Tuesday, January 25, 2011

'A Global Affair': A Review of "Self Reliance" by Hi Kee

When you think of the word ‘global’ or ‘international’ in reference to a specific Reggae artist, typically you’re going to be thinking of one of two things. The first is in the sense of someone like a Sean Paul, Damian Marley or a Shaggy having had a level of fame which has gone throughout the world and literally made them a household name in music across the globe. The next type of artist who will be considered to be a global Reggae artist is someone like Alpha Blondy, Tiken Jah Fakoly or the late and great Lucky Dube who are artists who have surely had a incredible level of fame, but we don’t think of them in the same way we think of the first group and these artists are more thought of as having crossed musical borders to come into Reggae music as opposed to singing in a genre more directly native to their respective homelands. The title alone, in either case, is very lofty and it is almost always synonymous with Superstar (just in case you haven’t notice, I’ve just named six of the most popular Reggae musicians of all time). HOWEVER, if you really start to think of things in more direct terms, we actually have dozens and dozens of GLOBAL Reggae artists who ply their trade, and do so wonderfully around the world and on a very consistent basis. I used to very openly lament the fact that we had so many wonderful elder Jamaican artists who, seemingly in order to make the type of living with which they were accustomed, have had to either move their careers (recording, performing, promoting) or, in many cases, move their entire lives overseas to where their most fervent and devoted of fans were. And while I still don’t particular enjoy the fact that this happens, once again many of these artists have paved the way as younger and younger names seem to be doing the very same thing and fortunately they’re making EXCEPTIONAL music and, also very fortunately, it’s traveling. I look at people such as the always impressive Mark Wonder (I‘ve been listening to a ton of Mark Wonder these days), Daddy Rings, Fitta Warri and others such as the downright mysterious Karli Owli, who are artists whose music has taken them all over the world several times and they are global representatives of Reggae music and I wouldn’t even think to call them ‘superstars’ in the more usual sense of the word, but they are all VERY talented. That leads us to the very interesting individual up for discussion today as Hi Kee has made his way in Reggae music and done so largely with an approach that knows no boundaries.

It was maybe two or three years ago when I first heard the name Hi Kee and I honestly didn’t pay him too much attention at first. While clearly talented, his style - A kind of ‘heavy’ voiced chanting and singing - Didn’t really attract me initially (more on that in a bit) and it didn’t stand out very much. And of course, there was the matter that Hi Kee wasn’t the easiest of artists to find. As much as I (OBVIOUSLY) do enjoy the globalization of our music, the one most tangible ‘drawback’ is that it kind of makes it a bit difficult to follow someone’s career with them dropping singles across the board for a variety of different labels and not necessarily setting up in one area. However, while that’s last part certainly didn’t change in 2010, it seemed to focus for Hi Kee and, in my opinion, the year really did a great deal for his career as an artist, taking the popularity of his name to new heights. And I even began to catch on as Hi Kee begin to pop up in more and more places where my attention was going anyway (on digital releases, on big riddims and compilations and he even shot a video) (which should be in here somewhere) and despite the fact that it would take me just a bit longer to REALLY catch on, I definitely made a mental note of just how active the St. Elizabeth native was becoming and for whom he was doing his work. Well, apparently I wasn’t the only one taking a look at the work he was doing because I ended up being quite surprised when, just a week or two ago, I received word that Hi Kee’s full length debut album, ”Self Reliance” was on its way and it was coming from the very familiar and wonderful people of the UK based True Sounds Records (whose very nice website, Truesounds.com, I write for). I’ll get into this more in just a second, but how exactly that link was formed - I have no idea. Hi Kee had voiced for a truly impressive amount of different European based labels (and reportedly he now actually lives in Italy, which may explain his seemingly grand amount of availability to European labels), but I’d never heard True Sounds, in particular, linked to him. Furthermore, as I alluded to, the fact that he was already nearing a debut album was rather unexpected, as you do like to see the artists gain as much of a following as possible prior to an album so that it can be as successful as possible. But, upon further research, Hi Kee has become quite a big deal on the European scene and that would go to explain why a label such as True Sounds, who I don’t know to be the most active of imprints and this may very well be their very first full album release, would go to the extent of releasing an album for him. I liken it, somewhat, to just last year when veteran chanter Bescenta pushed his own debut album "Genuine” and that project was very refreshing to see come about, just as this one is and it was also reportedly quite successful also. While whether or not this album will be successful remains to be seen (although I’m leading towards saying that it will be), but what I can tell you is that, strictly from a quality level, the ‘risk’ Jah Grasshopper and company at True Sounds have taken on releasing the album wasn’t actually a risk at all because this thing is VERY good. If you haven’t quite been able to keep track of Hi Kee and his worldly travels, ”Self Reliance" IMMEDIATELY proves itself to be an excellent time to catch up.

