Saturday, October 15, 2011

'The Chameleon': A Review of "Unstoppable" by Cali P

I will support the talent level of this current generation of Reggae artists against that of any other until my fingers fall off. As we and many others have established previously, Reggae is an art form which is very much 'old school oriented', so more times it seems as if the journey to discover class may very well begin, and sometimes even end, decades ago. However, it is my position that RIGHT NOW, we are very much experiencing a "golden age" of sorts in Reggae music, specifically in regards to just how many truly talented practitioners of the craft we have on the planet at this very moment. The fact is that the music now is not only heard, but celebrated in regions of the world which it has never even reached before and, as we'll talk about today, Reggae is now as diversified as it has ever been to date. The fans are diverse, the producers, the labels - Everything is a bit more colourful than ever before. That also includes the artists themselves and the actual music as well and what we're seeing now are these amazingly doubly talented individuals who show an intense amount of versatility in what they're able to do. Because that simply wasn't an option in the days of yesteryear, it's something which has no established or set direction - These multitalented and multifaceted MINDS in the music. Like I said, Golden Age. Between last year and this year the UK sensation, Gappy Ranks put on a display of musical diversity which should not go underrated and overlooked. Between dropping his debut set, "Put The Stereo On", and its followup, "Thanks & Praise", Gappy basically showed himself to be two (or three) different artists: One, as one the first album, with a mind towards more old school compositions and able to succeed for a label distinguished for such material as Peckings. Gappy's other half, meanwhile, was extremely modern in both Dancehall and Roots Reggae and, again, quite capable of succeeding in both. Lining up to perform a similar feat, although one very much of his own creation, is a light who had already revealed himself to be amongst the next group of up and comers poised to become one of the most talented Roots Reggae chanters of this era and the next, but is now back to doing a revealing of another kind and show us all that it was only just a half of his abilities. Meet Cali P.

"Lyrical Faya" [2008]

Hopefully you exercised some good common sense in 2008 and picked up a copy of Cali's debut album, "Lyrical Faya" which is probably one of the better debut albums you'll hear of its time. That Pow Pow helmed project was FULL of outstanding modern Roots Reggae music and for fans of the genre, like you and me, it was exciting taking Cali P's name and adding it to the list of artists to look for. Not only that, but when you dug into his story, even back then, you saw that "diversity", in so many ways, was something which he had a great deal of, even before getting into the music. He is the son of a union of Gwada and Swiss parents and, reportedly, spent extensive time in both places while growing up. That first album also showed great flexibility, while staying primarily in its genre - It was a very entertaining Reggae album and it still is.

Hemp Higher

And that was only the first half. Since (and probably even before) "Lyrical Faya" reached shelves, Cali P has come to associate more with a producer, Gary 'Riga' Burke, of Hemp Higher Productions from out of Switzerland. Riga . . . He doesn’t make Roots Reggae. No. He makes a brand of intense and agitated Dancehall and that, alone, makes him quite odd. With very few exceptions (one, incidentally, being Weedy G Soundforce, also from out of Switzerland), Europe pushes Roots Reggae music exclusively and has seemingly not yet been bitten by the Dancehall bug. Furthermore - small world - with the type of vibes that Riga makes, it almost sounds like what you would have heard from the likes of Krys, Daddy Mory, Admiral T and others from the French/FWI scene a few years back, with its almost OVER done force, and, as it turns out, he also produced quite a bit of that. Small world indeed (TINY!: I'm pretty much allergic to French Hip-Hop, but one of the very few artists in the genre who I enjoy, Ol' Kainry, has also apparently worked with Riga) (biggup The Demolition Man). So, I don't know how the link between artist and producer in this case was formed, but they have been blazing for the better part of the last year or so with a constant stream of singles. A few years back, while wondering what happened to Cali P, I noticed that he'd dropped a couple of mixtapes on his Myspace page and I think it's probably likely that Riga had a hand in those as well. Also, even before the first album, I can remember reading about Cali P's popularity in the winter sports community as well and that's apparently gone to even higher heights these days as, as somewhat of a 'pre-album', the chanter appeared on nine of thirteen tracks on the soundtrack of "Like A Lion", a documentary for skier and good friend (and fan) of Cali's, Tanner Hall.

"Like A Lion" soundtrack [2010]

So, what better way to cement a change in style than to cap everything off with a big album? That's exactly what Cali P and Hemp Higher do with his sophomore studio set, the perhaps increasingly fittingly titled "Unstoppable". In a perfect world where everything went according to how I wanted it, this album would have been another Roots winner and it probably would've arrived last year, but as someone who really had been looking at Cali P as one to really enter a dominant state in Reggae in Europe (and he PROBABLY will still), I was looking forward to another impressive Roots album. HOWEVER, after really tuning in "Unstoppable" and having a close listen, I heard a very original and DIVERSE skill which hadn’t struck me so greatly listening to some of these tunes as singles. By its end, a large part of the album had fallen within this unusual talent and it had become much better than I had thought it would be. Let's discuss!

