Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'For Entertainment Purposes Only': A Review of "Dance & Sweep! - The Adventures of The Energy God" by Elephant Man

Maybe I’m just getting too fucking old for this stuff. Despite the fact that the main thing I do around here is reviewing albums and big time Dancehall albums seem to make appearances about as often as . . . Soca albums, I certainly do find more than enough adequate time to express my frustrations as to what has become of my once beloved Dancehall. And seemingly, at least for the foreseeable future, things won’t be changing much, if at all, in that area, so I’ve begun to cling onto the very few sources of GENUINE Dancehall music which we have such as the output of artists such as Beenie Man, Agent Sasco and Busy Signal, as well as the lion’s share of what’s coming out of the FWI on the highest level. Still, I do long for a full scale return to the Dancehall circa 2002 or so, so even if it isn’t something which would ‘typically’ catch my ears, I’m going to pay at least some attention to it if I hear something somewhat familiar - Like an Elephant Man. I actually have to give quite a bit of credit to Elephant Man. Besides being simply one of the most original entities to ever exist in all of Caribbean based music, and perhaps all of music as a whole, what most people won’t admit and tell you without ANY reservation is the fact that Ele is rather easily one of the most talented Dancehall artists of all time. You can say whatever you want. You can jump up with any argument you like - His command of deejaying words and (RIDICULOUS) melodies is something which truly places him in a class in which he has very few peers. Not only that, but his track record also proves it to a great degree. When Elephant is an old man and largely removed from a career making music and doing crazy shit, we’ll be able to look back and see that not only did he make significant strides internationally and into the ‘mainstream’ arena, but he did so and maintained his presence and was not only one of the most popular, but ‘popularly durable’ acts that we had. Still, what impresses me most about Ele, perhaps, is his consistency. Consistency in Dancehall music is pretty rare and when we have it, it often comes in the very stale ‘Beenie .vs. Bounty’ type of form, but we definitely cannot call Ele stale, he’s been refreshing from ever since he first picked up the mic and if he holds it for another thirty years he’ll be invigourating every step of the way. But with all that being said . . . Why don’t I like his music anymore?


'Nuh Linga'

Like I said - Maybe I’m just getting too fucking old. The last time Elephant Man released an album, ”Let’s Get Physical” just a few years back or so, I paid it almost no attention whatsoever and the album before that, ”Good 2 Go”, his ‘major league’ debut, didn’t exactly grip me either. Also, over the past couple of years or so, either Ele has slowed down significantly in recording (and he hasn’t) or I haven’t been paying a great deal of attention to his releases and it’s primarily due to me pretty much knowing what to expect at this point. Elephant Man, as I mentioned, is an INCREDIBLE DJ. He’s so impressive and consistently so, that with all the things surrounding him, it remains the one unquestionable piece of him - The man can simply deejay like very few others - But what he rhymes about these days is dance and Dance and DANCE and that‘s not my favourite thing (although I do love them occasionally - See ‘Willie Bounce‘). There have been and will continue to be exceptions to that, of course, but for the VAST majority of times, rest assured when Ele has a new big tune about which is receiving a push, you know what it’s going to be about (currently he‘s riding high with the 'Big & Nasty'). So, when the information arose that 2011 would bring forth the next studio album from Elephant Man, this one from VP Records (which SHOCKINGLY becomes his first album released ONLY on the label), I wasn’t very interested but I kind of was: ‘Talented Dancehall artist’ goes a long way with me. And then we see the album - ”Dance & Sweep!: The Adventures of The Energy God” (Yep - More dancing) - And we get a look at the tracklist (more on that in a minute) and while it was pretty much what I expected, there was still something very attractive about this album for some reason and that reason is revealed in almost any song from Elephant Man that you’ll pick up or hear from . . . Pretty much anytime during his career: Listening to Ele is an experience. It’s almost like listening to Bunji Garlin or Skinny Fabulous - some of the more explosive talents from the world of Soca - He will inevitably do something musically or say something lyrically which will either leave you scratching your head, with jaw dropped or just completely amazed in one way or another. The cover of this album may’ve actually elicited the entire aforementioned range of emotions from many and that’s even without listening to the album and when you get into the music, although expected in a way - You can never FULLY categorize or predict Elephant Man and he does end up offering a nice bit of surprises along the way. The way I look at ”Dance & Sweep” in its best possible light is to accentuate the OBVIOUS in this case: VP Records and Elephant Man set out to make a very FUN album. This album isn’t going to remind anyone of Etana’s recent ”Free Expressions” release or anything from the likes of Queen Ifrica or Tarrus Riley or anyone like that. But, where those extraordinary artists have their place - Making exceptional and meaningful music and taking the genre into the proverbial ‘next generation’, Ele also has his place: He makes FUN music and like I said, he’s been very consistent at doing it. So while he may not be one of my favourites anymore (and he isn’t), Ele earns a doubleshot of respect on this album by making a FUN album and by dashing in the occasional flash of that nearly peerless talent.


