Saturday, April 10, 2010

Modern Classics Vol. XIX: Lava Ground by I Wayne

I Wayne - Lava Ground [VP Records]

Hopefully you can recall just around five or six years ago or so when the one Clifroy Taylor [bka I Wayne] was the talk of the Roots Reggae world. Having absolutely smashed the scene with the HUGE single ‘Can’t Satisfy Her’, he was seemingly on the fast track to Reggae superstardom and was looked upon pretty much how people nowadays look at individuals such as Tarrus Riley. I Wayne, however, was quite different . Still, he would climb a very familiar ladder in the industry (one, in fact, that Riley himself would climb just a couple of years later) and sign a deal relatively quickly with the biggest dog in the yard, VP Records, a deal which has apparently proven quite fruitful having delivered now two albums. It is the first of those albums which is most interesting today, because it was absolutely GORGEOUS! It was simply one of the strongest, most ORIGINAL and just different albums around and it still is almost half a decade later. Not too surprisingly, those are all things that can be said about I Wayne himself and just as it has been so interesting to get to know him musically over the years, getting to know him initially was probably even more fascinating. Lava Ground.

The Music

1. Life Seeds

Ever the trendsetter, I Wayne supposed he’d put the obligatory number at the beginning of the album instead of in its usual spot, at the end. ‘Life Seeds’ ended up being a pretty decent hit for the singer on the strength of being this rather coyly POWERFUL tune. It isn’t very catchy (AT ALL), even when compared to other tunes on the album and the vast majority of his work since, but it was very powerful and EXTREMELY complicated if you really listen intently.

Best Lyric: “Blood shedding more and more. I still get a fight though I’m living pure. See war and crime, lot of skull a bore. Mankind get vile, they have no love no more. Tell dem till the soil, yet they still ignore. Rastafari is life and of this I’m sure. Fyah red flames hotta than before, burn dem complete, from crust to core”

2. Lava Ground

This is, in all honesty, the finest tune on this album, and it’s probably still reigning as the finest tune of I Wayne’s entire career to date. ‘Lava Ground’, like the album named after it, was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS! It has this awesome and original vibes to the tune sonically speaking and on top of it, in typical I Wayne fashion, he delivers this SCALDING message of exactly how ‘sure’ the steps of the wicked are. I should also mention that the very concept of the wording ‘lava ground’ is very interesting. He doesn’t say they’re on ‘borrowed time’ or that they’re ‘skating on thin ice’ or ’living on the edge’ or even that they’re ‘playing with fire’, no I Wayne says that they’re actually WALKING ON LAVA GROUND, seemingly getting burned more and more with each step they take.

Best Lyric: “Lightening will dun dem and dem gang, wid one hand, leave dem headless, no foot to stand on”

3. Rastafari Liveth

Charged with carrying the vibes of the album after the title track is ‘Rastafari Liveth’ and although it probably isn’t the album’s second finest tune, it is an exceptional choice to follow the best tune because of the message of the tune is almost a DIRECT progression of it. What this tune is to (indirectly, even though it’s in the title and of course the chorus) offer an alternative path in life to those stuck on lava ground which is, of course, through His Imperial Majesty.

Best Lyric: “Can’t stop the moon, stars, nor sun. I call seh you standing pon lava ground”

4. More Life

From a mere sonic standpoint ‘More Life’ is EASILY one of the most interesting selections on Lava Ground altogether. With it’s HARD snare drum sound which pervades throughout, it’s really damn addictive and almost (which I just typed as ‘all most’) (damn) five years later, I’d still pay for a clean version of that riddim, because it was BEAUTIFUL. On the message side with its kind of dueling personas, I think that this tune is one of the most instrumental in overstanding in comprehending the full idea of the album. Very important tune here for many reasons.

Best Lyric: “Give thanks life stream has no end. Life is the Ites, no mislead life children. Burn all enemy, burn out all friend. Nuff plastic smile and nuff a dem a heathen”

5. Bleacher

Call I Wayne ‘old school’ or a stickler about his morals (because he is both), but thankfully I guess that I am too, because I full on agree and support him here. ‘Bleacher’ (obviously) is about those of Afrikan decent using products which attempt to ‘brighten’ (also known as ‘fuck up’) their complexion. It’s somewhat of an older topic of discourse in Reggae music and in Jamaican and Caribbean society as a whole (although we seem more and more headed back there these days), but I Wayne seems to take a PERSONAL OFFENSE to the action and I can’t blame him. The tune, at its core, is really about being proud to be who you are and knowing what who you see in your mirror IMMEDIATELY represents. When you look at it from that point of view, instead of the first thing which may pop in your mind, it becomes such a definitely powerful tune. And yes, please do keep Lisa Hype[r] the hell away from I Wayne, now and forever.

