Tuesday, July 20, 2010

'Right On Time': A Review of "Hold You" by Gyptian

As a genre which isn’t at all specifically geared towards ultimately making albums, of the ‘urban’ types of music, Reggae definitely stands out as far as how it’s presented when a particular artist does arrive at an album. If you look at something like our neighbour in Hip-Hop, what tends to happen (from my very novice perspective) is that an artist, with a particular label, will literally be scheduled to have an album and if the reception for initial and early singles isn’t too large, some things may be revamped, taken out and/or added and the release date may be postponed, but in the vast majority of the cases, that album is coming and if it is delayed because of poor reception, it won’t be delayed for very long. Reggae is, for the most part, the exact opposite. There has to be fanfare and a call even before you get that far as thinking about taking a certain artist to the stage of having an album promoted and released. And if the proper HYPE hasn’t been created . . . Well, you probably don’t need me to start talking about the various BIG names who either currently haven’t had projects released in quite some time (see Bounty Killer), or have gone through very long delays - Years in many cases (see the recently returning Capleton). And this is at the highest levels of the genre where you get into throwing around names like VP Records, a label who is INCREDIBLY crucial in establishing such fanfare and hype, especially on the international scene, and it is largely on that international scene where they’ve done one of their greatest promotional and hype creating jobs in recent memory with Gyptian. I certainly can go back and check through the press releases at the time, but I don’t know that it was in the cards for still very young singer (after all these years the man only turns 27 in 2010) to have an album this year, but if it wasn’t, or if it is ‘in discussions’, it suddenly became MANDATORY when the bomb that was ‘Hold Yuh’ began sweeping the music listening world. It did so pretty much in reverse, capturing the international crowds before coming back locally (which seems to be just what happens with Gyptian music, in retrospect) (which is a good thing because I did my research and I discovered that there were actually considerably more people in the rest of the world than in the Caribbean), and in that trip it made the demand, for the first time in Gyptian’s career, ACTUALLY have some of the ‘mainstream’ leanings and lustre that few thought he may have been able to generate in his early days.

And now all of those mainstream eyes and ears want more. What they’ll get after being entranced by the hypnotic keys of ‘Hold Yuh’, the song, is "Hold You”, the album. It comes within an almost overwhelming streak from VP in the past few weeks or so, which has included releases from Capleton, Busy Signal and Romain Virgo and will soon (formally) include the likes of Luciano, and perhaps Etana and Duane Stephenson as well. And in terms of the sheer number of people who’re looking forward to it (and likely to buy it), you’re going have to say Gyptian’s is THE most anticipated of that VERY distinguished lot (of course, in Reggae circles specifically, that honour belonged to Capleton’s ”I-Ternal Fire"). So what’re all of those new fans going to hear? Well, Gyptian is an artist who has seen his image change in the half-decade or so since we first heard his name (doesn’t it seem like longer than that???). At first, the singer from out of St. Andrew came up with tunes such as ‘Serious Times’, ‘Mama’ and a few other roots pieces largely produced by Achis Reggae favourite, Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor and those tunes would lead him into his debut album, 2006’s ”My Name Is Gyptian”. Then, he went from kind of the big Roots phenom in Reggae to the next big lover-boy type of singer and that took us into 2008, for his sophomore album, ”I Can Feel Your Pain” as Gyptian (and VP and pretty much everyone else paying attention) saw that the female fans were paying particular interest in him so Gyptian hit the gym and actually did quite well in that type of role. Since then, while his results have been mixed, Gyptian has played both sides and done so decently. I’ve never been a big fan of Gyptian’s after watching his initial ascent and, again, that may be largely due to the fact that he’s singing music for someone that I’m not (a woman) for the most part, but at his ABSOLUTE BEST, he is certainly, with his very unusual vocals and ability to kind of ‘travel’ with a built-in melody. Moreover, going back to the premise of this review, Gyptian almost seems to have a ‘biological clock’ in regards to his career, it’s almost as if he seems to SENSE when it’s time to drop a BOOM and this time around, he’s leveled the place unlike ever before. So, to answer my own question of what all of the new fans are going to be in for on the new album (at least presumably) - While I wouldn’t expect much in the way of Roots Reggae (seriously, you know I love his work, but Flava’s one-drops, as DIVINE as they are, aren’t what the ‘Hold Yuh’ people are coming to hear) (although I most certainly will listen to them) I would imagine Gyptian, VP and company to have crafted about as ‘FRIENDLY’ and digestible sounding modern Lover’s Rock album that they possibly could have. I would also anticipate maybe a high profile combination and just in general, attempts (whether direct or not) to recapture the sound which made ‘Hold Yuh’ so popular (hopefully someone still has Lenky’s phone number). So was I right? I was close. Of course I write, for the large part, for really really hardcore and heavy Reggae heads who, as in said in the review for Romain Virgo, know enough to be interested and know enough not to be interested. And what we have in the case of ”Hold You” (the album) is a piece which solidifies Gyptian’s current state. It’s certainly not going to break any ground or catch anyone off guard (well it might do that), but the album provides enough twists and turns to capture and keep hold of the attentions of some of the more ‘forward thinking’ hardcore fans - Because it’s better than you’re thinking it is.

