Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Ainshant Maps" by Midnite

Changes within changes. I know what you're thinking and it's probably accurate. Yes, having yet another new Midnite album ("Be Strong", in stores now), has once again gotten me to continue digging into one of the most fascinating discographies in all of music and what we have today is a piece which has stuck with me and been 'moving' for quite some time. It is also, very likely, the first of a few of its kind… again. I am still well at the point where I find it downright amazing how I'm now warming up to a variety of different sounds from Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite which is, essentially giving me a lot of new albums. Although I have always maintained and will continue to maintain that I am not the biggest Midnite fan and probably never will be, I've done fairly well in keeping up with their output throughout the years and, even long before reaching the stage I am at now, this was the case. Because of that, while I do tend to focus on the more current releases, it has also offered me the opportunity to go back and revisit some more dated releases and, not surprisingly, some of these too have grown on me considerably as well and for different reasons. The "Be Strong" album was one which followed a release in "In Awe" which, as I've said, has grown and grown and progressed and progressed on me so much from the very first time that I heard it, that I'm now fully expecting the same situation to develop from its followup. I'd be kind of shocked if I don't appreciate "Be Strong" significantly more a year from now than I do right now and part of that is certainly because of the experience that I had with "In Awe". On top of that, you could also say that is has been my 'late' appreciation of all of Midnite's music (well, not "all", I have recently discovered that my LEAST favourite Midnite album is probably "Current") (although I'm still working on that one as well) which kind of makes me listen to almost everything they do with an attitude of 'it'll be greater later'. Outside of "In Awe", I also happen to have a wonderful example of this as an album which is now nine years old and one which I probably received fairly close to its release date has progressed on me to the point where I can surely say that it ranks amongst my five or so favourite Midnite albums to date and it got there, really, without me knowing it.  
"Scheme A Things" [2004]
The year 2004 was yet another very interesting one for Midnite. Certainly highlighted by a project which has gone on to become one of their most revered creations ever, "Scheme A Things" for Rastafaria, the year would also include a pair of releases for Natural Vibes, “Project III" (a Branch I album) and the varied "Full Cup" album (with Ras L). While "Full Cup", which wasn't the best of that lot, hasn't aged very well, obviously "Scheme A Things" has and "Project III" (which I went back to listen to and is probably a little better than I ever have it credit for being), although certainly not the most well known album, also seems to enjoy somewhat of a quieter type of appreciation amongst the more hardcore fans of the group (a status which seems to extend to any project bearing the "Branch I" tag). Buried within that same year was another album which hasn't 'matured' very well in terms of its popularity, but definitely has in its quality, the personal, ever-evolving, favourite of mine, "Ainshant Maps".
"Project III" & "Full Cup"
By my count (which is surely incorrect), "Ainshant Maps" was the second Midnite album of 2004, the fourteenth Midnite album ever and the third of its kind to be released via Afrikan Roots Lab, following "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" ["a tune called late night ghetto!"] and the well respected "Jubilees Of Zion" from 2000. From that early group and when compared to albums such as the aforementioned "Scheme A Things" and several others from around the same time, especially everything from I Grade Records, "Ainshant Maps" isn't a release which enjoys a particularly popular standing in the discography ("Discography: Midnite"), but it remains very respected and with good reason. As I said, I got this album roughly around the time that it initially reached and while it certainly didn't do much for a twenty-two or twenty-three year old me (I was… for the most part my twenties were really just a big disaster with a couple of extremely bright spots (with names) thrown in for semi-sanity), even back then I heard something in it which made me keep returning to it throughout the years. And I would get other Midnite albums which I liked considerably more at and around the time and much later, I still held a place for "Ainshant Maps" and would go back to it sporadically, basically expecting it to blossom one day. It worked. It was first just a couple of years ago or and then, definitely, recently, but "Ainshant Maps" began to draw me into it more and more and has really proven to be a very useful source of inspiring thought. Of course, you're thinking  that it is the same for all of Midnite's music (or at least most of it), and while I am inclined to agree with you, it was and remains particularly true in this album's case. Like everything from Afrikan Roots Lab, "Ainshant Maps" was an actual Midnite album featuring production and instrumentation from Ron Benjamin, as well as contributions from Abijah Hicks, Phillip Merchant and Dion Hopkins, with the inimitable Vaughn Benjamin taking the lead on vocals, as well as playing guitar and percussion. The sound clearly was not one of the more varied installments of their work that you're going to encounter, not even around that time-frame. Instead, what happened here was one of their more straightforward musical efforts which would prove itself a massive winner by its end - even if it took me nearly a decade to figure that out. Let's talk about it. 

