Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Vault Reviews: "Vijan" by Midnite

Pictures. Hopefully, when all goes well, when you see and listen to an album, there is some type of quality that it possesses which will stand out for you. Something about it will leave a lasting impression in your mind for better or for worse and that is exactly how you will come to identify it. And, of course, this is not a phenomenon strictly reserved for albums. It is in music where the phrase 'one hit wonder' was coined and because of that, in many circles, someone like Nanko will likely forever be 'that guy who sang 'Lucky You' and so many others will always be tied to single songs (even someone who wasn't necessarily one in any way). But specifically in terms of albums, because that's what we're doing today, it is always very interesting to see what really sticks out for people in the absence of a supremely popular tune. Certainly a very fruitful place to conduct an examination of how albums are best remembered would be the obese catalog of Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite as we continue our trod of comprehension through their works. If you stop at various points along the way, you will certainly run into a variety of different pieces which, for one unusual reason or another, have managed to find a place in the collective memories of fans as albums having one or two particular traits. For example, it was excellent for many reasons, one of which was the fact that it had 'Black Mamba' on it, but we can now look back at the "Kings Bell" album because it was produced Bassie Campbell or because it carried a tune in 'Mongst I & I' which would subsequently birth the first Midnite video ever after around FORTY albums worth of music. Similarly there was the "Let Live" album. If you see the cover of that album and nothing comes out of it - that's fine. But if you turn it over and look at the music, what immediately jumps out? Track #6. Oh! That was the album with 'The Gad' on it (and that album, in my opinion, has probably become underrated because people look at it as just being a giant bed for that one song, but it was so much more) (a very accessible record as well). And there're more - such as "Ark A Law" which is probably best remembered for… not being remembered (a shame, another strong set). There's "For All" for its unusual sound. "Treasure" for FINALLY getting the attention of VP Records. "Nemozian Rasta", for introducing us to Dezarie. And also, perhaps, most notably, the immortal "Ras Mek Peace" set for the ultra-streamlined way in which it was recorded - a quality which, itself, has become legendary for that one moment.

And then there is "the Purple One". Biggup my Brother-In-Law, Bredz, as much as you possibly can. If you enjoy this blog (you have very, very low standards in life and really need to be under some type of professional care) he is to thank for it. Anything you SEE here is his work. If you like the pictures or the videos or even how a review is presented, he does ALL of that, all I do is the writing and he pulls it all together. However, he does have opinions of his own and as we initially decided to start kind of substantiating the "Discography: Midnite" piece from last year (which was very popular), I asked him what was his favourite Midnite album and, of course, he said it was "The purple one". Now I don't know which is more interesting: The fact that he would characterize a nearly decade old and more than hour long Midnite album so simply… or the fact that I knew EXACTLY what he was talking about.
"The Album With 'The Gad' On It" [2005]
"What he was talking about", clearly, was "Vijan". An early product of the Midnite/I Grade Records collaboration from 2003 (and I know what you're thinking - Yes, he does call "Assini", "the white album"), "Vijan", in general, is a fairly well recalled album, especially one for being a decade old now. And although it isn't nearly as well known as some of the other Midnite/I Grade Records releases, it is an album which has aged quite well and, at least on some level, has been a favourite of mine from that union. I believe that it's probably one of the better albums that it has produced. As everything is which comes from I Grade, "Vijan" was produced by Laurent 'Tippy' Alfred and, probably like everything from the label around the same time frame, features the work of master guitarist Tuff Lion, as well as several other names which should well be familiar to fans of the imprint. "Vijan" would also have a very interesting quality to it as well which really stood out to my ears and does so even more so now that I dig into for the sake of reviewing it. As I've said in the past, when it comes to making accessible and 'open' music, while it may not be the specialty of Vaughn Benjamin (it isn't), I do think Midnite is often unfairly criticized for being too cryptic and closed off. If you really tune in to an album such as "Vijan" (and, for the most part, all of their work on I Grade Records), there isn't a significant stretch where I feel that it is that type of arduous listening. It is, on the Midnite scale, an easy listen of an album and one which, although it definitely may take some time (it does say "MIDNITE" on the cover, after all) to fully grasp, is very accessible to my ears. So I'll give you a recommendation even before we talk about the music: If you have either NEVER listened to a Midnite album before or you've never been able to find one which appealed to you, you couldn't at all make a much better selection than "Vijan". On top of just being more accessible and listener-friendly, it was also very good and I thought it would be nice to give Bredz an even better way to remember "The Purple Album". Let's do it. 

