Tuesday, September 17, 2013

'Construction': A review of "Shining Hope' by Gappy Ranks

Rise skill. Though I, personally, tend to place an ultimate emphasis upon it above all most all things musically because I feel it is the most reliable of traits that a musician can possess, I think that actual skill and the pursuit of an even greater talent are underrated qualities in an artist, generally. Of course the music seems to revolve around making big tunes and that's fine (because no greater way exists, in my opinion, of attracting attention which is good for the genre as a whole), but unlike making a hit song, which can involve many other things besides talent, when you have someone seemingly so fixated on raising their levels and their capabilities, that is as wonderful and dependable of a foundation that a person making music can have. These days in Reggae music we are very fortunate because we have quite a few individuals who demonstrate that making music and music, in general, is such a large part of their lives by constantly showing this forward progression and resolute hunt for something bigger. I look at someone like Gentleman who recently took a very large step ahead by producing his own latest release, "New Day Dawn". Gentleman has also not only aligned himself with some of the finest producers that the genre has to offer, but he's also done the same with many of the biggest vocal talents as well. He's had songs with almost everyone and to me that is a glaring display of someone who is (VERY resourceful) well interested in growing themselves musically. I'd also put someone like Protoje in that class and definitely Perfect Giddimani, the latter of whom has been taking his fans on a remarkable tour of talent most recently culminating in the release of his own new album, "Over The Top". And going further, I'd mention people a little further outside of the biggest spotlight of the genre such as a Determine, Natural Black and definitely Queen Omega (when you listen to her first album and you listen to her now, it is crystal-clear what she's been up to). Someone else who easily finds himself within those ranks is UK standout and star, Gappy Ranks. Gappy is interesting (for so many reasons) because when it comes to him, it almost seems as if one of his primary aims as a musician is to outline his roots and not only have his fans heard all about how he came to be who he is, we've also witnessed elements of it incorporated directly into his music to the point where you get the image of someone whose life, at least in some ways, virtually revolves around making music because it is so organic to his existence. 
"Put The Stereo On" [2010] & "Thanks & Praise" [2011]
For example - if you take a look at and a listen to his first two albums, 2010's "Put The Stereo On" and "Thanks & Praise" from the next year, you get two very different musical experiences and they stand, now, as one of the most captivating pair of first and second albums in the annals of modern Reggae music. While the first time you likely recall hearing the name Gappy Ranks may've had something to do with a song which was absolutely nothing of the kind ["mi haffi stinkin rich this year"], when he was originally  on the rise the artist made no reservations at all bout his love of old school Reggae which he grew listening to, a fondness fully brought into effect on "Put The Stereo On”. "Thanks & Praise", on the other hand, was a fully modern project and one which attracted more than a little bit of attention as well. Combined they exhibit one part Bitty McLean and one part Ziggi Recado but in just one person.

So following a display like that covering just about everything there is to cover, where do we go? We continue ahead of course and we now find Gappy Ranks "Shining Hope" across the globe on his third full length album to date. The album comes via his own Hot Coffee Music imprint in association with VP Records and their (exceedingly popular) distribution arm, VPAL. I have to give an early credit here because we knew months ago that this album was on its way and was set to be released in September. If you've been around long enough (and you have), you know that it almost seems like setting a release time months in advance can kind of curse an album because they always seem to get delayed in some way and for some reason, but obviously this one arrived on schedule. Furthermore, in the two years between "Thanks & Praise" and now "Shining Hope", Gappy has increased his profile even more (and made a very wicked appearance on Lion D's massive album, "Bring Back The Vibes" from earlier this year). So while his first two were very much anticipated in their time, you now have a trio of albums which have and are going to generate a whole heap of awareness and are big projects. In terms of the actual music on this album "Shining Hope" focuses exclusively on Reggae music which is very good and, as I mentioned, if you listen to enough of his music, you know that he is very versatile and jumps fully in a few different genres, so it was somewhat of a good surprise when it seems as if the intent here was to just make a strong modern Reggae album. Mission accomplished. Such an album coming from Gappy Ranks, even on paper, should be very exciting and colourful and done in a way in which is emblematic of all of his various talents through something like a musical 'funnel' in a single style. Also I should mention that besides the broad musical determination that I spoke of from Gappy Ranks, in one specific area that he has always excelled has been as a writer and it is there where you most get that feeling that this man works tirelessly to perfect his craft. And because I'm a fan and a nerd, I was simply looking forward to hearing Gappy rhyme again. When at his best he definitely does some very thought-provoking and challenging things with the spoken word and the thought of him focusing that directly towards a completely Reggae-centric theme was downright appetizing. But with all of that, does "Shining Hope" prove to be as delicious as I think that it should be? Let's eat.

