Friday, February 25, 2011

'Ignition': A Review of The Peppa Riddim

I don’t think that I’ve been asking for too much, but you can never be too sure about these things. ATTENTION Dancehall producers - Can you please make Dancehall music? With as much music as I deal with, I can’t very confidently say that I find myself making no such requests from ANY other genre or subgenre. You’ll never hear me asking people like Flava and Sherkhan to stick to the Reggae because all of that other . . . stuff that they do just isn’t working too well for them. I don’t have to tell Soca maestros like Kernal Roberts and Da Mastamind to serve up more ‘jump up and wave’ riddims for Carnival and Joel Jaccoulet, DeeJaySlam and their peers will never get links from me begging for just a bit more actual Zouk if at all possible. It doesn’t happen anywhere else. In the Dancehall, however, things, as they always are and always have been, don’t necessarily revolve around a status of enacted common sense (or my own standard of it). They just seem to make shit up as it goes along. Dancehall has ALWAYS been more of a trendy and fashion following type of genre and while typically, whether good or bad, the trends are quite manageable and, at times, even enjoyable, this most recent one of taking the best Dancehall producers and having them make . . . Something which is not Dancehall, has given me particularly vicious pains in my nether regions. Despite the fact that you might not be able to tell because I pretty much review Reggae albums and riddims everyday (a current glance at my tag count reveals a Reggae to Dancehall ratio of 409:70) and these days when it isn’t Reggae it’s surely Soca - Dancehall is STILL my absolute favourite genre of music. When at its finest and in the hands and mouths of its finest talents, there simply isn’t a greater merging of words and riddim in the world. When not at its best, however, it turns into a genre which is essentially slow and mechanical and just fucked up Caribbean Hip-Hop and I’m not against the occasional changeup, or even certain producers who specialize in the changeups, but when you take the music, as nearly a whole, and lead it into that direction, well then we have a problem. And, of course, this isn’t brand new, this has been the current shift for the better part of the past year or so and I hate it. I really do.

Stephen 'Di Genius' McGregor

Thankfully there have been silver linings, however. Entities such as Ward 21 and others have made Dancehall music consistently (to the point where they don’t have to add ’again’ to a production, thus acknowledging that things had changed) and the biggest ship in that ocean has definitely been Stephen ’Di Genius’ McGregor. While I hadn’t paid much attention to what he was (always) up to in 2008-09, last year McGregor DEFINITELY jumped back up on my radars as he started, somewhat quietly, to create ACTUAL Dancehall riddims very consistently. What has he done? Well, late 2009 there was the under-recorded but superb Gunshow Riddim (the thing had like five or six songs on it and four of them were real winners). From that he reached 2010 with the electric Bad People Riddim and later the Catalog, both of which were two of my personal favourites from the year. McGregor would also push the Winnings and ChampionShip Riddims, respectively, in the last quarter of 2010 and while neither were outstanding to me, they were still LEGITIMATE Dancehall riddims as was what proved to be one of the biggest riddims of the year, the Smokin’, which McGregor licked for ZJ Chrome. ALL OF THEM were real hardcore Dancehall music and even if you didn’t like them all (and I didn’t), you have to appreciate one of the genre’s biggest names and brightest names eschewing the ways of this horrible kind of hybrid genre and serving up the music authentically and remaining as popular and as successful as he’s ever been (if not even more these days on the grandest of scales). And if you do appreciate that (and you do), then you’re likely to appreciate, even more, McGregor’s latest stroke of Genius (did you catch that?) - His brand new composition, The Peppa Riddim. The Gunshow, the Bad People and the Catalog were much HARDER sounding pieces and when people really began to take a notice of, from pieces like the Red Bull & Guinness and the Power Cut, the Ghetto Whiskey and the likes, those too were harder pieces which still had a ‘tunnel’ of melody which was DEVASTATING, but seemingly only accessible to the most talented of DJ’s. The Peppa isn’t like that, but it is DRIPPING in melody and accessibility. The riddim seems to occur on some very strangely intoxicating meeting ground of Ireland and Grenada as it seems to attempt to marry traditional Celtic music (and I’m confident that McGregor has already though of how this thing would sound with actual bagpipes playing on it) with a Jab Jab on the same riddim. And the foundation track, playing underneath it all, is KNOCKING it is a gorgeous example of what I refer to as the ‘Dancehall one-drop’ - This completely SMOOTH and almost ORGANIC vibes which just seems so damn RIGHT and has been increasingly absent in recent times. So, while I don’t want to laud the Peppa too greatly and sing its praises as if its either the greatest thing that I’ve ever heard or even the greatest thing that I’ve ever heard from McGregor, it couldn’t have come at a better time for me, personally and hopefully (but I doubt it), it can help to energize and set forth a brand new trend. McGregor, as I said, seems to be one of the very few producers of this music who can be looked upon to actually produce this music and the Peppa Riddim, with all of its strangeness (more on that in just a second), is another statement both to his commitment (whether he realizes it or not) to make strong Dancehall music and strong music, in general. Let’s have a listen!