'How We Do It' featuring Bounty Killer

I like how the album isn’t pretentious or exaggerated at all: It makes no mistake about what it was created to be and to do. This album is about making Dancehall music and having fun - That’s it. The album’s cover also helps to set that idea forward (although the mighty Dale Cooper was quick-witted to point out that it is somewhat ’retro’ looking, in reference to the old albums from the Scientist for Greensleeves) and so does the very first track to be found on Elephant Man’s latest album, ”Dance & Sweep!: The Adventures of The Energy God” from VP Records, ‘The Genisis’ [sic]. The piece is an intro and, if you take away the movie-like setting with it, it essentially outlines the ‘mission statement’ of the album: To bring fun and colour and creativity back to the Dance. Fair enough. The first actual song on the album does an excellent job of doing just that. ‘How Do It’ is a tune which rode high on the Mad Collab Riddim from last year and it did so partly because it featured Ele alongside the legendary Bounty Killer in a big BIG combination. The song, for me, is very emblematic of the best this album has to offer (although I don’t think it’s the best song here, I’m assuming most people will and do) because it doesn’t set itself up to change lives or save the world or anything like such and it’s also kind of sleekly produced Dancehall music and it isn’t really saying much of anything. BUT, sonically it is amazing in every single way with top notch deejaying and it is a hell of a great time without a doubt (LOVE the Killer on that riddim). Next is the pounding ‘Party Up In Here’ across the European Swing Riddim from a couple of years back or so. This song is a good example of another kind which appears on the album to my opinion. The riddim here is just clearly ridiculous - It goes entirely too far and then keeps going - It is space-electro-Dancehall circa 2090. But you can hear the delivery of the lyrics on top of it and Ele never misses a beat and it sounds, at least in that respect, very good. And then there’s the boom. I know I wondered aloud that maybe I’m just too old (at the ancient age of twenty-nine) to enjoy most of Ele’s music so it probably makes me seem like quite the hypocrite (and aren’t we all) that arguably the most CHILDISH construction on this album is my favourite song, but I DON’T CARE AT ALL! ‘In Jamaica’ is HUGE! The Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor produced set kind of sounds like Groovy Soca to my ears which may explain why I like it so much, but whatever the connection, I can’t stop listening to this song. The riddim is infectious and once again Elephant Man provides a downright dazzling delivery atop it.

“[Then how ghetto people party so?]
It is a mystery
To how wi party hard, mek di rich worry
Usain Bolt dance, celebrate victory
Party dung di whole a Cornwall, go straight to Middlesex
When we done, wi visit Surrey
Dance wi ah dance and keep di place merry
Stephen no drink alcohol, give him a cranberry
Fi stay focus necessary

In Jamaica!
This is what wi like!
To dance and party all nite!
The Caribbean flavour!
Wi nah no other choice
Wi ah dance from now to daylight”

The song is just a BEAUTIFUL and LUSH celebration of having a great time (a celebration of celebrating!) and as a Soca fan I couldn’t say a bad thing about it, even I wanted to (and I don’t). On an album built to have a fun a time, it is clearly the funnest (not a word) and craziest of times to be had. EXCELLENT!


'In Jamaica'

The main critique likely to float around about ”Dance & Sweep” from the hardcore heads is that it features too many songs that they already know and while that is true, I try not to dwell on that too much (out of fear of sounding even more like a recording), but in this case, given Ele’s international and ‘mainstream’ successes, I’d say that it is crystal clear that any project with which he’s involved to this extent is going to have larger aspirations than ‘just’ You and I (even though we are wonderful in every single way). So, by my almost certainly incorrect count there’re three tunes on the album which will probably elicit the most ‘I know this tune’ reactions from Dancehall heads and the most ‘Oooohs!’ from new fans. The first, of course, is ‘Nuh Linga’ . . . Was Beijing that long ago??? I was probably one of all of about four or so people who constantly heard this tune who didn’t enjoy it too much because, in retrospect, it was probably one of the biggest hits of Ele’s entire hit-packed career and I’m just tired of it now, but I don’t think too many people who pick up the album are likely to agree with me (and STILL I like the delivery on the tune at times). Then there’s the title track which was another big hit for Elephant Man (produced by Di Genius) and I don’t think it’s nearly as old as the tune which I just mentioned (which also immediately precedes it on the album) so I’m not as moaningly tired of it, but I never liked this song. ‘Nuh Linga’ is definitely catchy and HEAVY in some aspects, but ‘Dance & Sweep’ is just too damn much for me (this coming from someone who LOVES ‘In Jamaica’) (don’t judge). And later we get ‘Dip Again’ which was very popular from a couple of years back. The song features Ding Dong and was over the WICKED Day Rave Riddim (Di Genius again), which is the best part of it to my opinion, but have a spin for yourself.