'Wine Up'

Although it certainly does come close, to my opinion this album never fully goes off the radar in terms of just losing scope of what it actually is and who the artist is. Why is that? Cali P has a very fascinating way of maintaining his focus and PRECISION in the face of the incoming fire. It’s normally a quality not associated with Dancehall, but Soca - with lyrics king Bunji Garlin being the prime example, but it's also present in individuals such as the DAMAGING Tiwony, Jah Mason and perhaps Turbulence at his absolute best, respectively (not a very crowded lot). These are people who, although they may mold their intensity to match the vibes of the tune (and generally do), what you're going to hear most times, is still the same lyrical step forth and Cali well does that here. So, what happens is that the album, very much, takes on this three dimensional sound - Reggae messages over Dancehall backs - where even a more experienced listener has to be keen about what he/she is hearing and HOW they are listening to it. After I figured out the direction "Unstoppable" was headed in, musically, I have to say that I was damn happy to see the way the album began, with the very first selection, 'Jah Rule The World', being not only one of the slower tracks present, but also one of the best, so it kind of eases you into it, instead of blowing you away IMMEDIATELY as a listener. Indeed, for that reason, and the fact that the song is positively STERLING, I'm tempted to call it, by the slimmest of margins, the single best tune on the whole of the album, but this is the type of project on which I would expect fifteen different people to have fifteen different opinions on which tune takes top honours. For me, however, the opener is a gem:

“And even when the times cold
Wi blaze di fyah cuz de warriah dem brave and bold
Pray to Jah and neva lose di control
Cuz inna babylon it easy fi go sell your soul
Give thanks Jah guide mi pon di road
Bring I to different places and mek di truth be known

My people rejoice and shout it out loud!

The song kind of picks up in passion as it progresses and although Cali follows similarly in his delivery, at every twist and turn he remains as meticulous as ever in route to starting off his new album with a BOOM of a track which had me SMILING brightly at its end. Trusted with maintaining the early quality heights on the album is the very familiar 'Dreadfull' which was THE highlight of the aforementioned "Like A Lion" soundtrack. I'm expecting this tune to do even more of a damage once many ears get a taste of it here, it's probably my personal second favourite tune here as it very much builds on the concept of the opener while steering it in a more 'terrestrial' direction and right about now, I'm seriously reconsidering my choice as the album's finest moment (told you - Actually, if you asked fifteen people, you might get THIRTY different opinions on that). Next in is what I believe is one of the official singles from the album, 'D Sunne Schint', which features another Swiss Reggae voice, Phenomden. I don't know a great deal about Phenomden (and I have absolutely no idea what the hell he is saying on this song), but from a strictly sonic direction, the tune is very impressive and an obvious choice for a single. For his part, Cali P definitely gives you what you've come to expect - significantly powerful and meaningful vibes.

'D Sunne Schiint' w/Phenomden

As I said, Cali P and Riga have been up to some serious work recently and the fruits of their concentrated labour is evident all over "Unstoppable". With that being said, even if I wasn't paying the greatest of attention, there're a few very familiar sets throughout the album. Perhaps none are more familiar than the very visual 'Wine Up' which is a dance floor filler to its very core. A very nice video surely helped keep this one on my mind, but I can also recall hearing it and thinking it very un-Cali P-like and then . . . Well I started to like it and I still do. This is a song strictly for the senses, but it also shows a great deal of diversity that he can not only do something like this, but do it well (be careful with that damn song, it stays with you!). Also quite difficult to shake is Riga's Ovaseaz Riddim from last year which serves as foundation for the tune, 'Mek She Feel It'. This tune is another like 'Wine Up', where you come to appreciate it almost solely for its sonic appeal. I do think it’s the lesser of the two, but not by much and, again, you can just appreciate the versatility present here as this is quite a far way from "Lyrical Faya". 'Dat A Wah Mi Prefer' is Cali P's cut of the recent Moonlight Riddim and it is a pretty fantastic example of what I meant in regards to the artist's unique ability to maintain his concentration in the midst of so much madness. It's pretty much a social commentary and were it not over this type of composition, that's what would stand out because lyrically it is well WICKED.

“Fi si di youths live betta
Dat a weh mi prefer
Money over war and gyal over beretta
Every youth tun star
Dat a weh mi prefer
Mi haffi reach far cah man a go-getta!”

