Thursday, July 22, 2010

'They Walk Amongst Us': A Review of "Diversity" by Gentleman [Deluxe Edition]

Near the top of our list of demands - We, Reggae fans, would like to have our music treated and celebrated like the music of the other, more ‘mainstream’ genres. It’d be nice if when a new big album is released, someone in Budapest could go to their local record store and actually buy it and it would be if someone in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska, could do the same. The thought of that actually happening someday is pretty nice and pretty weird at the same time because, while admittedly that would be nice, Reggae fans (myself included) seem to tend to actually kind of enjoy this cliquish and ‘underground’ type of tag which comes along with the music itself. It was thinking about this concept when I began to try to actually apply it, in the tangible sense, and see what I came up with (it was more like a ‘who’ than what, actually). I first thought of Jr. Gong, but any notions of him being both mainstream and underground were dashed effectively at ‘Welcome To Jamrock’ and then ultimately destroyed at ”Distant Relatives”. I went through the names like Sean Paul and Elephant Man and didn’t think they fit too well and then I got to thinking about Beenie Man who is a pretty good example, but if you look at Beenie’s international mainstream exploits, they almost seem to deviate from his typical more local running to the point where it’s almost like one artist with two careers. So while ‘The Doctor’ may’ve certainly fit into the two different scopes, he does so seemingly by design and completely intentionally. No. What I was looking for was an artist who didn’t have to change ANYTHING and could be both underground and shrouded in secrecy to enable that heavy Reggae fan to feel as if though he knows something the rest of the world doesn’t and open enough to where a great deal of people who probably can’t name you more than ten Reggae artists or so, would know of him and at least SOME of what he’s done. That led me to Gentleman who fits the role like a glove. The German star’s geography, itself, somewhat puts him outside of the mainstream ‘funnel’ to which one typically refers when looking for Reggae stars (I,e, the Caribbean) and the very fact that he has SMASHED his way through the whole of Europe, becoming currently (unless I’m drawing a COMPLETE blank) the single most popular European artist in Reggae, enables him to EASILY be regarded as an international artist (that Universal contract doesn’t hurt there either) (neither did the Sony before it). He pulls the DOUBLE! If you’re sitting on a bus, the person next to you might not know Gentleman (unless it‘s an ugly country bus), but if you go to the record store and ask for his new album, they’re likely to know what you’re talking about.

So, when you head out and start looking for ”Diversity” (before you decide to just grab it on iTunes), finding help shouldn’t be too hard. When news reached that 2010 would mark a brand new album for the German superstar, it was definitely a big wave going through as he has seen his popularity grow and grow over the years and at this point is seemingly well within his prime. Thus, the eventual histrionics which would come with the album were not only expected, but welcomed. Of course the biggest of these dynamics would be the fact that ”Diversity” would come in two different variations. One being a single disc and single disc download, checking in at a very healthy nineteen tracks, while the other would be a DELUXE EDITION (first Beyonce, now Gentleman), which had a ridiculous NINE additional tracks - Topping out at TWENTY-NINE. Needless to say, I (and you too) had my eyes set on that deluxe edition which would mean that for his first album since 2007’s very solid ”Another Intensity”, Gentleman was pushing a double album and that most certainly was it all. Also pretty attractive in my musical eyes was the fact that the album featured quite extensive workings with (un)arguably the most versatile Reggae-ish producer on the planet, the incomparable Don Corleon who, himself, was in the process of changing things up a bit, doing more and more routine one-drop work, which definitely would (theoretically) make him and Gentleman a given pair at this point and one capable of producing FLAMES. Want more? Sure. Gentleman also has proven to be Reggae’s first and foremost expert on COMBINATIONS, so the prospects of dealing with a new release from the artist is always one which comes with the thought of ‘I wonder who he’s working with this time’ and, even more so than the actual QUALITY OF THE ALBUM, I was confident that he wouldn’t disappoint with the artist he linked to accompany him on ”Diversity” and he sure didn’t fail on that end. All of that has helped make the album a success already. Released back in May, the project, not too surprisingly (AT ALL), immediately shot up European (MUSIC, not Reggae, but MUSIC) charts and these days it’s not too far removed from the tops either, proving and solidifying the fact that his popularity remains at an all time high and, by extension, showing that this piece of work LITERALLY is one of the biggest of the year. So, the only question remains is whether or not Gentleman and company have produced a GREAT piece of work certain to reign as his best to date? He has made a great album, most certainly. However, I’m not prepared to call it his finest effort to date (see ”Confidence”), but of the however many hundreds of thousands of people who have picked this one up, I’m almost sure not too many of them came away disappointed.

