Hard work. Much as it is so in the case of entities such as Riddim Driven, Yami Bolo and JetStar Records, the days when shelves were absolutely brimming with releases from Dancehall acts are simply a thing of the past. Though even in previous years, the number of them would be dwarfed, wholly, by Roots Reggae output, these days there has even been a decided dip from a decade or so ago when you'd not only see more of them, but more of them from a variety of different levels. Today, as it has been for the past few years, Dancehall albums will come from three or for big names and… that's it. Incidentally, the monster that was 2012 for albums, was also good for Dancehall as the likes of Mr. Vegas, Sean Paul, Busy Signal, Wayne Wonder and Admiral T all pushed projects, but even if you contrast that with the tremendous Roots push from last year, it isn't even worthy of a comparison. And, unsurprisingly, the trend wasn't set. It was an apparition (and not even a big one) and the dearth of Dancehall names on album releases has continued. This year, Mr. Vegas returned as did Vybz Kartel, albeit with a compilation, and there was Saïk and Kalash (who, obviously, fit into a different category) and that's been all from big named and ultra-appealing Dancehall stars in three quarters of 2013. Of course albums aren't everything, but I have always maintained that they are a small indication of the health of a genre and though I'd disagree with you were you to say it was totally dead (it isn't), if you go strictly by that indication (and you shouldn't) it may be in a coma (comparatively by the same standards, Roots Reggae music is very healthy and in HER twenties). And when there were more albums, there were more opportunities for nice surprises (like an Anthony Que) (biggup Anthony Que) to come around and, though it might not be THE biggest name, still show themselves to be well talented to fans who either didn't pay them any attention beforehand or fans, like You and Me who just really thought that the idea of an album from ______ was a really good one. But all of the surprises haven't gone. In the past few years we have seen unexpected releases from the likes of Harry Toddler, Roundhead and Ghost and 2013 has already offered up one of its own in the form of New Kidz.
To say it plainly: New Kidz is just kind of different. Originally, if I recall correctly, the DJ came to prominence alongside Ako… Mitch as disciples of the great Buju Banton, but that was YEARS ago. It always stands out in my mind that he actually voiced the Throwback Giggy Riddim ["My girl tuck in yuh belly. I beg yuh tuck in yuh belly"], which was eight or nine years ago now. HOWEVER, you might also recall New Kidz (alongside Danny English) on a tune called 'Red', on the Double Jeopardy and , coincidentally, he also had a tune on the Chiney Gal Riddim (the first ever edition of the aforementioned Riddim Driven) (a beautiful circle we make), both of which were just around the turn of the century and I could probably even go back further (if I did some better research). So, again, while he may not have been the biggest name, New Kidz has been working HARD for years which date him, by my count, nearly back to a decade and a half making solid Dancehall music. He has a very rough style which, although may not earn him comparisons to someone like a General Degree or Shaggy, has obviously earned and kept him a place in the music throughout all of these years.
In any other genre, with very few exceptions, someone like New Kidz might already have a few albums behind him, but until the fine people at Truckback Records ["like how the sun never witness the night yet"] decided to push him with that, he did not have one and earlier this year the DJ and label took that step with the very well received "Check". Even on paper this was very interesting. Though entirely active with singles and riddims [brand new, Seal of Life Riddim, in stores now], Truckback isn't too quick to jump up with albums, particularly ones which're also available on CD (I don't know if they've ever done that previously) and they've done both in this instance. That says a great deal for the work and the talent of New Kidz that a label which definitely already has a history, and a respected one, of its own, would take that step with him and presume to be able to successfully market his music in this form to the masses. And though it hasn't been wildly popular, when it did first reach, "Check" did generate discussion and create a buzz for itself. That was certainly aided by New Kidz having a nice run just ahead of it. The album arrived at a very nice time for him as he had seen a rise in popularity around the same time and back to 2012 with a few different tunes hitting with perhaps the biggest was the also Truckback produced 'Street Pledge', alongside Ding Dong and Baby Chris. But there have been hits along the way for many and having a hit does not (and should not) automatically lead to an album release so it was very nice for Truckback and New Kidz to come together and do such a pronounced album (sixteen songs, nearly an hour long). "Check" is officially distributed by VPAL (as everything seems to be these days) and is produced by brothers Adrian & Steve Locke for Truckback and Lockecity Music Group [Boom Drop Riddim, in stores now] who have helmed a whole heap of New Kidz' later work and provide the best circumstances for him to excel in my opinion. And though he has been around for quite awhile, the album proved to be a very revealing one of someone who may still have yet to get a proper credit for his capabilities. Let's talk about it.