Another big prior single, the unification anthem 'As One' is also on board and it features Stress, who is rapper from out of Switzerland. This one is just BEAUTIFUL. Everything about it - from the message to the riddim to the link between the two parts - It's just excellent and is a tune really in possession of star quality to my ears as well. 'Tell Me Why' is a remix of a tune apparently originated by UK Hip-Hopper, Lowkey, who guests on the tune on "Unstoppable". It's very very catchy and never being the biggest Hip-Hop head, I have to admit that I'm well impressed by Lowkey here. 'As Long As U There' is a song I'm pretty sure that I know, but I couldn't tell you where you from exactly. This one is somewhat strange because it's an R&B song. Pretty straight forward and cut and it isn't bad. I'm still working on the final call, but again, it isn't awful. And I definitely recognized 'Nobody Betta', one of the album's real highlights and just an EXCITING and uplifting tune. Big lyrics and I know it's old, but otherwise, I could certainly see a future single tune here and a hit as well! Still, after all of that, I have to say that the song here which, upon second listen, got infinitely better to my ears is the obligatory ganja track, 'Sweet Greens' on the Brainfood Riddim. MAD! Besides that downright NUMBING track, Cali P doesn't hold back AT ALL on the delivery.

“Cali P is a ganja man
When mi bun it, yow a higher meditation
Yes, ah it mek mi look pon creation
Mek mi sing some song fi di nation
Fyah bun a paygan
Member a collie dis
Right now mi come an sing fi di cannabis
And mi biggup di man dem ah plant it and tek care ah it
Farmer no lazy, dem haffi fit
Wi bun it and give it di brand new hit
Hey hey ah!”
As far as the tunes completely new (at least to me) on the album, surely I was most interested in hearing the title track and that was especially true after seeing that the project had been run better than I assumed. On the song 'Unstoppable', Cali P, while incorporating the 'elements' of the song, discusses living a righteous existence and an upful existence with His Majesty and, thus, becoming UNSTOPPABLE. As this song goes on and starts to pulse more and more, I started loving it more and more and really seeing how all of this work because for one of my main premises in discussing this album - that this artist can transcend a genre in terms of sound, while keeping true to himself - This is the most vibrant display! HUGE TUNE! The album wraps up with another striking, albeit somewhat somber ostensibly, tune which is new to me 'Don’t Give Up'. This is a tune (obviously by the title) aiming to lend inspiration to pick it up and keep moving oneself and one’s loved ones in a positive direction as best as possible. With the sound of it, it's likely to be 'lost in the shuffle' and that's going to happen on any album, but hopefully people pay attention to the not so hype song on the end of the album because it's full of information (such as one of the mightiest lines you'll find on the album - "They all wanna rule, like dem nuh know seh there's a Ruler!").

'As One' w/Stress

And then there’s 'No Way'. In the most FORWARD display of lyrical skill, Cali P basically freestyles a WINNING track around a chorus over a KNOCKING riddim.

“Some people believe in all kinda abracadabra
Some people still give all their money to the pastor
Some people so bad minded that when you prosper-
Dem call pon evil forces and think dem ahgo conquer
Dem waan tek you offa di road weh you gon fa
Put you inna trouble, like it’s dat, you ah call fa
Cut off your sight like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder
Life short!
And now dem waan mek it shorter
Couldn’t I dem ah play wid, man a real firestarter
I & I a Lionheart, real tuff warrior!
Buss, mi come fi buss up dem barrier
Mi, mi come fi mek it cuz ah dem, mi no sorry fah!”

All the while keeping his focus on what needs to be said. I don’t know if it was a total freestyle, but it definitely has that sound and that approach on one of the most unforgettable moments to be found here.

The Deluxe Edition of "Unstoppable" features two additional tracks, 'Strong As I Can Be' and 'Love & Understanding'. The former is a Diwali-esque cleverly intoxicating song while the latter is one of the missing ingredients - the album’s acoustic set. Both are kind of changeups even for an album as varied as this one and pretty clear choices for *bonus* material in my opinion.

Cali P

Overall, what we have here is a very complex and diverse album, but one which, because its 'nature', opens lends itself to a just as diverse audience. On one hand there're the completely new fans of the genre or the casual heads who'll just appreciate that it sounds really infectious and it certainly does. But if you scratch below that level, there's a Roots Reggae album wrapped up inside a Dancehall album. The journey to that album inside is a VERY interesting one and one which is sure to appeal to the more hardcore fans and both of those are reflected in the early buzz and good business done by this album. On top of that is the very fact that Cali P has done what he has done, so . . . What else is in there? While I wish there was a one-drop mixed in there somewhere, you almost have to acknowledge that he's very effective in this style as well. Taking him in full - While I once looked to him as a future star in Roots music, perhaps his talent is one which can push him into a more accessible direction. "Unstoppable" is definitely a very lofty title to have to live up to in any respect, but should Cali P prove capable of continuing to show such a multifaceted and applicable MODERN skill, it will not be an unreachable one. Well done and much better than I expected.

Rated: 4.25/5
Hemp Higher Productions/Inspired Music Group
CD + Digital
Cali P

Review #325





  2. really a great review ,jah bless da journey,,zion rock sey dat