A way across. Two questions which are quite difficult to answer in regards to the wonderful music of Midnite that I have encountered quite often from non-fans of the group are what is my absolute favourite album that they've done and which would be the best one to start at in regards to really getting into their output. They're very difficult questions to answer, in general. As for the former… I don't know! I certainly do have my favourites, but I would say that at the top of that scale would be five or six or so which would really enter the discussion. Similarly, while Midnite's music can be somewhat tedious and just downright difficult to get into initially, even for some more experienced Reggae fans (even for a lot of them), I can tell you from a HUGE amount of personal experience that it is well worth the attempt - it's just a matter of finding the right 'bridge' on which to enter. And, again, there're probably five or six of them which I would say are best to do that with. Even more interesting than the points at which extremely good quality and extremely accessible exist are the points at which they cross and, over the years, Vaughn Benjamin & Midnite have done a few albums which I feel are amongst the very best in both cases and are albums which are not only very good, but relatively easy to get into from the standpoint of a new[er] fan as well. Most recently I would definitely say that an album which fits perfectly into both would definitely be the "Kings Bell" set from 2010. The albums from I Grade Records, in general and as I've said in the past, seem to be a bit more consciously accessible, which is something you might expect from that label who has a history of making a certain style and they really just go about placing Midnite into their continuing context which, obviously, has proven to be very successful. Outside of those albums, however, you'd also look at pieces such as "Better World Rasta", "Treasure" and a few others which may not have been as good as what you hear on the Midnite/I Grade collaborations (and in some cases they certainly were, "BWR" was nearly exceptional in my opinion), but are easily of a particularly high quality and are relatively simple to 'digest' musically as well.
With that being said, there is also a very nice group of albums which register well both in terms of their quality and their 'openness' and those would be several of Midnite's very first releases. Within the first eight or so are albums which, although very well covered in some cases (which is just to be expected after more than a decade), are very, very good and have a certain sound which is 'fuller' and isn't the more streamlined and oft-skeletal vibes that you'll hear from 'their' later work which is almost always just Vaughn Benjamin with a variety of different producers. Those early albums such as "Jubilees Of Zion", "Unpolished" and, of course, "Ras Mek Peace" -- even though they didn't have a sound stereotypical to the genre in their own time -- had a much more straightforward and 'comfortable' vibes than what we would later get from albums carrying the moniker 'Midnite'.
Another album well part of that pack as either Midnite's fifth or sixth album by my (surely incorrect and inaccurate) count was the outstanding "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" from 2002. In my opinion this is an album which can lay a significant claim to being both the group's BEST and MOST ACCESSIBLE release to date which, obviously, gives it a large status for me, personally. That being said, however, it isn't an album which has aged as well as many of the other albums from its day in terms of popularity. For instance, it isn't nearly as well known as almost any of the albums we've mentioned thus far, with the exception of "Better World Rasta", and it has found its audience, for the most part, in the same Midnite-faithful who listen to everything they do anyway. Though I would not go as far as to call it a 'lost' album like several of the albums we've covered thus far ("Ark A Law" probably being the finest example of that), because its quality is of an unquestionable level in my opinion. So what made it so good? First of all, although it may go without saying given its age, "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" was an actual MIDNITE album. It was not an album with a label producing tracks to be voiced by Vaughn Benjamin (though I do love many of those also, obviously), this was a full Midnite album featuring the likes of Ron Benjamin Jr., Phillip Merchant, Abijah Hicks and Dion Hopkins. Such was (and remains) the nature of releases from Afrikan Roots Lab which brought us "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" (the second Midnite album on the label following the very well-regarded and aforementioned "Jubilees of Zion" album). The label, without exception, has been doing Midnite albums for thirteen years and, should they ever get around to it, the increasingly anticipated "Lion Out of Zion" will be the newest addition to that batch (biggup Batch). Along with being an actual Midnite album (which is not enough by itself), the SOUND of "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" was wondrous and it is amongst the antecedents to albums such as "Kings Bell" which are so very vibrant and very easy to listen to. It was an absolutely delightful set from beginning to end. Also, and this is worth mentioning though rarely ever worth questioning (if ever), the album was also very impressive on a lyrical level making for one gorgeous sonic experience by its end. Its beginnings weren't too bad either if I recall correctly, but let's all refresh (…if you just refreshed your screen, I think I love you).
Midnite definitely has their own scale of accessibility when it comes to music. Again, they're never going to fit into the term when you broadly apply it to the entire genre of Reggae music, but as far as their own style, this album was downright LUSH! Things get flourishing in a big way with the album opener and title track. The sound on this one to my ears, as someone who will never likely be the biggest of Midnite fans, but is definitely someone who has heard a great deal of their music, is stirring. This is get up and moving music propelled in a more laidback way, but if you've heard enough Vaughn Benjamin, you can well grab the edginess in his voice. As for the song, what I take from it is the idea of moving forward. It is the notion of acting emotionally and only emotionally being something of a dinosaur of behaviour for people and this song essentially says that to go forward you seek knowledge before acting emotionally. It is a lovely track as well and one of the biggest bites on the album named after it (and you have to love the horn on that song). Even better would be the second song on "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance", probably the single most well known piece here, the exceptional 'Ras For A Reason'.
