Friday, February 18, 2011

'Watch Ya Back!': A Review of The Backstabber Riddim Sampler by Various Artists

As is the case with just about anything in life, success definitely brings with it a more than a fair share of baggage. The horrible cliché applicable to such a situation is ’more money, more problems’, but for as ridiculous that it surely is, it is fitting in many ways. In athletics we tend to think of a player or an entire team having a great performance and when they prove unable to duplicate it in short order, they’ve become a disappointment or a fluke. Music’s equivalent to the fluke is the ‘one hit wonder’ which is essentially the same thing - An artist who has done something great one time and has proven themselves unable to scale similar heights ever again. That’s generally the business of a single artist, but as I do this thing more, I find that the pressure to achieve can come in some pretty strange ways. A couple of years back I can recall saying a similar thing about VI Reggae star, Pressure Busspipe who had seemingly built up a great deal of . . . Pressure on himself (by simply being wicked) doing the outstanding works with Don Corleon and his then new album at the time, ”Coming Back For You” was going to have to be something serious in order to keep the spotlight shining as brightly as it was - That wasn’t much of a problem for him as not only did he deliver, but he delivered on that album in a very similar style as the big big tune. And just last year, of course, we ran into the emerging case of I-Octane who had strung together more big singles than almost anyone in Reggae and the pressure builds for him, even now, to continue to keep that fine output up. Now, those are the cases for artists, today we’re going to look at a label which caught a HEAVY amount of attention in 2010 and are hoping to do the same for 2011. No! I’m not talking about Jah Solid Rock & Not Easy At All who, following a great year last year, are going to almost HAVE TO deliver such results again in order to keep people like me talking (and as far as I know, they intend to do that shortly with Earl 16). There was also Necessary Mayhem and, they’ve wasted absolutely no time in solidifying themselves as perhaps THE best UK Reggae label today and showing that their (entire) year was no fluke already in 2011. Still, based on the fact that they provided 2010 with what was, in my opinion, the best release of the year, perhaps no one in 2011 has more pressure on them to perform than Oneness Records.

Backstabber Riddim Mix

I’ll spare you a direct recap of what they did last year (No I won’t), but it would be an understatement to say that the German label had merely a “big” year in 2010. Of course the crowning jewel (told you) was the single best album of the year (and I don’t care how many messages we get saying otherwise) (biggup my readers), ”Long Journey” from The Great Naptali. That album, I have spoken about almost endlessly, but let’s just say that I’m sure it opened the door for Oneness with so many fans and made their name one to look forward to seeing in the future. The “future” would come fairly quickly as later in the year, the same label also release a very nice riddim album for the Soul Riddim (which had a cover which I’m just now realizing actually has the word "SOUL" on it) (I digress) and they just proved to be one of the best European based labels around. Besides delivering quality releases, surely Oneness Records experienced their most successful of years in 2010 which also saw their general popularity raise with people such as You and me. So! With all of that being said, the pressure is one and they now have to continue to deliver big in 2011 to maintain the talk and they didn’t waste much time because in January Oneness pushed its first release of the year, The Backstabber Riddim. Going back (quickly), Oneness also had a release, which may’ve been their very first to reach internationally, the very strong General Key, from a few years ago, so obviously they know exactly what they’re doing in this area and the Backstabber rather easily shows itself to not be the low exception amongst Oneness’ work to date (and there was also a Oneness Riddim). The riddim was constructed by the Next Generation Family, which I know almost nothing about, but are apparently they are also from out of Germany (Munich), and they’ve done an EXCELLENT job here. On first listen you almost get the feeling that the Backstabber is a remake of sorts, but as far as everything I’ve read and heard it is an original creation. The riddim has tons of old school tones and colours to it and I’m positive I’m not the only one thinking so - SO maybe we’ll be able to tell from Next Generation’s future releases if it’s ‘simply’ apart of their style. Regardless of its origins, however, the riddim itself is SUBLIME. It is a gorgeous and very FULL sounding track and, even before we get into the actual songs, it seems to be the type of vibes which transfer into not only a nice bag of good songs, but into a good running album as well. The songs? Not a problem either. Besides one very curious selection, we have some very strong entries from what, personally, has to be one of the best selections of artists that I’ve seen on a riddim in . . . a really long fucking time.