Along with (or as part of) being a nice and open Midnite album, "Vijan" also has quite the varied sound. Again, this is something which I'd only say on a scale comparing it to other Midnite albums (and other I Grade Records albums), but you hear a wide variety of different directions, musically, throughout the album, making for a very nice experience at album's end. At its beginning, however, is also a very nice stretch of tunes, highlighted by the album's glorious opener, 'All Ye Naashan'.

"All ye nations hail HIM Jah!
All ye hail The Emperor!
All ye nations hail HIM Jah!
Worthy of thee, hail The Emperor"

As far as Vaughn Benjamin songs go, 'All Ye Naashan' is crystal clear and straight forward. It is a beautiful praising song like so many he has done throughout the years and it is one of the best songs you'll find on this album. The next song, 'See Blah Sum', was another very stellar one as well. Both of these, however, are songs which have just recently gripped my appreciations. The second one is definitely a bit more difficult to take in than the first (still with a very nice vibes, however), but these days both are amongst the album's very best in my opinion. Oddly enough, of the first three songs, the one which I've always thoroughly enjoyed, 'Cradle Of Joy', I may not rank as highly as its two predecessors anymore, but it is still very good as well. What I ultimately took from this one is the notion of the power of HOME. Here, though, home is a revolving place. It is wherever, or WHOEVER, it may be for you, but the song to me rings in as speaking about seeking and developing things and people which bring comfort and joy in life. 

As we keep going and look at the tunes wrapping up the first half of "Vijan", we run into various interesting songs including 'Thanks For Life'. I don't know… what to think of the riddim on this song… I guess you could call it somewhat slightly Hip-Hoppish and what Benjamin does with it is just as interesting. I'm so accustomed to (and probably even prefer him) not paying exceptionally close attention to what a particular riddim does, but he does in this case and it works to the tune of one of the more sonically pleasing moments on the entire record, especially in its later stages. And speaking of sonically pleasing, you check 'Yeah Many'. The riddim here is divine. I'd LOVE to hear an instrumental of this track with all the small things that seem to be going on and 'hidden' in the composition. What this song does is to just make me SMILE, it's so pleasing to listen to ["have ye any? Yeah, many"] and definitely one of the best songs on "Vijan". Next is a MAMMOTH pair in 'Thank The Lord' and 'Nativity'. The former has just a small amount of discernible fire to it which is an excellent touch on a riveting song giving praise like this. 

"Well I thank the Lord -
Who invigourate man yah
Breath in man body
As dem ahgo forward
Underdog ah fight back pon di undercard
I-tection under shield up ya inna di dun guard
Haile I Selassie I: The First Lord" 

For its part, I'm not going to do it, but I think that a strong case could be made that 'Nativity' is the single best song on this album. This certainly isn't one of the pieces which exemplify what I meant when I spoke of how accessible "Vijan" is, this is a little deeper, but if you're more of a fan of Midnite, or just listen to a great deal of their music, this is tune is CANDY to your ears and nearly lyrical perfection. 

