Monday, January 23, 2012

'And Another!': A Review of "The Laboratory" by Da Professor

We really do ask a lot of them. Along with what is their main role -- making great music -- we, as fans, whether we want to admit it or not, really do demand quite a lot from producers of this wonderful music. Not only do they have to make great riddims, they also have to link it properly with artists and then they have to do this on a consisted basis. Not only that, but they're also in charge of making sure everything is promoted properly and people like you and me can get our hands on it when we want it. And fans are greedy as anyone, so you also get into rather strange situations where a producer, if he/she is to thought of on big terms, must also have the ability to push HITS and this is so for individual fans - Most ridiculously whether or not that actual fan likes the tune in question - It doesn't even matter. Failure to do all of these things will guarantee the usage of the horrible 'fell-off' around near someone's name and detaching the label can prove to be a career long struggle. Why anyone would want such responsibilities is a mystery to me. Thankfully, however, many do seem to (struggle from some odd sort of mental illness) do want all of that on their plate and those that are able to do it are subsequently afforded a status unlike anyone else in Reggae music. For an example see Don Corleon. Not only has he handled all of that, if you REALLY think about it, he's also very quietly managed to excel in yet another area of note for a big producer - the 'art' of finding and then (even more importantly) DEVELOPING and providing us, as fans, with big new talents. Corleon has been so good at this, in fact, that he's even managed to develop old[er] artists as well (when was the last time you heard Ce'Cile doing a social commentary???) (and a GOOD one?), but when his time is done, the lineup of vocalists with whom his imprint will be linked with is downright STAGGERING. Names like Vybz Kartel, Wayne Marshall, Alaine, Munga Honourable, Pressure Busspipe and Protoje checker the past (and present) of the legendary producer and he's had all of them, arguably, at their absolute bests in terms of their respective skills. He's also brought out the best in people such as Natural Black and Jah Cure and it is no coincidence. With all of that said, it should be no surprise at all that Don Corleon is back at it again and this time he's bringing one of his most colourful and most talented artists to date.

Meet Da Professor. In that list I just ran through you have some of the most interesting background stories and characters in recent Reggae history, but I don't know that I can say that any of them are as musically diverse and wholly CAPABLE at such an early state as Da Professor. I still don't know a great deal of him, but apparently the Kingston native has lived somewhat of a nomadic existence and along his many journeys, clearly he's picked up a taste for several different styles which he's so wonderfully packed together in a bundle of vibes which is damn infectious. And as a result, Da Professor has arrived at a rather strange point in his career where his name may not carry the densest of weights in Reggae circles, but his talents have more than arrived at a point where the next step must be taken.

Enter "The Laboratory" (anyone else think they should've named it "Da Laboratory"???). Although, as I said, he may not have the biggest name, Don Corleon and co. have invested their first big move of 2012 in Da Professor via releasing his debut album. The artist has been on an absolute musical ROLL over the past couple of years and largely based on the music he's done for the ace producer which now, largely, makes up this release. He's proven to be somewhat of a 'secret weapon' as, although he has voice and scored for others, the body of his work and the class of it has come from Corleon and it's clear that two have developed a grand amount of chemistry with each other as, for as varied as Da Professor may be (and he is), his blend matches almost perfectly with the type of STERLING and somewhat R&B tinged productions for which Corleon is known and best at. Also, I think that, perhaps quietly, the case could be made for Da Professor, in terms of actual quality, being the most effective constant figure on those riddims. His work won't receive the same attention as Tarrus Riley, Ce'Cile and others, but he's been churning out work as good as any of them and certainly I'm not the only one who's noticed which has brought us to the door of this laboratory. The album follows another strong debut set produced by Don Corleon, "7 Year Itch", from Protoje just last year and, much like that album, will serve as a bit of a 'formal' introduction for many to the vibes of Da Professor. What they'll find is a very curiously gifted vocalist who is somewhere between a pure singer and a chanter (he kind of reminds me of Ras Attitude to a degree). As you go through the album you'll find yourself (and myself) comparing him to a few different artists. From that - I take a type of style which is so unique that it has no single master and, even more substantially, that Da Professor is so clearly a great fan of the music he makes because he's developed this style which can literally do pretty much anything within the range of Reggae music and throughout "The Laboratory", he puts this all-encompassing talent on full and vivid display. The results are thorough and a fantastic 'hello' from a name not to be overlooked as an up and comer, because should he continue along this road, then he'll have a lot more in common with the big names who've stopped in Don Corleon's studio. Let's take a listen.

Behind The Scenes

Something which may happen here as it often does when you have artists with very dynamic and attention-grabbing styles: What they're actually saying becomes less regarded and sometimes neglected and while I'm not going to go on and on about amazing of a wordsmith Da Professor is (even though you know I want to), don't just pick this album up prepared to feed it to your ears. There is vast amounts of brainfood within as well. A good example of that would be 'Peace & Unity' which gets us started on "The Laboratory" and features Da Professor going all Eek-A-Mouse on the people. The tune has a slight old school feel to it, but it's modern and POWERFUL at the same time and it backs Da Professor launching into some of the best wordplay on the album.

“Bing bada baba bom -
Something must be wrong
What is going on?
Dem ah mash up wi nation
Nuff a move sideways
Some ah worship satan
You haffi, focus yah mind and hold a meditation
Separate yourself from negativity
And you nuh fi walk wid gun a road fi mek di people see
All mi want for fi di youths a long life, prosperity
Unity amongst wi one another
Yow mi seh that’s where the lesson be”

On this album, while definitely a standout for its quality, this tune isn't really out of place at all and it really sets the pace for the subjectry of a large part of the album. Of course you wouldn’t know that from the next two tracks as both 'I'm Yours' and 'Party Non Stop' follow a different course. The former is a sublime old school lover's track which really sparkles, while the latter, as its title suggests, is a tune sure to get heads rocking from listeners. It should probably rank as a favourite of many also as Don Corleon meets Biggie Irie, courtesy of Da Professor. Sweet tune and a most expectedly colourful start from the adroit future star.