Best Lyric: “Now a pharmacy I site dem alla reach [lightening!], dem burn up demself wit di bleach. Dem same one a seh dem nah tek no speech. Some a tell lie bout dem rolling deep. And when dem site di sun dem play HIDE AND SEEK! Flesh get devoured by the worm and leech” [DAMN!]

6. Don’t Worry

Again, this is pretty excellent placement here, because ‘Don’t Worry’ carries a similar socio/physical message as the tune which immediately precedes it. With my choice of ‘best lyric’ right there down there I’m sure you can figure out the direction of this tune (and if you can’t) (yep), and to help further convey the message, I Wayne just happens to use a very nice and even more relaxed lick of Marley’s Waiting In Vain Riddim. Later on in the tune, he strays from just the anti-abortion talk and gets more into the familial supporting type of discussion, which for me, is the real strength of the tune (besides the amazing vibes of course).

Best Lyric: “Love life, neva try to spoil it. Yuh nah have nuh right fi dash di youth inna di toilet”

7. Ma Ma And Pa Pa featuring Fire Chess

I Wayne draws for the first of three relatively low-profile (but VERY effective) combinations on the family supporting (sound familiar?) ‘Ma Ma & Pa Pa’. The tune features the still relatively unknown, but well solid, Fire Chess, whose very direct style of voicing compliments I Wayne’s altos quite well. This is another tune with a certain duality (although one far less veiled than the one belonging to ‘More Life’) as it gives credit and respect to both the Mother and Father which is rare with all of the tunes giving love to just the Mother. Of course, such a tune presupposes that I Wayne (and Fire Chess) came through with both parents present to present such a vibes and I’m sure both are very appreciative of this wonderful tune.

Best Lyric: “Papa proud fi seh Black Woman pregnant. Like the River Nile stream, she’s a remnant”

8. Nah Draw Nil

Simply one of the coolest and sweetest love songs that I’ve ever heard in my entire life is ‘Nah Draw Nil’. This track is just heavenly, flowing over a divine stripped back version of the Number One Riddim, I Wayne paints a picture of a most supporting Empress in his life and does so with MAGIC. I believe I once thought this finest tune on this album and for good reason obviously. The tune (along with the one following it, but especially this one), shows a more of an ’expected’ style from I Wayne - When you sing like he does, I don’t think people necessarily expect you to do the type of material that he largely does, but this tune shows that he is more than capable of dropping such a DOMINANT love song, should it suit him.

Best Lyric: “Seh pon no corner she nah go touch. She no idle, in life she haffi take care of such and such”

9. Touch Her Softly

Although lacking the melodic appeal of the tune preceding it, ‘Touch Her Softly’, in every other aspect is most likely a ‘better’ tune. This one actually kind of plays on the border between the previous tune and the rest of I Wayne’s material on Lava Ground, because you can definitely see a bit of his personality shining through lyrically as he not only makes his intentions clear in terms of how he intends to deal with his Empress, but he also makes it abundantly clear on what the actual process is and exactly what they both expect from each other. Truth be told, if I were new to this album, this would be the song I would probably want to listen to first (oh and there‘s another classic riddim here - Dennis Brown‘s Revolution) .

Best Lyric: “Touched her softly, she erupted shortly!”

10. Ready Fe Live Up

Another lover’s tune here (I didn’t realize how well the album was actually structured before I examined it in this fashion) and one which is perhaps the most complex of the three in succession here. This tune speaks more of taking a newer relationship to the proverbial ‘next level’ and doing so with an enchanting sound to it, but definitely don’t be ‘fooled’ into thinking this on straight forward, because ‘Ready Fe Live Up’ is another tune which shows I Wayne’s peculiarities in all of their splendour in this case (and definitely hear that LOVELY guitar plucking in the background (courtesy of Mitchum Chin).

Best Lyric: “She need I to be her manager. Wid fidelity I won’t damage her”

11. Kid Artist

‘Kid Artist’ is a tune which, for me at least, really goes towards slapping at IMMATURITY as a whole. It is streamlined in this case, focusing on musicians who aren’t living the right way or saying the proper things, but for me I can take it and direct at LIFE in the general sense and it doesn’t take the greatest stretch. Of course there’s also the matter of that RIDICULOUS Nyah drum behind the tune which is absolutely scintillating and does nothing for the song, but to push it even higher towards the class of an album which isn’t exactly short on such a thing.