With that being said, it is important to remember that, in listening to the album, it is clearly aimed at the ‘crossover’ fans who are going to be listening to Gyptian’s music for the first time (and perhaps, ANY type of Reggae for the first time also) to any large degree. That is a characteristic which is displayed immediately early on the album but, I don’t think it’ll trouble you very much (particularly when you hear what comes after it). The first piece you’ll hear on Gyptian’s new album ”Hold You” from VP Records, ‘To Be Held’, is an intro/prelude of sorts on which Gyptian dos two things of note. First of all, he assures you that were you looking for him, you’ve managed to go out and find the correct album by giving what I would imagine would be how he introduces the title track for the album in live performances (like a slower, ballad-ish type of version of it) and also he clearly says at the end of the minute or so, “for my ladies”, once again identifying his target audience (but I’m going to listen anyway!) (stubborn, don’t?). Then up is the first actual song for the album . . . The most curious ‘Beautiful Lady’, yes, the one you’re thinking about. I, initially, thought it to be some type of mistake - adding it here - considering that the tune is maybe five or six years old, was one Gyptian’s big early hits and actually appeared on his debut album, the aforementioned ”My Name Is Gyptian” (also for VP), but when you really think about it, the fact that it’s on board here isn’t very much of a surprise at all. It’s a fairly ‘friendly’ and ‘transferable’ number and, listening to it, it’s still pretty nice (I haven’t spun it in quite some time) and it’s almost CERTAIN that the flock of fans who LOVE the title track will enjoy it as well (of course I would’ve drawn ‘Beng Beng’, but who asked me?). NOW, the first of two REAL gems (actually three, but . . . Yeah) is up next in ‘Call Gyptian’. The tune rides a cut of the WICKED Tight Clothes Riddim and it is a shot towards the hardcore fans and what I’m wondering is if the newer fans might be able to appreciate it because it is a bit ‘harder’ edged than many of the other tunes, but that riddim is downright devastating, so hopefully they’ll enjoy it (even if they don’t, I don’t care!) (I like it!) (dammit!) (should’ve let Gyptian go on the Diwali also). Just as critical, but more appeasing and giving is the immortal Punanny Riddim which cradles the next tune in, ‘All In You’. I’m expecting this one to do a major damage, given the opportunity, as it is just SPARKLING (the rinse the riddim gets is so nice). The highlight comes later on when Gyptian, apparently appreciating the moment, turns about as straight forward a pure Dancehall DJ that you’re probably ever going to hear from him and it’s done well also. The start, as unusual as it is, is pretty good for ”Hold You”.

And then there’s the boom.

I can sit here and call it ‘light’ or ‘gimmicky’ or ‘ridiculous’, but I’d be doing nothing but speaking about myself because I love this damn song (speaking of the title track, of course). The tune is downright intoxicating and I’m drinking it up and as you well know, I’m not the only one and those coming to hear it, and only it, will be happy to know that (as has been the case in the past with VP with particular big tunes) (ask Assassin and Turbulence) it hasn’t been rerecorded for the album (or if it has, I can’t tell and you won’t be able to either). Big song and the best the album has to offer. All of that goes without saying, but the tune which follows ‘Hold You’, ‘Nah Let Go’, is sure to grab just a great deal of attention as it is extremely catchy, likewise. I believe it’s been billed as the sequel to the big song and the two sound virtually nothing alike, but given its placement on the album (right after the signature track which means it’s going to be heard a lot, if, for no other reason, than everyone just letting the previous song play through before hitting ‘repeat’ or ‘back‘), I wouldn’t be surprised to see it a future second single. It’s kind of a groovy Soca-ish type of vibes and although I didn’t too much like the Soca refixing of ’Hold Yuh’, this one is very very well done and probably the second best tune on the album.

