The fact that every man and woman must find and follow their own road has been perfectly demonstrated in the remarkable career of Natural Black. Having one of the most captivating rises to prominence that we've ever seen in Reggae music, the extremely talented and fiery Guyanese born chanter went from the very definition of 'obscure Reggae singer' to being an undeniable star in slightly more than a decade's worth of work, which put him in the ranks of some of Roots Reggae's most well known stars. He's found a very unique blend of combining passion and personality and intelligence and the results, when at their best, have been absolutely spectacular. Of course, he's also not been shy of speaking his mind outside of the studio, however, today we look back at the albums (wonderfully, all of which were released prior to his 'shift') (though he does have another on the way) of someone who has definitely done things his own way and was an utter joy to listen to when he was at his best. Discography: Natural Black
|The music of Natural Black|
"World War" [Lion Roots Records - 2003]
Hands up. Though there is actually some question regarding which of his first two was actually Natural Black's debut album, I've always given the mark to "World War" because both albums were produced by the same person, Black’s manager at the time, Roger Grant, on his Organic Records label and this album actually makes mention of qualities of a forthcoming "second album" which would prove accurate for the next album on this list. In terms of quality they also fit. "World War" certainly didn't feature the artist at his best but, looking back at it now, it did a very fine job in terms of setting some type of stage for what was to come. The album wasn't exactly useless either and as the title track (basically, it was called 'Third World War') is probably the best known piece from the album, there were just a few others from the eleven-track set which stood out as well. 'Strong Woman' was my favourite song from the album but also check tunes like 'Weh Dem Ago Pass', 'Hands Up' and one or two more. Though production didn't enlist a great deal of big names, tracks were supplied by the likes of Bulpus and even Black Scorpio. Also, much in the way of debut albums from the likes of Jah Mason, Pressure Busspipe and others, "World War" has faded. It's nearly impossible to find and, unlike the second album on this list, it never made its way to the digital format (which makes the fact that I own a SMOOTH physical copy (it still has that 'new CD case' feel to it) (you know what I'm talking about) a very nice one).
"Spiritual Food" [Patate Records - 2003]
'Songs With Feeling'
Songs with feelings. Natural Black's aforementioned second album, "Spiritual Food" is one of those albums which I probably enjoy A LOT more than most other people, but who cares! I will acknowledge that it is clearly lesser of an album than three, and maybe four, other albums on this list, but I thought that it was some kind of exceptional. Why? Surely the fact that it contained a pair of the chanter's early hits in 'Songs With Feeling' and 'To My Bonafide' didn't hurt. It also helped that the album carried several really nice other songs such as 'Rising Up', 'Bad Mind' ["You nah go mek it if yuh bad mind no! Betta yuh lef because a fulltime now - UNUH FI STOP LIVE LIKE HUMAN SWINE, AND LEAVE UNTO ME WHAT IS MINE!"] [BOOM!] and the title track. HOWEVER, a significant part of my interest in the "Spiritual Food" album comes in during track #11, 'Free Again', which… is probably one of the best songs I've ever heard in my entire life and one which has helped through many fucked up moments of life over time. TEARS!
"My life is filled with heartaches
My whole world is filled with lots of pain
My heart has been broken
Here comes the sunlight through the dark clouds of rain
Now I am free again
Like the birds in the tree again
Once I was blind, but now I can see again
Now I am free again
Like the birds in the tree again
All my bad habits I have gotten rid of them
First my life was far away driven
Mi neva get a chance fi express mi vision
MI LIFE WAS UNDER BONDAGE AND IT DARK LIKE PRISON
Is like the frustration has begun
Di responsibility was all upon mi
Fi elevate myself out of this life of poverty
And stay focused and maintain my sanity -
Fi di less fortunate a my priority
I read and chant a prayer
And ask Jah to fulfill my heart desire
So He take I much higher and higher
Take I so high, I feel inspired!"
"Far From Reality" [Greensleeves Records - 2006]
'Life Be The Same Way'
Think big. Though it was only three years between Natural Black's second and third albums, it was an entire career of what had happened in between the two sets. Most notably, he had scored with his first deafening hit which would, subsequently, go on to be the title track for the third album, which would also see a step forward, coming via the once mighty Greensleeves Records, "Far From Reality". Propelled by a tune which made a devastating usage of the equally destructive Seasons Riddim from master demolisher, Don Corleon (still one of his finest creations in my opinion), Black would see a general rise in profile, one which he, arguably, still enjoys to this day. But the album, as a whole, wasn't merely a bed for a giant tune (and it was giant), it would also feature other top notch tunes which would go on to have successes of their own, respectively. Songs like 'Never Hurt You', his cut of the big Istanbul Riddim (also produced by Corleon) 'Life Be The Same Way', the WICKED 'Can't Mix Intelligence' ["with negligence"], 'Born Inna Struggle', the beautiful 'Beautiful Place' and a song which has caught flames with me lately, 'Conquer Dem' on the old I Swear Riddim. Probably my choice as Natural Black's best album and a borderline modern classic.
"WI CONQUER DI BEST A DEM
DISMANTLE DI REST A DEM
BECAUSE, DEM AH OCCUPY DI YOUTH DEM SPACE
FROM JAH JAH SEH SO DEN -
LOCK OFF DEM OXYGEN -
NO MORE WICKEDNESS COULD EVER TAKE PLACE!"