'Woman of Virtue'

Besides his globetrotting ways (which I’ll get into momentarily), the thing that struck me hardest about his brand new album, ”Self Reliance” for True Sounds Records, was just how lyrically skilled Hi Kee is. Every song on the album, even the most expansive of the lot, has a definite direction and nice flow to it as well, which is a big credit to Hi Kee. Also, as I alluded to, upon further consideration, his style is one which may not leap off of a particular tune at the listener as being dynamic or immediately impressive, but it is one which works nearly perfectly with someone who vibes a tune in the way that he does and that’s something which comes through instantly on the album. The first example would surely come on the opening batch of tunes as ”Self Reliance” gets started with three tunes which are, at least for me, signature for Hi Kee in several ways. The very first tune, ‘Woman of Virtue’ is simply a BEAUTIFUL song and it would go on to spawn what I believe was the very first video of Hi Kee’s entire career as well. It was done for Maasto Records from out of Finland (yes, Finland) and it clearly rises to the case of being one of the brightest lights on this packed album as Hi Kee, obviously well infatuated, nicely tells the rest of the world about the special woman in his life and he does so in a very broad way so that it applies to more than just his specific situation. The next two tunes, ‘Goodness Gracious‘ and ‘Higher Heights’ come via the label that I most closely associated with Hi Kee’s work, Reality Chant Productions from out of New Zealand (yes, New Zealand). The former is featured across the label’s WICKED Fyah Bed Riddim (which featured a truly MAMMOTH riddim title track by Natty King) and speaks of taking a proper control and ’view’ of one’s life and making it for the better, while the latter is backed by the heavy I Call Riddim and, like the two tunes preceding it, is one of the album’s finest moments (and, incidentally, both of the latter two tunes appeared on Reality Chant’s decent ”Kings Highway” compilation). The tune specifically deals with inspiration and on a spiritual level, building on an expanding upon the concepts established on ‘Goodness Gracious’.

“Higher heights everyday
So Rasta stay
You must excel from you a trod The King’s way
Do the right and obey
And never, never go astray
Jah will bless you when you trust HIM and pray”

Hi Kee’s international music pursuits have also lead him to work with labels such as Bassrunner Productions, from out of the increasingly Reggae-heavy Austria (the famed House of Riddim also does work on ”Self Reliance”, whose BIG Prisonbreak Riddim backs previous single ’Fire Blaze’ I know that you’re probably think that the song is pretty average because of the clichéd title, but this is a BIG tune to my ears and it also happens to be one of the most lyrically impressive sets here as well. Hi Kee also does a German link with the most respected Teka and Rootdown Records for a couple of tracks. The album’s actual closer, ’Stress Free’ actually comes equipped with one of the most popular productions of last year, the Ska-ish Kokoo Riddim from Rootdown and the tune which comes before it, ‘Refugee’, one of the album’s three combinations - This one featuring the exciting and impressive Sophia Squire - has the SWEET Tek A Train Riddim (same riddim backs Smiley’s hit ‘Distance’) to thank for at least some of its appeal. I really like both of these songs, particularly ‘Refugee’ because it’s somewhat of a rarity actually - A social commentary, and a strong one, featuring a male and female on a combination. It’s a very powerful tune and hopefully with the album it gets a bit of a ‘second wind’ now. Speaking of combinations - The album’s first, ’Catch Up The Fire’, features the venerable Mykal Rose alongside Hi Kee, and the results are damaging. I think I know this song from somewhere, but I’m not quite sure - Regardless of its origins, however, it’s a very strong tune as the veteran and the up and comer make a mighty duo. And in terms of mighty duos, things get no stronger on ”Self Reliance” (and not too many other places either) than the legendary pair of names that join in on ‘Babylon System Collapse’ - Luciano and the incomparable Brigadier Jerry. I was so happy to see Brigadier present here because he doesn’t voice much to my knowledge and his is a talent which is STILL utterly ridiculous. He is off the proverbial charts and has influenced so many later artists and from reading up on him, Hi Kee was one of them, so you can imagine the honour he must feel to have had the legend on his album on another produced by Reality Chant (for its forthcoming Fire I Blaze Riddim).

