Tuesday, March 15, 2011

'Ehhhh!': A Review of "Rasta Love" by Anthony B

I’ll admit it and do it with pride: I’m an arrogant Reggae music fan and I have no shame about it, none at all. I think it is the best genre of music that there is. It has the most talented artists, the smartest, the most creative and those who have the most to say. I think the music comes from the greatest of places (physically and from within the actual minds that produce it) and it comes from these great places with the greatest of intents. And, as I always say, within the next thirty years, I’m very confident that Reggae will have taken over the entire world. SO, with that being said, one of the most depressing things in the world in my opinion, in terms of Reggae music is mediocrity. As good as this music is and as bright as its minds are, it should always be the type of thing which elicits some type of grand emotion, for better or for worse. It should never really get to the point where the large-scale reaction is . . . ‘ehhh’. If I made you a list of my least favourite artists, you’d find it littered with the names of WHOLLY mediocre Dancehall performers of the past decade or so (because there is truly nothing worse, on earth, than average Dancehall. Bad Dancehall, in fact, is MUCH better than average Dancehall music). At the top of the list there’d be people like Alozade and Danny English and maybe Zumjay - All of these acts who just . . . Never really seemed to contribute very much to the music and had their entire careers basically come and go with little to REALLY offer the genre of substance, but they CLEARLY displayed at least some level of talent which would prevent them from being remembered with the Predators of the world (and, incidentally, Predator, although horrible, has had a better career than them all in my opinion). And it would be one thing if they never really got an opportunity to shine, but all of them did and some of them (unfortunately) will continue to. Similarly, when you deal with albums, I’m far more likely to recall my disdain of a project which I found to be completely nondescript from an artist who was anything but, than one which was completely awful from anyone. To me, with these big talents that we have (especially in this case), there’s just no excuse for something like that - But it does happen from time to time. Apparently now is that time.

"Life Over Death"

At his best, Anthony B should be regarded as simply one of the most talented Roots Reggae artists of all-time. No question about it. He should also be looked at as one of the most consistent, more consistent, actually, than either of his very celebrated peers, Sizzla Kalonji and Capleton and while he has turned in duds of albums in the past (see ”Untouchable”) (not too closely though), it’s always a little more distressing when he does so than do some of his peers. And it’s even more so when there is a matter of anticipation at play, also. Enter "Rasta Love”. Anthony B’s finally released brand new album has been two years in the making as, originally, it was anticipated to come from VP Records, who had released his last album, ”Rise Up" (on Greensleeves) in 2009. It then basically faded away for all of 2010, only to be picked back up and charged out in early 2011. The first signal that maybe something was wrong here was that the album is probably the LEAST promoted from a big named artist that I’ve seen in . . . seven thousand years - In a really long time. Comparatively, when you look at the album’s literal predecessor, ”Life Over Death”, an outstanding album (one of Anthony B’s finest) which was released on the same Born Fire Music (Anthony B’s own label) which handles ”Rasta Love”, was extremely well promoted. You knew everything about that album (which, I believe was originally only available on his website before exploding to the masses) before it reached and with good reason - It was loaded with hits and potential hits. Meanwhile, we happened to find that ”Rasta Love” (which I wasn’t even anticipating at that point) had reached not by way of press release or word of mouth - But by seeing it on a retail site. DAMN! That’s unfortunate because from ever since I first mentioned that it had, in fact, been released, the response has been EXCELLENT and immediate. I do always refer to the chanter as ‘underrated’ and ‘underappreciated’, but that’s only true in comparison to others. When compared to the entire genre, Anthony B, in terms of popularity is one of the most popular and active names that we have. Putting his name next to others such as Junior Kelly or Jah Mason or Lutan Fyah and I’d say that, across the globe, he’s much more popular and he’s been a BIG name for a long time. Also, while I may not pay attention to his every move (although he did drop one of my current favourite tunes, the destructive ‘Dem Can’t Stop We’, for Subatomic Sound), I do still consider Anthony B to be one of my favourite current artists and, to me, when he does a project (and particularly one which he clearly believes in enough to do on his own label), it is a VERY big deal and as the reaction that I mentioned identifies, I’m surely not the only one who feels that way (which made it all the more distressing that the only even semi-official press I could find on the album for weeks was the mention I gave it on a ‘coming soon’ post and a news story I filed for United Reggae). After listening to the album, I can’t find any direct correlation between why this one would seemingly follow this very very lonely and quiet course to being released, in fact, I can find reasons why it should be one of the most discussed Anthony B albums, ostensibly (not actually, because it isn’t very good ultimately, but on the surface), to date. With all the big names joining him on ”Rasta Love”, you’d think he’d be quick to get the word out, but as you travel through the album it proves that it isn’t actually worthy of such hype and it’s just . . . kind of there.

