Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'Among The Stars': A review of "Life Of A King" by Lutan Fyah

Go forward. Generally when we speak of advancing music, as far as Reggae at least, we tend to think more in terms of growing its popularity and moving it nearer the realm of the 'mainstream', but there are many more ways in which advancement is achieved in my opinion. Be it introducing a new big name on the scene who will go on to provide fans with years and years of enjoyment or just the simple passage of time which, inherently, brings forth new talents, progression in the music happens in a wide variety of ways and it also happens quite consistently, it's just a matter of noticing when it occurs. It can also happen… let's just say for example, when someone releases a string of songs or even an album which serves as either a giant introduction (biggup Jah9) or a reminder or distinction that someone was still as impeccably gifted as they've ever been. This is progression on a smaller scale which is ultimately, of course, very healthy for the entire genre as well. But not every good album that you hear, and not even every great one is necessarily a project which takes someone forward in a way in which they do not typically do. A prime example of this can be found in going through the album catalogue of someone like a Lutan Fyah. Not only is the chanter a favourite of mine (and has been for the better part of a decade just thinking back now, it's been awhile now) (biggup Lutan Fyah), but we've also already declared three of his releases, "Time & Place", "Phantom War" and "Africa" to be classic sets and by the time his work is done, I would fully expect that number to swell to around five or six or so. He remains someone from whom I truly expect the greatest possible work continuously and he generally delivers on that. However, in terms of albums,  he doesn't have much that I would say would distinguish itself from other material that he has done in many ways outside of quality (and "Phantom War" is probably one of the best five or so albums that I've ever heard from anyone). The one exception in that group would definitely be "Africa", which was this giant of an album spread across a couple of discs and it was also really popular in its time and still is. There was also a release from Rastar Records in 2009 by the name of “African Be Proud" which incorporated a great deal of Hip-Hop into his work and for someone so straight-forward as Lutan Fyah is at his absolute best, the results were predictably less than stellar. And I suppose that I could also include "A New Day" from 2011, no one, and I mean NO ONE knows that album exists. So it seems as if, despite a few attempts, attempting to make a successful progressive album for Lutan Fyah has been unsuccessful.

But maybe someone just got it right. In terms of albums, in general, despite still being very active, it does seem to have been a minute from the last time Lutan Fyah had one which generated a considerable amount of hype amongst someone other than the more hardcore listeners (such as You and I). Earlier this year was the fine "Never Surrender My Faith" from Jah Warrior Records. That piece was not only a digital-only release, but it was also built upon tunes which may've, themselves, been ten years old or so. And of course last year was the real phantom in "Truly" from One Drop Records, a label who apparently doesn't really care if you know that they've released a new album or not. I loved both of them and I though "Truly" was one of his best to date, but I would guest that most of the Fyah's casual fans still don't know that either ever actually reached. Furthermore you probably go back to either 2009's "Justice" (a wonderful album) or the aforementioned "Africa" from the year prior to the last time that one of his albums really got a great deal of attention and proper promotion. However, Lutan Fyah has now linked with someone who is increasingly showing themselves to be damn good at making their presence known.  
Grillaras Productions also has a pretty good record of their own. Along with currently (STILL) riding high with the big success of the tune 'Thug Love' by Beenie Man and Ce'Cile, the label, headed by Khabir Bonner, has also, through the years, generated a big success in recording quality albums. Most recently, to my knowledge, was a similarly 'advanced' set from Natural Black from a few years back, "Mortima Hardly", but they also did the woefully underrated "Captura" from Norris Man as well as "Tha Bitter Stretch" from the blistering UT Ras ["Man a ancient warriah!"] and now along with Grillaras, Lutan Fyah is living the "Life Of A King". The label and chanter have a history together as the Fyah would voice some of their older productions such as the Da Real Time and Fulfillment riddims, respectively, so it wasn't just a total coincidence that they would link for an album. I went back half a decade to draw comparisons to "Africa", but even including that album, I don't think that there has ever been an album from Lutan Fyah (and, by my count which is surely wrong, this is now his sixteenth album) which has drawn such a large amount of early buzz and circulation and, subsequently, the promotion in full has been excellent, making this album one of his highest profile to date. Of course promoting an album is aided tremendously when you have a MAMMOTH song to do it with (more on that in a minute or two) and a big combination as well (that too), but I've just fully enjoyed seeing what has happened with the attention paid here and, again, following his last two albums which received not a fraction of this, as a fan of Lutan Fyah's, it's just so nice to see people really excited about what he's working on and credit for that definitely goes to Grillaras. The feeling around this one has just been so pleasant to watch develop and grow. Also growing, however, were expectations and I was well anticipating a big album following so much discussion. So, does the much talked about and pristinely promoted "Life Of A King" ultimately manage to live up to all of its [beautiful] hype?