'Shining Hope'

As expected, this album is about as exciting of a Reggae album that you'll find in a very impressive 2013. It is the type of release that I would imagine finding an audience in both brand new and lifelong fans alike because of just how open it is. And speaking of openings, "Shining Hope", the new album from Gappy Ranks opens with its eponymous and most well known selection. I've had a minute and this piece has thoroughly grown on me. Carried through on the Lighthouse Riddim (incidentally, they did the Lighthouse as a digital release with Chevaughn and Million Stylez joining Gappy on the track and the cover art for it is easily amongst some of the finest I've ever seen. It's beautiful!), the song is inspiration and FEEL GOOD throughout. I always appreciate when the emotion and performance of a song matches its sentiment and this a sterling example of exactly what I mean. Everything about this one makes you smile no matter what you might be going through and I'm sure that was the intent. The second song on the album is another familiar one, previous single 'Tomorrow Loves You'. There is a bit of sagacious planning here and placing these two in succession on the album and not only because they're two of the album's most well known pieces, but also because their courses are very similar. 'Tomorrow Loves You', helmed by Special Delivery, is another inspirational vibe and although a bit more laid back than the soaring opener, is arguably just as strong and also GORGEOUS. 'Hello' takes us in a different way, this one steered by Kemar 'Flava' McGregor, but I suppose that in a way you could also take inspiration from it as well. I hesitate in calling this a 'love song', but I'm wholly sure that is how it will be regarded. Instead, I say it is the very relatable discussion of the kind of nervousness and anxiety we all go through when we fall for someone and how to approach them. It is ultimately a very delightful song and one which rises near the top of the album. And I'll also mention the tune which immediately follows 'Hello' on the album because it is also quite relatable and similar, 'First Sight' for Asha D, which is the first of a trio of combinations on "Shining Hope". This one links Gappy Ranks with the ear and eye candy that is Denyque. Again, call me a convert of sorts, but this one has also won me over. Though when you sing like Denyque does, it isn't too difficult and it wonderfully compliments the tune which it chases as it adorably kind of speaks from the other side: Not only are you nervous and anxious around them, they're also that way for you.

'Tomorrow Loves You'

Asha D also helms the second combination on the album, 'Nothing Comes Easy' which features ReddMan UK joining Gappy. The song is another which really outlines the struggles Gappy dealt with in growing up and he puts this one together in a BRILLIANT fashion. 

"I neva born with no spoon inna mi mouth
Come from a big family - just couple room inna mi house
Neva get birthdays and Christmas like those
Only needle and thread when couple hole inna mi clothes
Papa do him best and work hard
Teacher dem seh I will neva be nothing -
Dem seh mi woulda end up inna morgue
So people - if you can relate to my story 
Give Jah di blessing and di glory
Tell HIM you love HIM inna yuh heart and yuh mind and yuh soul
He will never make you lose control
And if you can relate to my history and journey
Then you will know my ancestor dem survive through slavery 
I want you hear me

Nothing comes easy at all" 

For his part, ReddMan, who don't have a great deal of experience in listening to, more than impresses on the tune and the duo make for a fine musical pairing. The final combination on "Shining Hope", 'Everything Gonna Be Alright', is probably the one which will grab the lion's share of the spotlight as on it Gappy taps the flaming Exco Levi and does it with kind of an ode to Bob Marley. I won't ruin that for you, but it is another big contribution and here and, in full, the three guests on the album doing an excellent job. 

"Shining Hope" also offers up a few other familiar points in its duration. One of them is 'Maybe', also produced by Kemar McGregor, which has experienced somewhat of a radical shift in terms of my tastes. I didn't passionately dislike this song the first time I heard, but I did definitely dislike and… yeah I don't dislike it anymore. I will say, however, that when you can impress my Wife, you have me almost 100% of the time and she loves that song. Great backing singing on it also. You may also recognize 'Why', which was Gappy's cut of Payday's LUSH Real Reggae Riddim. I don't think that I ever really gave this song a chance until it appeared here and I'm so happy that it was included, because it may have been lost to me and I'm sure I'm not the only one. It is an exceptional composition and one which I'd call a personal social commentary with Gappy dealing with many topics under this umbrella-ing idea of making the world a better place, but starting with YOU and not with everyone else. 'Sell Out' is carried by the Broke Life Riddim via Larger Than Life Records (same track featured Delly Ranx' hilarious 'Gimmi Di Ting' (biggup Delly Ranx) from his 2012 album, "The Next Chapter") and it is a song about not taking negative shortcuts and surrounding yourself with the wrong people in getting to where you want to be in life. Lyrically it is fantastic and that track has always been a big one for me. And also is 'Up Again' which is a giant highlight here. Don't let the delightful riddim, from Lion Face, take you too much because the stars here are the lyrics. Gappy says some amazing things on that tune and if you're too busy bobbing your head you'll miss something special (you'll probably feel good though, and there's nothing wrong with that, but listen to the words too).

