Friday, May 20, 2011

'His Better Half': A Review of "Thanks & Praise" by Gappy Ranks

Versatility and diversity are two very admirable traits when it comes to making music. Besides helping to make oneself stand out from the pack, having these elements can also make it easier for a particular artist, producer, band or whomever to develop a winning style which can lead quicker to forming a strong and faithful fan base and, most importantly, a lasting career and impact. Still, it should be said that versatility, in its ‘purest’ form, is a very rare quality to possess as a musician and that is true particularly in Reggae where we use the same riddim for, sometimes, dozens of vocalists. Showing a diverse skillset, in those instances, is even more taxing and those who’re able to do it and do it consistently and successfully are eventually shuffled to the top shelf of artists. As we look out over the current group of artists we do see a very large assembly of TALENT, but not much in the way of VERSATILITY of vibes. The first one to come to my mind is I-Octane. Octane is a very nice choice in this situation because he, very much like the subject in question today, has a NATURAL versatility and diversity. Unlike others who go their entire careers, successfully, doing one thing, only to stop suddenly and change things for absolutely no reason at all (not naming any names) (even though you know who I'm talking about) from the first time anyone has known Octane he's been this hybrid artist who is equally comfortable across the most rigid one-drop riddim as well as the most ridiculous of high-tech Dancehall sets. As I've said in the past, he very much represents full blown Reggae evolution in Reggae in my mind and performers of the future will also be as equally and prevailingly talent. After I-Octane, I’m going to look at someone like a Tiwony who, although he’ll probably never get credit for it, is one of the most talented and versatile artists in Reggae history (!) right now. And of course there’s Demarco and his million different ways (biggup Million Stylez). Also, to lesser degrees ("lesser" STRICTLY in terms of versatility) we observe legends Sizzla Kalonji and Buju Banton for long showing that they can pitch in a few different styles without showing the seams. And then there’s Gappy Ranks. Speaking directly, I can’t say that, in recent times at least, we've seen someone whose entire career seems to be founded on displaying such a vast array of skills. The UK standout has spent virtually his entire time in the international limelight over the past two or three years or so dazzling listeners in the midst of sounding like two completely different artists. In 2010 he formally introduced us to one side of himself [your joke here] and in 2011 he’s dealing with the other.

"Put The Stereo On" - 2010

Surely you’ll recall the album "Put The Stereo On" from last year. That album, unsurprisingly as it was produced by Peckings, was one which focused on old-school Reggae music. That album was very good and widely acclaimed for being a very solid project, however, it distinctly only made usage of the fact that Gappy, as he had already shown, was very much a musician 'suffering' from multiple personality disorder. If you think about it, what was the very first time you remember hearing Gappy Ranks’ name? Chances are pretty good that it was one of two songs, 'Stinkin Rich' (more on that in a minute) and ‘Heaven In Your Eyes’. Even before you get into talking about albums - Those two tracks alone would demonstrate a course which Gappy would eventually travel - one was on Bob Marley riddim, the other was this very very modern (almost post-modern) type of song. And this was the outside story around "Put The Stereo On". Here we have this very much anticipated DEBUT album from this big name and not only is arguably his most well known tune at that time missing, but even if it were on the album, it would have been COMPLETELY out of place. So even to make the introduction, there’ll have to be two albums.

"Rising Out of The Ghetto" - EP

So obvious was this, in fact, that clearly it caught Gappy Ranks as well which is evident when you notice that less than NINE MONTHS after that album releases, we're now dealing with its followup, "Thanks & Praise". Unlike the first album, this one bears the name of Gappy's own imprint, Hot Coffee Music, which he’s been moving further and further into position to be a force with various riddim releases (most recently, I THINK, is the Espresso Riddim). This is the same label who, four months ahead of the release of the first album, pushed a very high-tech EP, "Rising Out of The Ghetto", almost in anticipation of fans saying that the forthcoming album was missing something. Well, to continue that thought and to fill things out, here we have "Thanks & Praise". I don’t want to give the misconception that this is something out of the ordinary for Gappy. Again, one of his greatest traits is his ability to do many things well and while this album is, on the total, a different "thing" than the first project, it's not . . . A Soca album (although I wouldn’t put it past him. . . ) or a completely Hip-Hop album - Something totally out of the frame of his natural already very expansive style. In fact, one could even make the case that this one is an even more INTELLIGENT and MATURE release, being that the first, with all of those old-school riddims definitely had a musical 'cap' on it in terms of what sounds good. Not to call it restricting, but you simply aren't going to see someone go in any direction over those types of compositions, unless it's a total remix (and it wasn't). Here, things are just a little less contained and entirely more modern (and it's varied for a modern album as well), as Gappy Ranks completes his musical introduction to the world via his second album.