I have to mention that there is something very curious about the sonic ‘situation’ on this album. Whether you like the particular songs or not is another question, but what is unquestionable is just how GOOD this thing sounds. It sounds like every song is a live track - recorded in a studio with a live band - And while I don’t know for sure (that may have actually been the case), my very humble digital copy (196kbps) sounds as good as anything I can think of in recent memory on our really bad computer speakers, so whoever was in charge of putting this together and recording it - Very well done.

'Backstabba' by Jah Mason & Fyah T

As I said, Oneness Records taps the Next Generation Family to create their new release, the Backstabber Riddim, and while, as I said, I know next to nothing of the NGF, I do know that German Fyah T is a part of it (not to coincidentally, however, I don’t know a great deal of him either) and he gets things going on his own riddim on ‘Backstabba’ alongside the first big name here, Jah Mason.

“Di pagan dem disgusting and mi know seh dem tun bad
Mi nah stoop low to yah freak standard
One aim, one destiny, tell dem a one God
Cah tile mi nor defile mi, lak di people dem ah Baghdad
Well babylon ah raffle and ah play dem grab bag
There’s nothing to smile about
You no si di youth dem sad sad?
Some get caught and can’t escape, you know seh dem tag tag
Look who did ah boast and ah brag brag”

I identify one excellent stretch from the Mason, but this entire song is very good. Fyah T is an artist whose voice may ultimately be even too big for my tastes (he sounds like Jah Thunder at times, during Thunder’s most agitated of moods), but when you put him in this type of context and throw an equally fiery Mason alongside him you get what you have here - Near magic, on a very big tune. Charged with keeping the vibes high is none other than Turbulence and if he’s operating ANYWHERE NEAR his finest form, he’ll have no problem doing that. If he isn’t he’ll serve up one completely mediocre piece of love song. While not his best, ‘We Remain’ is no love song, which means that it at least has a chance at being pretty good and it is. The song is about self perseverance and determination (“wi remain, remain, because the earth is for the meek so tell di wicked fyah flames”) and it is a good tune. I speak so much about how Turbulence, in my opinion, fails to live up to his actual talent, but I well look forward to opportunities when he shows just how skilled he can be and ‘We Remain’ is such a display. Who’s next??? We have the aforementioned breakout star Naptali who just had to be on the next riddim from Oneness (he was also on both the Soul and General Key riddims, respectively) and his piece here, ‘Deceitful’, is an excellent one. Naptali really has a way of providing a very SIMPLE brand of intensity. If you listen to the vocals here, they sound so laid back immediately, but when you take the entire tune into an account, you wouldn’t think of it as being a very lax song and on top of that, his delivery is almost perfect to get across the particular message here (and it’s case it almost always is).

'Be Careful' by Jah Marnyah

After and including Naptali, I looked at the Backstabber Riddim’s selection of artists and I thought, as I alluded to, how wonderful it was. It almost seemed as if they’d asked me PERSONALLY who I wanted them to voice on the track and got as many of them that they possibly could. Going sequentially, the next of my favourites to reach the riddim is the always on-point Lutan Fyah who tells everyone to ‘Stop’ from doing their negative acts. For just about ANYONE else making this type of tune, I’d just go on and call it a full on lyrical winner, but for someone as decorated as Lutan Fyah with the spoken word, it’s almost a bit gimmicky (mind you, it’s a good gimmick in this case, I’m not criticizing here), but in typical Fyah form, he manages to make it work and does so on so many different levels. The next name here which I was delighted to see on board the Backstabber Riddim was the outstanding Jah Marnyah from out of Montserrat. I’ve made so many predictions on what Marnyah will become when his career hits the top flight and many more people begin to know his name and as long as he continues to drive up material such as his effort here, ‘Be Careful’, I’ll continue to feel justified in doing so.