Best Lyric: “Dem hitch up in di corner, wid dem tape recorder. Waan fi break di order, when life irect the order. Dis is a straight order, very great order. Music is easy so weh dem waan fi mek it hard fah?”

12. Living In Love

And now the heavy hitters roll in town. If the designation doesn’t go to the title track (and I don’t think it does), then ‘Living In Love’ was definitely the second most commercially successful and in terms of the impact from a purely message standpoint, it was probably THE most significant tune on Lava Ground and maybe of I Wayne-s entire career thus far. The tune has a BRILLIANT underlying fact to it, that it comes across unarguably one of the greatest Roots Reggae compositions of the modern era, the Hard Times Riddim, which I Wayne uses to paint not such a rosy picture, but one which is REAL and more importantly ACHIEVABLE. AMAZING SONG

Best Lyric: “I love to see my people living in love, hate to see dem fighting and swimming in blood”

13. Conquer featuring Fire Star

Some frustratingly unnamable (by me) old school riddim backs I Wayne and his guest, the Fantan Mojah sounding Fire Star, on ‘Conquer’. This tune is rather intoxicating at times and it speaks to the coming fall of corruption who are soon to be “conquered”. This tune, although you might not believe it so just listening through it, has a very smart edge directed towards the historical side of things. I Wayne largely dominates the tune definitely, but Fire Star does prove and has proven in the time since to be a very interesting artsit as well.

Best Lyric: “I nah mark no X wit no ink. I rather chop off dem head wid piece of zinc”

14. Cant Satisfy Her - Prelude

“Mi burn prostitution no lie. Pum pum dem ah sell, Rasta nah buy. UNUH SOON GET DISEASE AND DIE!”

15. Can’t Satisfy Her

And then there’s the boom. I’m not going to waste too much time here, because this tune has been discussed in every way possible from since five (or probably six) years ago now it dropped. But what I will say is that I think ‘Can’t Satisfy Her’ is a tune which revealed a bit more about I Wayne that we may have thought initially. Of course it was heralded as a big tune (and it was) and largely on the strength of it, like I said (at least I hope I did, since I’m writing this before the intro), I Wayne was also heralded as a potential Reggae superstar for the future and all of that is nice, but if you take a very keen listen to this tune, you take in all of this very sly and coy mentions that he makes and you hear an artist who is just on a path in life which I don’t think is equaled by ANY of his peers. I Wayne has such an interesting way of conveying his EXTREMELY HARSH opinion and making it sound downright divine.

Best Lyric: “Seh she need a man fi bring her autumn, summer, winter, spring cash - Carnival, Splash and Sting cash. New hairstyles, nails and bling cash, she’s doing business, just bring cash”

16. Grow Proper

This one is certainly aiming back at those originally credited on track #7 who perhaps aren’t doing exactly what they should be doing. ’Grow Proper’ is a tune that I actually recall, on my initial spins through Lava Ground, expecting. I wasn’t waiting for a tune speaking directly to the children, that simply isn’t I Wayne’s style (or at least it wasn’t back then), but one which throws the blame (and largely justly so) at those not doing the right and “proper” thing in raising them. It’s a very INTELLIGENT tune and probably one of the album’s best.

Best Lyric: “Long journey, long mission. Ites off and be strong. How you fi bow and seh you have an ambition?”

17. Cool As The Breeze

Outside of just LOVING the way this tune sounds because it is so beautiful, I still have quite the difficult time finding the ULTIMATE meaning in ‘Cool As The Breeze’. It doesn’t have an obvious direction in my opinion, but it doesn’t seem (in fact, I’m just going to go ahead and say that it’s NOT) to be the type of song just constructed for the sake of having a tune which sounded nice. If you pushed me to make a determination, however, what I would offer is to say that the tune lifts up Rastafari as THE position to take in life and placing something so serene and calming like the “breeze” only adds to an attraction which is already so magical.

Best Lyric: “Cool as the breeze, Rasta rules land, skies and seas”

18. Keep Burning Rome featuring Harmony

And finally, I Wayne taps the very stoic Harmony to join him on the somewhat Jazzy ‘Keep Burning Rome’, the album’s closer and also one of its finest tunes altogether. Thankfully, the direction here is far clearer than on the tune before it because this tune is all about licking out against corruption and corrupt society. Also, as I mentioned the tune has a very nice Jazz type of vibes going on which supports I Wayne and Harmony inviting us to a barbecue of EPIC proportions.

