Saturday, June 1, 2013

'This Should Be Good!': A review of "The Messiah" by Sizzla Kalonji

The source. When it comes to music, while I do consider myself to be somewhat demanding, ultimately I'd like to believe that I am the type of fan that only expects from an artist or a label what they have already shown that they are capable of. Of course, you do like to see a progression of some sorts taking place in any instance, or in most, but after identifying someone's actual level, or my perception of it, I'm not the type who consistently goes about expecting something great. The exception to that, obviously, is when your "actual level" is great and then… sure, I'm going to look forward to you demonstrating that greatness at every opportunity that you have. Currently and wonderfully, there is a wide variety of names in Reggae music from whom I expect a steady level of just fantastic music. The most recent addition to the list surely would be the scalding Jah9 and, in her particular case, you get the feeling that she just may NEVER let you down. And I can run down through the likes of Tarrus Riley and Lutan Fyah and Beres Hammond and Midnite and many others by whom you just routinely expect to be supremely impressed and they almost never disappoint. Furthermore there is someone like a Turbulence who has definitely shown a great talent but has shown it in streaks, so while I may not get my hopes up too high in for him, I still know that somewhere in there that dominant skill remains. There's also Busy Signal who literally forces you to anticipate him breaking every perceived rule that he knows of and still delivering undeniably powerful material. Like I said, I expect what you show me. With all of that being said, however, someone who also not only fits on that scale, but for me, essentially, is the scale, is the great Sizzla Kalonji. When it comes to music and my tastes, all roads continue to lead to Kalonji because he has demonstrated to me to be himself capable of producing music which is flawless and has done so on multiple occasions. And, as is our premise here, with soft lofty success also comes grand expectations… right? Maybe not. Easily when it comes to singles and just as simply when it comes to full albums - Sizzla hasn't been that perfect figure each and every time out and, given his prolificacy, there're many examples of something other than his absolute best (though it should be said that if his best is a "10", I'm pretty much satisfied with anything over a "4" or so). So when something is on the horizon and it may be special, despite what I know he can and has previously done, there is just a bit of trepidation in my expectations.
"The Chant" & "In Gambia" [2012]
But trepidation can be a good thing. Though it has been a while from last Sizzla was, in my opinion, perfect throughout an entire album, he hasn't exactly been struggling either. In 2012, though neither of his releases would prove to be very special - together "The Chant" and "In Gambia", retrospectively, were damn interesting (as was an EP in "Don't Mislead The Youths") stops and both were fairly well discussed and anticipated sets. Going back a little further, his last REALLY good album, 2011's "The Scriptures" also generated quite a bit of buzz, but it has been quite awhile from the last time he set out on a project which was so popular ahead of its release date as what we have here. Though "The Chant” may've registered on a close level, it subsequently did not generate what has already happened with his latest creation, the hotly anticipated coming of "The Messiah"