The Peppa Riddim

Just as I don’t think it’s too much to ask Dancehall producers to build Dancehall riddims, I also don’t think it’s too much for them to do it in a way which is as accessible to fans as possible. If you listen to some of my favourite riddim albums (including my absolute favourite - The Diwali) what they tend to have in common is that they all have a riddim which has a few different versions of itself - It changes. When you do that you certainly give each song more individuality besides the artists and open things up more to fans who aren’t likely to enjoy the same riddim on twelve different tunes and that’s exactly what McGregor does throughout the Peppa Riddim. While the riddim is clearly out of the ordinary, McGregor doesn’t do anything too unexpected with the artist selection for it and, in fact, it’s Di Genius himself who gets things going here with ‘Bounce A Gyal’. I’ve never been REALLY impressed with McGregor as a vocalist (with a couple of exceptions), but I think he recognized that he had something in the Peppa which was nearly perfect for him and he, rather softly, strikes a delightful (and somewhat funny) tune here over a very SOFT mix of the riddim. Next we go from soft to hard as Elephant Man delivers the first of his pair of songs on the Peppa Riddim, ‘Look Gyal Hard’. While, as I’ll tell you shortly, I do favour his other tune more, this tune is also very strong. Anytime you can get something which is kind of odd and Dancehall-ish, you probably should call up Ele and I’ve seen and heard quite a few people openly wondering why he had two tracks on the Peppa, but to me there’s no mystery at all - He shines and maybe his brightest - On pieces exactly like this. And wrapping up the opening lot of tunes is, of course, Chino, with ‘Yeah Yeah’. Probably every fan that Chino has is a bigger fan of Chino’s than I am, but I do so enjoy giving credit where it is due and although I admittedly haven’t been paying the keenest of attention to his career, this is THE best I’ve heard Chino in quite some time.

'Nothing At All' by Agent Sasco

It’ll certainly come to the surprise of absolutely no one who reads me to any level of consistency when I say that my favourite song on the Peppa Riddim is ‘Nothing At All’ which comes from an artist who I feel is doing his own work to maintain HONEST Dancehall music, Agent Sasco.

“Not a rifle, nor shotgun, nor one-pop
Not a oil, not a board, a nuh hand clap
Ah bawl ‘one stop’ ah try mek mi van stop
Ah set, dem waan set mi up
Dem set di wrong trap
Put up yah hand dem if yu know seh di song shock
Then mek yuh finga lak a gun and buss a one shot
Nuff ah fire shot and wait fi si man drop
Dem swear is a bulletproof vest, but is a tank top”

SHIT! The man manages to inject some pretty deep and serious lyrics in a riddim which doesn’t exactly set itself up for such a thing and that should also come to no surprise because Assassin can do anything with the word - The man is truly at the top of his game and his game is Dancehall, thankfully. HUGE tune. My second favourite tune on the riddim is probably the previously alluded to second track from Ele, ‘No Weapon At All’. While this one has some pretty BIG aspirations in terms of its subjectry, I have to admit that I like it because . . . IT SOUNDS REALLY REALLY GOOD.

“Dem waan si yah shame
Pleasure dem ah look so dem no care bout ya pain
Neva waan si mi Mudda move outta di lane
And a si mi wicked an ah live pon mi name
Watch di hypocrite dem ah switch round di blame
Mon ah mek it look lak a Abel kill Cain
Nah tek no shortcut mi ah stay pon di main
Avoid dem, lef dem to shame
When yu si dem wid dem rifle ah tek dem aim
Mi seh

NO weapon at all can prosper against I
Weapon at all
As long as I know
Jah is with I
Dem caan conquer I
Weapon at all can conquer I”

Yes - The lyrics are MIGHTY! The flow is mighty, but that riddim behind it is ANGRY! And like I said in reviewing his latest offering, ”Dance & Sweep: The Adventures of The Energy God”, Ele, at anywhere near his best, is DAMAGINGLY talented - such is the case on this tune.

I also really like what ends up closing the Peppa Riddim album, ‘Crazy’, from one of the most underrated Dancehall singers today (probably of all time), Mr. Easy. The song is about someone getting locked up, only to have to his (crazy) woman at his house with what amounts to a replacement man in his place.