The second half of ”Hold You” CLEARLY has less in the way of star power attached to it than the first, but as I alluded to, for the more intensive Reggae head, the second half of the album is something which you’re going to be able to appreciate, ostensibly speaking at least, for the most part. Beginning immediately with ‘Rendezvous’, you see a very nice shift at the start of the second half, when the one-drop surprisingly kicks in strongly. When the tune begins, minus the singing, it almost sounds as if a Dub is about to breakout, but Gyptian eventually strolls in and goes in with the loverman type of thing and by its end, it is a pretty decent song and I love the vibes on that one. Speaking of vibes, I have to say that on the following tune, ‘So Much In Love’, what you have in that riddim is something which sounds like something you’d find in Don Corleon’s catalogue (but is instead produced by Jon FX, who apparently has a hand in on about two-thirds of ”Hold You”, one way or another) and, as you’d imagine, it’s GORGEOUS. Gyptian, with his kind of over-nasally type of wail (Reggae’s answer to Keith Sweat), is someone who rarely ever pushes his vocals and I think that in these few years, maybe we’ve yet to EVER hear him max it out and he definitely doesn’t do that here, but in terms of the vocals alone, ‘So Much In Love’ is one of the better SANG tunes I’ve heard from him. It’s also very well put together and just a SWEET and MATURE sounding piece of Lover’s Rock and one of the album’s finest moments. The vocals on ‘Na Na Na [A Love Song]’ are pretty nice as well, but it’s definitely the structure of the tune itself which is going to attract in this instance. Gyptian is an artist who kind of made his spiritual leanings evident earlier in his career, but he hasn’t stuck to making the type of music you’d expect a Rastafarian to make, in the traditional sense, but it’s songs like such which ever so occasionally remind you were his allegiances lie on the grandest of scales. This one is the kind of normal ‘she wants a Rasta’ type of songs you’re well acquainted with, but the sound is HUGE. It’s electric, it’s thunderous at times and by the end it works so well AND, while I think the weakest portion of Gyptian’s game is his lyrical ability, ‘Na Na Na’ may be the best WRITTEN tune here. Then is ‘Drive Me Crazy’ which kind of has ‘folksy’ type of sound to it initially, but eventually it dives, full on, into a sweet piece of Reggae riddim. This one is very catchy, has a very strong chorus and it kind of struck me as a ‘Reggae changeup’ that you might find on an R&B album, or something like that. So, I’d be interested if, it ever got any type of push, how it might do in those type of circles, because it’s pretty nice. And then both ‘Where You Belong’ and the dance celebration of ‘Leave Us Alone’ (one of my personal favourites) should score points with Reggae heads, because they’re both going to sound very familiar in terms of the riddim. The former also feature another very impressive vocal display from Gyptian on the album, while the latter features an unnamed guest DJ absolutely damaging the Diseases Riddim alongside DJ (I think I know who it is and you might too).

And to grab up the remaining three selections which I haven’t mentioned, because they are most interesting - First is my least favourite on the album, ‘Tease Me [Haffi Easy]’ which is . . . Well it’s just kind of complicated. Maybe you’ll call it a Hip-Hop vibes or a heavy piece of Dancehall, but it didn’t grab me too much, although it certainly isn’t HORRIBLE. Then there’s the very strange interlude ‘L.U.=V°E’ which is a full on instrumental and it’s BEAUTIFUL, but you kind of wonder WHY exactly has it been included. It’s kind of like mood music and curiously enough it comes as track eight of fifteen, thus directly in the middle and it kind of opens the gate from the more crossover sound of the first half of ”Hold You”, to the more straight forward Reggae sound of the second, so perhaps that’s what it signifies. As I said, however, it is truly a beautiful thing. And lastly is ‘Selah’, which is the final tune on the album. If I recall correctly, this is the only tune on the album which comes with a social/spiritual context (aside from ‘Na Na Na’ to some extent), and what you’re going to notice first, DEFINITELY, is the SPECTACULAR sound of the song. As it progresses, it goes kind of strange because it turns into, essentially, the album’s ‘thank you’ section for Gyptian. Most creatively he managed to work this in like such, with a really big sounding song and actually if saying ‘thank you’ isn’t a great way to end an album, then I don’t know what it is.

Overall - Yes, Gyptian’s ”Hold You” is better than you think it is and going back to my premise for this review and what I was anticipating, although I wasn’t very far off, it’s also better than I thought it would be. The second half of the album REALLY takes it to the next level in my opinion, with its overall consistency and the first half isn’t unbearable either and it just so happens to contain one of the, if not THE biggest tunes of the year thus far. I am, however, inclined to think about what the new fans will think and, I think that they’ll like it also. Gyptian, for as undeniably strange as he most certainly is musically, doesn’t have much room for error. It’s almost like the cases of Jah Cure and Chezidek - They sound strange and no matter what style you try to drop them in, they’re still going to sound the same way, you might not like the results ALL the time (you won’t), but it won’t be much different, at all, from something that you do like. I like “Hold You”. It’s not perfect, not even close, but for an album which is going to grab so much attention that our WONDERFUL music doesn’t normally get, I think it’s a good representative right now from Gyptian - The most unusually consistent of hitmakers.

Rated: 4/5
VP Records
CD & Digital

Gyptian Gyptian @ Myspace

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