Friday, April 15, 2011

'A Little Closer': A Review of The Step By Step Riddim

Reggae music really does bring us closer together. Besides working in obvious terms - You reading this right now - and while continuously trying to fight the worldwide usage of truly awful clichés such as the one I just used in opening, we’re beginning to see more and more tangible pieces of evidence which suggests that this is completely true. First of all and most obvious would be the actual ‘circulation’ of our artists who, despite managing to spend their entire careers out of the most powerful of spotlights that music has to offer for the most part, still tend to appeal to fans across the globe and do so passionately. I’m always surprised when I hear that certain acts have large followings in some remote corner of the planet or have sold out a concert in some area of the world not known as being the most Reggae-centric. More still is someone like Hi-Kee, who we dealt with recently and who . . . Basically traveled the entire world in recording material for his debut album, ”Self Reliance” and actually found a new homebase of operations in the process, in Sicily of all places. And, of course, the Internet also helps the music bring the people together, serving as a most immediate highway of exchange, something which may not be as glaring in other genres where you can go to almost any store, anywhere in the world and be sure that they’ll have what you want. Most recently, I’ve also begun to notice another trend which has not only been providing us with a great deal of enjoyment over the past couple of years or so, but is one which has such potential that, should it continue, I can see it really overhauling the way Reggae, Dancehall and maybe even Soca music (when the rest of you people wake up!) is made. What we have are not only new labels sprouting up on an almost weekly basis, but they don’t just emerge and stay stagnant, they come in with horns blaring and drums beating - Showing the class of labels years and even decades older. And not only that but, some of these labels, it’s like they have some type of magic transportation device because the VERY first time you hear about them they’re recording such a vast variety of artists that, again, you’d think they were much older. In recent times we’ve seen a couple of US based imprints added to this group which is full of European members such as Itation Records and the boys at Philadub who are still relatively young labels with seemingly never ending and unlimited connections. And I guess that now we have to make room for another entrant in that lot as the way Rumble Rock Recordz has chosen to say ‘Hello’ simply cannot be overlooked.

Surely it’s by some grand coincidence that, at least partially, Rumble Rock Recordz shares a homebase with their neighbour Philadub as far as the American state of Pennsylvania and they also have a big root in Hawaii as well. Like Philadub and Itation and the Lustre Kings and a whole heap of American labels, they also share a view of Reggae as a global project and DAMN - is that reflected in the lineup which one will find on their brand new composition, the Step By Step Riddim. Typically what you’ll see, and especially with new(er) labels is that they’ll come through and maybe their initial projects will feature a great deal of local acts and maybe one or two heavy hitters but, as I said, we’ve seen this trend. Now, you’ll either see a label which seems to go COMPLETELY out of their way to voice such a wide group of big named artistes or (as is the case here and especially in the earlier material from Itation, and I’m going to actually put Necessary Mayhem from out of the UK in this mix as well) what they’ll do is to provide a healthy mix of locals and big names. I actually do prefer the latter to the former because, as you’ll see in just a moment, what it does is to begin to introduce new names on projects which will naturally grab attention because of the big names they do contain - So the masses will come looking for the x-amount of big names, but will leave with a few others to look forward to in the future. In this specific case, as I said, that’s what RRR has favoured to do in the case of the Step By Step Riddim. The last time I recall seeing ANYTHING remotely like what happens here, in terms of the roster of artists is back when the aforementioned Itation Records released the BIG Show Love Riddim. However, just scanning through it now, that release was even more decorated with bigger names as it featured people like Pressure, Lutan Fyah and Norris Man on its higher end and even Gyptian, which is an increasingly bigger name these days and those fans who came looking for their music may even have come looking, initially, for NiyoRah, Natty King, Ras Attitude and others, also on the riddim. The Step By Step??? No. There is REALLY only a single big name on this riddim and while people like you and me are familiar with more, I can confidently say that I have NEVER heard of quite a few of the vocalists here, but now that I do, going forward, some of them have made the type of impression on me, for the better, that I won’t be soon forget.