'Thanks & Praise'

It simply has to be a matter of me not paying as good of attention nine months ago as I do these days, but I've noticed a nice sized improvement in Gappy Ranks as a lyricist over that time. This come as a quick turn as I recently heard an interview with Gappy where he says that he doesn’t write lyrics, he comes up with them and goes from his head (biggup Markus) and while in my opinion that’s fucked up (I don't care if the man’s mind is a CLAMP, can you imagine how many BIG tunes we'll never forget because he’s simply FORGOTTEN them before he got the chance to record them), obviously it’s been working for him. The verification of that is all over the fourteen tracks (well, most of them anyway) which compile his brand new album, "Thanks & Praise", which is absolutely LOADED at its head, getting started with three consecutively undeniably HUGE tunes. First up is the title track which . . . Like I said, I guess I just wasn’t paying a great deal of attention because this tune has been floating from even before "Put The Stereo On" reached and it is BEAUTIFUL. Despite its cliché title, this Jazzwad produced set is one sterling praising tune (Gappy doesn't do clichés) and one which doesn't get bogged down in stereotypes as well. It's gorgeous and one of the album's best in my opinion. Next up we have another tune with quite a bit of 'history' behind it, previous single 'Longtime', which finds Gappy lamenting the loss of days gone by.

"Longtime wi no chill pon di block and bun a bighead
Longtime mi no run no likkle joke, cah man a live it
Longtime mi no kick a ball like a Maradonna
Longtime mi no spend di whole day pon di cornah

I can remember -
When we usedta buy drinks from di street vendor
Listen couple songs from Mr. Everton Blender
Cops pon di block, but wi still nah surrender
As a thug, di hot girls deh pon wi agenda, September
Right straight back to September"

The song, which utilizes the same Special Delivery produced riddim as Ziggi Recado's top ranking herbalist tune, 'Mary', is simply one of the best Gappy has ever done to my opinion and I think it says something big about this album when you consider the fact that this ISN'T my favourite song on it. The first lot of tunes on "Thanks & Praise" wrap up with a tune I've never heard before, but one I’m going to be spinning the hell out of, the fine lover’s track, 'Sweet Love'. Eventually I'd like to hear Gappy do a tune like this one and add on someone like Peter Spence or Peter Hunnigale, one of those big UK Lover’s Rock singers, but for now he's doing more than OKAY on his own because this song is outstanding for what it is.

'Stinkin Rich'

I suppose that one of the critiques of this album will center on there being not a great deal in the way of completely new material, but I won't have that same complaint because, for the most part, the tunes here with which I'm already familiar (such as two of the first three) are big efforts. The most non-new of these tracks is the aforementioned MASSIVE hit, 'Stinkin Rich'. I shouldn't spend too much time on this one, but all of this time on from first hearing it, I still like it (have you ever realized that this random is just FILTHY!) and its presence on this album was completely mandatory at this point. The KNOCKING 'English Money' is also here. This is a song which took a minute to grow on me - There’s just A LOT going on with this one - but ultimately I view it as kind of an add-on to 'Stinkin Rich'. The formula worked once for him, why not dust it off and try it again. Gappy didn’t get that type of lofty success with the tune, but it is damn good and highly infectious. Also quite contagious is 'Girl Next Door', the cool and clever jump which finds Gappy very infatuated with his neighbour, on the Dutty Romance Riddim. I'm not too fond of 'Tun Up' which is one of the album's two combinations, this one featuring Russian. I very much prefer Russian as a producer, rather than a DJ. He isn't horrible, of course, but his is a style which takes getting accustomed to and haven’t gone through that process just yet and the riddim on that tune isn’t my favourite either. The other combination on "Thanks & Praise" is a HUGE tune and another of the album's highlights. 'Could A Runaway' features Delly Ranx and the two, who are obviously good friends, have a wonderful musical chemistry (and have been voicing one another's riddims over the last year or so) together and it WELL comes through on the track.