'Goodness Gracious'

Still, after listening through the album, I find it so interesting that my absolute favourite moment comes on a track which may just be the first song Hi Kee EVER recorded, ‘Pretty Like Gold’. To my ears, the tune finds the chanter addressing the kind of ‘niche’ or ‘fad’ view that so many people have of Rastafari and how merely displaying or saying that it is what you are simply isn’t enough to know His Imperial Majesty.

“Your locks, coulda pretty like gold
It cannot save your soul no, no
Your heart haffi clean and pure
And Jah Jah inna control
Hey, whether you’re rich or poor
Your still no safe nor secure
Whether diseased or sore
Ah Rastafari have di cure"

“All when you locks dem pretty and dem pile up
Long til dem all ah twine up
You cannot reach Mt. Zion til ah Rasta bow dem style up
Love and unity combine up
Well ah Gideon boots dem shine up
Clean out your heart if you dutty and corrupt
Cah Rasta livity and vanity no go hand in hand
Ah just divinity and purity fi reach Mt. Zion
Wolves inna sheep clothes, Rasta bun dem deh gang
No matta what dem compose, mi no lissen to dem song!”

HUGE! And even should you take the song out of that specific context, I think there’s an underlying message of just to try and do the best you possibly can at being a positive person, which is a mighty and poignant statement on its own.

An earlier tune, ‘Give Jah Thanks & Praise’ expounds on a very similar concept and is a big spiritual vibes, just like a song which comes much later ‘Rasta Love Nice’. I like both of these songs and I would urge you to not ‘just’ look at them as kind of stereotypical songs because Hi Kee, as I alluded to, has a very nice way of putting things together so what I ultimately take from them certainly isn’t something I’ve taken from hundreds of other similar tracks and they’re both very appealing sonically as well, which is always helpful. Another pair of tunes which I feel go together quite lovely also come in succession on ”Self Reliance”, ‘You Shouldn’t Do It’ and the MAMMOTH ‘Better Love’.

“Ah Hi Kee give her the better love
You give her nuff nuff money, but she prefer love
Big house, car and land, but dat ah neva love
You give her everything - Instead of love!”

“Woman she have her man, but he caan overstand
Why we show each other so much love and affection
Him buy her, Benz, Escalade and a big mansion
But she rather sleep inna mi cottage and ah drive mi Nissan”

The two tracks just speak, on a big stage, about treating your Woman NICELY. You don’t have to do the extravagant things and even if you do them and still mistreat her in other areas, it can’t make up for it and it definitely can’t make up for LOVE. I was very much looking forward to hearing the title track and when it does come in with its HEAVY vibes, you know straight away that you’re dealing with a big tune. The message here is one which is just what the title suggests - Even if the entire world has gone nasty and disgusting, YOU should still be able to depend on YOU to make your own way in the world. Later we get ‘Signs of the Times’ which is a strong social commentary and probably one of the best tunes on the album if you really listen to it and take it in and finally there’s the album’s DELIGHTFUL obligatory herbalist track, ‘Kutchie Cup’. I love this song! It comes from Highlight Records, a Jamaican label in whose studio a great deal of this album was completed and although I call it “obligatory”, don’t make the mistake of assuming that it’s ‘normal’, because like the artist himself, it definitely is more than that.

'Fire Blaze'

So what’s wrong with the album? The one complaint I have is that 75% of the songs on the album (twelve of sixteen) are less than three minutes long and you notice it pretty early on when you find yourself listening to songs three and four times over to REALLY get proper feel for them.

Overall, however, ”Self Reliance” is a real winner and it’s probably even better than I thought it was when I started writing this review! I do want to stress just how lyrically excellent Hi Kee shows himself to be and when you have that type of a talent and the apparent FOCUS that he obviously does (which is what I attribute the clear direction in every song to be a result of) you’re able to do very small things which give your songs so much individuality. Thus, while you may not exactly be ‘blown away’ by everything you hear on this album, I’m going to have a very difficult time accepting any argument that there’s actually a BAD song on this album - Because there simply is not. So, while we may reserve titles like ‘global’ or ‘international’ in regards to our artists for only the very popular, Hi Kee has proven himself an exception to that via his long ranging musical travels and obvious success along the way and he’s shown himself to be a TRULY Global Reggae artist. Very well done.

Rated: 4.25/5
True Sounds Records
CD + Digital
Hi Kee @ Myspace
Hi Kee @ Facebook


  1. Hi, Where i can buy the cd?? thanks

  2. I believe they said they were putting it out in Europe and . . . I forget.

    But you can link them at Truesounds.com yeah.