“Right now a three months left and mi time run out
Unno know seh a worries when di I come out
Gyal yah tink mi wouldn’t know, but mi find you out
Yeah mi know you have man inside mi house
But mi nah seh nuttin, mi ah hold di faith
Deh yah lockup an a hold it fi five year straight
First thing mi want as dem fly di gate -
Is a file and a lawn machete”

Easy shows off the DJ skills later in the tune for its greatest moments and hopefully his is a name which we see more and more of on McGregor’s offerings because this is excellent (he has been on others in the past such as the Tremor (alongside Assassin) and the Bee Hive, but as far as I know, it‘s been awhile).

'Nuh Trust People' by Bramma

Along with McGregor himself, Ele and Chino, the Peppa Riddim features the ‘usual suspects’ of Big Ship and all of them, to my ears, do pretty good. Laden is someone, to be perfectly honest, who I haven’t even made my mind up yet as to what I think about him and I’m hoping he has another big year in 2011. He’s well getting off to a great start with ‘Guh Deh Mi Gyal’ here which, like just about everything here, is damn catchy and he has a particularly hypnotic chorus. Then there’s Bramma who used to have no bigger a cheerleader than me and I’m also hoping he turns it up this year (if you haven’t listened to Bramma in the past, I’ll simply tell you that when he’s in his best form, ALREADY, he has very few peers in my opinion). His song on the Peppa, ‘Nuh Trust People’ (“when mi park mi car mi cover up mi license plate, step out look left, right and straight, cah wi nah trust people“), which was reportedly written about a near violent incident the DJ avoided at his own gate recently, is damn close to what I heard which first signaled to me that we potentially had something special in ‘Di Bomba’ and I’m looking forward to getting that excited again. And what would a new Genius riddim be without Mavado, who takes titling honours for the riddim with his extremely catchy tune, ‘Peppa’. With as ‘outgoing’ as this riddim is (and he gets a mix which sounds slightly more amplified than others) (piano in there also), Mavado takes an interesting road by, essentially, going at it straight on and doing nicely in the process. I should probably also mention in here a name which we can apparently look forward to seeing more aboard the Big Ship, Volcanik (cool name) (especially were he from Montserrat (or as my daughter says, Monster Rat), but he’s from Kingston). The up and comer comes in with the impressive ’Taking It Higher’ which takes yet another melodically sterling road through the Peppa, with a tune which seems like himself saying ‘hello’ to the world (“2/11 this year. Dem can’t run from it. Di Genius introducing - Big Ship Volcanik").

And lastly is a pair of veterans also no strangers around here, Frisco Kid and Singing Sweet with ‘You Set Di Trend’ and ‘Weh Dem A Do’, respectively. I love the chorus on both (as well as pretty much every other song on the riddim), but the latter is more gripping (although strictly form a sonic point-of-view, the former may be one of the best tunes on the riddim), has an excellent message and is simply one of the best songs to be found here.

'Wine Yuh Body' by Aidonia

I should mention the absence of a couple of things on the Peppa Riddim album also. The first is a tune ‘Wine Yuh Body’, by another Big Ship mainstay, Aidonia, which apparently arrived just a second too late (but you can get it as a digital single). The song is probably too x-rated, because it literally sacrifices its quality in displaying to you how dirty it is (somewhere, General Echo just found his new favourite tune). But it does have yet another interesting version of the Peppa which is very entertaining alone. And there is no clean riddim track for the Peppa on its album which is disappointing, but then again, McGregor seems to rather LOVE talking and singing on his instrumentals these days, so perhaps he considered ‘Bounce A Gyal’ to be it!

Overall, besides trying to tie this one to the main premise of this review, I would also like to REALLY support the situation with the Peppa Riddim just being really really FUN! Certainly not everything that comes through needs to carry a significant social or cultural message and while you will get some of that in here, I’m much more interested in this one sonically. Also, I can definitely say that I’ve heard better riddim albums and much better riddim albums, and more than a few, but I haven’t heard a great deal of them which are more fun to listen to than this one - It easily reminds me of Lenky’s work in his heyday on pieces such as the aforementioned Diwali and Masterpiece riddim albums - And I can’t think of anything Stephen McGregor might have done which strikes on that level either. So, I’m really hoping that it does well and, along with a few others, really gets us back to the point where our absolute best Dancehall producers are consistently putting out the best music in the world, where McGregor and company are Kings. Very nice.

Rated: 4.25/5
Di Genius Records

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