I do want to revisit my premise of this review and do so by establishing that, in no way, is this album really a BAD one. It is almost completely average and while it has its fair share of good moments and standouts, when you take it in, as a whole, it’s not very good and it’s not very bad, it’s just unexceptional and when I first laid eyes on the tracklist, I did have the feeling that something wasn’t too right with this one.

'Love Is The Answer'

You won’t, however, find my less than stellar feelings going into Anthony B’s brand new album, ”Rasta Love”, confirmed on its opening selection which also happens to be one of its finest, ‘Coming In Hot’. Of course, the tune is a remake of the original Peter Tosh tune and the legendary Red X’s original vocals are still on the track, bring even more fire to this tune. Redoing Peter Tosh’s music, these days, is very popular and although this song was pretty popular, I think most people may’ve lost a hold of it, so hopefully this redo of it can bring it a much welcomed new shine, because it is most deserving. Next in is another familiar track and a pretty good one also, ’Love Is The Answer’, which features Anthony B across the same My Life Riddim which I-Octane laid to ruins with its title track.

“Peer love wi ah promote pon wi cornah
Don’t watch di dark glass and di bandana
Youth no waan be no lawyer nor farmah
They waan be Mr. Brooks and Mr. Palmer”

The song is one of the most impressive on the album, but it isn’t a special tune and those distinctions, in the case of albums from Anthony B, should run hand-in-hand. The same could very well be said for the next tune in ’No One Knows Tomorrow’ [aka ’Good Life’]. It’s a very nice sounding tune (on the crystal clear Legal Riddim from Renaissance) and one of the best here, but on a GOOD album from the chanter, it’s the kind of tune which is kind of in the middle of the pack and not one of the standouts and unfortunately the balance of the album which follows it, pushes a decent song like ‘No One Knows Tomorrow’ to the head of the class.

'Same Cry' featuring George Nooks

Most of the early response from people who have commented on ”Rasta Love” deals with the notion that the album seems to be somewhat of a ‘mainstream attempt’ by Anthony B and that’s the problem with it. I don’t actually follow along with that. My large reaction after spinning through it isn’t that it should have been more Reggae-centric (and you know that I do tend to focus on such things) - My main reaction is that it should have been BETTER - regardless of what it is. However, there’re certainly some other genre types of songs involved and they are, at least in part, the worst moments on the album. None reach lower than the paralyzing ‘Time To Have Fun’. This kind of Euro-poppish . . . Thing . . . whatever it is, it’s awful for people like you and me and whoever is likely to enjoy aren’t likely to be picking up an album named ”Rasta Love” (yes, I did just generalize there, but you know I’m right). There’s also the Hip-Hop infused ‘Mount Zion’, which happens to feature Ky-Mani Marley (probably could’ve mentioned that in selling the album) and rapper Jah Hill. This song isn’t bad and I actually like the riddim, but it’s nothing special (incidentally, should you want to hear Anthony B and Marley in a really good combination, dig up the remix of ‘Valley of Decision’) although you would imagine it would be promoted as such - It hasn’t been. And there’s also ‘Same Cry’ on the Stonehenge Riddim from Jamplified. This song features big singer George Nooks and is kind of funky and groovy, maybe R&B-ish, but I actually like this one. It’s been on the radar for a minute now and I have no problems with it at all. And I should also mention, in reference to genre-bending, the closer and ‘Bonus Track‘, the Folky ‘Something Inside So Strong’ which is horrible (as is the Outro which precedes it).

'Sweet Jamaica'

And that’s it to me. The rest of ”Rasta Love”, while not scintillating, is mostly Reggae and Dancehall music. To my ears the album pinnacles at the previous single, ‘Sweet Jamaica’. The Lazeme produced tune was done in response to the vicious violence which plagued Kingston streets last year and it struck a chord with me as being some of the finest work from Anthony B in recent times and these days, while not quite as high on it as I used to be, it is still a powerful tune.