"Sometimes the bitter is a healing
Sometimes the ground come like a ceiling
RASTA BRUK DEM DOWN LOW TO LIFT THEM HIGH-
Until dem sight up Tafari"
This piece just lights up musically. There is so many different sounds going on here and Vaughn combines them all beneath a wicked line of lyrics built to instill and uplift pride in people. In later years he's developed this habit of ignoring the track behind him at times, but that isn't the case here and the typically somewhat melodically-reticent Benjamin shows that, when he wants to he can be straight forward and, of course, brilliant. And rounding out the first few songs on the album is another winner of a song, 'You Don't Know Me'. For me, this is a composition speaking on how history and culture has been filtered and diluted throughout the years and it no longer (and it never did) applies to everyone. So someone's idea of what happened, and how we got here, does not and can not be relevant to everyone. This is the type of piece which, although it may not be as easy to listen to as several others here, including the first two songs, is just candy for someone like me because it is brilliantly indirectly written, leaving deliciously WIDE openings for interpretation.
Despite being only thirteen songs (and I haven't written a regular review in a minute, so I really appreciate a thirteen-tracked album these days, especially when my next one (biggup Perfect) has twenty songs on it), "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" really offers up so many diverse and twisting moments in its duration. One of the greatest is definitely track #4, 'New Life', which features Vaughn's older brother, the aforementioned Ron Benjamin, singing a SWEET song in tribute to his at the time newborn child (who is probably a teenager now or very close to it). He's done this occasionally and, as they come from such a musically rich family (Ron Benjamin Sr. is also a very accomplished musician), it comes to no surprise how good the results always are. And it is also a testament to this album that none of its thirteen numbers are what I would call bad or even average songs really. They're all, at least, good or better. To my opinion, while 'Ras For A Reason' is really close to the head, there is a trio of selections on "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" which even furtherly [not a real word] distinguish themselves. The first of them is actually the next song on the album following 'New Life' and is my current favourite from it altogether, the MASSIVE tune called 'Late Night Ghetto'. TEARS!
"If you tell your woman bout some movement - stars in the sky -
Bout some light from out far shining in her eye
Every crevasse of the heart of love
As you share and finalize
LET LONE RANGER KEEP ON WEARING HIS DISGUISE
Let the man that she sees be the man that she hears
Bring her the fruit from the sun
Take away her double-vision"
This song… It's just… BOOM! The song is about treating the special woman in your life like she is actually special and giving her everything she needs or at least trying to. It also kind introduces this kind of 'old school' love which is very simple and really doesn't take much in the way of effort either, but is a complete joy to experience. Want to know more about it? Listen to this BEAUTIFUL song. The second and third of my favourite three songs from this album (though I'm tempted to make it four now) (more on that in a second) are the final two selections from "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance", 'One Shout' and 'Weed Burn'. I hate to keep saying it (no I don't, it doesn't bother me at all), but the former is some kind of BRILLIANT ["I PUT A SUBMISSION HOLD UPON DI MIC, TELL HIM WI AHGO DO ALMIGHTY WORK TONITE"] [WHAT!] ["FEED ALL THE HUNGRY, PLEASE HOLD TIGHT. ONE SHOUT AH BRUK DOWN JERICHO WALL TONIGHT"] [BOOM!]. The song also features Benjamin showing just a bit more range on the vocals than usual and delivering one mammoth armbar of a song! As for 'Weed Burn, that tune is divine. It is THE best sonic display on the entire album and I couldn't get around it and I didn't want to!
As I said, no song here is really lacking much of anything, so you have six MORE songs of some type of genius to enjoy as well. The best of these??? If I had to pick, I'd probably lean towards the sublime 'That's On You [Owna Dirt]', which I thought about including in the previous three, as I alluded to.
"Si dem falling, si dem falling
I feel no way, they say I'm heartless
I CAN'T FEEL SORROW FI NO WICKED MAN
FOR YOUR OWN DEEDS CREATED YOUR SINKING SAND
Can't throw him no rope to save his skin
FOR THE SAIL ON HIS BOAT, THERE WILL BE NO WIND
FOR HIS GETAWAY CARE, THERE WILL BE NO ENGINE
For his pendulum, there is a backwards swing"
DAMN! 'In8' is also a star from "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" as well. This song has such a wonderful and heavy riddim carrying it. The song is a complicated praising song although not nearly as intricate as some of Benjamin's later work and far, far from "cryptic". 'Urt' is another standout as is the rousing 'Jah Ovah'. These songs, especially the latter, really provided a healthy BODY for this album and that wasn't it. 'Jah Ovah', though it takes a bit of work (you're used to that), is one of the finest things you'll hear on this album. And wrapping things up is another very strong pair of songs which begins with 'Dagger Man'. Here, we hear Vaughn Benjamin saying to be careful of the company you keep in any situation because you can be hurt most by those closest to you. And he also tells us of the 'Kingdom Trees' over a most sublime piece of music. This is another top notch song which helps to round out an album which really didn't need the help, but is better because it did receive it.
Overall, I don't really care who you are and at what type of a level in terms of listening to the music of Midnite that you're at: This album is for you. These days, unfortunately, it is rather hard to find because, at least to my knowledge, none of the Afrikan Roots Lab have ever gone towards the digital medium, but it is well worth tracking down if you go that route. Again, what sticks out here is the fact that you can make a significant argument for this being one of the best albums they've ever done and one of the most accessible as well and you don't have to give it conditions and terms. Both statements, in their plainest form, are applicable. "Seek Knowledge Before Vengeance" was OUTSTANDING and was so if you have almost fifty Midnite albums in your collection or even if you're sitting their wondering why I keep misspelling "midnight".
Afrikan Roots Lab