Tuesday, April 19, 2011

'A Stiff Jab': A Review of The Massanto Riddim

Were you to simply look at things from more of a global and ‘mainstream’ point of view you might not come away with a similar thought but, in my opinion, the last few years have been very good for the exposure of Soca music. Despite the lack of a presence of an ‘outer-national’ reaching face such as a Kevin Lyttle or a Rupee in recent years, the music has seem to collectively take a step forward in securing its rightful place as one THE main musical attractions the Caribbean has to offer. Not only that, but I’m fairly confident that we are currently enjoying some type of ‘golden era’ in the music, with many of the greatest champions in the history of the still very young genre being full in the middle of their respective primes. If were to get into more specifics, you’d notice that clearly this energizing of this, the most energetic of musical art forms, has sweepingly affected more than just the music’s traditional home, Trinidad. At home, however, things are as great as ever with artists such as Machel Montano, Destra, Bunji Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons arguably being either directly in or very near their prime years of efficacy. These are names to which all of forthcoming Soca history will be compared - No doubt about it. We can look in other directions as well and see similar levels of fruitfulness in the music. How long will we go on before a young, dynamic and wordy up and comer from out of St. Vincy (male or female actually) WON’T be compared to Skinny Fabulous? The fireball who may not have even reached his best years as of yet has already established himself, outwardly, as THE name of Soca music from out of the region and he’s currently making LARGE strides elsewhere as well and is one of the most recognizable and respected Soca names from outside of Trinidad. The same thing can be said of Ricky T in St. Lucia, although competition has now arrived, and in Barbados, things go without saying with Alison Hinds, Edwin Yearwood and the likes still producing potently popular vibes. Everywhere! Antigua, Guyana, Dominica, the BVI (hey Jalena!) - Soca music has been well firm over the past couple of years or so. But it isn’t just Soca music, in the broadest sense of the word. Different aspects of the music and ‘subgenres’ have also been on rises and perhaps none so much as the ridiculous rise of Grenada’s infectious Jab Jab.

'She Want More' by Romain Virgo

The source of the reinstatement of the Jab Jab on the outward level (in Grenada they remain, CONSTANTLY, jabbing the hell out of one another each and every year) can likely be traced to the doors of Island Traffic Entertainment who, in 2009 instituted and orchestrated the ’era’ of the Gutter Riddim which took over the entire Soca listening world from head to toe. That riddim birthed several hits and even birthed remixed hits (check ‘Weed’ by Vybz Kartel) and was just a dominant piece. And just this year, one could make the argument that a Jab Jab gave a second wind to the career of Trinidad Soca legend, Iwer George (coming from someone who isn’t a fan of Iwer’s I admit), following a couple of seasons or so of less than stellar output (again, not an Iwer fan and I had personally written him off prior to this year). His song, ’Come To Meh’ was definitely one of the biggest hits of Trinidad Carnival 2011, I know many people much smarter than I am who thought that it was THE single biggest shot of the year and it would net George a second place finish at Soca Monarch which so many people thought should have been a full on victory. The song, lyrically, somewhat addressed the popularity of the vibes and once again brought the Jab Jab to center stage. Also, there were others Jab Jab hits at Trinidad Carnival this year. The international representative of the music, Tallpree (more on him later), checked in with ‘Lighters’ (which I think I’m starting to like more and more these days for some reason) which did pretty well also. And I do feel inclined to mention that, in 2010, there was a MIGHTY piece of riddim called the Jab Jab Chant which was pretty big regionally and found its way on just about EVERY Soca mixtape I ever got from Grenada (and still does). I mention that riddim because it had a tune by the name of ’Never Tell Her’ from Boyzie which has joined me on my morning workouts for the better part of a year.

