Sunday, September 30, 2012

'No Barriers': A review of The Moving Riddim

Something even greater. While it remains a most rewarding and pleasant experience, listening  to all of this wonderful music, in general, it is still frequently worth mentioning and celebrating the absolute leaders of the genre - those whom we 'charge' with doing special things. Ultimately, or presumably ultimately, it is the goal of every artist, producer and label to arrive at that point in their musical lives and watching them try to get there (or not, even,  in some cases) is one of the most interesting things about being a fan of music. As for those currently at that top who have no plans on vacating the positions to make room for any peers or potential new contemporaries, they continue to dazzle and will hopefully do so for some time to come. In the case of the producers in particular, which is why we're here today, I may get exhausted by saying this over the years, but you really must not be paying any attention at all if you're currently under the impression that the aces of today's era could not 'hold their proverbial owns with those of many eras gone by. I absolutely refuse to believe that someone like Don Corleon could not have been a massive success forty, thirty or twenty years ago making that style of Reggae music and Dancehall. Similarly, I don't believe that I have the PHYSICAL STRENGTH [!] to hear an argument saying that someone like a Dean Fraser or a Tuff Lion or even some of the lesser known maestros, now and going forth, would not have been able to make a just as sizable of a contribution to the music or even more in those two cases, if they came around in a time much ahead of their own. Today we focus on someone else who very much fits into this class and someone who, again presumably, has the time to prove me correct, the masterful Stephen 'Di Genius' McGregor. No matter where you turn, if you listen to Reggae and Dancehall music in 2012 and several years prior, the young McGregor is virtually inescapable and that is a good thing because I would make the point and do so with an extreme level of confidence that if he retired RIGHT NOW and rested on his laurels of a career already completed, McGregor would already assume a class of some of the greatest producers the genre has EVER seen. Like right now. Fortunately that isn't on the itinerary (at least I hope it isn't) and instead he's delivering his latest set, which may just be one of the very best of an already storied and almost over-highlighted career. 
Stephen 'Di Genius' McGrgegor
Stephen McGregor is certainly someone known for a grand amount of versatility in his music. Besides making riddims of a different variety and sounds, he's also produced for almost anyone who is anyone in Reggae and probably more artists than I even know about outside of the genre. He's likely to have orchestrated as many hits as most of his peers combined over the past few years and in 2012, he's well continued his winning ways. But all of that doesn't mean that you can't change the course once in awhile. Usually, although he does deviate, McGregor focuses on more hardcore Dancehall music and recently I'm happy to say his output has beautifully drifted further and further away from that… Hip-Hop shit everyone was making for the last few years and even if you disagree with that, surely you'd agree that his latest release doesn't have a damn thing in common with Hip-Hop - AT ALL. 