And though I do know better - I just do not care - I COULD NOT WAIT [!] to hear this damn album. There were press releases which were mentioning some of the greatest albums of all time in reference to this project (biggup press releases, in general, because I recently got one mentioning the "electrifying voice" of Vaughn Benjamin) (whoever wrote that obviously has never tried to transliterate some of his lyrics - it is NOT easy work) and it has been months of build-up and it caught me and, like I said, I don't care. "The Messiah" comes via Sizzla's own Kalonji imprint and is distributed through VP Records (making it the first link of that kind from 2011's wretched "Welcome To The Good Life"). The album also features a great deal of work from Breadback Productions, whose head, Richard Bramwell, used to be an engineer at the mighty Xterminator Records. Whether you know it or not, if you listen to a great deal of Sizzla's music, you're already well acquainted with the handiwork of Bramwell (who actually did more than half of Sizzla's 2004 album, "Life") and his label has blossomed over the course of the pass couple of years or so and. In 'evolving' times they continue to record a lot of singles for this artist and several other greats as well, so definitely there is a whole heap of musical chemistry between artist and producer, with more than a decade of work behind them and probably at least another one ahead of them. On top of all of that, I think that I'm just in the mood for another AMAZING and GROUNDBREAKING album from Sizzla, personally. Though his 2012 campaign will likely best (worst) be remembered for a foul clash with up and comer, Khago (which produced about six hundred tracks, all of which were terrible), Sizzla has been in a fine form also over the past couple of years or so and another great album would seem like the perfect way to wrap a bow around yet another mighty stretch within a career brimming with such power surges. But the question is whether or not "The Messiah" is that album? Even its TITLE seemed like it might be and when you eventually saw the cover, it all just had a very good feel surrounding it and you immediately began to hear rumblings that it was the single best album he had done from 2002's MAMMOTH "Da Real Thing". But it couldn't possibly be THAT good… could it? 
No. Absolutely not. It's not "THAT" good and it isn't even close. Being so would make it better than a few standouts, including one album, in "I-Space", which has been deemed a modern classic on these pages and another in "Ghetto Youth-ology" which, as the great Dale Cooper once suggested to me, might be on fringes of that level as well. But that's fine. Though I did get swept up in the anticipation of this album, I'd be more than happy with something on the level of the aforementioned "The Scriptures" or "Waterhouse Redemption". Is this album that good? Yes. Absolutely. It sure is. Setting the tone for "The Messiah", the new album by Reggae legend, Sizzla Kalonji, is an adaptation of "Psalms 121". This is pretty straight forward and self-explanatory, but it's also nicely executed. The sound has a nice vibes to it, particularly in its latter stages where it actually picks up even more and nearly dazzles. A nice start. Things go considerably higher, however, on the second tune on the album, the sterling 'Look How Many Years', which is the first of a few great selections on "The Messiah". This piece is one going through the Afrikan Diaspora, past and present, and Kalonji well spices it up with a concentrated and full-on brilliant, yet effortless, lyrical attack. 

"Look how many years - Black people ah cry
Look how many years - dem ah kill and ah lie
Look how many years - dem slave I & I
Til Emperor Selassie I save I & I
Look how many years - Black people ah cry
Look how many years - babylon kill and lie
Look how many years - dem slave I & I
Tell you seh The Most High save I & I

Children suffering, ain't got no Dad no Mom
No food, no clothes, no where to live - where it's coming from?
Those with di money making guns and bombs
Sizzla tell dem find better and do wid dem money
Jah call on you
Babylon falling, you will see it all and you -
Take a look again children, they suffering in Somalia
Things dready see
Get ready see 
Caan get no bread you see

Don't take my people for a game
Cause you will run up inna flames
You hurt my people, babylon, oh what shame
I cleanse my people in Selassie I name
Babylon nothing ain't cool
You're so wicked
Babylon you are so cruel 
Smaddy you ah look fi ride like mule
Gotta tell you this:
Black people a nuh fool!"

Grrrr! Though it does have its more aggressive spells, what well caught my attention was just how unforced and organic this tune comes through which gives it almost a feel of a lecture and makes for an incredibly interesting selection and one of the best on this album (and were it one of the two albums from last year, it would not have had an equal). The gorgeous 'Center Of Attraction' (as I fight the urge to write out the lyrics to every damn song on this album) is next and it kind of picks up where its predecessor left off and is a direct criticism at oppressive society. Again, you get this nice and easy composition (even easier this time), with a message which is not nice at all. Occasionally, Sizzla will take up this unusual method of 'punchline' writing, where he'll become fixed on just a word or a phrase (almost always the song's title) and build towards that and on top of that and I thought this might be one of those moments, but it really isn't. Instead it is perfectly succinct as he draws connections of people, good and bad, being stuck on someway making their mark on The Motherland. Big tune (and one with excellent backing singing as well). And although they may be fascinated by Afrika, it doesn't mean they are welcomed as Kalonji outlines on 'No Wicked Man'. This diamond of  heavy track carries a sample of Barrington Levy's classic tune 'Murderer' and it more than pays respect to that masterpiece. Everything about this tune thrives from the overall sound (which should go without saying), to the way in which it is written where Kalonji details exactly why the interest exists ["the gold and the diamond strike their eyes, so dem send dem one bagga spies”] and what must be done to eliminate it. ["LEAVE AFRICA RIGHT NOW! GET OUT OF AFRICA LIKE NOW!"]. This one is a virtual guarantee to be a signature moment from this album and maybe even something more. 

