Friday, April 30, 2010

"Multiple Personalities & A Lot Of Disorder": A Review of Uncrowned by Teflon

As you ‘might’ be able to gather together from looking around here for all of a minute or two, I’m someone who feels that albums are definitely a great thing for music in general and especially Reggae music. Of course the thought was (and may actually still be) that most or many Reggae fans don’t and won’t support albums, but I think that’s a changing trend, especially given the ever expanding digital market and medium for the music which makes something which would have previously been virtually invisible to potential fans, almost immediately available. Also, it is albums which run the show in other forms of music and I’ve always thought it to be very nice when one of our artists can, as is generally the case with more ‘mainstream’ types of genres, can actually tour and do promotion in favour of an album and not necessarily one which is incredibly popular. However, with all of that being said, there are very rare occasions when you find someone whose talents for one reason or another just don’t seem to be able to be ’contained’ in album form. My favourite examples of this are two individuals these days who definitely have different experiences in terms of releasing albums. The first is Turbulence who, in retrospect, released several very average/less than very average albums a few years back and if anyone was to pick up almost any of them, they wouldn’t have gotten a FAIR representation of what he is capable of. Of course, it’s difficult in his case because, on albums like Rising and Join Us, he’s certainly given a very fair and accurate display of what he’s capable of, but if my first taste of his music was on Do Good or (ugh!) United, I don’t think I would’ve been in much of a rush to have another taste. The other artist I’m thinking of is Aidonia who, with only a single album to his credit (which he isn’t in too great of a rush to acknowledge even exists) Then & Now, doesn’t figure to have much to say in this case. However, just imagining how ridiculously OVERBEARING an Aidonia album may be, again, if I were a newer fan and picked up such a thing, while definitely impressed, I might think of such a creation to be just TOO MUCH and I wouldn’t have the ears to experience just how DAMAGING ‘Donia can be when taken in more moderate and ‘timely’ situations. Well, to that list, I think I’m going to add another entrant and in this case, like Turbulence, it’s an artist who is talented on various levels which seem so difficult to show at one time apparently.

Meet Teflon. Last year Teflon dropped his much anticipated debut album Motherless Child for Tad’s Records (distributed by Zojak Worldwide, I believe). Because it was Tad’s Records (and actually produced by them I believe also), you almost knew what the vibes of the album would be, because, up until fairly recently when they’ve began to do more and more in the way of distribution, Tad’s had a very straight forward Roots and old school type of a sound. Later last year Teflon reached with his sophomore album Let Jah Be Praised which was for Flava McGregor’s No Doubt Records (again, distributed digitally by Zojak Worldwide) and again, you knew what to expect from the best ROOTS Reggae producer on the planet working with anyone. That’s fine. Motherless Child was an apparent success and fairly well received (even by myself) and was arguably one of the best albums of the year, but both it and the later album did was to only give you half of who Teflon was an artist. I’ll tell you, to take care of that very flatly, that the current two biggest McGregors in the business, in terms of production Kemar and Stephen have both recorded the St. Mary native extensively and if you know the ways of both (and you should in the case of the former because I just told you), then you know exactly with what you’re dealing with in Teflon. He can voice the smoothest and most sublime of modern Roots Reggae and he can also succeed with the most damning and carnage filled of the Dancehall and sound well doing both thanks to this very interesting style which seemingly has no inherent PACE, but has a very GRIMY and EARTHY type of a ‘feel’ to it and in his young career, it’s something that Teflon has virtually perfected, obviously. Well, if you too had those same feelings that you wanted to hear more fire from the chanter on an album, then I have something brand new for you and the chances are (unless you read my material RELIGIOUSLY), you probably don’t even know that it exists - Teflon now delivers to the world his third album, Uncrowned (wonderful title), for the previously unknown (to me) Black Ice Records and his own Yard A Love label. I don’t know much about Black Ice Records (outside of dealing with Teflon), but apparently it’s a Canadian label and what they’ve essentially done with the album is to cull together quite a few of Teflon’s singles and add their own harder blends and with a few exceptions, the vast majority of the album is music which displays more of the harder edge which comes within the duality of Teflon’s output (I should also mention the fact that despite the fact that such an album may be a pretty big deal (to people like you and me), there has been VERY little in the way of promotion for it (albeit we’re still in the early stages) and I’m hoping that the VERY near future you’ll see more of it in circulation). You don’t get very far at all into Uncrowned without hearing a tune which would have sounded COMPLETELY out of place (and if you were a new fan, completely out of character as well) on either of his first two releases because of either the tone of the tune and/or its riddim or even, in some cases (two in particular), the actual subjectry of the tune itself and its message. Teflon is one of the most varied and kind of ‘curiously’ talented young artists on the scene and while this album isn’t his greatest work in my opinion, it does offer the other side to the artist to fans worldwide who might not know him on these terms.