So, perhaps with this entire sudden explosion of recognition of the musical Jab Jab, Island Traffic Entertainment, quite randomly, has chosen to digitally push their own 2010 effort, the Massanto Riddim. In 2009, the label did the same with the aforementioned Gutter Riddim (which was released twice digitally and also on CD) (told you it was big deal) and for ”No Control: Spice Mas 2K9 Soca Hits”, which was a general mixed riddim set from Grenada Carnival 2009. In my opinion, both of these were very good things as the digital shelves certainly aren’t packed with Soca in general and are damn near NUDE of Grenada Soca and particularly CURRENT Grenada Soca. In the case of the Massanto, while not reaching the levels of the Gutter, one could make a strong case that it’s just as good as or even better than its older ‘sibling’. The riddim also seemed to focus more and more on up and comers, some surprises and Grenadian talents. So, although it did lack in the top names such as Garlin, Lyons, Skinny Fabulous and Problem Child, who all took on the Gutter, the Massanto carried a few big names, a few very unusual names and a healthy lot of names which aren’t (YET) household titles in the Soca world. Most importantly still, it even further helps to take the Jab Jab to the rest of the world so, in a few years when the rest of Earth is as completely consumed with Soca as you and I, perhaps a release like this will shift more than a little attention in the direction of Grenada. Let’s see why!

'Irie' by Monsoon

This riddim seems, although definitely KNOCKING, seems to be slightly ‘lighter’ than the Gutter. It comes through as just a bit more frantic and chaotic, as opposed to appearing to be musically trying to sledgehammer the listener across the head (and I, personally, have a problem with neither style). It’s because of that, perhaps, that even sans some of the bigger names, this set ends up working quite nicely by its end. As I said, the riddim supported some quite surprising acts and one of the first and most impressive to decorate the already very colourful Massanto Riddim from Island Traffic Entertainment is Monsoon with ‘Irie’. I don’t actually remember this tune, so it’s brand new to me as is the concept of Monsoon, a Jamaican artist who we first ran into last year on Itation’s Ifficial Riddim last year. On that riddim he served up an eye-opening tune and he does the same here. Monsoon is a Reggae artist but he shows his versatility on this tune, one of the most infectious on a project full of contagious vibes. There’s also Lloyd D Stiff, with whom I am vaguely familiar and who offers another tune which is new to me ‘Push It Back’. This song is more stereotypical Soca-ish than is ‘Irie’, but it’s a decent wining song. I don’t like how he gets into the direct instruction type of style (which works far better in concert than on record) but, the song doesn’t suffer too much because of it. ‘Nuh Watch We’ comes from the biggest Jamaican name to voice the Massanto, the always interesting Natalie Storm. Here, it takes awhile to really get going but, by the time the second verse rolls in, you can see that Storm has hit her stride and she offers up one of the greatest flowing (in the Dancehall sense, of course) moments that the riddim has to offer (and speaking of Jamaicans on the Massanto Riddim, Romain Virgo also had a song for the riddim, 'She Want More', which isn’t on the album, predictably).

'Work You Bady' by Sharrie Jones

Livingston Pierre is a name which I believe I first heard just in the last year or so (he also had a big tune on the previously mentioned Jab Chant Riddim by the name of ’Rip Up’) and his song here, ‘Yes I Can’, leads an impressive cast of names you might need to know in the future. At least on my copy, the vocals are a bit muffled, but the chorus here proves to be an opponent you cannot beat in the fight to get it out of your fucking head! We also have CUTIE, Sharrie Jones, with ‘Work You Bady’. This song doesn’t do much in terms of surprising or setting itself apart from the pack and I have heard better material from Jones in the past (check the SWEET ‘Comes Along’ from 2010) but, do keep an eye on Jones (LITERALLY, she’s beautiful) in the future because she has big talent. There’s also the Reggae-ish Little Natty with the one of a kind Soca-ish ‘You Wood’. Laced with innuendos, Natty does impress on the track and maybe we can get him to look more towards doing more and more Reggae in the future because it appears here (and in the few other instances that I’ve heard his music) that it’s where he does really excel.

And then we move onto the people who you really expect to vibe the Massanto Riddim and some of the bigger names as well who, at least in my opinion, make up the real class tunes on the track. First up is the gaining Vybz International who tells us about the non-active likes who go to the ‘Fete’, seemingly only to watch others have a good time.

“You come out to fete
You say you come out to fete
So wah you doing standing there?
My yute - You nah ready yet?”

