Tuesday, April 12, 2011

'In A Royal State of Mind': A Review of "To Your Majesty" by Danny I

If we go through and look at all of the various different genres of music, I think there is a certain type of quality which prevails when dealing with a particular form when done on its highest levels. Be it coming through the music, itself, or the performer or whatever medium may ultimately grab it, there is just something which takes that art form and makes it unique to any other. If we look at a few different types we definitely see that. In Hip-Hop (and I’m no expert), you often hear the greatest artists separating themselves based on what? Skill. In that intensely followed and even more intensely scrutinized genre of music, the actual talent level is generally what seems to catch the attention of the hardcore fans. The same, in more ‘usual’ eras, can be said about Dancehall, although in the current state of the music it seems as if hype and controversy has slain any type of perceptible skill levels for the most part and ‘hardcore’ fans of Dancehall . . . Well, there’s about twelve of us left these days. Soca is, of course, a bit of a wildcard on this (as it is on everything else) but, it’s a rare and very direct combination of skill and hype - Where creating and continuing to generate a furious level of hype is part of the actual skill of the artist - Which seems to resonate greatest with fans who are educated in the genre. If we’re going to talk about Roots Reggae (and we are) what we tend to have which goes to distinguish the great music from the not-so-great is when a particular performer can exude a sense of CLASS. Certainly, that’s going to mean different things to different listeners, but what tends to unite them all is seeing and hearing their own sense of this class exuded in the vibes. Roots Reggae, at its greatest, can be an overwhelmingly humbling type of vibes where it can create and solidify this type of sound which, curiously like Soca (and that’s the last time I’ll make that connection) (< lie), sounds BIGGER than anything else and maybe even bigger than the listener had ‘signed up’ for. In Soca (told you it was a lie), this is “hype” it’s a “frenzy” or some other type of chaotic descriptor. In Roots Reggae? For me, because of the messages which often are behind the vibes, I refer to this as being a ROYAL sound - One which is created for The King and in HIS honour. And we can think of a group of artists who make that type of a sound. Today it is people like Tarrus Riley and Duane Stephenson who do it and get most of the shine. There’re others still such as Ras Shiloh and Bushman who may not get as much attention for it but, they also make this ultra refined type of music which sounds as if it is ALWAYS hailing the coming of royalty. But that’s one type of sound. Danny I does something a little different.


In general, the sound of Reggae from out of the Virgin Islands is a sound which comes through as less ‘sleek’ and more organic (and that’s not to say that I don’t like “sleek”, clearly I do) (and it’s also not to say that VI Reggae can’t have that quality - Just listen to Pressure’s last album) and the very talented singing chanter, Danny I, brings more of a natural sound which even sticks out amongst his own peers. Oh - And his music is absolutely gorgeous and, at least for me, powerfully emblematic of royal vibes from the VI. Curiously, however, the singer doesn’t seem to get the same type of recognition as some of his better known peers, but for people who are so fortunate to know his name and really appreciate his vibes, all of us know what type of upful and upstanding type of sounds he focuses on. These days, a great deal of Danny I’s attention is probably geared on his brand new album, ”To Your Majesty”, his third in total and his second for the biggest Reggae label in the VI, I Grade Records. The label comes off a most interesting and successful 2010 in which it released what were, in my opinion, two of the ten best albums of the year - ”Black Gold”, the outstanding album of Soul Roots singer and potential star, Toussaint which was a pretty nice surprise and there was also the golden ”Feel Your Presence” from the ultra familiar NiyoRah (the surprise there, on the other hand, came in the fact that Niyo had recorded the album in Jamaica and for his own imprint, Denkenesh). Looking back, and hopefully ahead, both of those projects were promoted exceptionally well, particularly in the online community and the same could be said for the label’s 2009 release, the truly MAMMOTH ”Joyful Noise” compilation (more on that later). Furthermore, we can trace I Grade’s history back a few years and see similar level of commitment on other projects as well. My point is that I HOPE that Danny I is afforded the same level of rotation because if he is, ”To Your Majesty” can be an absolute GIFT to the Reggae listening world, especially for the many people who aren’t familiar with him. His last album, 2007’s ”Unchangeable” was very strong and his most well known release to date and I must mention that Danny I will forever have a special place on my players and I’ll always look forward to making room for his new output because his first album, the virtually invisible ”Jah Fury” featured a tune by the name of ‘Lion As A Ruler’ which is a song of ANCIENT royal bloodlines and simply one of the finest I’ve ever heard from anyone, anywhere, ever. And while I’m certainly not going into the new album expecting a song of that magnitude, what I am expecting is a seriously high level of craft and perhaps a few familiar sounds as well. The album’s production comes courtesy of the Zion I Kings collective which features Laurent ‘Tippy I’ Alfred (who helms I Grade) along with the always welcomed Lustre Kings Productions as well as Zion High Production. Together, with perhaps not as much fanfare as is warranted, the labels have been placing really excellent vibes out for the masses over the past few years or so and, by its end, ”To Your Majesty” proves itself capable of ranking favourably alongside even the best of their efforts.