Something that I've definitely noticed about the albums which actually feature MIDNITE (and, as "Midnite" tends to generally mean the presence of Vaughn Benjamin, I think that when you hear things such as "actual Midnite" or "original" or "real", it, now, pretty much just means the presence of Ron Benjamin alongside his younger brother) as a band, new and old, is that the music is very full and, as I said, more simple. You can listen to dozens of Midnite albums and come away with this very appropriate and fitting view of Vaughn Benjamin as this innovator and experimenter of different sounds, but if you then came into contact with the albums from ARL or Rastafaria, I think your view would change. Those albums always, somewhat, appeared to be constructed for a live performance and you can hear it throughout this piece as well. Lyrically, however, is a different story and Vaughn Benjamin was his typically mystifyingly brilliant self on the "Ainshant Maps" album from 2004 which set off on its course with one of its highlights 'Praise Jah'. The opener really speaks mainly towards the firmness and reliability of His Imperial Majesty. Benjamin goes on to talk about people from various walks of life seeking HIM, as well as those who don't and what they, futilely, attempt to do. The sound here is also quite interesting and serene and when tied to the punchline of the song, "First thing you do when you get up in the morning, you hail Jah", really adds to the presentation of this tune a great deal. Next is a tune which may've actually be the first one that I ever listened to on this album, 'Livity'. I really recall not liking this for a significant amount of time, but as is the case for the album on which it appears, 'Livity' has pushed forward on me throughout the years. These days? It's magical. 

"Look and see, look and see
Mi nah shy about nothing weh happening
For as long as ghetto people still ah hear me
Yeah - Divine I livity
Divine I livity
What is the vision of the spirit of hungry?
It is clean and never satisfied?
Is the outward that endanger the inside?
And so any of the two extremes can confuse the mind
Any of the two extreme can confuse yah mind
Cinders left when Rasta dun wipe out one down"

This tune speaks to passage of time throughout everyday life. To that end, it is a social commentary, but in typical Vaughn Benjamin fashion, he goes on to grind details down to the finest of powders in pushing this unforgettable piece. And then we have another favourite of mine from "Ainshant Maps", 'Drought'. First of all, the riddim on this tune is something special and, again, it is so with no twists and turns - just an exquisite performance of the genre of music. On top of that, the dearth we hear Benjamin speaking on is certainly not a literal and physical one, but a mental and spiritual one. This song I may always remember for delivering, arguably, THE line of the entire album when Benjamin says:


Yes. You do. Speaking of brilliance in a riddim -- although my opinion on this has changed a few times and once very recent -- at this very moment, my favourite song on the whole of "Ainshant Maps" is its fifth tune, the MASSIVE 'Man Tain'. True to the form of the mood of the album, there is nothing going on here which is terribly out of the ordinary of the album, but it is amplified and perfected on a tune which, not too much unlike our opener, is really about how Rastafari has maintained and maintained so many people throughout the years, no matter the atrocities which have been faced. Obviously it took me a really long while to arrive at this healthy appreciation of a song like this, but it was well worth it and it well continues to be. BOOM!

'Man Tain' actually begins a streak of several songs on "Ainshant Maps" which rank at or near its head in terms of quality. In next would be another huge tune (DUH!), 'Abadan Abyss'

"Drastically resistant to Rome
Drastically resistant to Rome
Drastically resistant to brush and comb

Hold yah honourable mention citation
Every time dem si di God, man is intricate simplicity articulation
Jah Rastafari, Jah Black is the first covenant
Jah Rastafari, Jah Black is the first covenant
Well, was in world and the world was made by HIM
First man, eternal, without brush and comb