'Up Again'

I was also very happy to hear some real quality on "Shining Hope" in terms of new material, or at least new-to-me-material, including my absolute favourite song on the whole of the album. One of the biggest new songs is definitely the BRILLIANT 'Back To Reality' on which Gappy gives us an inside view of a discussion which he has with himself. 

"I'm changing today for the better
Talking to the person in the mirror
Cah from fame and money start run, it seems like you nah move clever
Whappen to the big, big tunes you use to make?
And whappen to the hungry person you used to rep?
Mek mi tell yuh this: You better come back to reality else mi and you ah done and mi nah tek check

You try to remember why you love music 
And start to remember why you start do this
And always defend who's around you and who surround you
Caan bodda with the hatred
You try to remember who believe in you
You have to give thanks for the things they do
Works hard when you name gone worldwide
Have to make my dreams come true"

Though you wouldn't think it from the nature of the song, for me this is a very intense piece because it amounts to Gappy giving himself a kick and correcting himself. And you may not be able to relate to it in the musical sense, but I have conversations like this with myself every… fifteen minutes or so. I've made a mountain of mistakes in life (I am an expert, black-belt level, in being flawed) and nothing is better than when it is you who is the first to correct them. I love songs like this, even in theory and this has to be one of the best of it is kind that I've heard in some time. EXCELLENT. There is also a later pair of nice love-ish songs on the album in 'Still In Love' and 'Never Enough'. The former has a frustrating track behind it -- frustrating because I know I know it but can't quite narrow it down --and is a golden song about not loving the one you're with and instead loving the one you used to be with. Meanwhile, while the latter isn't a highlight for me, it does have a prevailing sound that you cannot help but to appreciate in some way. And then there's the BOOM!

"Carpenter, carpenter, beg you build a box
Cah di fool dem violate, but now mi catch dem inna di traps
Some from di last down to di boss haffi lay down inna dat
Dem have di people inna bondage, now di system haffi stop
I seh carpenter build Mr. babylon a box
I can't take it no more, mi nah go cool and relax
Pon poor people dem rising up tax
So I ah fire burn everything to di max

Hey yow, youth dem caan go a school because dem haffi pay di school fees
And Fadda can't get no work, all they retire him from the factories
Now di youth dem end up on di road, wid di gun dem load inna robberies
And you know seh, one a dem could go a school and become a athlete
But babylon don't want di ghetto youth dem rise up and make it
And dem did divide di people weh Black and dem White, cause dem racist
Mi no like this 

Carpenter, carpenter, beg you build a box
Cah di fool dem violate, but now mi catch dem inna di traps
Some from di last down to di boss haffi lay down inna dat
Dem have di people inna bondage, now di system haffi stop
I seh carpenter build Mr. babylon a box
I can't take it no more, mi nah go cool and relax
Pon poor people dem rising up tax
So, right now, babylon yuh system collapse

So I and I ah boom up yuh computer dem weh you use inna Wall Street
Cah you neva help di poor people dem weh have to sleep pon di concrete
You no waan hear Marcus, Malcolm, Mandela, Martin till you stop dweet
Yuh mad?
Things change fi di better, nuttin nah go so
Babylon doh want di ghetto youths grow
Officer, why you stop mi? I don't know
Why you put di gun inna mi hand and say go ?
Dem thing deh ah gwan inna life, don't feel seh a movie
So di youth dem strap inna war wid machine and ah move unruly"

Grrrr! I heard a thirty seconds long clip of this song, 'Carpenter', and I knew it would be a special piece and it did not disappoint. The song comes via Royal Order Music and may be on its way to being a single and deservedly so in my opinion as no song on "Shining Hope" rises higher than its MAMMOTH closer. The song ranks alongside 'Peace & Joy', 'Heaven In Her Eyes' and several others as some of the best material that I've ever heard from Gappy and is also one of the best songs I've heard, from anyone, in 2013. A thunderous end.
Overall, while they've all been extremely comparable in terms of quality, I don't have a problem at all if someone wanted to call "Shining Hope" Gappy Ranks' best album to date (numerically, I think I'm about to do that) . As I said, one of its biggest assets is how exciting it is. As he goes on, we may come to know (if we haven't already and we may have) that EVERYTHING Gappy is going to touch, whether you enjoy it or not, will at the very least be stirring and interesting, but that is also a skill. I can name you a great deal of brilliant writers (one in particular) who may not be looked upon as being thrilling, but when you, inherently have both -- the word and the presentation -- you naturally make albums like this which are good for just about any audience. And hopefully those fans will appreciate not only the apparent skill, but the entire body of Gappy Ranks' work which features this constant drive to get better. It may not "get better" than "Shining Hope", but it should be so much fun listening to Gappy Ranks in the future. Judging by this album, the present isn't too bad either. Very strong! 

Rated: 4.40/5
Hot Coffee Music/VP Records
CD + Digital

Reveiw #466