Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Nemozian Rasta" by Midnite

Bonded together. For whatever reason, whether unexplainable or obvious, when it comes to making music, just as it is in any other profession, some people just have a greater amount of chemistry together than do others. However it begins - with a big tune or some type of other winning association, when you can link an artist with a producer and have them function in some type of perfect unity, the results can be legendary. For example, if you were to take the next ten albums from someone like Sizzla Kalonji and have ONE of them be produced by Bobby Digital, regardless of what is going on with the other nine, amongst more intense Reggae fans, that Digital produced set is going to receive the most attention, for some reason (… because they've together made two of the greatest albums of all time). Another, far more recent and obvious case would be Protoje with Don Corleon. While they lack the history of our first instance, when you are Protoje and you notice that you have a certain skill with music, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to call up your cousin, Don Corleon, who just happens to, arguably, be the genre's greatest producer of the modern era. Similarly, if you're… I don't know, let's just say that you are the dominant group from out of the Virgin Islands and, likewise, there is also a leading label from out of St. Croix, one might have the random idea to combine your talents and work together at some point. Of course we are talking about our latest look back into the ever beautifying catalog of Midnite which, wonderfully, comes via another unit with which we deal quite often these days, I Grade Records. While Midnite will and has pretty much recorded for absolutely anyone (which makes my point even easier to highlight, I suppose) over the years but, at least on a consistent level, they've achieved some of their greatest successes with Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred and company at I Grade Records. And these days, with IGR also pushing considerably forward with the union of the Zion I Kings, the next Midnite album from the label, which we may actually get before the end of 2013 reportedly, is hotly anticipated and should be MAMMOTH! Until then, however, we take a look back at what they've done together thus far and, specifically, one of their biggest moments.  
Midnite & I Grade Records
To my surely embarrassingly inaccurate count, to date the link of Midnite and I Grade Records has produced EIGHT albums. The most recent, 2011's "Kings Bell", was easily one of the most popular Midnite albums ever and though I've been happy with everything they've done from then (unless I am really overlooking something), it was probably 'their' last album which was, universally, regarded as at least good. You could also say that it may've been the last album which casual fans caught on to as well, because it was fantastically promoted. Prior to that, you had to go back four years to 2007's "Rule The Time". The year before that was "Jah Grid". In 2005, there was "Let Live". Bredz' favourite Midnite album, "Vijan" [aka "The Purple One"] [biggup Bredz] reached in 2003, as did "Geoman", a Branch I album, with "Assini" arriving the previous year. If you go into these albums, many of them, like "Kings Bell" had very interesting and popular aspects around them and that's also the case for me, personally, with "Jah Grid" and "Rule The Time" being favourites of mine and, of course, if you don't know ANYTHING about "Let Live", you do know that it carried one of Midnite's most popular efforts of all time, the infamous "The Gad". When you get Midnite and you get I Grade Records together on a single project - special things tend to happen. 