"Cool Nuh Black" [Vizion Sounds Records - 2007]
Link up. Unsurprisingly, still basking in the gleam of 'Far From Reality', Natural Black would enjoy a few very productive years around the time and none would find him more prolific, as far as albums, than 2007 which would bring a trio of very nice sets. The first of them (if my order is correct and there is no way that it is) would carry the most fitting and beautiful set of circumstances as Guyana's most popular Reggae star, Natural Black, would link with the country's most popular Reggae label, Vizion Sounds Records to create "Cool Nuh Black". Years from now, should Guyana continue to prove to be a fruitful resource for top notch Reggae artists, we'll look back at the work Vizion Sounds did in developing the likes of First Born and others as some king of pioneering, but until then or unless then, definitely 'Cool Nuh Black' was substantial and that was just on paper. Musically, it ranks as one of the three best albums he’s ever done (and I know some people who would send it straight to the head and, if I recall correctly, the great Dale Cooper is one of them) with big tunes such as the SUCCULENT 'Found My Roots', 'Jah Blessings' alongside First Born, 'Any Means Necessary', 'Exalt His Name' and the conquering 'High Grade' being the biggest standouts.
"Jah Guide" [Greensleeves Records - 2007]
Over & under. Looking back, what would ultimately become of the "Jah Guide" album is very fascinating. Though I wouldn't call it one of Natural Black's best releases (it would be either fourth or fifth on my list… maybe even sixth now that I think about it), it was a good album. Unsurprisingly it saw him return to Greensleeves following the, presumed, commercial success of "Far From Reality" and it also saw Black link with King Jammy as well. Such circumstances simply do not make sense with an album which, essentially, went overlooked. In retrospect, I'd like to say that it was because "Far From Reality" simply hadn't ran its course, but it didn't matter in the case of the next album I'm going to tell you about, which was quite popular. This album would carry a very nice old school charm as you might imagine and, again, though it wasn't his best work, with tunes such as 'Selassie & Marcus', the GORGEOUS 'Give Thanks & Praise', 'Jah Jah Bless, 'Jah Knows' and 'Love Of Rasta' (SURELY you just noticed what I did there), it's rather difficult to see why it didn't make more of an impact in its day.
"Love Gonna Conquer Evil" [Cousins Records - 2007]
A nice picture. Natural Black's final album of 2007, "Love Gonna Conquer Evil" was big and is one of his three best in my opinion and if you wanted to say that it was the best he ever did, while I would disagree with you, I wouldn't carry it very far. This album would come via two labels who had an outstanding run at the time as far as releasing albums. First was In The Streetz who would do albums around the same time for the likes of Luciano, Turbulence, Lutan Fyah, Sizzla Kalonji, Jah Mason and Norris Man. There was some very solid material in there and, to my opinion, a good case could be made that with the exception of Sizzla's album, "I-Space", Black's work for the label at the time was on the level of anyone else's at least. There was also the very briefly mighty Cousins Records who would do one or two of those aforementioned releases and make their name in also pushing work for Lloyd Brown, Peter Spence and other impressive UK acts for awhile. When they linked together for "Love Gonna Conquer Evil", they nearly caught something special and actually did as I'll likely always remember this album fondly for carrying the MAMMOTH tune, 'Love Rastafari'. A very nice album which has aged well also.
"Naturally Black" [Rad's Records - 2008]
Business as usual. Natural Black would link with yet another UK label, Rad's Records, for his first album of 2008 and though this is an album which has basically faded away, it may be one of the most consistent representations of his work that he's ever done. What "Naturally Black" may've lacked as far as wholly spectacular moments, it did make up for in stringing together very nice vibes, free of any bad songs. I recall having a great deal of fun when I first dealt with this one and now, listening to it back, some of that remains - okay a lot of that remains. The best song on this album was and still is the divine 'Nubian Business', but it was backed by the excellent Al.Ta.Fa.An. drawn 'Why Can't We', 'Every Time I Hear The News', 'Gideon', of course 'Continent For An Island' and others. Though being just half a decade old, it does carry some nostalgia for me (it may've been a couple of years from the last time I fully listened to this album) and while it isn't very popular and never was, "Naturally Black" is definitely worth tracking down and would probably be a rather solid choice for the fourth or fifth best album on this list were I not so infatuated with 'Spiritual Food'.
"Guardian Angel" [Zion Roots Music - 2009]
Back home. "Guardian Angel" would be the second Guyanese album that Natural Black did in his career and, unlike "Cool Nuh Black", it hasn't had some type of longer-lasting impression that has seen it become a very well respected project. Literally, I think most people familiar with it would probably rank "Guardian Angel" as one of his least impressive pieces to date and that's fine. However, what I will say about this album is that it only stands in such a place for the sake of comparison (obviously). This wasn't a bad album at all and, in fact, it was rather strong sonically, with so many different styles checked. So, I guess that the best I can say is that it's better than you remember it being, but there was good material here, some of which remains so to this day such as 'The Prayer' and other tunes.
"Mortima Hardly" [Rippa Blaxxx & Grillaras Productions - 2010]
Mr. Softley. Natural Black's most recent album release, 2010's slightly eponymous "Mortima Hardly", is one which exists in somewhat of an unusual time. I don't think that the album, which was fairly popular in its day, has quite gotten old enough to get the proverbial 'second-wind' enjoyed by some of the older releases here and this is the case despite the fact that, musically I think it is better now than I did maybe a couple of years ago now. It was a very strong lyrical effort from Natural Black, arguably one of his better to date, and though varied, the music he had to work with courtesy of Rippa Blaxxx and Grillaras, definitely made for an interesting release. It never got more interesting, on paper, than it did on 'Sufferation' which was, oddly enough, a combination with Reggae legend, Sizzla Kalonji. The album would also bring one of my own favourites of Black's, 'Straight With' ["mind who you ah walk through di gate with"]. 'Ethiopia Awaits', and the LUSH 'Who Selassie I Bless' also still come in powerful these days.