It’s interesting that the artist to whom Teflon is destined to be compared mostly to is I Octane and with the two apparently on the ‘outs’, perhaps the comparisons are to be more direct. On this album, Teflon shows a bit more versatility, but as I said, ultimately it sways more towards the harsher side and on that side he’s more advanced than Octane (however, if you read me to any degree, you know that I-Octane, in my opinion is THEE most talented young Roots artist in the game today, period). After the movie-like Star Wars-esque intro, Teflon’s new album Uncrowned from Black Ice Records gets started with one of the finest efforts on the entire album, ‘Fyah Is Burning’. This recent single from his Yard A Love label (I believe) is absolutely a wonderful tune. While not having a firm and direct course, ostensibly, the tune comes as a much needed kick in the ass type of motivation in the (very) general sense and how those who may keep you from achieving your goals aren’t really as strong as they seem (“Anytime dem move, yeah, everything tense. Babylon a weak fence”). Having the unenviable task of following that strong tune is ‘Burn Dem Out’ which is the first of two combinations on the album, this one featuring veteran Delly Ranx. The Breadback produced tune finds both Teflon and Delly giving their opinion on a very controversial subject and you’ll have to vibe it yourself and come to your own senses about the tune definitely. As for me, subjectry notwithstanding, the tune itself isn’t a highlight here, however, the obvious level of skill on both sides is just that - obvious (and biggup Breadback, a very solid label) (and unfortunately Teflon‘s crazy effort on Delly‘s Shaolin Temple Riddim, ‘Under Feet‘, is nowhere to be found). Clearly, that is the type of song which wouldn’t have (and didn’t) appeared (as is the opener and intro) and the same can be said for previous Teflon hit, the HARD ‘No Rapist’ which comes next on Uncrowned as well. LOVE this tune as well and along with a few others on the album, it REALLY shows the diversity of Teflon’s style. This is a very modern type of subject matter, but it’s very much straight forward as well and Teflon attacks it with aggression to spare and the tune is absolutely DOMINANT! Strong and strange opening for the album in all.

There’re a few tunes, four in particular, on the album which I feel separate themselves from the pack as the absolute top class of the project for various reasons. Of course the one which is certain to attract the most attention comes much later on the twenty track set, ‘Can’t Sell Me Out’ which features the incomparable Sizzla Kalonji. Teflon recently toured alongside Kalonji and the two are apparently good friends and this tune popped up last year. I like the song (even though the chorus is very strange). I REALLY like it and, on the whole, I always thought that we’d get artists like Teflon who come up as literal Dancehall/Roots hybrids and are/were influenced by artists like Sizzla and Capleton and certainly Teflon is one of those types and a strong one as is this combination and I’d like to see the two go after another one in the future. Immediately following ‘Can’t Sell Me Out’ is another of the ‘big four’ of Uncrowned, the EXPLOSIVE ‘Full Time’ which rides Stephen McGregor’s angelically evil Bad People Riddim. This is nearly the best type of fire I’ve ever heard from Teflon and that riddim, despite the fact that you’ll hear me bash most things that sound like it, is absolute GOLD! The tune also shows Teflon for the destructive CONSCIOUS force he can be when truly at his best. The far more tempered, but still heavy, McGregor produced ‘Jah Has Been There’ also finds Teflon at or near his best. This one thrives more on actual melody (which it does very good, particularly at the chorus) and Teflon uses said melody to speak on just how instrumental His Majesty has been throughout his life. HUGE TUNE! All of that being said, however, the finest moment I found on Uncrowned comes just before ‘Jah Has Been There’, in the form of the SCATHING ‘Thank You Jah Jah’. This POUNDING tune is quintessential aggressive heavy modern Roots Reggae and although I can name you people like Octane, Sizzla, Capleton and Jah Mason who can (and do) infuse similar styles and colours in their vibes, there isn’t an artist in the world who could have made this tune as strong. It is MASSIVE!