Yeah, it does. Something which caught my eye initially in regards to this album was its length. I'm probably now just conditioned to dealing with monsters (biggup Perfect's, whose latest release, "Over The Top", is more than thirty-one minutes longer than this one), but I was surprised to see the album check in at a solid thirteen songs with forty minutes worth of music. It does seem small compared to what we've been dealing with lately, but you'll find no problems with brevity here. It is a Lutan Fyah album. And beginning that Lutan Fyah album is what amounts to an intro, the acoustically vibed chant 'Penance', which sets the tone exquisitely for "Life Of A King", the new album from Lutan Fyah via Grillaras Productions. The first full tune to fall in is already the album's second best piece, the MAJESTIC 'Defend The Throne'. This song has the feeling of a hit written all around it and I well expect it to go that course as well as not only does it feature the typical lyrical genius of Lutan Fyah, but it is also a very enjoyable song to listen to. The message here is one of standing up for what and WHO you believe in and being proud of it and not being shy to tell anyone who may ask ["that's why mi stand up tall and hail His Majesty. Rastafari in all HIS glory"]. BOOM! The goodness continues through (the entire album) to the next song, the very clever 'See To It'. First of all, though it lacks the spectacular feel of the opener, the riddim on this song is a diamond and the Fyah uses it to speak on the wonderfulness extended to mankind by His Imperial Majesty. The song is arranged in a way that I can confidently say that I haven't heard much in the way of this type of praising song exactly, but I'm not surprised that such a powerfully intelligent demonstration comes from Lutan Fyah. Next is a tune which has already generated a whole heap of attention on its own, 'Cyaan Do We Nothing' which features Lutan Fyah alongside the man with the golden touch, Chronixx

"None a dem cyan do wi nothing
Si seh dem cyan do wi nothing
Cause Jah Jah ah guide wi
Selassie I walk beside mi

Rastafari tell mi seh, yuh si -
Mi nah fi fraid a no foe
Selassie I dun ah walk wid mi, yuh si -
Everywhere weh mi go
Hey, I say I dare not to walk by myself 
In this world where time get so dread
Nuh mek babylon get to yuh head

Yes all dem carry go bring come news
Jah Jah got a couple good soldiers on the move
Dem no care bout nobody, but Jah Jah still watch over me
Dem all full a scorn, but a nuh easy pushover me"

These days, pretty much anything at all carrying the name CHRONIXX is going to get a massive attention and in this case, as it usually is with his work, it is full fitting and appropriate because this track is sublime! 
The next song on "Life Of A King" is eponymous tune and it is also my choice as the single best song on the album named after it. This thing… the song just makes me smile and feel good and my Wife hates pretty much anything, so I know that when a song can make her smile, it is something special and this may be the  actual definition of "special" because it does amazing things to her face! This song has been largely behind the big early vibe on the album and ["I made my monument, and earned my ornament! I'm living the life of a king! The life of a king!"]. The title track actually precedes an album which I, admittedly, wasn't very much looking forward to, the album's second combination 'Protect The Youth', which features Lutan Fyah alongside veteran Dancehall DJ, Lexxus. Though I do surely acknowledge his talent, I'm not of a fan of Lexxus' these days, but I have to give him a credit for what he does with this tune as it is well impressive, as is the entire song really. A HUGE social commentary. 