The most remarkable thing that I noticed in listening to the album is that it seems as if Gentleman may’ve progressed even more in what I feel has quietly become his best quality - His lyrics. There are some FLAWLESSLY and near flawlessly written pieces on the album and that comes through very nicely. However, at times I feel as if though the vibes on ”Diversity” may get to the point where they kind of ‘distract’ from those messages. Also, in respect to the title, this is clearly Gentleman’s most diverse set to date, musically speaking. As if linking with Corleon wasn’t enough diversity (and it was), there’s also more than a little in the way of Dancehall and Hip-Hop which registers on various levels (at least to my opinion) throughout the project. Let’s discuss.

Disc One

Although lacking in the ridiculous level of star power that is present on Disc Two, the first disc of the deluxe edition release of Gentleman’s new album, ”Diversity”, to my ears is the stronger of the two. When you read my main critique of the second disc, you may recall back to here where I’m going give praise to the first in the same area - The way the disc begins is WONDERFUL. Starting us off is ‘The Reason’ which kind of had me worried with it’s kind of ‘echoey’ beginnings, but when it gets going it develops into a very powerful piece. I’ve read now two or three different reviews/articles on the album which have drawn significance from the opening lines of the song, “2010 people and we’re still around”, and while I’m not going to do that (even though I just kind of did), I will say that it is a powerful (albeit a broad one) statement being made on the tune and given it’s still unusual sound and kind of solemn vibes, I think it’s a pretty nice way to open things. We REALLY pick up on the next selection ‘Ina Time Like Now’, which is downright DIVINE and one of the best things I hear on the whole of the project. This one starts off sounding like Vaughn Benjamin is about to jump up and take the mic, but it develops quickly and into something which is just so poignant and nearly vintage Gentleman. It’s kind of veiled social commentary, at its core, and it is HUGE! Don Corleon lends the German chanter his SUBLIME Feelings Riddim for the next cut, ‘Lonely Days’, another of the biggest highlights for the album and a certified hit even before it arrived. And to keep the stretch going, there’s ‘Changes’. Call it a bad thing if you like - That twenty-eight tracks peak at number four, but I’m not because this title track to another Corleon lick is MASSIVE! This is the big anthem style of tune that was so prevalent on the ”Confidence” album and back then it was dominant and it still is all these years on. The tune may also be the finest written tune on either disc and the riddim is ’heavenly’ as well, you simply couldn’t ask for more.

Nothing falls too far outside of the ’norm’ for the most part of the first lot of tunes and it goes as such until the unity seeking tune, ’Regardless’, chimes in. I’m of two minds with it because for some reason this very slow progressing sounding riddim literally BOTHERS me to a degree, but clearly the song is expertly written:

“What a cause so much sufferation?
Sufferation only bring devastation
Everyday dem ah come wid new legislation
An ah whole heap a tings weh I no mention
Mention, di youths no have no occupation
Occupation stop di desperation

You almost have to pay it due attention even though it almost seems to scream out to turn up the tempo at times (more on that same concept on disc two). And a tune I found on a similar vibes, which doesn’t have the same hindrance, is the very nice ‘Hold On Strong’. This one, with its GIANT sounding drum, also seems to lumber around a bit, but it gives you that break that you’re looking for, albeit a pretty small one, when the riddim literally goes high-tech and over it Gentleman delivers a big inspiration and one of the first disc’s biggest moments.

