Riding It’ [aka ‘Riding’] either, although I find that it’s well growing on me by this point as well. And again, Greenz definitely represents with vets Brother B and former Grenada Soca Monarchs Luni Sparks & Electrify. The two also breed mixed results in my opinion as Brother B (who you won’t find ANYWHERE NEAR a list of my favourite artists, not even just from Grenada) actually does very well with his effort, ‘Hula’ (and there was another tune he had that I liked not too long ago by the name of ‘Move’). Meanwhile Luni & Electrify start off VERY strong on their tune, ‘Wine It’, but when they start singing, any fire they had rather quickly fizzes out.

And as I mentioned, Patch finally locates a willing purchaser of his piping products and of course it’s Saucy. The remix is only a little more entertaining the original, but more entertaining nonetheless and it closes matters on the Gutter Riddim album.

Overall, I come away from this one with three different prevailing thoughts. The first and certainly most pertinent is the notion that this may in fact be THE best Soca riddim album that I’ve ever heard (its main competition would most certainly be the Trample from a few years back) and although that isn’t saying a great deal, it is saying something. The second thought is - I wonder why in the hell Mr. Killa didn’t voice the riddim. And the third is that the Gutter Riddim may have done well with infusing even a bit more Dancehall. Artists like Bunji, Tallpree and Skinny Fabulous who naturally have those type of vibes in their music, make up the class of the artists on the riddim (and there is a SICK Vybz Kartel remix on the riddim as well), so I would’ve liked to have seen what might’ve happen had Island Traffic Entertainment turned the Gutter over to the likes of Aidonia and Busy Signal - some of the more impressive high-tech talents in the Dancehall as well. Nevertheless, judging the riddim on what it is, the Gutter is FANTASTIC. Of course Soca heads will devour it and have been doing just that (and will continue to), but I’m also inclined to think that Dancehall fans may find enough within its fourteen tracks that they’ll enjoy also (and thankfully it’s digital so you can pick and choose). As for me, I LOVE to see Soca projects get this much attention and hopefully they’ll continue to do such pieces in 2010 (they’ve also released another compilation, No Control: Spice Mas 2K9 Soca Hits which is available digitally now) and just generally continue to shed light to people like yours truly, not only on Soca in general, but specifically on the HUGE vibes brewing in Grenada - Home of the Wicked Jab.

Rated 4.25/5
Island Traffic Entertainment

{Note: There are apparently two different versions of the digital version of the Gutter Riddim album. While both appear to have the same tracklist, this review is for the release from the release marked 'Island Traffic Entertainment/VP Records' which is the one I suggest you buy (two words - ROCKET LAUNCHER). The covers for the two releases are slightly different, which is what you can look for if you decide to purchase it in anyway}


  1. Just wanted to say this is a well written article with truthful opinions. The gutter riddim was and stil is large. I agree with u on the pipe song- im not really feeling it, and i cant get faye ann's thinking of something to grow on me. Kartel did a good job and Lavaman. Lets hope grenada keep it up with the riddims.

  2. Finally someone who agrees with me on 'Pipe'. Thanks for reading Princess.