"Wi have di solution and wi ah put it inna song. Unuh fi listen cah di youth yah nah go teach yuh nothing wrong. If unuh get up everyday and trust inna folly-titian, then everyday when unuh get up a just confusion. Wi haffi bun a fyah pon mis-education. Cah miscommunication lead to separation. And that dem use fi mislead di whole nation. Bun a wrong. Bun a gang. Bun a bag a loose one" 

This song also carries a lot of 'star potential' and I'd like to see it get the opportunity to shine as well because it warrants. BOOM AGAIN! The drops continue on the fantastically written 'Justice' which is, basically, another social commentary, but the wording on this one is not to be missed. I’d look to a song like this as kind of a piece which is more in line of what you normally hear from Lutan Fyah - just straight ahead education for the listener and that is the version of the vocalist that I most enjoy. Oh, and the riddim on that song is also gorgeous. 'Where Is Poppa' is the album's obligatory Mama tune where the Fyah gives credit to his "Mother, who fathered me" and really single parents everywhere for playing the role of both Mother and Father for their youth. The composition on this one has a kind of a R&B-ish type of texture to it mixed with Reggae, but it hits a point near the end of its middle portions where the track develops into something remarkable and a JOY to listen to. The women in Lutan Fyah's life continue to inspire him as the next selection on "Life Of A King", 'Royal Empress' obviously goes in that direction as well. The song is a BRIGHT one and another which seems made, at least in part, to make you smile and it should have no problem in accomplishing that. 

"She's like the water, inna time of drought
Food on my table, when nuttin no deh bout
Mi hot fire place when di time get cold
She's my in-and-out
Yow, mi love if si di lioness growth
She run di house, so betta watch how you approach
She no tek di folly, she quick fi talk out 
And no matta what, she nah go walk out

She's an empress and queen
Her ways are so clean
I cold smell that special fragrance from afar
Even though this might seem, it's more like a dream 
What a perfect woman you are!" 

The riddim on 'Royal Empress' is also very striking, but the track behind 'Economical Crisis' is soaring! I wouldn't at all have minded a complete instrumental version of the tune attached, but I do appreciate the fact that Grillaras CLEARLY knew that they were mining gold on the riddim, because it does get more than a minute of its own to play clean of vocals at the end of the tune for one of the most dynamic moments on the whole of "Life Of A King". For his part, Lutan Fyah is exceptional, particularly on the second verse. While not my favourite song on the album, the ganja song here, 'Leave The Herb', is a very sonically impressive selection with the meshing of vocals and riddim. And the chorus is one which you will have to draw a weapon on to get out of your head because it just STICKS with you (please do not hit yourself in the head) (or anyone else!). The infectious 'Let's Come Together' is built on a track which sounds like equal parts Reggae and Zouk and is a BIG tune. The piece features a singer, who I am going to assume is OJ (even though he officially is credited on the next tune), and it works so well musically and vocally. The unity track is the most ebullient (and when someone starts using words like 'ebullient' you KNOW they're impressed!) effort on the album. Finally, "Life Of A King" goes out with an outro, 'Liberation', which features OJ (or does it?…), which wraps things up finely, again, giving high praise to the real King.  
Overall, what we have here is yet another album which really finds Lutan Fyah in a prime form and one on which the producer clearly knew what he had on his hands with the talent in front of him and took advantage of the moment. The album, for what it is, is also a diverse project and I think that is a prevailing quality here as it is quite versatile but by mixing and not straying completely outside of the realm of what it is - a modern Roots Reggae album. And it is in that diversity and mixture of the vibes that we find how this album advances music. I would expect this to be the very first album that a lot of fans pick up from Lutan Fyah because of its popularity, but for longer term fans, there're subtle shifts here from what we're used to hearing from the chanter and they work to a precise effect. "Life Of A King" not only proves to be an album which well lives up to the larger than usual expectations, but it may also be a moment where we look back to when Lutan Fyah took an even higher (if possible) step up on an album which adds to his already immense capabilities. A joy!

Rated: 4.55/5
Grillaras Productions
CD + Digital

Review #468

1 comment:

  1. I love how nice & cool this album sounds. One of his best, and my favorites already, in its own way. Chronixx fits right in too.