Speaking of "signature moments", to my opinion "The Messiah" album makes its greatest mark between a pair of efforts which appear consecutively here. The first is the downright intoxicating title track. I think this song almost had to be exceptional to give even more of an allure to the project and it doesn't come remotely close to disappointing. 'The Messiah' is MIGHTY! With a gorgeous command of melody, it is easily one of the most infectious offerings on the album named after it and it comes with a huge praising message, but one, again, wrapped in this nice and serene type of sound. And then there's the boom.

"Wicked babylonian yah time has come
Fire bun!
Rastaman ah chant dem down
There is nowhere to hide
There is nowhere to run 
Fire bun!
Rastaman ah chant dem down
King Selassie I protect all HIS daughters and son
Fire bun!
Rastaman ah chant dem down
REPATRIATION: The Black Freedom
Fire bun!
Rastaman ah chant dem down

I'll neva forget - the Black people you slaved
We work so hard and we neva get paid
You kill us off with yah guns and blade
From the sacred The Most High, dem locks you go shave 
Fire un di colonial system 
99% Black youth in di prison 
Dutty babylonian you corrupt and you sin
Hail King Selassie I: The Almighty King"

BOOM! The single best song on the whole of this album, in my opinion, is the devastating 'Chant Dem Down' (at least the second huge track of that same name that Sizzla has done). The song actually finds Kalonji returning to the King Jammy's pack (and from what I hear, his next album will find him doing it again) as Jam2 is on the boards and together they deliver what might be the best tune I've heard from the chanter in a few years. This thing knocks and it is this kind of harsh call to action, but it is a call to action - after it finishes you feel enthused and ready to do something and hopefully whatever it is a positive action from such a damn beautiful song. 

After that (I'm exhausted and I still have nine more tracks to talk about), although it does get somewhat softer in its latter stages, "The Messiah" does continue to offer up some truly impressive moments. Sizzla 'takes you there' (yep, that's how I wrote it), on the somewhat subtle 'Dem Nuh Business'. It took me a minute or two to recognize that I knew this one from somewhere and it does borrow from an older popular song, but it does a nice job, in its brevity, discussing those who certainly should, but do not care what is happening to the people "at all". The big social commentary, 'Suffer So Much', tackles another classic track and does it with a CLASSIC first verse in what turns out to be another fine lyrical onslaught (I love that word "onslaught” - that's a great word!) on "The Messiah".

"Most High, I'm asking You to bless thy people
Take dem from the war and strife and all that evil
Without your health and  your strength they've become so feeble
Magician, politician and all dem poison vehicle
Your love with dem, you teach with team - they don't believe you
But for the sake of Your mercy, I beg and beseech you
Mount Zion I stretch forth my hands to reach you
Almighty Life Giver all the children need You 
And Your words of wisdom will feed dem"

It definitely took a little while, but I did ultimately come around on the best lover's piece on this album, 'Good Love' (I don't how many songs he's now had with that title or something extremely similar to it). It isn't as good as the material that I've mentioned thus far, but it does have a nice quality about it. Also pushing forward on me a little is the unique older track 'Children Bless'. The kind of cool and Jazzy arrangement of this tune sets it apart from any other on the album, but when you do dig into what is actually being said, you find this very nice merging of unique sound and proper message (for that specific riddim). And then there's the closer, 'Better Come Out', which is one of the absolute best things about "The Messiah". Returning to the topics of several of the earlier songs, 'Better Come Out' finds Kalonji again focusing on defending, literally and figuratively, Afrikan soil from those who only seek to reach Her or remain for negative works. 