Though it is an album from a Dancehall act, if you refer to "Check" as a Dancehall album, and only a Dancehall album, you're not crediting it correctly. As the album progresses it reveals itself as a lovely mixture of a variety of different styles umbrella'd (when you start changing words like 'umbrella' into verbs, you know your vocabulary has just gone somewhere else) beneath Dancehall and Reggae music. It is a very diverse set which opens the album, the stellar spiritually themed social commentary 'World Peace'.
"Jah shine HIS light so I can see
Snake in the grass can't conquer I
Sometime I feel pressure is only on me
But Jah give I the will and strength to survive
For He is my guide and shield
Whom shall I fear? No one
Inna mi checking out and mi checking in -
Mi haffi give thanks inna song
All I ask for is strength my Father
To make this world a better place for my sisters and brothers
One love and world peace, even though talk is cheap
But if we put our hands and heart together, let this circle complete
Jah Jah no mek no mistake
A mankind defile di thing
A dem go spoil di thing, go eat di food, that's why wi sin
Nah follow none a dem and deny The King
Jah Jah never let mi down, that's why mi nah stop try wid HIM
Yes, I'm making this appeal: To all who can afford it, mi ah beg unuh share di meal
Di less fortunate - dem ah get a raw deal
I'm from di ghetto, so mi know weh dem ah feel
Man can predict and do prophecy
And surpass di laws of gravity
Dem get master's degree weh turn novelty
BUT DEM STILL CAN'T FIGURE OUT A CURE YET FOR POVERTY
But Jah is my light and my everything
CLOSER TO HIM THAN FINGER INNA ANY RING
Use mi as an example -anything You say mi King
Wi no inna no devil thing"
"Check" actually peaks IMMEDIATELY because I hear no finer tune on this album than the brilliant 'World Peace', a song which, despite having a healthy respect for the DJ and his skills, I frankly did not know he was capable of until I heard it. 'Epiphany' is another strong effort at the head of the album and it works heavily following the opener. This THUNDEROUS tune features a hammering gem of a riddim from out of Lockecity which New Kidz utilizes to put forth an unforgettable call to action from the masses. Next New Kidz wants to remind You and I and everyone else to 'Have A Plan'. This song, surely, is somewhat autobiographical and though you've heard its equivalent a billion times, if not more, if you know how long and how hard this man has been working at his music to reach this point, them someone telling you to "hustle hard" carries just a bit more weight - especially when it sounds as good as it does on this tune.
"Well it no mek sense you stray -
Cause things set a way:
At the end of the day - bills haffi pay
A nuh how yuh work or how yuh save
MAKE SURE YUH HAVE A THING FI ROCK BACK PON WHEN YOU GRAY
Anywhere di money spot deh, wi haffi stop deh
Just buy a ticket cause mi waan win di lottery
Mama waan fi go market pon Sat'day
Haffi get di work if a even at di factory"
Of the many attractive features of "Check", definitely the ones which instantly grab the attention of the listeners (as it always does) are the combination tunes it features. Truckback tapped a fantastic trio of names for New Kidz to work with and they all do quite well. First up was Turbulence on the much better than average 'Better Days' (biggup Chuck Fenda) (new album, "Jah Element", in stores now). This is another selection about overcoming things when the odds are stacked against you in life and it has a SWEET vibes to it as well. Scintillating ganja song, 'Fire Truck' isn't the first link between New Kidz and veteran vocalist, the well respected Tony Curtis. The two also worked together on a song called 'Baby' several hundreds of years ago and apparently they formed a whole heap of musical chemistry, because this tune is a fun one with a very unusual type of sound. It is entirely too short, also, but a big tune still. The singles biggest name to be featured on the album, however, is Dancehall pillar, Lady Saw, who makes her presence known on 'Our Lives'. This song is a decent one, but not at all a favourite of mine from "Check". Still, I was happy to see Saw's name attached with the project and, outside of the obvious star who SHOULD have been here but could not be (biggup Buju), I think she was a great idea of an attachment to the project (though I would LOVE to hear a New Kidz/Spragga Benz combination). While 'Our Lives' is a love song from "Check" which doesn't go great, New Kidz has more success on 'In Your Eyes'. Again, though I could not rate this as a standout from the album, the tune is saturated with redeemable qualities - not the least of which is its sound which builds sublimely throughout the track. Also check 'Lover's Rehab' which had me full-on nervous prior to hearing it (nothing with that title can be good), but it didn't turn out to be the kind of over-love trip that I was expected. Also, the chorus for the song does rank amongst the album's finest - you'll have a very difficult time trying to get that out of your head (be careful, and don't hurt yourself). And New Kidz also expresses a love of a different type on 'Love Jamaica', which definitely IS a highlight from the album.