I would, rather comfortably, place myself out on the proverbial limb and say that, in the four years (almost exactly to the day) from the release of ”Unchangeable”, Danny I has spent a great deal of time writing. The fact that I’m even kind of tempted to call this album a significant lyrical improvement over its predecessors (which would be saying a great deal) is a testament to just how strong it is as the St. Croix native has always been very razor-sharp with the pen. The ink on ”To Your Majesty” gets flowing with the album’s title track.

“If I had to put in words -
Jah, what I feel for You
There wouldn’t be nuff pages
For me to tell dem all di truth
There have been obstacles in life
Like pain and misery
Though I slip and I may stumble
They’re not able to stop me

To Your Majesty
And your glory endureth for-iver
You’ve been there for me
You dun mek I the ultimate survivor”

Did I go and base the foundation of this review of someone making ROYAL music? Music fit for hailing the coming of The Almighty? I did, and I did so, largely, in reference to this STUNNING praising track (“everything that liveth better hail”) which is my favourite tune on the album named after it, but not by so much. That is the case because you still have stellar tunes such as ‘Leave Your Load’ which is in next and comes through over a very familiar set (the same riddim backs ‘Conquering Cocaine’ from the previously mentioned Toussaint) and it is another excellent vibes. I failed to mention in regard to the opener that Danny I’s voice, which is usually almost ‘over-calm’ has more passion and fire in it than it typically does and this tune here, while it is voiced in more of a steady form, definitely has a message which is more immediate and emotional as the singer tells the masses to not delay AT ALL (!) and head to Zion - and live a more upful and righteous way of life. And the song is also one of the best, lyrically on the whole of the album and is not to be missed. And speaking of tunes which you’d be wise not to overlook - Check the SWEET and somewhat surprising ‘My Island Home’. The song is exactly what you would think it would be from its title, with Danny I just saying a big THANK YOU to his homeland on this lovely track which I would imagine would sound lovely in a live session and I do love how the final forty seconds or so of the song is straight (BIG) instrumentals.

”To Your Majesty” features three combination tunes which are going to grab a great deal of attention on the album (they always do) and for three very distinct reasons. ‘Never Lay Down’ is the most high profile of the trio as it features Army who . . . Yeah, it’s about time he brought us a new album as well. Army is rather strange because although he isn’t so well known in terms of 'mainstream' Reggae, pretty much anyone who knows of his music will attest to his truly impressive talent level and I find that he, quietly, has attained a very loyal and passionate group of fans who’ll definitely tune in to this album and be happy to see him present. Also interesting about this tune is the fact that both of these singers sound a great deal alike one another (and used to sing together in a band), are good friends and have a clear level of chemistry on this tune which espouses all to hold firm and never give in. Although many may not be too familiar with Dushane, myself included, his appearance on ‘Pure Lovers Rock’ may prove to be a pretty big deal because the tune is sublime and one of the most sonically pleasing tracks here as it just happens to feature the same riddim which backed Toussaint’s big hit ‘Be You’. I’m surprised they didn’t just retire the piece after that but, judging by the quality of this song, it was a good idea that they didn’t. And finally there’s ‘Sometimish Rastaman’ which just happens to feature an artist who just may be one of the most talented on the scene altogether - if he ever begins to actively put out more material - Sabbattical Ahdah.

“I don’t wanna be
I don’t wanna be
I don’t wanna be
No Sometimish Rastaman
No Sometimish Rastaman
You don’t wanna be
You don’t wanna be
You don’t wanna be
No sometimish Rastaman
No sometimish Rastaman

Humbleness is the beginning to everything that is known
To all knowledge
Humbleness is the beginning to wisdom and overstanding
Of Selassie I
Selassie say:

Man shall inherit the Kingdom of Jah
But seek I and everything shall come after
I shall guide you to the tree of life
But seek I first”

Anyone who is really familiar with these two know the potential of such a track and I’ll go ahead and confirm it for - It’s everything you hope it is!