I really do enjoy his song (and Vybz, in general, has this very rough type of style which seems like he’s still in the midst of perfecting and should he ever get it completely right, he may be a star someday) and it’ll be a large disappointment if he doesn’t have a big career ahead of him. The same could be said for Zee 1 who chases his big tune on the Gutter Riddim, ‘Slave’, with another large effort, the very clever ‘Reception’. Here, we find Zee metaphorically linking his love life (and potential love life) with his cellular phone activities on one of the Massanto’s best.

“I have a slide up
You have a flip
So when I call you gal -
Answer me quick!”

“I use my BlackBerry to call Shelly
I use my Samsung to call June
I use my LG to call Steffi
I use my Nokia to call Sophia”

Trini lyrics machine, Ms. Alysha, is also back from the Gutter Riddim, this time with ‘Wine It’. Ostensibly, there’s nothing very special about this tune at all, but when you place something in the most frenetic and dramatic hands of Alysha, you can take a pretty mediocre tune and stereotypical one and have something which sounds like anything but, as he skill, when even the slightest motivated, is so damaging. And, speaking of damaging females, the final vocal effort on the Massanto Riddim album comes from Grenadian veteran, Sugar Jay, who declares that ‘We Ready’. Anytime Sugar Jay is involved with ANYTHING, it immediately gets better, she is absolutely delightful. Here, her song, although not her greatest, shows some nice flexibility in her skills. The woman can deejay, she can SING, she can do anything and more of her is a good thing, just in general. The Inspector also makes an appearance on ‘Last Year’, a song which has grown on me considerably from the first time I heard it. It’s still not ranking as a favourite of mine but, you may want to ask me about that in a month or so. And, of course, you can’t have a Jab Jab without Tallpree who follows the ‘Wicked Jab’ with the ‘Puppet Dance’. Again, it’s not his best work (although it was a hit, but pretty much anything Tallpree does these days is a hit) but, I do feel inclined to say the re-rise of the Jab Jab has brought Tallpree back to his rightful place as one of the most respected veterans in all of Soca music and that is wonderful.

'Ah Must Bathe' by Lavaman

The finest two songs on the Massanto Riddim, to my opinion, also come from two veterans in the music. The first is ‘Ah Must Bathe’ from the . . . TRULY INCOMPARABLE Lavaman. I can’t think of anyone more polarizing amongst Soca hardcore heads (with the possible exception of maybe Machel Montano) than the ridiculous Lavaman. I’m more on the positive side; he’s clearly insane (No Behaviour!) (NONE!) and in his business, that’s a plus. This song is typical madness from Lava who has to make sure everyone’s hygiene (including and especially his own) is exactly where it needs to be. And my choice as the finest song on the Massanto, ‘What Goes Around’, comes from Jadee who fuses a bit of common sense of social commentary, even, inside the madness. This tune (which I think may be newer than some of the others) became a decent sized hit for Jadee, probably his biggest in quite some time and I, myself, don’t tend to pay him too much attention as he goes more and more towards the Gospel side of Soca (which isn’t my thing, of course), but I do give credit where it’s due - I DO love this song and you will also. And lastly, the boys at Island Traffic are kind enough to include a clean version of the riddim - Thank you for being intelligent. It’s a beautiful thing.

'What Goes Around' by Jadee

Overall (probably the easiest review I’ve written in . . . A really long time), while I do favour the Gutter Riddim’s album to the Massanto and, of course, that project went a ways in opening doors for others such as this one, I’m well impressed by the followed. I wonder if it does say something that this riddim, as opposed to the Gutter, is released digitally by Island Traffic Entertainment alone and not through VP Records or Faluma (both of whom did the Gutter) (and its Porn-ish cover). Perhaps they’ve just become that confident and that resourceful and that shouldn’t be a surprise either. We’re potentially at a pressing and an important time for Soca music which is often behind other Caribbean genres in terms of really getting the music out there and ITE is well ahead of so many in doing that. Be it the Gutter or now the Massanto Riddim, they’re well doing their part in that and in bringing the mysterious Jab Jab right were it belongs - To the center stage.

Rated: 3.50/5
Island Traffic Entertainment

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