'Step Ova'

Also sticking out and commanding attention on ”Dance & Sweep” is the tune ‘Sweep’ which was another popular piece (although not on the levels of the three I just mentioned). This tune has the ultimate fortune of being backed by Scatta’s DOMINANT Self Defense Riddim (an update of his modern classic composition, the Martial Arts Riddim) and the rest of the track is decent as well (I LOVE that riddim, someone could’ve probably burped for four minutes on it and I would have still enjoyed it) (and by “someone“, of course I mean Ce‘Cile). Check the captivating ‘Swing’ which is easily one of my favourites here (producer you say??? Di Genius), featuring yet another dynamic riddim, underpinning yet another equally dynamic flow from Ele. I might hold this track on the album, above all others, who have something negative to say about the DJ’s SKILLS. I don’t know how you can question him on that end, say what you will about the zaniness, but his actual talent is above reproach to my opinion. The KNOCKING Smokin’ Riddim (who built it??? Di Genius again) tracks ‘Step Ova’, another very catchy tune and one which would have come well within the phase of me not paying a great deal of attention to Elephant Man’s output, but having heard this one before, I don’t recall it being this good.

“It no really matter if you drink or yuh sober
All who ah drink wi call, down to dem kids dem wid dem soda
Step ova dem
Stretch ova dem
Like seh you ah do yoga
Dance!
Lak di Greek dem wrapped in a sheet ah do toga
Stretch ova dem, run ova badmind lak a rova”

I also have to mention the CD closer ‘Let Me Be The Man’ which is clearly the changeup ton the album. The sterling City Life Riddim, a colourful REGGAE piece, is utilized by the song on which Ele finds himself making his case for a potentially very special lady. It does sound somewhat out of place here when you hear the vast majority of the other tracks, but it’s also BETTER than a great deal of them and it’s currently enjoying somewhat of a ’second wind’ as well.

And finally, while not BRAND new, the balance of the tunes on ”Dance & Sweep” are likely to be at least relatively fresh to your ears, regardless of how much of a fan you are (unless I really haven’t been paying any attention). These songs include a pair of songs produced by Truckback Records (hey Heather!) ‘Wine & Dip’ and ‘Shake It’. The former is something SERIOUS, particularly because it comes through across one of the finest ACTUAL Dancehall riddims of 2010, the twisting Tun Up Riddim (which features a pair of tracks from Soca lyrics king, Bunji Garlin and the always impressive Bramma which are ‘simply’ not to be missed). ‘Shake It’ on the other hand, while not as strong ostensibly, is almost impossible to get GLUED OUT OF YOUR HEAD. It also features a very unusual melody (I guess that’s what I can call it) and ‘typically atypical’ vibes from Ele. There’s also ‘Clear’ which sounds familiar but I don’t know that I’ve actually heard it before. The song is another combination, this time featuring Canadian Hip-Hopper, Kardinal Offishal who we run into on big Reggae/Dancehall albums about once or twice a year. It isn’t a highlight on the album for me personally with more of a LARGE Hip-Hop sound prevailing, but it isn’t horrible either. And if you buy the CD and only the CD of the album, you’ll be missing out on another combination which closes the digital set, ‘Life Of The Party’ which finds Bounty Killer stopping by once again, this time on the very well superhero-ish Dancehall EFX Riddim. This song isn’t as strong as the first link between these two in my opinion, but it isn’t bad either. Bounty Killer (surprisingly) tends to have pretty good tangible musical chemistry with just about everyone and Elephant Man would well fit into the top of his consistent collaborators and they’re to the point where they don’t even have to bring their absolute best to do well and this is an example of that.


'Wine & Dip'

Overall, should you take this one for what it is there should be no problems at all. ”Dance & Sweep!: The Adventures of The Energy God” is meant to entertain. Too many times I get albums and I read press releases which say shit like “the most anticipated Reggae album in a billion years” and things like that - This one doesn’t do that (actually it may have, let me check, no it doesn’t!) it speaks on bringing back the energy and the fun and it does just that. Also, as I speak about it almost everyday, credit should also be given for making an authentic Dancehall and Caribbean album with minimal Hip-Hop and Pop overtones which is so unfortunately rare these days - So all of that stuff . . . Well most of that stuff, mentioned in the intro is true. I’m happy to say that while not paying the greatest of mind to the goings on of Elephant Man, he’s still remained true to form. He may not be concerned with your ultimate goal in life or your state of well being at the time, he simply wants to make you have a good time when he’s involved and this time around, again, he’s managed to do just that without a hitch.

Rated: 3.25/5
VP Records
2011
CD + Digital

Elephant Man @ Myspace

5 comments:

  1. Dance Hall is coming back. Usher and JB are doing a track.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great article. Let them track Justin Bieber!
    -Respect.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Energy Energy Ele done it this time. Sell Off.

    ReplyDelete
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