Just behind that foursome of wicked tunes are pieces like ‘We All Gonna Make It’, a tune which should be quite familiar to my readers as it just so happens to ride the best riddim of 2008, Flava McGregor’s STERLING Rub-A-Dub, and it also appeared on the previously mentioned Let Jah Be Praised album (in acoustic form also). I’ve always been fond of the tune and two years on and it’s still just as strong as ever. You may also know quite well, ‘Team With Us’ which flows over Stephen McGregor’s Advocate Riddim. I used to be more appreciative of this tune back when I first heard and it’s still pretty solid, so definitely check it here if you haven’t previously vibed it (the middle of the tune is very nearly spectacular). The tune which follows ‘We All Gonna Make It‘, however, is less familiar, but VERY strong, ‘System’. This one lacks the fire of other tunes on the album, but what it lacks there, it makes up for in pure skill, so much so in fact, that I’m SERIOUSLY considering making the aforementioned ‘big four’ a ‘big five’. And as the album winds down, ‘Same Thing’ impresses as well as a tuned aimed at the betterment of the youths of the world and all who look out for them as well; while, fittingly, the closer ‘Man Lock It’, turns the heat back up on Uncrowned. This tune, like ‘Fyah Is Burning’ lacks in a real direction in my opinion, but certainly there’s a place in the vibes for just being ENTERTAINING and you won’t find many a more FUN moment on this album (and not too many others either), than ‘Man Lock It’ and definitely and impressively Teflon also manages to mix in a nice message on the tune as well, while thrilling.

. . . And if only the album could have stayed like such. Uncrowned, however, does have more than its fair share of soft spots in its duration. For example, apparently the love song (or the ‘gal tune’, whichever you prefer) is an art form which Teflon has yet to master (even though ’Someone In Your Life’ was very strong) because he attempts two such songs consecutively, ‘Do It Again’ and ‘Deep In My Heart’ and neither really goes anywhere. In fact, I might even go as far as to call the latter a BAD song, I don’t particularly enjoy it on any level. Those two tunes are the first half of a stretch of four tunes on the album which are just wholly unsatisfying for various reasons. The second half, ‘Get Them Out’ and ‘Real Bobo’ are those kind of ‘weird’ tunes that Sizzla used to do and grab criticisms around the board for, because they kind of had an ‘uncomfortable’ duality to them, equal parts conscious and offensive, which is very hard to sort out as a listener. Still in all of those tunes I should say (perhaps with the exception of ‘Deep In My Heart’) that the wordplay and SKILL is very high, making them all the more disappointing and unfulfilling ultimately. Speaking of “disappointing and unsatisfying” (no pun intended, believe me, no pun intended), you’ll later come across the tune ‘Just Fi Keep Her’. I’ll leave this like this - The song has the punchline of “just fi keep her, him ah eat her. So mi know seh some bwoy ah nah real star. Stand up on your feet star”. You can certainly draw your own conclusions from that, but somewhere, somewhere Ce’Cile is cringing and she isn’t the only one. Later we get to a tune in ‘They Say’, which is decent, but it kind of CRAWLS and it takes entirely too long to get going, as does the tune which it immediately precedes, incidentally, ‘It May Be Long’. However, besides taking awhile to get going, this piece just isn’t very good and it sounds very very strange as well. Teflon definitely still has some developing to do (and I even think that he’d agree with me there) and to my opinion it seems as if what he doesn’t do so well is most evident when he simply tries too hard instead of following his rather OBESE, yet GRIMY skillset as it naturally progresses. Uncrowned would have almost certainly been a better piece at fifteen or sixteen tracks.

Overall, despite the premise of this review it is definitely worth mentioning that I still think that the Motherless Child album is, for all intent and purposes, a BETTER album. While it definitely lacked the flare and the fiery side of Teflon’s vibes, it was still more consistent and had less in the way of filler than Uncrowned. Still, what I’m thinking is that if you streamlined and combined the two (and then added a dash of Let Jah Be Praised), you’d come up with, easily, a five star album and maybe a modern classic, Teflon’s ABILITY is that good. Still, his is a talent(s) which has yet to be FULLY captured as it actually exists in an album form, even after Uncrowned. That being said, what this album is and should be is a kind of a ‘warning’ to more casual fans of the artist that he is simply better than you may have thought (and after Motherless Child, that’s definitely saying a lot). His two, or three, or four dimensional style is one of the most versatile you’ll find anywhere and should the still young Teflon find a day when he is able to master it and give all of it all of the time, well then at that point he’ll no longer be doing albums called ‘uncrowned’, his coronation will be imminent.

Rated 3.25/5
Black Ice Records/Yard A Love

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