And the names that do appear on the riddim didn’t come for rubbish. The Step By Step Riddim is OUTSTANDING. It is BEAUTIFUL! You may not enjoy every tune on the riddim (and you probably won’t, there are nineteen of them), but if you are even the most casual of Roots Reggae fans of the modern era, I’m going to have a difficult time believing you don’t like this composition. It’s fairly straight forward with the highlight definitely being a wonderfully peppered in horn and while it doesn’t deviate much from center, the riddim proves to be a very ‘comfortable’ setting for nineteen different vocalists to offer up some of their very best vibes.

Riddim Mix pts. 1 & 2

As far as I can tell, this riddim has origins which date back a couple of years or so as I found an album of one of the artists containing one of the songs on this riddim and that album (more on that in a minute) was dated back to 2008. So apparently what happened here, was that the producer (a gentleman by the name of Jimmy Cui, I believe) (cool name) decided to take his riddim and build it out more and more and that’s exactly what he did - eighteen more times.

Because of the way the Step By Step Riddim’s album is situated, I thought that I’d go in reverse, for a change, in looking at the tunes as the second half features the lion’s share of names which are largely unfamiliar to me, although it does begin with a bang. Said “bang” is ‘Keep On Believing’ from one of the biggest names on the SbS Riddim, Zema. I don’t know a great deal about Zema, but she’s the type of ever-present figure in Reggae that, even if you don’t follow her, if you pass through enough, you kind of . . . Follow her anyway. Her inspirational tune is well impressive and probably one of the riddim’s finest and that’s to be expected from her. Next in we have the very interesting Zacheous Jackson (who I believe linked us when I was sick) with ‘Israelites Arise’. Before even dealing with his music, Jackson is fascinating because his album, ”The Truth Shall Be Told”, was also released via RRR late last year (it’s still relatively new) and while eventually I’ll have to go and check that out, his tune here isn’t on that album so this becomes my semi-official introduction to the artist (and it’s just like I said, you’d come here looking for someone else and be impressed by someone like Jackson and then discover that he has an album already). His tune is excellent. Jackson has a very curious style, somewhat reminiscent of someone like Horace Andy, and the spiritual tune speaks, building on Zema’s vibes indirectly, of perseverance and the Afrikan Diaspora and, as I’ve said in the past, I love tunes like that which are just INTELLIGENT and should we grab it up, you may here more about Jackson here in the coming weeks.

Okay! Now, with that being said, of the remaining seven vocal tracks on the second half of the SbS Riddim, I’ve absolutely never heard of six of the eight vocalists behind them and one of the familiar names, the eclectic and very RANDOM Faïanatur from out of France, is probably the most unusual on the entire set. His tune, ’A New Life’; while not one of my favourites here, is still a pretty decent tune and I think it’s probably still growing on me. And do keep an eye on his works as well because Faïanatur is always doing interesting works (like a new album these days, apparently, by the name of ”Touch“ which released just a few days ago). The colourful Faïanatur is joined by someone named Ryan Mystik who chimes in on ‘Guidance’. I don’t know who he is, but the Mystik’s tune is very good. The singer has an unusual voice but it’s one which doesn’t require any adjustment and while listening to it for the first time I can remember being inattentive, doing something else (probably writing something for you greedy people) (you know I love you!), and just kind of noticing that he was doing big things, so now I have an impetus to look for more from the singer. Ras Mikey? The name sounds familiar, but I don’t know who he is. His tune, ‘Keep The Faith’ is decent. It’s kind of cliché-ish , but Mikey has a very soulful delivery and, at least aesthetically and sonically, makes it a very appealing experience. ‘Love, Live & Forgive’ is a combination featuring the other name on the second half of the SbS Riddim that I know of, the globetrotting Mr. Mention and one which is new to me, Herbalist. I’m not going to say that I simply do not like Herbalist’s vibes, but I’d have to hear more of him to pass judgment. On this tune, he’s simply too harsh vocally (and maybe for the riddim in general) and it makes a bad pairing with Mention who, as usual, is impressive. Speaking of HARSH, it would also apply, in parts, to Rastar (who, obviously, isn't the label of the same name) and his tune 'Love Ova War', which isn't very bad despite the fact that it's more Rappy that I usually enjoy but, Rastar is pretty talented. Lil Ras gets the honour of having the title track of this riddim and although his track isn’t a highlight for me (Lil Ras is also a bit more on the Hip-Hop side, which just isn’t for me) I’d imagine that I’m in the minority there. The riddim’s final vocal track is from Ras Gabriel and he actually does get a mix of the riddim and when you hear what he does with the BIG ‘Zion Way’, you’ll know why.