Man de yah inna Abadan Abyss ah lick down hell fence

DAMN! Well, we've talked about the maintaining of Rastafari and we've talked about the firmness of HIM as well, on the lesson that is 'Abadan Abyss', Professor Benjamin scathingly illustrates the DURABILITY of Rasta to remain pure through all forms of intended dilution from other walks of life. This is a song where, despite the fact that the riddim is gold (and it is!), you HAVE to focus on what is being said, otherwise you'll nod your head for three and half minutes and feel good about it, but you won't pick up a damn thing on a song which has many, many damn things to offer you! 'Judgment For Sentence' is excellent song as is the title track which follows it. 'Ainshant Maps', the song is another song, of maybe three or four, which have been my absolute favourite on the album named after it at some point over time. Here, it is the finely tune marriage of wonderful message and vibes which give this song an extra dimension of appreciation. I also should mention that, I've always like how, by his delivery, Vaughn Benjamin seems to revel in this song in particular. He is clearly enjoying himself and in a major way throughout this tune and if you hear it, he won't be the only one enjoying it. And rounding out this fantastic stretch of songs on "Ainshant Maps" are the HEAVY 'Knocka Fia' and 'True King'. The former is really a call to Rastafari and it features a surely intended variation of a delivery which gives it something else of its own. The latter, on the other hand, is just perfect and, definitely, another of those crowning songs here. 

"As I & I ah get I turn fi come in
Reparation is a realistic thing
Weep not - rejoice - to conquer and conquering
Balance and respect is from whence I come in
Haile I Selassie is The Almighty King
First one fi do dem soul house cleaning
All from di ancient, future man come fi win
Trample reptilian, lion, serpent and a ricochet a bling
Love for ye one another, real something 
How you so careless inna handling these things?
The Greco Roman, Judeo Christian tradition is about This thing
Black Nazarene Lion, Earth Fyah King

Eminence and Majesty inna political steady
Precepts of victory inna di roots deep, already
The architectural genius of a city -
Well judgment dun lick that already
Free innocence-y
Offshoot already - 
The world must revisit the True King Selassie

Everything fi dem a gunnery
Riddle is a word potion, same time, softly
Literary cannon, dem ah tell you literally
Bullet inna informational type of specie
With the irits fi penetrate dem duppy 
His Majesty - chant humbly and obediently 
Heaven and earth root -
One red I - JULY 23!"

It is another more than respectable trio of tune which brings "Ainshant Maps" to its full conclusion, beginning with the very interesting 'Breathing Scrolls'. This piece is a dynamic one and a very accessible one as well (more on that in a minute), as far as Midnite music goes and it has also grown through the years and continues to. With a name like 'Dub Playt', it isn't very hard for a tune to attract a great deal of attention and when you hear it, you know that was actually part of the INTENTION (biggup Jah9) of the song ["Every time her name drop it feel like di boom of dub plate"]. The point here is really just about love and what I've come away with is that Benjamin, instead of talking about a woman in particular, is talking about the love of music and lyrically embodying it in a beautiful woman.

"Mystic, in the late afternoon -
Couple rows of Congo:
Devastating beauty queen"

"Nice brown shade of amazing-cy

"Your authority is a king man expecting full justice and right temperance
Full need to protect his pride and joy - speak difference from ignorance
To see her all the way stay true to the principles that grow her from an infant
Prosperity awaiting you -
Head up high, flashing white teeth smile, praise upon creation!"

This tune is VERY clever and it isn't really typical Vaughn Benjamin to kind of do something so organically playful, so while it does rank as the changeup of the album, as it shows - there is nothing wrong with changing the vibes occasionally. And lastly is 'Arose' which "is just a vibes". A certain freestyle from Benjamin, the song is just kind of a display or his remarkable and unparalleled talents and a nice way to end a just as remarkable album. 
Overall, yes "Ainshant Maps" took long enough, but these days it is a favourite of mine and if you read my work to any degree, then you know how much Midnite I'm listening to in the last couple of years or so - so that is saying something big. As I alluded to, despite the fact that it took so long to grow on me - I am the direct opposite of a genius and you could be nearly completely impaired in the brain and still have considerably more good sense than I do (and I was much, much worse nine years ago) - so I think that this is a very accessible release as far as Midnite albums go. As I said, it is so straightforward, a quality which can be rare in Vaughn Benjamin's output, so if you're a newer fan, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend "Ainshant Maps" as your VERY FIRST Midnite album, at all. Hopefully older fans don't even need the advice and have also been enjoying an album which has been very, very nice to me. A personal classic. 

Rated: 4.75/5
Afrikan Roots Lab

Review #442

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