“Mi love fi si a downtown youth go a uptown party
Drive pretty care and ah model wid shorty
This is di way fi live di good life mi start it
No time fi ah sport glock 40
Seet, over one argument you shot your neighbour down
You shoulda show yah neighbour love, you show your neighbour gun
Call pon Selassie I, di days are done
Mi no love it, how di place ah run”

I also found tunes such as ‘White Collar Criminal’ and ‘Blame It On Yourself’ to be pretty good as well. Neither are exactly what I would call BIG tunes (although the latter is pretty damn close), but they rank highly on this album as does ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’ in my opinion. With that riddim it’s pretty hard to disappoint and Anthony B doesn’t make his a tune which goes around that fact. ‘Crazy Life’ is a tune which I think I used to REALLY like and although it’s also clearly lost some of its lustre, it’s still a pretty nice effort, but not a dominant song.

'Never Wanna Lose You' featuring Gyptian

The balance of the ”Rasta Love” album ranks somewhere between strange and just not so good. Despite its ridiculously sappy title, ‘My Yes & My No’ isn’t terrible and the chorus of the love song is even pretty good and one of the best on the album. The somewhat over-jovial ‘Never Wanna Lose You’ which features an auto-tuned Gyptian has a dynamic sonic appeal which cannot be overlooked (it sounds like a hyped up version of ‘No Woman, No Cry‘). The song itself isn’t very good, but again, it’s of the head-rocking variety, so it’ll pass easily. The album’s obligatory herbalist tune, ‘Ganja Blaze’, is a clichéd and very average tune across the clichéd and very average Casino Riddim from a couple of years back or so. That riddim was actually built by Stephen McGregor (I THINK) who also (I KNOW) licked the WICKED New Chapter Riddim which backs (Etana’s MASSIVE ‘Who Gave You The Right) ‘I’m Sorry’. This is another decent song which is precisely what you think it is going into it. I really think that, with this one in particular, Anthony B could have done more with it because that riddim is truly excellent. And lastly there’s a pretty lame love song by the name of ‘Head Over Heels’. This song has a nice sonic appeal to it, but offers no ‘body’ at all. It’s just all smoke and mirrors really and while such a song is entirely harmless and even dismissible on a good album - On an album which has more such songs than it needs and is LOW with really big numbers, even more slightly below average tunes like such are just frustrating, but do dominate numerically speaking on this album, most unfortunately.

Overall, I think that I summed this one up fairly well even before I got into the music: It isn’t anything special - Special bad or special good and like I said, I hate mediocrity. Anthony B does show occasional flashes of his deafening brilliance at times during the album which makes it even more frustrating and I’m trying to go back and place myself staring at this one as a new fan and while I may be impressed to a degree, when you know what else exists, again, you’re left feeling very frustrated. Anthony B is just better than this utterly nondescript album with its utterly nondescript press and it’s just here. So, while ”Rasta Love” isn’t his worst release to date, we should expect much much better for one of the best practitioners of THE best music in the world than just a stringing together of unfortunately mediocre moments.

Rated: 2.5/5
Born Fire Music
Anthony B
Anthony B @ Myspace


  1. I actually enjoyed this album quite a bit. Couldn't agree more that Time to Have Fun is by far the worst song on the album and Sweet Jamaica is one of the best - but I also thoroughly enjoyed many of the other filler songs. Lots of love related songs here which show me that Anthony B is maturing as an artist and as a person. I happened to see him live a few weeks ago and all these songs translated very well to a live crowd. Plus, this is the first Anthony B album my girlfriend has expressed genuine interest in, so since I can play this whenever I want without a complaint, I am a happy man.

  2. RASTA LOVE I agree that the album is a poor "mainstream attempt" No wonder VP records turned it down and doesn't even support the combination with Gyptian. Does everyone in reggae/dancehall music think they have to crossover? In California we support reggae music - give your fans reggae music Anthony B and please don't play "Time To Have Fun" at Sierra Nevada this summer.

  3. Just wanted to say much love to the Rasta community. Much Love and Unity.