And today we go to the beginning. Twelve years ago there was the very first meeting of Midnite and I Grade Records, "Nemozian Rasta". This album would not only go to set the pace in terms of what would eventually follow for the union, but it would also help to spur on the label's and the artist's career, in general. By my count, "Nemozian Rasta" was the fourth album carrying the name Midnite and it may actually have been the VERY FIRST I Grade Records album ever. It may have been their very first one (does that label not seem to anyone else as if it has been around from at least… twenty years or so??? That's what happens when you make a lot of great music in a short amount of time - your fans lose track of time) (biggup I Grade). And when you look at what both have gone on to do from that time -- twelve years later and more than forty more albums for Midnite and more than twenty for IGR) -- there definitely is a large amount of respect behind "Nemozian Rasta" for getting things started in more ways than one and helping to set in motion a couple of pillars in the annals of modern Reggae music history. But is it one of those kind of figurehead types that people just look at and hail because of what it represented (and because they do that for every Midnite album)? No, it was very good and even before we began our current project, it ranked as one of my own favourites. Coming in at a very healthy sixteen tracks and nearly an hour's worth of music, even today I regard "Nemozian Rasta" as one of Midnite's most COMPLETE sets. And, again despite its age, I also feel that it may be one of their most accessible as well, which is a quality that is present on many of IGR's Midnite albums, when compared to some of their other work. So, no matter how many times 'they' hit Rastar Records or Fifth Son or Natural Vibes or Afrikan Roots Lab or Rastafaria (anytime with that new album Rastafaria) -- and impress, because they do -- I do hold a special place for Midnite albums from I Grade Records because, as I said, they always seem to come with a little extra. 
That was especially true in this case - it did have something EXTRA. Along with being the first time Midnite did an album with I Grade Records and possibly the first time the label did an album with anyone, "Nemozian Rasta" would also go to help bring to prominence another SEVERELY respected artist, Dezarie. While the reigning queen of VI Roots Reggae would make her own debut, "Fya", later that same year, she would make her presence known on this album which would feature a trio of efforts, two of which would appear on her aforementioned debut set. So, "Nemozian Rasta" would well accomplish many things, not the least of which would be its sensational opener, 'Mountains'. This praising piece may just be my second favourite on this album altogether and it is a tune which, in my opinion is quintessential Vaughn Benjamin. If you hear this song and absolutely do not enjoy it - there is no need for you to spin the rest of this album. To my ears, however, it is golden. The next Midnite song on the album, 'Shout That' is another winner for me in a major way.

"Who life dem waan fi defend that?
Longtime dem thief, waan keep that
Musical keys and a natty dreadlock
Wicked, dirty heart stay back 
Nastiness and plot, fast dem go round di track
Dem have di highest of di currency stock
Highest of the currency stock
Jah said Black bless a sound and sound fi Black

BOOM! This tune is one about appreciating what you have and where you are in life, regardless of whether or not it may be your ideal situation and continuing to receive more from The Almighty. Next is the very well regarded and HEAVY 'Love IE One Another'. The riddim on this tune is full-on divine and it makes for an exceptional backdrop for not only Vaughn Benjamin, but a joining Dezarie as well (that voice is SO clear and distinct. Also check 'Prize Your Name' which, although not a favourite of mine, is a tune which I've gone up and down in appreciation of throughout the years, so it definitely has something to it. 

As for the aforementioned Dezarie, her three contributions to "Nemozian Rasta" are also some of its finest moments as well, particularly the first two. The third, however, 'Right Direction', is also very good and is a nice deviation from the vibes of the album. It is a social commentary at its core and a nice one as it actually features Dezarie deejaying [WHAT!] just a bit which most certain is a highlight on the album.

"If you really waan shot someone
If you really waan shot someone
Shot di one weh cause oppression 
Causing di struggle fi gwan
Who plot fi destroy wi nation
Deliberately lock up Black man"

As for those first two selections, both of which would subsequently appear on her album, "Fya" - 'Sing Out' and especially 'Most High' were HUGE! Both tunes kind of follow Benjamin's song which comes before them [DUH!] in terms of using the same riddim on the previous track and, unsurprisingly, Dezarie makes an excellent usage of them in both instances. 'Sing Out' does take a little while to really tune in (and she gradually increases the intensity throughout it), but is a GEM by its end. As for 'Most High', it's a special song and a seamless 'companion piece' to its predecessor 'Mountains'. Obviously, this is a composition which gives the greatest of praise to His Imperial Majesty and in this short time (actually the shortest on the whole of the album), Dezarie does amazing things here. TEARS!

Speaking of amazing things, the amazingest (not a word, but it should be) on "Nemozian Rasta" is Vaughn's fully sublime and downright DAMAGING 'Bless'

"Dem cursed, when dem coulda bless
Have man inna one big financial stress

Dem alla think seh is a pop culture legend
Just as all di needs dem need to be met
Yeah, needs to be addressed
Bruk out of dem illusionary progress!" 