|"Street Side" digital single |
The heavy 'Street Side' was a previously released single that appears on "Check", from Khalfani Records. The selection is another dealing with the ills of society, specifically dealing with things such as anti-violence and homelessness. There is a great deal of 'star quality' and just something generally special about this tune and that is saying something big because it does have so many other songs here which're similar in terms of direction. This one tops almost all of them. One which would definitely be in the discussion, however, would be the scathing Twelve 9 and Dynasty Records produced tune which precedes 'Street Side' on the album, 'Peace & Justice'. The lyrical display on that song is as strong as any one of the entire album and though the riddim supporting is also damn impressive, do be sure to focus on what is being said, deeply, as well. And speaking of impressive tracks, the agriculturally and environmentally conscious 'Farmer Man' also comes through excellently. This song isn't really about what you think it is (and you know what you think), but it instead is a look at and a tribute to the positive farmers of the world who grow the plants and feed the world ["for the mister farmer man - whether you plant food or you a marijuana man"]. Earlier in "Check", New Kidz finds gold in the mines beneath Lockecity in the form of the MAMMOTH 'What Is This'.
"Mi waan know: If di youth dem nowadays no have a plan -
WHY DEM CAAN WAIT FI GROW UP FI BE A MAN?
Dem go school deh a road ah learn rocket and gun
Go street-side knowledge - graduate dem as Don
So memba: One love, one heart, one destiny
You can't be a pretender each one, teach one -
Protect yuh friend head-back, be his defender
Cause out of many, we are one, with The Father inna di center
But some a dem ah fight like dog, like dem no memba
Wi nah no love fi one another
What is this?!
No man nuh waan fi tek no order
What is this?!
Too much shot ah clap up pon di border
So wi haffi ask The Father fi help wi"
He also finds it on Afrikan ground on 'Banks of The Nile'. This was another song which really surprised me. I didn't know New Kidz could make a song like this delightful track. I was wrong. DAMN! Later, after giving due respect to Mama Afrika, New Kidz says 'Thank You' to Mama on the album's obligatory tribute to the greatest person in the world. When they're good, you have to give them the recognition and this is nearly great song for Mama [Hey Mama!] [Hi Mama!]. And lastly, New Kidz tells us the story of 'John Tom'.
"Missa man deh, weh yuh hype up and ah talk bout?
Ah him roll London, Canada, Europe and New York
No smile and laugh with people, him seh him no too talk
Place bust inna two half, when di man him crew pass
Any man weh sneeze or cough ah get dem face bruise off
Take weh any man gal and seh dem too soft
And no police ah come and no si when him move off
Mi hear few blast, now he make di newscast"
It is a cautionary tale, of course, and one which remains well necessary.
Overall, "Check" isn't the best album I've heard in 2013 and I didn't expect it to be. HOWEVER, if you did and continue to ignore it, what you are not taking a listen to may be one of the biggest 'sleepers' of the year. It is surprisingly good and despite the fact that you may have been listening to New Kidz' music for quite awhile, I can assure you that he's never sounded THIS good in one place like this. That also speaks back to the importance of an album. If he continued to drop pieces as singles, maybe you notice, maybe you don't, but here, as a unit, you take a big interest when you hear so many good songs in one place. I would have liked to hear more 'typical' Dancehall, because that is what I know him for and, if you are not familiar, definitely check out some of his other work, but for what it is "Check" is very good. It is also a career highlight for someone who could really use it as well. You could also use it! New Kidz and Truckback Records turn in a very versatile and 'informing' set and one which is well recommended to fans of all types.
CD + Digital