“Cah afford to drop yah guard
Safeguard yourself from yourself from some frenemy outta street
Dem know how to reach yah wealth
Pretending to be your friend, set you fi a fall
Rise above the struggle, always stand tall
Think dem was yah true friend
Dem a false pretender
No goodness inna dem heart
Dem a bad vibes sender
Wi tell dem purge dem soul, but folly ting dem ah enter
Marcus I
Emmanuel I
Selassie I
Ah wi defender”


'Take Control' by Queen Omega

One of my absolute favourite artists, now and always, Trini Reggae queen, Queen Omega gives the Backstabber what is, in my opinion, its greatest moment (although I’m VERY partial) with the HUGE praising track, ‘Take Control’. Queen Omega can literally do ANYTHING on the mic and this big piece of tune rolls in with such a ‘deafening’ range of emotion that it sounds like more than one tune wrapped up into one as she lays it all down in the name of His Imperial Majesty!

“Cause in your eyes I am made perfect you don’t see my flaws
For in my sickness and discomfort Jah you, were the cure
So clean and righteous gentle humble Father, you’re so pure
And I will give up everything just to walk, through your door
To see you sitting HAILE with the Lion Paw
Is The Conquering Lion for sure

Take control of my soul
Cause when the enemies try to eat up my flesh
In The Most High God I will trust”

And finally, I was also very pleased to see big voiced classy singer Mark Wonder return to a Oneness riddim (he also was one both of the previous two and supplied the General Key with what was my choice as its finest tune, the SWEET ‘Soul Deep’) and he also draws a big tune to give thanks with ‘Devine Livity’. Mark Wonder has been FLAMING for quite some time now (maybe around two years actually), just offering top notch release after top notch release and if this tune is any indication (and it certainly is) the end is nowhere in sight.

Of the other two songs on the Backstabber Riddim, one is another title track, ‘Backstabbing’ , this one another combination - featuring another HUGE voice, traditional Gospel style singer Raymond Wright, alongside the venerable Prezident Brown. This is another big tune. I just LIKE hearing Wright sing and while I was never the biggest fan of the Prezident’s, his is a name which I more than just welcome on modern productions because he almost never disappoints. Da Brenner is a German vocalist who rhymes in German and you know how I feel about that, but his tune ‘Zuviel Vorgenommen’ (which means ‘Too Much Made’ according to our good friend Google) isn’t horrible from what I can tell. THANKFULLY, Oneness also provides a clean version of the riddim so you can try singing over it yourself at home. It is a very nice composition and I love when the labels realize exactly what they have and give the people an instrumental track on the albums.

'Backstabbing' by Prezident Brown & Raymond Wright

What’s wrong??? There’re only nine vocal tracks on the Backstabber Riddim. Fortunately just about all of them are very good (and they all check in at four minutes+), but a nice round #10 would have seemed so much better in my opinion and as I look down the roster I can’t help but wonder what Sara Lugo may’ve been doing that day (although I have recently seen the tracklist for her album (biggup Markus) which has EIGHT tracks which I’ve never heard, so maybe she did voice it) (you didn’t actually think I was going to get through an entire 2500 words+ review about Oneness and not mention her did you???).

Overall, thankfully what is present on the Backstabber Riddim is more than enough for me to sink my teeth into and I’m very happy altogether with what happened here. Oneness, as I mentioned, has an increasingly growing reputation for providing excellent riddim albums as now four deep into their catalog (that I know of), they now have three winners on their hands and had this one had just a couple of more tunes, it may’ve been their greatest work to date on a full album. There’s also the Next Generation Family who definitely gets a big credit here and whoever chose the artists really did something special by me and I won’t forget it in this case. Oneness Records jumped up on many radars in 2010 and while they ultimately may not be able to outdo themselves this year, they can damn sure give it a good try and the Backstabber Riddim is a big sign that they intend to do just that.

Rated: 4/5
Oneness Records

Oneness Records @ Myspace

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