“Going home
Zion Way
Zion Way
Going Home
Zion Way
Zion Way”

The tune features easily one of the strongest choruses on the riddim and it’s just an attention grabbing piece and thankfully it’s full of genuine substance as well and you then see exactly what can be done with this riddim in terms of changing it up and getting very electric in the process (and I think I hear a slightly more pronounced drumming as well).

The first half of Rumble Rock Recordz’ Step By Step Riddim features more of the bigger names and, still, it manages to mix in a few names which are new to me as well. Also, as you’ll read about in just a moment and as I alluded to previously, the level of “big” in regards to this project isn’t the same level of “big” in the entire genre (with one exception), which gives this a real ‘grassroots’ type of an appeal and, although it’s clearly incorrect, a less kind of planned out and more free-flowing type of scene and that’s also interesting when the big tunes roll in as well.

'What Will It Take' by Messenjah Selah

Getting us started on the first half is my favourite artist (currently) to be found on the riddim, who also has my favourite tune on the riddim. It’s the king of tags (look over there -> no single artist has more tags on this blog), Messenjah Selah, with the HUGE ‘What Will It Take’.

“What will it take
To turn your life around
Tell me what you’re going to do
When you hear the trumpet sound
Everything that YOU DO
It ah build you up or pull you down
Only in The Most High, Jah
You can be safe and sound

Sleepers, it’s time for you to wake up
Do you need another 9/11 or an earthquake fi shake up
Bigga judgment
What if you go to sleep tonight and tomorrow you don’t wake up
What a tragedy!
Then your soul would be lost
There would be no time to make up”

I’m tempted to roll out the entire first verse because it’s very powerful (do I dare reserve a single post for MORE lyrics from Selah??? I might) as the Messenjah forcefully declares that it’s now time for all evildoers to change their ways before it is too late (“you better choose JAH, before you lose JAH”).

The second tune is also probably my second favourite as the WICKED Arkaingelle turns up on the SbS Riddim with a most coincidentally titled tune. The Guyana born chanter had an album from a few years back, ”O’Pen”, which contained a song by the name of ‘Manifess Joy’ - One of the best songs I’ve ever heard. EVER. And now he brings to this riddim, ‘Time Manifest’ which, it goes without saying doesn’t reach those ridiculous levels, but is a mighty song on its own merits. It’s a real shame that we don’t hear more from Arkaingelle, but hopefully he’ll be looking at doing another album soon and it’ll contain more fine work like this track. ‘Wonderful World’ is a tune by easily the most recognizable artist on the SbS Riddim, Reggae star Anthony B. It isn’t his finest moment, it is pretty average and it almost kind of seems as if he’s going through the proverbial motions with not much passion at all which is a real shame. But, as the cover (which is excellent, by the way) might suggest, the heaviest stones DO sink to the bottom in this case.