We get all the way up to track six here before we get ‘Nothin’ A Change’, the first of four official combinations of disc one and ten altogether. The tune features up and coming singjay, Da Professor, and its another kind of differently vibed tune (kind of Hip-Hoppish) and it’s solemn. But this one definitely WORKS as a social commentary. It has such a glaring significance and URGENT feel to it (thankfully that’s the seemingly auto-tuned Da Professor’s specialty and it isn’t completely foreign to the Gentleman either) which comes through nicely in the music so it doesn’t seem forced none at all. ‘Tempolution’ finds Gentleman going nostalgic and dragging Anthony Red Roze along for the road . . . I pretty much don’t like this tune and it’s easy to say . . . But out of any tune outside of the first four, I’ve probably listened to it the most on the first disc of ”Diversity”. So CLEARLY it has something going for it because it is captivating as hell and I would’ve paid to be a fly on the wall during its recording because it just sounds like a good time is being had by all. The Patrice that joins on the outstanding ’Along The Way’ unfortunately isn’t Patrice Roberts (can you imagine???), but instead is the enigmatic German singer of the same name. I’ve never really been too high on the artist (despite the fact that he’s now become pretty difficult to ignore), but it’s a tune like this which is making me think to go back and give him a next listen because this is very impressive and the way he kind of ‘carefully’ accompanies on a track which speaks to just take a minute out to appreciate and NOTICE things as they happen. The song is EXCELLENT. And the final guest is probably the most crucial right now, Million Stylez, as Gentleman keeps the Euro connection going with the tune ‘Help’ on Pow Pow’s Surfer Riddim. This tune was probably the best effort that ridiculously large riddim had to offer (seriously 200 people must’ve voiced the Surfer) and it’s ranking high here as well, now if we could just get Stylez to do an album, all would be well.

Back to solo, the remaining four tracks on the first disc of Gentleman’s ”Diversity” are pretty nice and sans one perhaps, make up a bit of the class of it as well. The one tune I’m kind of undecided on is the earlier piece, ‘The Finish Line’. This one is just harmless - It almost sounds like a freestyle of sorts (when you hear someone doing the “ya know” on the lyrics, on every line, that’s typically pretty good sign that it’s a freestyle or it began as such). But it’s a good one and the notion that I’d even look at it as such is definitely a testament to the Gentleman’s lyrical prowess. And then when you get to the final three selections, you see a big step up there. First is ‘No Doubt About It’, an older hit across Corleon’s underrated Heavenly Riddim (Richie Spice’s ‘Brown Skin’). This one is kind of a far reaching love tune from Gentleman to The Almighty and (at least seemingly), the entire world. It sounds NOTHING like it, but it’s very much so written in the same structure as the massive shot that was ‘Superior’ and such a quality means that the Gentleman is on his game and . . . Well he so clearly is. Then there is the most curiously titled ‘The Ceiling’, a song which I VERY interested in hearing because I had suspected a direction and I was so happy when I found that it was EXACTLY what Gentleman had in mind. The song, at least for me, is one which speaks of the LIMITS placed on the masses by the functioning leading systems (“I see the ceiling too low. Got to find a way, got to find a way out”) and although I’ve used the wording myself, I don’t know that I’ve ever really heard someone make the connection musically and do so, so thoroughly. And as the tune progresses, there appears a more and more urgent tone and lyrically the Gentleman continues to dazzle throughout on this BIG BIG song. And finally is another piece of dynamite, ‘No Time To Play’, which comes CHARGING through on Bobby Konders’ World Domination Riddim. My first thought here was of how HUGE it would probably be to see this tune performed live because it is just HYPE! The great part is that the message and the lyrics can match the intensity and in doing so make it a formidable ending for the first chapter of ”Diversity”.