As a whole, the second half of the album isn't as strong as is the first, but it does definitely contain a few highlights in its seven offerings, including the absolute best song you'll find here. It is not THAT song, but the plodding 'Far I' is a winner to my ears. Though it may take you a few spins through to comprehend WHY, you will LOVE the riddim on this track and it is utilized to excellence as Benjamin produces a very clever play on words at the core of the lyrics. 'Days Come' is another song highlighted by a dazzling riddim - this one acoustic and nearly sounding like something from Youssoupha Sidibe's catalog and it makes way for the huge best song on "Vijan", 'Structa'. This song has gone on to become the most popular selection from the album to my knowledge and with good reason. It is PERFECT. What I take from it is that it is a composition created to instill and enthuse a sense of pride. You are exactly as you were intended to be by The Almighty. There is nothing wrong with you! It is a powerful song and albeit kind of slow and pounding, the best thing I hear on this album and one of Midnite's better pieces of work altogether in my opinion. 

'Ru Be' is a song from "Vijan" which can be appreciated in a variety of different ways. If you do dig into it a bit, you get another wonderful message about pride, this one specifically coming to those of us of Afrikan heritage. But if you just cut this song on and don't really tune it in, the riddim will do things to you as well. I don't know what it is but there is this DELIGHTFUL horn sound which emerges in the latter stages of 'Ru Be' and bounces along its duration and it is so nice to hear. It's a great feature to an already majestic instrumental track. In both title and sound, 'Economics Out in The Raw' is the changeup from "Vijan". That instrumental would be another I'd really enjoy hearing. There is so much going on here and whatever it all is combines to form a glittery track for Benjamin. Next is the Jazz-ish and R&B-ish 'Scornful' which, lyrically is the type of tune I always speak about how much I like hearing. Being human, unfortunately or fortunately, means being flawed and on a song like this, it acknowledges it. And this one goes more to saying that after you've made a mistake or have done something really bad, life isn't over, you can be forgiven, you can be loved and continue along your journey. I really like the 'chorus' (Midnite songs don't seem to have more set choruses and instead, what you call the chorus is what you hear repeated a few different times) and it brings the ideas all together as it should. And finally, the closer on "Vijan", the again-acoustic 'Blackson Rays' is another of its biggest moments. 

"Weaving a psychological fear inna dem annual rings
Youth a grow up and hear these things
Youth and can just caan find a teeth to skin
Seeing it's all about medicine and bling
And who shall cradle such a king?
A dog and sunset walking
And who to authour such a scheme?
Over and left the reason for these things
For these things, for these things
For these things"

The mood of this song is somewhat melancholy, even for a Vaughn Benjamin song (and he isn't the most cheerful of artists that you'll encounter), but what I think it is used for is to say that we should really expect and work towards receiving better than the current state of the world. It is a very interesting song and definitely one which leaves you with a considerable amount to think of as you reach the end of "Vijan".
Overall, if by some chance you've missed picking up this album over the years, then I would definitely recommend that you do that. As I said earlier, it is both a varied album and one which, I think, would make a fine point of entry into the music of Midnite for completely new fans. If you never heard a single of their albums (and yet you're interested enough to read a review this long… nearly 2500 words by now - you are a very fascinating person!), this would be a nice one for you as well. Also, as a whole, I think that it stands up to comparison well between other Midnite/I Grade Records albums. From that link, I might go so far as to say "Vijan" has been the third or fourth best album produced (which was the best??? Either "Kings Bell" or "Rule The Time") and, as I also said, its qualities have persisted up to and beyond today - at least a decade following its release. So while I know that it may be difficult for you, as it most certainly has been for me, definitely exercise a bit of common sense and pick up one of the better Midnite albums ever, "The Purp… I mean "Vijan".

Rated: 4.35/5
I Grade Records
CD + Digital

Review #462


  1. when are you going to review chronixx works ?

  2. Chronixx doesn't have an album we can do a review like this for, but we mention his songs.

  3. indeed . i just wanted to know how would you rate his works so far . is he worth the hype or too early to tell ?

  4. At the moment he definitely is worth the hype. He's one of the few people recently who got attention and kept it so far almost solely based on his skills.