This song, though entirely straight forward and not having one massive quality about it is just all kinds of captivating and though it hasn't received the most amount of attention of anything to be found on this record, to my opinion it is the biggest piece here. The tune which follows 'Bless', 'Ancesta', is another excellent offering as well from Benjamin. I may be the only one, but this tune is marked by PASSION to my ears and, just as is the case on the song ahead of it, it is subtly distributed. Here we find Benjamin giving a tribute to those who have paved the way for us, but when you get into its latter stages, it sizzles and it also brings out this great EDGE to the vibes where it seems as if Benjamin is going after the track with something just a bit more than usual. 'If I Betray' is another nice piece which shares its riddim with Dezarie's 'Right Direction' and actually conjures up a similarly distinct style from Benjamin as well as he discusses what may happen if/when he or anyone goes against the will of His Majesty. And there's also, 'Up Stay', which I do not LOVE, but do have an ample appreciation of because the SOUND of that song is spectacular. The musicianship there, in particular, is top notch. 

"Nemozian Rasta" gets REALLY good near its conclusion as Vaughn Benjamin provides five strong pieces of his own to join Dezarie's 'Right Direction'. The first of them is the somewhat Jazzy 'Black Congo'. Musically speaking, there is so much going on with this one and you can hear how it takes him a minute, but by the early-mid portions, Benjamin has embraced everything he can do with this riddim and uses it to make for a highly memorable moment. 'Esta Es The Truth' finds the artist going on Danny I on the people (new album, "Tribu Especial", in stores now) on a big social/spiritual commentary. And then there is 'Swing & Slide', which is MASSIVE! 

"Why do we push dem on di swing and di slide?
The merry-go-round ah fi go dizzy dem eyes
And when we starting with some whens and some whys
Whens and some whys
What's the thrilling inna destabilize?
What's the thrilling inna destabilize?
Give I clearness of eyes"

This is a track which is well ripe with discussable points, but he prevailing one to my eyes and ears is in examining the poor treatment of the youths of the world. As his typical style, Benjamin takes a very unusual and clever method of making his point, but in this case it becomes clear… or as clear as it gets in Midnite's music, on what is basically the FANTASTIC chorus on this tune. If I haven't said it yet, and I haven't, it is certainly best to listen to this album and any of Midnite's work 'Keenly'. If you don't, you might miss a tune like 'Keenly' completely. Although it may be one of the more sonically attractive pieces here (it is), the message is a little deeper as Benjamin seems to suggest a very specific type of sentiment - one where everyone on the planet just pays a great deal more attention to ourselves and things going on in life. And finally is 'Enough For Everyone' which is another very witty praising tune ["Jah make enough for everyone"] where the thought is that His Majesty has given us all that we need. EVERYONE! From human beings, down to mosquitoes - have been provided for, it is just a matter of realizing it because what you think you may be lacking, you may actually already have.  
Overall, as I said "Nemozian Rasta" is personally one of my own favourite Midnite albums to date and it was one that I didn't have to 'move' much on - I've enjoyed it to some degree, basically, from the first time I heard it and a large part of that is due to just how complete and well-arranged of a project that it is. Despite the fact that it was the first Midnite/I Grade Records album, I think you can say that about this album even more so than one or two later records in that union (and now that I say that, I think that I may even call this album more complete than albums which I hold in even higher esteem than it). That was its dominant quality and it remains so to this day - where "Nemozian Rasta" exists as a very well-respected album and one which has aged quite well over a dozen years. So, while there were so many reasons to like this one on paper and even revere it, "Nemozian Rasta" was also excellent along with being THE album which began one of the strongest musical relationships in all of modern Reggae music between I Grade Records and Midnite

Rated: 4.30/5
I Grade Records
CD + Digital 

Review #455

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