Gappy -

"I was born as a Ranks
Grow up as a Ranks
Like di great Delly Ranx
So mi haffi give thanks
Mi ah shine like a star
Dem si mi from a distance
When badmind ah chat mi
Mi no response"

Delly -

"I was born as a Ranks
Raised as a Ranks
Like di great Shabba Ranks
Gappy Ranks, Cutty Ranks
Badmind keep yuh distance
Fi hypocrite people -
Delly no response"

'Could A Runway' w/Delly Ranx

And I guess I should also mention 'Fresh Kicks' here, even though I'd never heard it before this album, it’s from a couple of months or so ago and it has gotten a nice response. You can add my approval to it as well as Gappy dazzles with the flow on that tune (and Gappy - where the hell is 'Ragga Ragga'???).

NOW! With all of that being said, my personal favourite song on "Thanks & Praise" is one which I’m almost certain will go overlooked and . . . I don't care if the rest of you don’t like it, 'Peace & Joy' is MAMMOTH!

'Peace & Joy'

"No food fi di poor -
And di hungry
Shootout pon di boundary
Clothes dutty and mi cah go a laundry
If mi get a white shirt, dat a luxury
Big boss have you any work in di factory?
Cah mi caah buy flower, saltfish and ackee
Time past til all mi hair get natty
Mi no waan turn inna no John Gotti
So mi just -
Hold up mi head high
High to di sky
You caan stop a man weh ah try
Mi nah stoop fi di m-o-n-e-y
Cah mi doh want a piece of di babylon pie
Jah Jah know is a ocean of tears I cry
Fi di youths dem weh missing and di ones dat die
I see how dem bring drugs and boom bye bye
So mi nah stop bun dem til di day I die!
Is like dem waan mi kill mi bredrin fi a loaf a bread
But I shall not live on bread alone
Mi nah go sell out mi bredda dem fi loaf a bread
Dem waan mi dead
Dem waan di john crow fly ova head
Tell dem my heart still beats like an Afrikan drum
Just words and power from an Afrikan son
You don’t have to rich to be happy
Mi si smiles on poor people face and dem don’t even have it

I'm searching for peace and joy -
Food and water mi seh fi every girl and boy
I'm fighting for equal rights
Jah Jah light shine bright, get mi through the darkest nights
Mi waan fi mek di world feel love
Every ghetto youth haffi fly inna di sky like a dove
Cause no one man is an island
But mi two foot ah stand pon di dry land

Don't tell mi bout tales of Aladdin and a genie inna bokkle
Mi still ah wear mi ancestor shackle
Mi neva get no grade, but mi know fi play Scrabble
And inna certain thing mi never dilly and dabble
Mi caan believe mi eyes how some people a wobble
Dem come in lak di weasel pon di corn, pon di cobble
And how they woulda love fi si mi face pon di gravel
Dem caan wait fi start dig mi grave wid di shovel

I'm searching for peace and joy -
Food and water mi seh fi every girl and boy
I'm fighting for equal rights
Jah Jah light shine bright, get mi through the darkest nights
Mi waan fi mek di world feel love
Every ghetto youth haffi fly inna di sky like a dove
Cause no one man is an island
But mi two foot ah stand pon di dry land

Cause you have to be strong to survive in di gutter
Times hard, they can’t find dumpling and butter
Caan get stopped by police and stutter
Caan trust di pastor, deacon and usher
Some time mi feel so restricted
Mi feel like, society ah put mi inna box
Ah glorify Clarks and all diamond socks
And still di politician dem ah raise up tax
When I whisper, dem seh dem doh hear mi
And when I shout, dem seh mi have a utter
And when I’m silent dem seh I know nothing
Hard life mi live, mi neva wrap up inna cotton
Mi nah sell out mi soul lak di sweets in di shop
Dem surprise when dem si mi ah wear mi G-Shock
Forward mi seh!
And mi nah look back
Working hard fi put mi name pon di map

I'm searching for peace and joy -
Food and water mi seh fi every girl and boy
I’m fighting for equal rights
Jah Jah light shine bright, get mi through the darkest nights
Mi waan fi mek di world feel love
Every ghetto youth haffi fly inna di sky like a dove
Cause no one man is an island
But mi two foot ah stand pon di dry land

I'm searching for peace and joy -
Food and water mi seh fi every girl and boy
I'm fighting for equal rights
Jah Jah light shine bright, get mi through the darkest nights
Mi waan fi mek di world feel love
Every ghetto youth haffi fly inna di sky like a dove
Cause no one man is an island
But mi two foot ah stand pon di dry land"

I mean . . . Yeah you just . . . You just can't get much better . . . Wow.