Some of the solo tracks on the album, just like any other, are destined to go disregarded and that’s a real shame because, without exception, every song on ”To Your Majesty” is at least good and most are even better than that. And after having listened to these tunes many times besides coming away with the notion that this is royalty in music, it’s also just really SMART! ‘Royal Line’ is a prime example of just how Danny I fuses ‘simple’ intelligence in song writing and building the messages behind his tunes because what he does there is to attempt to motivate and inspire the masses by showing that they (us) are descendents of royalty, we have a royal blood, so there is a need to behave in such a manner and never less. ‘On The Streets Again’ is a piece of social commentary and antiviolence and what I would tell you to do in this case is to focus not only on what is being said but also HOW it’s being said. The delivery, to my ears, is a part of the developing message, where Danny I place emphasis on certain things and calmly goes about displaying others in this very coyly complex track (and the song does play on the same riddim which backed ‘She Ask Me Say’ from Achis Reggae favourite, Messenjah Selah). ‘Nuh Hard Fi Do’ is another HEALTHY musical journey and much like ‘On The Streets Again’, I’d suggest to pay special attention to how that tune is done. I think what I’m referring to Danny I doing well is ‘MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT’ . . . Or whatever the hell it is, he’s very good at it and on this album it really opens another dimension to his music. And perhaps this is a fine time to mention ‘Tu Confusion’, a song which is voiced in Spanish. I’m pretty sure the singer’s own bloodlines would lead us to Puerto Rico and such a tune is the album’s changeup, but I like that it exists ("Unchangeable" did have 'Recuerdo De Ayer'). My own Spanish, unfortunately, is at the level where I read and write it FAR better than I comprehend it spoken, but I do look forward to reading the lyrics someday and it’s also worth mentioning that the tune is one Dean Pond’s increasingly popular Pura Vida Riddim.

'Over Red and Blue' & 'Tu Confusion' previews

And in the final four selections of the album, we have two (and maybe three tunes) which are just wonderful for people like me who like to really tune in on things. Both ‘Over Red & Blue’ and ‘All Skin’ are just PACKED full of decipherable lyrically imagery that they’re the type of songs which make me go for the spare notebook to write down thoughts on for later. And it should be said that the latter of the two is a special track and easily one of the album’s best. Curiously ‘We Want Reparations’ which was featured on "Joyful Noise” and was a big combination with the aforementioned NiyoRah and Batch alongside Danny I isn’t on the album (best case scenario: Someone is saving it for a Batch album they’re doing), but Danny’s solo track, the very strong sufferer’s anthem, ’Hold On’, is here. I haven’t spun this one in a minute and it sounds just as nice today as it ever has on that beautiful Harvest Riddim. Although ”To Your Majesty“ does end in somewhat of an expected way, with the stringy beautiful riddim, just as ”Black Gold” did, this song is VERY GOOD. ‘Hailing Tafari’ is just powerful. I usually don’t like these tracks, but he so effortlessly makes it work by not getting too complex, but complex enough to force thought on the part of the listener.

“If I could talk to the sea
If I could tell her -
That when I see her
Splash against the rocks, that I feel this way too

If I could talk to the moon
And tell her -
When I see her go through her changes
That I feel this way too

If I could talk to the stars
If I could join them -
The things I’d tell them
Like when I see them shine
I wanna shine too
I wanna shine too!

Because they’re always on my mind
Hailing Tafari
Always on my mind
Hailing Tafari”

I think this song could probably be interpreted in a variety of different ways, but for me what happens to it is that Danny is trying to not only show his commitment to The Almighty is as great as these celestial things but that they, too, are in awe of the might of His Imperial Majesty. Regardless of if I’m wrong or right on that, however, the song is nearly perfect cap to an altogether wonderful project.

Overall, obviously I’m recommending that you pick up ”To Your Majesty”, but I’m doing it with a slight condition: You probably don’t want any part of this album if you’re a new fan to the genre. Danny I, in general, is someone on the heavier end of the generally HEAVY subgenre of Virgin Islands Reggae and I don’t know that it translates well to first timers and that’s usually the case with his music. HOWEVER, if you are a fan and have been one for years then the only thing I can think of keeping you away from this one is if you don’t know that it exists (and after reading ~3000 words worth of a review, you just don't have access to that excuse anymore). Danny I makes a type of music which, at its best, is just so pleasing in so many ways and that’s on full display here. The album is very strong; arguably his best to date and some might say that it’s even fit for a King. Well done.

Rated: 4.35/5
I Grade Records/Zojak Worldwide
CD [I THINK] + Digital

Danny I @ Facebook

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