Within "The Laboratory", there're more than a couple of familiar beakers and experiments in progress and these make up many of the key elements to be fond here, although certainly not all of them. Probably the most familiar of them all is the sizable hit that was 'Words' which came through across the . . . Pretty much PERFECT Messages Riddim. The track finds Da Professor giving thanks and praise to The Almighty and doing so in a very entertaining way. This is exactly the type of tune which can be heard and you can really just find yourself falling into the riddim and the melodies, but if you tune in to what's being said, it opens another wonderful aspect of the wide-reaching song. The recent Antique Riddim underpins 'Touch You', which is one of three official combinations on "The Laboratory", this one linking Professor with the legendary Ken Boothe. It's a fairly straight forward love tune, but it sounds so nice (as does every single song you have on this album) and it does a major damage. 'Wake Me Up' was one of the major lights across the fulgent Monte Carlo Riddim and it isn't difficult to see (hear?) why. This is another love song, but it’s a bit more twisting that 'Touch You'. It's also a bit better to my opinion and probably one of the best on the album. 'Listen' is Professor's cut of the Broken Hearts Riddim and it goes more back towards the nature of the opener as does the also recognizable and quite similar 'Be Careful', which precedes it on the album. Both of the tunes are really strong and show not only that diversity that I mentioned, but that wide scaled ability as well. You can turn out big love songs and draw up these type of pertinent social commentaries - You're really talented and it isn't even debatable (and everybody listen to your Mothers!) (DAMN!). And speaking of big love songs, later we get the glowing and unfortunately relatable for every man on the planet 'Speechless' from the City Streetz Riddim and the almost agitatingly infectious 'Fi Her Type' from the major Major Riddim. I wish you MUCH luck in stripping from your mind either one of them because it just is not happening for me (and I like it significantly more now than I used to).

'Fi Her Type'

And as far as those tunes, in particular, I think that it's really telling about the intended direction of "The Laboratory" that those songs were chosen. They're all slower paced and more calculated than Professor's efforts on the Pulse, Baheba and Bankrobber Riddims, respectively. Yes. He does Dancehall too (more on that thought later).

Things arguably take a step in an even more proper direction in "The Laboratory", when we get a glimpse of the new[er] tests Da Professor and Don Corleon have been hard at work on. Included in this is what is my single favourite tune on the album, (the somewhat familiar) (I think it's just a couple of months from its release) 'Skanking & Rocking'.

“Mi seh, wi skankin and rockin
Reggae music wi droppin
It a mash-up down a yard and it a mash-up a foreign
Any dance wi step up in -
Know wi havin dem poppin
From di big tune dem ah spin, you know wi neva be stoppin”

“So when wi skankin and rockin
All di traffic wi blockin
And from mi likkle and ah grow mi Daddy tell mi seh fi sing
Now mi tune dem ah go hard and mi mash-up every riddim
How mi lovin di music, it come in lak mi medicine”

“Cah dem style yah neva stale
And di melody prevail
And di way di lyrics bad, dem waan fi send mi go a jail
Marley only have mi bail
Da music yah no fail
Selassie I mi hail, like seh a Bunny dem a Wail”

“Dddi riddim so heavy, Don just work it pon di scale
So mi, load up di chalice and then just touch it pon di nail
Mi si, big sound string up and di people dem juss ah rail
Professor tune it so bad til it ah jook dem lak a nail”

The song is completely expected (as far as what it is) as it features the much aforementioned Protoje (and Gregory Isaacs) (not really though) and the two produce total DYNAMITE together. Not as perfunctory, but not unforeseen at all is the rocking 'Treat U Right', the third combination for the album, this one featuring the also very promising J-Boog. This song, for some reason, took awhile to grow on me. It's just a fun tune and definitely there’s nothing wrong with that. Also check the huge 'By My Side', which may be choice as the album's second best tune altogether. Take a photo of this tune and give to anyone who wants an explanation of Da Professor's skillset. Here, he sings, he chants, he deejays, he does it all and the results are shining! We're kicked out of "The Laboratory" right after the album's final selection, the previously released 'Good Times'. In a very Gappy Ranks fashion (he sounds just like him on the song), Professor grips into this one and, again, produces a really big vibed, champion tune.

One thing about this album really prevails for me after going through it for the sake of this review: While it is really really good (and you can skip to the rating and see just how good I think it is), I'm almost left with a feeling that it's just scraping the surface of how effective Da Professor can be. I walk away from it like I did when listening to early albums from Turbulence - that there's just so much potential in there - but at the same time (like a lot of early albums of Turbulence's) it's really strong (now let's all just hope that Professor doesn't start doing mediocre love songs, almost exclusively at some point), which is kind of strange.

Da Professor

Overall? WINNER! I'm not completely in love and overwhelmed by the quality of every song on "The Laboratory", but there're no bad tunes here and, off the top of my head, I'm unable to think of a song from Da Professor's catalog which is complete rubbish. He just makes really good music and, perhaps (I'm over-thinking), where his name came from is how studious he's been in his career to come up with such a style. So, you can add yet another big name to Don Corleon's roster and should this one, in particular, prove even more capable and one day top what is to be found within "The Laboratory", well then maybe he hasn't found "another big name". Maybe he's found the biggest. Excellent.

Rated: 4.35/5
Don Corleon Records

Review #345

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