Disc Two

The lot of fourteen tracks of ”Diversity” contains a nearly overwhelming amount of start power and I was so much looking forward to hearing a great deal of it and while it pans out, as I’ve alluded to, it takes a minute. Unfortunately, in that “minute” is THE tune I was most looking forward to hearing on the whole of the album which starts off disc two, ‘Another Melody’ which features Gentleman alongside the BRILLIANT Tanya Stephens. This acoustically vibed piece just never really gets going and it’s a trait which prevails throughout the first four songs on the disc (and then I just wasn’t very fond of the fifth). ‘I Got To Go’ pretty much CRAWLS it’s way to its ultimately very basic drumming riddim and on top of that it’s just kind of . . . ‘weird’ song. What I get from it is that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, we have to make sacrifices, but it’s not really presented for the better. He says, “I’m hoping that they understand, this is all part of a bigger plan”, a “plan” which is never really explained (unless I just REALLY missed the point), making the tune just kind of depressing actually. ‘It No Pretty’ (OBVIOUSLY) doesn’t lift spirits, but it’s better than its immediate predecessor and is easily the best of the first five as well, but it’s still not a BIG tune. Lyrically it’s reaching up, but you could have really done something with this one musically instead of this kind of ‘spiraling’ type of vibes (but do DEFINITELY listen the lyrics on that one). And ‘Moment of Truth’ is another nice one (in reference to the rest) and you really start to see the ‘ship being righted’ but it doesn’t QUITE get where you’d want to hear it. These first four songs are, curiously, very skeletal and very minimal in terms of sound and I don’t know if that was by design (I almost think that it would have to be) and just don’t show Gentleman in his best light in my opinion. And by contrast, the fifth tune, ‘To The Top’, which features former Digicel Rising Stars winner Christopher Martin (remember him???), goes to almost Euro-techno type of levels and it’s kind of clichéd and I don’t particularly enjoy it. So we go from tunes which don’t have much ‘meat’ on their bones to one which is pretty fat. “Diversity” indeed.

Now, with that being said, thankfully there’re fourteen tracks on this disc and after taking away the first five . . . I can’t find much AT ALL wrong with the remaining nine. Now that’s a great thing because, besides the obvious (good music) (duh) it’s in these nine tunes where we get four different combination tracks, including the two biggest pairings (in terms of name) on the entire project. Fittingly, the first of these tunes up is ‘Good Old Days’, which just so happens to feature the recently transitioned ‘Godfather of Dancehall’, Sugar Minott. This one had me worried, because I was sure hoping that the level of ‘diversity’ didn’t extend too much to this one, musically. Thankfully it didn’t and what Minott and Gentleman are the SWEET vibes that you would hope they might on a big standout for the album. Curiously, absent from ”Diversity” is constant Gentleman sparring partner, Daddy Rings, but the other side of that pair of well established artists with whom the Gentleman constantly links, Jack Radics, is thankfully on board as is Luciano, both of whom join on a single track, the WICKED ‘Shut Eye Country’. Should you be an individual who is living NASTY, just FILTHY, you definitely want to avoid the ‘loud’ Radics because this man can shout down condemnation and call for righteousness unlike most people in a ‘loud’ business. Lost in the absolute rapture of this one, I’m very much so questioning my choice as THE best tune on the album because this is just a MEGASHOT of a tune and definitely not to be missed. I was VERY much looking forward to hearing ‘Intensions’ because when I first saw it listed, it was credited as featuring ‘Rebellion’, who I (correctly) assumed was one of the most interesting and colourful chanters in the whole of Reggae music, Rebellion The Recaller, from out of Gambia. The Recaller has 42,000 different styles at his disposal and he goes fairly straight forward on the tune with Gentleman and in the process, the two deliver a HEAVY vibes. The tune seems to speak on being prepared for just about anything that you might encounter along the journey of life and in that, it’s just SO well put together. The song really is one of the best ARRANGED on the entire album and it transfers just about everything about it, lyrically, sonically, musically etc. to a very nice effect and of course, we always LOVE to hear more from The Recaller. And the final combination (and final tune altogether), 'Thinking About You', features sweet singing (CUTIE OF EPIC PROPORTIONS!) German singer Cassandra Steen. This one, expectedly, comes through in a kind of duet style and it does work. This is the type of LUSH and full bodied type of slower vibes I like to hear from Gentleman as opposed to what you hear early on disc two. Perhaps what was missing was a complimentary artist such as Steen whose background (I THINK) is in R&B and she has a LOVELY voice as well (and Google image search this woman, IMMEDIATELY) which highlights Gentleman’s dexterity when aimed in the right place as it is here (and the riddim on that tune sounds a bit like Downsound‘s Maroon Riddim (which you know from Fantan Mojah‘s ‘Hail The King‘)). Apparently Gentleman missed the bulletin that German Reggae musicians NEED combinations with Achis Reggae favourite, Sara Lugo, but what and who he does pull in on ”Diversity” definitely works on the large part.