Best Lyric: “Fi justice, di youth dem a cry out. And nuff no sellout and buyout and flyout”


I think it’s a really simple matter here: Lava Ground is a warning , flat and simple. When you think of artists who are harsh and unforgiving in the scope of modern Roots Reggae, certainly you’ll go to names such as Capleton, Sizzla, Jah Mason, Buju and the likes, but I’m of the opinion that I Wayne, in terms of lyrics, is even harsher than them all and it is a quality which SHINES throughout this album. I Wayne has a concept of seemingly wanting to smite out ALL corruption. He also paints lyrical pictures of serene places (‘Cool As The Breeze’), but he does it almost always after showing the world what it is headed for should it not take his course and again, his course involves seemingly the purging out of everything he deems fucked up! And whether or not you agree with him isn’t important, what is admirable here is his commitment to the issues (and there’s the fact that I Wayne isn’t enacting this purging, at least not that I know of) and the fact that he, generally, explains exactly why, giving you that utopia like view should you stick to what he’s saying.

The man can REALLY get vicious at times which certainly is something which I believe has flown beneath radars given his style of this sweet voiced singer. If you look below that voice just a bit, you find that I Wayne uses said sweet voice to do a major damage, be it the harsh visuals of ‘Can’t Satisfy Her’:

“Seh she flirt wid her boyfriend bredrin
Him have money and bling, so she go bed wid him
Catch disease now it started spreading
She start to seek penicillin cause she’s dying”

“Mercy please!
For life she’s begging
When she hear seh to the morgue she heading
Seh she bruk out at the age of 7
Now she’s strip dancing and she’s just 11”

“Seet deh now look what happen
Soft like ah cotton
Her flesh start to rotten”

Or I Wayne’s very curious and downright strange fascination with decapitation:

“Lightening will dun dem and dem gang
Wid one hand
Leave dem headless, no foot to stand on”
[‘Lava Ground’]

“I nah mark no X ah wid no ink
I rather chop off dem head wid peace of zinc”

“Don’t want yuh head get cut off
No tell youth fi ‘suck out’ nor ‘suck off’
[‘Can’t Satisfy Her - Prelude‘]

“Fyah burn di beast hell spell
Chop off it head an dash it inna di canal”
[‘Grow Proper’]

I Wayne is a VERY hardcore artist and when you analyze his music to this degree, it comes through. HOWEVER, as I’ve tried to maintain, with his rather morbid inclines, he also brings that beautiful voice and is able to craft beautiful messages and scenarios with it and it would be such a shame if this album were to have arrived without selections like ‘Cool As The Breeze’ and ‘Nah Draw Nil’ and ‘Readey Fe Live Up’, because they go to show that other single side which is far less agitated. In staying on that notion also, there’s the tune ‘More Life’, which seems to be a lyrical CLASHING of the styles of I Wayne - where the beautiful and the harsh meets (to create . . . Harutiful???) (or Barsh???):

“Give thanks life stream has no end.
Life is the Ites, no mislead life children.
Burn all enemy, burn out all friend.
Nuff plastic smile and nuff ah dem a heathen”

“I, give dem honey
Babylon you give them cream
Dat simply mean ah you get burn by di steam

. . .Low di dutty water, just go sip from the stream”

That stretch is very crucial because at times it almost seems as if I Wayne is going back and forth, doing it like ‘you can either have this from me, or that from them’, which to me is so instrumental and crucial in overstanding the main point of the album. And speaking of the album, take that into a whole as well.

Lava Ground

As I mentioned, that title is very interesting in and of itself. I Wayne could have very well (even in the lyrics for the song) have used more common phrases like ‘skating on thin ice’ or ‘playing with fire’ etc., but instead he chose LAVA GROUND and I think I know why. Literally speaking, both skating on thin ice and playing with fire definitely denote some type of fragility or some type wearing occurring. When someone walks on lava, there is no fragility there. The scorched earth will support you (just as it does for I Wayne, himself, on the album cover), it will also burn the hell out of you, which is yet another instance of duality in action surrounding this album. From a reviewer’s/critic’s/big fan’s position, Lava Ground was a VERY GREEN field of information and discussable moments - Eighteen of them to be exact. What else was it? A BONAFIDE MODERN REGGAE CLASSIC!