'Jah Will Make A Way' by The Lambsbread

I made an earlier indirect reference to The Lambsbread who had an album a few years back, ”Rise”, which contained a tune by the name of ‘Jah Will Make A Way’, which has turned out to be their cut of the SbS Riddim. The Hawaiian based duo (a man and a woman) are pretty high on ‘things to do’ list and I always think to REALLY dig into their vibes, as they kind of just float outside of a stream of artists (which includes both Selah and Arkaingelle) who I do listen do and they are obviously solid and have a pretty strong and loyal fan base. Hopefully I can join it pretty soon because I’ve always been impressed by their output and this tune is no exception. Oshen is a similar case, although I’ve heard considerably less from the popular and most remote artist (he’s from Papua New Guinea). His tune, ’Freedom Fighter’ is another solid addition to this set and one which is gaining steam on my players - It’s very good. And also pay a nice bit of attention to the decent ‘Children Need Love’ which comes from Firestar (yes that Firestar) from I Wayne’s camp. It’s not anything special at all, but it’s an okay piece from another name who we wish would be far more active (and the song, lyrically, is quite nice, particularly later on). ‘Who Feels It Knows’ comes from an unknown to me, Ras Arcane who, although clearly talented, has such a . . . basic delivery that it’s almost strange. He literally appears to just talk on the riddim (what he’s saying, mind you, is pretty impressive) at times and while that sacrifices something in the way of melody, I do think that there’s real talent on his end and I hope to run into (ORGANICALLY (!), don’t start sending me Ras Arcane tunes tomorrow and asking me what I think, I have more than enough stuff to do!).

'Life' by Jus Goodie

While expect big names to do big work (and that is what happens here), it’s always nice to get nicely surprised by lesser known artists and, to my opinion, that happens three times on the first half of the SbS Riddim album. The first is on the song ‘Life’ by someone named Jus Goodie who is completely new to me. The curious voiced singer offers a superbly intoxicating track which speaks on the matter of antiviolence and does so in a big and sweeping manner, showing Jus Goodie (. . . Interesting name) to be a very accomplished lyricist as well and - Yeah, I’m a new fan. There’s also the explosive Lion Fiyah (who I have heard of) from out of Hawaii who brings forth the LARGE praising tune ‘Divinity Within’.

“King Selassie I divinity within
And nothing can compare to the joy Jah Jah bring
King Selassie I divinity within
Them always kill di prophet, but dem caan kill di King of Kings

Oh Jah please
Hear I plea
Although I know you must hear many
See dem belly fun, yet dem gwan like dem hungry
Jah fill I up, with your grace and mercy
Cause who Jah bless, no man can curse wi
I cup runneth over from Selassie I blessing
No power on earth can run come try test HIM
Jah live inna flesh
Rastafari ever-living”

Fiyah does a damage not to be missed on the tune (and my little Daughter, the quietest child in the world, seems to find it hilarious, the way he says “divinity”, so you know I love it as well). (and apparently the tune was also released as a digital single by RRR) And lastly is Black Prophet from out Ghana who taps a bit of Bob Marley on his strong effort, ‘Wicked Soul Driver’. You’ll forgive me because I’ve been listening to more than a small amount of Rebellion The Recaller and the two do sound alike to some extent and that’s saying something BIG if you know the Recaller’s music. Here we have just a forceful big tune and I really like how the riddim changes up and begins to POUND itself - Matching the Prophet when he pushes the intensity up on this SNARLING social commentary (“they buy my book without reading my contents!”). And you’ll also find a most useful and GORGEOUS clean version of the riddim - Here you’ll notice just how beautiful this thing is (it‘s good to write to) (take my word for it).

'Wicked Soul Driver' by Black Prophet

Overall, I will definitely say this with the condition that the Step By Step Riddim album (like almost every riddim album ever made) is ONLY going to appeal to hardcore fans of the genre - newer fans need not apply (and need not read reviews which are 3400+ words long) - and I don’t think you will, anyway. Rumble Rock Recordz really does a fine job in just assembling such a varied ‘cast’ for this one that you end up getting not only so many different sounds on the riddim, but so many different ideas from so many different walks of life and, with just a few exceptions, most of the tunes tend to escape this tired Reggae-formulaic method of building songs and it sounds pretty fresh which is what the riddim deserves. And if I haven’t stressed it enough (and I haven’t) the riddim is outstanding on its own and it is deserving of the biggest names the genre has to offer, but we’re kind of glad they didn’t take it in that route. So add Rumble Rock Recordz to your queue of labels worth listening to as they’ve now done their part in making the world just a little smaller and more comfortable through the power of excellent vibes. Well done.

Rated: 4.25/5
Rumble Rock Recordz

Rumble Rock Recordz

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