Just before ‘Good Old Days’ drops and just after ‘To The Top’, we get the first ‘signs of intelligent life’ on the second disc comes in the form of one of the top three selections on the project (alongside ‘Changes’ and ‘Shut Eye Country’) in my opinion, ’Fast Forward’. I seriously run out of adjectives describing tunes like this - BEAUTIFUL, LOVELY, ANGELIC, DIVINE, GORGEOUS - Pick one! They all are applicable and easily so and I hope that I’m not the only one who vibes this tune and notices that it has a very ‘quiet’ strength to it and I can imagine that when he does it live, he can turn up the intensity WAY up as it does progressively throughout this gem of a song. While I’m not prepared to push ‘Everlasting Love’ quite that high, it’s another piece of an excellent vibes. It’s probably about as straight forward of a love song that you’re going to hear from the Gentleman on this album, but even it has more spiritual overtones (anytime you hear Gentleman say “everlasting”, you kind of get the feeling that he’s talking about some much much higher than man) which come through and, at least to my opinion, help the song. ‘Distant Away’? Another BIG effort -

“Hey dem come bout ya
Too much blood out ya
You no see seh babylon a one who flood out ya
Dem nah love out yah
Dem only doubt yah
East! West! North and South ya!
Dem a think no
But a we move di crowd ya
Caan hurt di people with our oil and your powda
And when dem loud ya
Showing control ya
Dem ah think bold
But we ahgo move boldah!”

FLAMES! Again, the tune speaks against those who have moved just a wee bit outside of the realm of good natured and righteous living and doing people and that disconnect in which they often seem to revel. Of course, the Gentleman is hopeful (he is a gentleman, after all) that they may find their way back, but in the process of the finding it (or moving even further out), he certainly isn’t at a loss of lyrical fire for them.

‘Bridge Over Water’ is also not short on combustion, but in this case it’s a bit more subtle and it’s more broad and wide reaching. The riddim on this thing is absolutely INTOXICATING and speaking of intoxicating, I don’t know if YOU ‘indulge’, but as the revered Cruzan chanter/producer/musician, Batch, would say, ‘centripetal smoke’ flows FREELY while listening to this tune. It is BIG! Lastly, there’s a far too energetic remix to the aforementioned ‘No Time To Play’ from the first disc. All I’ll say that even though I’m kind of shocked by it, it’s starting to grow on me and like I said, I don’t have much to say bad about the tunes on disc two outside of the first five and this one is literally included on both fronts.

Overall, what do you say and how do you rate it? Okay, there most certainly IS a five star album somewhere within Gentleman’s ”Diversity” deluxe edition (and scanning up and down it, I don’t think it’s the regular edition of the album which, at nineteen tracks, contains both ‘Another Melody’ and ‘To The Top’). I STILL don’t think -that- album would be better than ”Confidence” or maybe even ”Journey To Jah”, but it wouldn’t have to be (those albums are probably 7 and 8 star albums, respectively), but definitely scaling this one back to maybe eighteen tracks or so would make it even stronger, but it’s weird because I certainly do like the fact that it comes in this edition. So, if the problem is to have too much to deal with, I’d much rather have that than not enough which is almost always the case. Apart from rating issues and reception (which is essentially me thinking out loud) (as if you don’t have anything better to do) (and clearly you don’t because you’re still reading 4,100 + words deep) (I digress), this album is everything that it should’ve been. It is a BIG album which does live up to its title and it certainly captures the MOOD and the imagination of the stage on which it is presented, so like I said, I can’t imagine that there’re too many disappointed fans. From a strictly Reggae angle, which is why we’re here, Gentleman’s ”Diversity”, may be a little too diverse, but again, its sheer size makes up for that and also with the variety of vibes presented will also make it one of the best albums of 2010 as the German star continues to show himself the ZOMBIE of Reggae - Looking full like a mainstream artist, but walking just as confidently underground.

Rated: 4.85/5
Bush House Music/Universal Music
CD & Digital

Gentleman @ Myspace


  1. Achis, thanks for bringing this new Gentleman album to my attention. I was out of the loop, but I know Gentleman is a serious man so I ordered this even before I read your review. Yes man! Bless...

  2. Definitely a nice album JC. It came out awhile back and I think people kind of forgot, but lovely lovely piece yeah.