The Moving Riddim. In the past Stephen McGregor has done, as I said, a variety of things, but one area in which I'd certainly like to hear more from him is on the more 'traditional' Roots Reggae set. Previously he has done several things (again, probably more than I know about), but what stands out most STILL for me is the fact that the younger McGregor did vibe much of the 2005 album of his legendary father, Freddie McGregor (which, I believe, most unfortunately, remains Freddie's most recent studio album - someone needs to do something about that) (good album still, check it out if you haven't already). In 2004-2005 when that work was likely mostly completed, Di Genius would have probably been all of two or three months old at that point, so clearly you shouldn't allow your mind to think - if you haven't been paying attention - that the creator of such Terror-ridden tracks like the 12 Gauge, Red Bull & Guinness and Tremor riddims ("gagagagaga") is unable to do something different… or you can if you like, but if you do, you risk missing out on one of the finest riddims 2012 has had to offer thus far. The Moving Riddim is an old school vibed piece of bonafide mastery. A few months back the riddim was teased and it was very well received and now it comes to a full official release and as the entire project rolls out, it is no disappointment at all and it even manages to impress 'despite' the very high expectations. McGregor, as you might expect, also took this one in a bit of a different direction than normally. While you won't at all find names such Mavado, Ele, Aidonia, Bramma and Laden who generally appear on Di Genius' compositions, it seems like there was more of an initiative to 'capture the moment' (biggup NiyoRah) and really make a Roots track which stood up like a Roots track (although I would LOVE to hear Agent Sasco on this riddim) and the names who did voice the Moving Riddim, for the most part, are names who would expect to hear, and do hear, typically on such pieces. The results are absolutely shining as Stephen McGregor ultimately isn't the only one related to this project with a talent which is bound to no era. Let's take a listen.  
Di Genius Records 2012
It's so interesting that, typically, Stephen McGregor's more Dancehall-centric creations are these kind of stunning and highly detailed musical journeys and when you get into this piece, it's beautiful and it is stunning, but its more of a 'less is more' type of piece. It sounds so familiar, so comfortable (but still deceptively ACTIVE in some aspects) and it doesn't come off in the same manner as its Dancehall 'siblings' which, for it, is a good thing. "It", of course, would be the Moving Riddim, the latest from Di Genius whose brand new album gets started with one of its biggest names, Jah Cure, checking in on the SWEET lover's tune, 'How Can I Forget'. I don't think I'll ever actually tire of listening to the Cure sing songs and if I will at some point, it's still far off, because to my ears the owner of the greatest voice I have EVER heard in my life continues to turn in winners and this tune is no exception and one of the riddim's finest. Anthony B a veteran (in every sense of the word) of McGregor's output is in next with 'Give Praises'. It's been a few months from the last time I've been REALLY impressed by Anthony B (check out his most recent album, "Freedom Fighter", which is excellent, in stores now), but that all stopped here, 'Give Praises' is really strong and a nearly (not quite) vintage level of Anthony B with the free-flowing nature of the track which is not to be missed. And then there is the BOOM!

"All Ganjaman mi waan si every spliff ah light
Spliff ah light
Mi fi light mi deh pon a Afrika flight
If you suffer from insomnia this mek you sleep at night
Nah go si mi touch di Charlie Brown or touch di Mr. White"

Unsurprisingly taking top honours on Stephen McGregor's Moving Riddim is his brother, Chino, who ABSOLUTELY DESTROYS things with one of the finer herb tunes you'll hear this year (and I'm only saying that because I haven't thought it out yet, it may just be THE finest of them all) 'Boom Draw' (biggup Jr. Kelly). I'm sure I've said it at some point, but I really 'slept' on Chino for far too long, but not these days. This is exceptional!

Looking at the roster of artists on the Moving Riddim, I'm just pretty happy by the fact, alone, that such a riddim would exist that would make enough sense for all of them to have a place here. And while, like I said, I would have liked to see one or two more of the regular 'hands' of the Big Ship, who Di Genius does manage to bring together more than works here. Of course we first  look at the bonafide members of the ROYAL Reggae ranks, the aforementioned Freddie McGregor and the timeless Marcia Griffiths who come through with 'Be Alright' and 'No No No', respectively. Is it awful if I call the former a 'potential classic'??? It is one divine piece of spiritually accessed social commentary. 

"I know things would be better - 
If we could only work together
Now what is the matter?
Peer negative thoughts and wasted chatter
Now who must we turn to?
Is it fear that someone could hurt you?
Or even desert you?
But Jah, HE cares for you
Each day I awake, I give praises to The King
Never lose a thing -
Jah always make me sing
In every way, each and everyday I pray
I give praises all the way
Jah alone will do yeah!" 

For her part, Queen Griffiths turns in another big winner with the defiant 'No No No'. There's just something so sublime about this woman's voice which is just so damn… It's like a blanket! It doesn't even matter what she's singing about, it just makes you feel good and I love when she just kind of appears on modern tracks, although her presence here certainly is not a surprise. 