Rounding out the album is a quartet of songs which I don't love, but I also can't find a single bad tune amongst them. The best is definitely 'What A Joy', which I really thought about including in the earlier lot, because it is one of those kind of border-line (biggup Ras Mac Bean) tunes and I think that it does possess some type of 'star quality' and I wouldn't at all be surprised if a few months from now I did rate it higher than I do now. What it does is to kind of make itself a tribute to music, with its old-school framing and it is delightful and… yeah I probably should have mentioned it earlier. It is, also, very loose and I wouldn't be surprised if it was almost a total freestyle. There's also 'Need You Right Now' which is a slightly better than average love song (with a much better than average riddim) (that thing is fantastic) and another piece with a very familiar backing from yesteryear, 'One Life'. That piece, which is actually quite good, probably would have been even better if Kalonji had gone more straight forward in terms of his delivery. Instead you get a mix of chanting and that kind of awkward singing that he does. I do not hate this song, however, and lyrically it is, of course, quite impressive. And finally is the kind of R&B-ish 'May Di Powerz', which is decent but a step or two behind other similarly steered material on the album. Still, it does have some redeeming quality and may prove to be a song which requires a bit more time to grow. 
Sizzla Kalonji
Overall, while, as I said, "The Messiah" is not another of that kind of genre leveling type of release that you'll find in Sizzla's catalogue, what it is, is very good. It should rank, very comfortably, somewhere within his top twelve or so and with this being billed as his seventieth (seventy albums at less than forty years of age) release to date, that is saying that a very healthy quality is to be found here. On top of that, I also think that it is an album which was very much worthy of all the attention that it has generated. Sizzla in a good direction and in a good form on an album which is so well put together, regardless of whether or not it turns into a classic, is worth it and "The Messiah" is all of those things and just a little more. Big credit goes to Breadback Productions as well and I'm confident that this won't be the final full length pairing between the two. "The Messiah" is ultimately an album which shows so many flashes of brilliance that, at points, it glows. Coming from one of the greatest to ever do it in Sizzla Kalonji - call it yet another powerful testament to a talent which still has no problem in meeting and in surpassing even the greatest of expectations. Excellent. 

Rated: 4.60/5
VP Records
CD + Digital 

Review #443


  1. *Psalms 121
    *Suffer So Much

  2. I agree with this review. I was hyped for maybe a new modern classic and it's not quite that, but it's probably about tied with "The Scriptures" as a really good album with lots of great tracks and no bad ones. And that's pretty fulfilling.

    Now to break out "Ghetto Youthology" and see if it's as good as I remember it being...

  3. Where do you presently rate Gentleman in relation to Kalonji? They both got 4.60 this year on their albums & both have an accessible kinda sound.

  4. Definitely Dale Cooper, have to go back and hear how it is now yeah.

    As far as Gentleman & Sizzla Cassa, it's kind of difficult because they have such different styles when they're at their best and I didn't even notice that they got the same score, but it's because they both did what they do well. With Gentleman it's so much more open and dazzling and he does say some great things. But with Sizzla it's sit down and think about what he says because he can freeze moments with words. He says stuff and you have him clearly yeah and you process it, but you end up listening to a one lyric dozens of times.I don't even have the same mood when I want to hear Gentleman as when I want to hear Kalonji. It's two different feelings yeah.

    But to answer your question yeah - Sizzla will probably always be the best for me, but if I did a top ten RIGHT NOW, Gentleman is probably in the top half yeah.

  5. Been listening to this from its release. If it weren't for the final stretch of songs minus 'better come out' one of the strongest trace on the album for me) I think this album would be pretty flawless for a modern sizzla record. Like you I actually like most of those songs but they do seem to drag the album down somewhat. My favourite post 'da real thing' sizzla album is 'The Scriptures' and as Sizzla said, there can't be the Scriptures without the Messiah so I get the impression that the two albums are quite linked and he sees this as the true follow up to that album, not The Chant and In Gambia (which are both solid).