Besides that . . . thing, I also took a great interest in some of the other tunes which were new to me. 'One Day At A Time' finds Gappy going all Bob Marley on the people on a kind of a beautifully complex Roots set - I guess, I'd call it more of an inspirational tune, but it’s so straight forward, which is out of the norm for Gappy (if he has a "norm") - and it's excellent. 'The Road' is just odd and I didn’t like it the first (second and third) time I heard it because I didn’t really know what to make of it. But, as I usually do, I started to focus more on what was being said and how it was being put together and, as he does throughout this album, Gappy succeeds on that end, even if the song is Martian-ish (and it is). Far more terrestrial and landlocked is the gorgeous 'Daylight'. I don’t know who produces this song, but this riddim is a work of art and Gappy taps it to the tune of another big love song, perhaps not on the level of the very healthy 'Sweet Love', but not very far from it as well. Finally is another somewhat peculiar tune, 'Better Must Come', but this song is IMMEDIATELY impressive. It is, essentially, a social commentary and while Gappy basically relies on this intentionally monotonous delivery in the early stages of the track and the things that he's saying aren't exactly upful, with the riddim here and just the marriage of vocals and composition, it sounds like a really UPFUL tune to my ears. I do so enjoy songs like that which can create bleak pictures and remedy them before their end. This song picks up throughout and by its end we’ve gone from very solemn and gloomy, to a song which is damn near HAPPY and the closer on "Thanks & Praise" gives the listener a very good feeling on the way out of the door.


Three things I feel inclined to mention quickly (even though I just forgot one of them let's see if I can remember it . . . Nope. Okay let's try this again)

Two things I feel inclined to mention quickly - The first is just how sonically impressive this album is. I have a digital copy of it (see note at end) and Gappy's voice throughout as well as all of the riddims (even the ones which I’m not particularly fond of) just sound so LOUD and FULL and that's a quality in its own right which adds to the scope of this album in my opinion. The second point I want to stress is one which I also mentioned in regards to "Put The Stereo On". Gappy Ranks is someone who CLEARLY recognizes his position in singing this wonderful music that he loves and that's something that well comes through. It doesn’t matter that he's doing whatever he's doing with his voice (and I don't even think he's doing it as much anymore (or maybe I'm just REALLY used to hearing it at this point)) or if he's singing a DOWN type of a song, you can really tell just how much he enjoys what he's doing and, again, that’s something which makes the music come through better towards the listener.

Gappy Ranks

Overall, it's a big album and it’s one which I'm still well working through. Listening to Gappy Ranks has suddenly become a very HEALTHY thing for me as it gives my ridiculously overactive mind something to deal with - I think this album is much deeper than people are going to give it credit for because, as usual, he provides this big and flaring type of sound and here, as I said, it arguably sounds better than ever in full - but for me the real star is everything which is being said. Also, it kind of makes it difficult to direct a recommendation because if you are a newer fan, you’re unlikely to get out of this album as much as you possibly can . . . But you’re still probably going to enjoy it because it’s vibed so nicely. More initiated fans will, of course, have both and hopefully You'll be able to appreciate it on both ends (although, most unfortunately, I am beginning to notice of a bit of the 'Sean Paul backlash' amongst hardcore fans in regard to Gappy's successes for some truly ridiculous reason). For me, "Thanks & Praise" is a winner and one which I imagine will be more appreciate, even by me, in coming years. And it’s a very good thing Gappy Ranks felt compelled to give everyone the full introduction between two albums - After nine months of releases we should all have it by now - He's one of the most versatile artists around today and he's on his way to doing really significant things in Reggae music. Well done.

Rated: 4.35/5
Hot Coffee Music
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{Note: The CD, reportedly, will be released on June 28 through VP Records}
{Note 2: This review is 3600 words long}
{Note 3: MAD!}


  1. 3600 words long perhaps but brilliant, mate. Gappy is a very talented artist.

    I rarely comment on your reviews, but I read them and enjoy each and every one. Keep up the works!

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