Joining those two is a wonderful cast of 'supporting artists' which features the likes of singers Mr. Easy and Chris Martin. Mr. Easy is someone who I just like to hear from. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a big fan of his, but I generally enjoy his output these days and the selection he brings here, which is the riddim's title track, is another stellar effort from the singer and for the riddim as well (LOVE the chorus on this tune). It seems to be taking much (much) longer to warm up to the music of Chris Martin than… pretty much everyone else in the world apparently, but as long as he continues to push up pieces like his superb love song here, 'What Can I Do', I'll join the crowd and do so very happily. Someone of whom I very much am a fan already, Hawaiian sensation J-Boog, also has a nice tune on the Moving Riddim in the form of another social commentary (which I think is somewhat rare for him), 'Change Up Your Evil Ways', which calls on everyone who may not be living in the right way to really make an alteration in their behaviour "before the trumpet sounds". J-Boog's voice is also worth mentioning here, because it may just be one of the better sang songs that I've heard from him so far which is definitely saying a lot because he always sounds very good. Di Genius, himself, also finds a proper pitch on his own vocal offering on his riddim, 'Need My Love'. You can imagine already I'm sure what this one is about based on its title and what really strikes here is just how infectious this song is. Is may not be amongst your favourites here (but it may be), but chances are high it'll be THE song most easily stuck into your head after listening through. Black Am I continues to demand attention and respect via his tune on the Moving, its final vocal selection 'Common Sense'. While normally the concept of common sense and its actuality are things I RUN from on sight, I'm completely in agreement with BAI on this antiviolence set and well do keep some attention pointed in his direction because he is poised to do MASSIVE things in Reggae music in my opinion. 

"I & I born with common sense
Mi coulda neva mix up inna no nonsense
As far as mi si it, it no mek no sense
When gunshot ah beat and man ah tear down fence
Like dem no born with common sense
Ah roll without dem soul and no conscience
And nuff mi si come inna unda false pretense
But Natty Dread ah burn out bad influence"  

And lastly is a personal favourite of mine as the eternally flaming Lutan Fyah reaches the Moving Riddim with his normal brilliance, 'Hold A Medz' which rises near the top as my second favourite tune on the track. 

"Tell dem seh mi humble but wi neva soft
Wi no lamb to no slaughter
I'm working so hard, for my son and my daughter
Let the future be secure from this time forth and after
And tell dem wi nuh idle, no wi nah go waste no time
Early morning as mi rise - I'm on the grind!
Then I put the wheels to my shoulder, ready to take what is mine
Then lifestyle so dandy and fine”

"Tell dem seh mi always ready to perform
Mi neva work no inequity from di day mi born
And who dem ah try diss up wid a scorn?
Tell dem seh mi write and mi bun dem wrong
Mi nah go follow no Rudeboy, mi nah join no gang
Hey, a love man come fi show and a just so mi tan
Hey, hear mi out"

And the riddim album also contains a clean version of the Moving Riddim (so you can try it for yourself at home), which is excellent and is always a nice touch so biggup Stephen McGregor for including it (because they don't have to). 
Overall, the only real complaint here is that there isn't more. Checking it at only eleven vocals, I definitely could have gone for two or three others on the riddim, but judging it for what it is, the Moving Riddim is, quite easily, one of the best riddims of the first nine months of 2012 and we've had some nice ones, so that's a pretty large distinction in my opinion. On top of that, because of how it is vibed, and this goes back to our premise: There doesn't exist a period in the history of Reggae music where this isn't an excellent riddim. I'm not going to try and tell you that it is one of the greatest of all time… but it fits into so many different segments of the music and does so by virtue of just being exceptional really. It is also worth mentioning that despite its very straight forth style, I think that the Moving Riddim is also relatively accessible to non traditional fans of Reggae music, who should be able to appreciate it as well. The set becomes yet another testament to skillful nature of the producers of today, in particular someone who will also be amongst the engineers of tomorrow - The great Stephen 'Di Genius' McGregor. Superb. 

Rated: 4.5/5
Di Genius Records

Review #391

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