Thursday, November 7, 2013

'As You Were': A Review of Sex, Love & Reggae by Gyptian

Branded. In certain cases, along with the actual music side, there also is some type of ultimate expectation in regards to the image of a particular artist. People who do make music are, like everyone else in business, trying to make money and as we've seen in Reggae music, making good music, can often lead to absolutely nothing in the way of commercial success. However, when you do reach a special level of popularity, one can make the case that your image is even more important than making good music or at least as important as the musical component. Seemingly, at those levels there exist a balance in terms of who is promoted as what and, particularly when it comes to reaching more 'mainstream' circles, this is of extreme importance. And when it comes to projecting (or even constructing in some cases) images in Reggae music for the sake of selling albums, of course no one is more active on that side than what remains the genre's biggest label, VP Records. Over the years VP has dealt with… pretty much every big name in Reggae music in some way or another with only a handful of exceptions and, at least when it comes to albums and the music which appears on them, they have been instrumental in helping to build brands out of certain artists. In some cases it's pretty simple: Like in portraying a younger Mavado as the ultra-violent powerhouse he had already shown himself to be (before he was so special); while in others things tend to take more time. To give credit where it is due, however, some of their best 'work', in my opinion, comes in cases such as Etana's and Tarrus Riley, where the label, essentially, takes more of an unrestrictive approach and they are presented on albums as the stunning Roots Reggae stars that they are and hopefully their winning formulas will continue in the foreseeable future. There's also been Romain Virgo recently who we've seen mature into  this powerful youth with a talent far, far older than he is (and most of his peers) and, looking back now, VP also played a large role in aiding someone like Capleton develop his tremendously successful fiery persona which would carry him through three classic sets with the label. With all of that being said, however, definitely one of VP's most compelling running projects is still relatively young veteran, Gyptian, who has experience a very decisive and not so subtle arrival to the stage where he, and he alone, exists in Reggae music today. 
Also from Gyptian & VP Records
You would have had to have been some sort of psychic to predict that, one day, the same youth who would score genuine hits with songs such as 'Serious Times' (which, ridiculously, is almost a decade old now), 'My Fadah Seh' and others would eventually become a future sex symbol for Reggae music, but that is exactly the course Gyptian's career has taken and, like I said, it wasn't a very subtle or gradual process. As soon as times had gotten a little less serious, it seemed as if Gyptian's next step was to build the foundation for a career which would, seemingly, see him as one of the leaders of the contemporary love song in Reggae music. After his debut in 2006, "My Name Is Gyptian", VP would release "I Can Feel Your Pain" two years later and then there was an even greater jump with the all conquering hit, 'Hold You', which would go on to lead to an album of the same name in 2010. THAT song would take Gyptian outside of the confines of Reggae music and make him a more of the 'mainstream' type of star which, now three years later, he seems well ready to build upon. 

Gyptian gets to work with the entirely expected "Sex, Love & Reggae". Why not??? Gyptian and VP Records show, IMMEDIATELY, in album name and in album cover (with the aid of a Ganesha) exactly what they're going for in the new album and you really can't say anything much about that in term s of critiques. What they've done over the past eight years have made Gyptian a really big name around the world and it works for him, so I think that such a large and blaring step was a pretty good idea and one which, for the most part, should prove to be damn successful… again. That being said, however, I always look at albums like this -- ones which follow that kind of watershed moment in an artist's career -- to be of even greater significance than the big moment, itself. There are, at least presumably, going to be more eyes on the return than there was initially and we begin to think about speaking of Gyptian in the way people speak about Sean Paul and the likes. When you do that Reggae fans of the more intense type probably aren't going to be paying very much attention (I do not know why we do that, but it always seems as if fans literally get upset at someone if they get 'too popular', even though such are capable of bringing so much attention to the genre, as a whole), but that's fine, Gyptian's fan base is already likely as diverse and versatile as the music which would appear on his new album. "Sex, Love & Reggae" becomes the singer's fifth record altogether and his fourth for VP Records and may figure to be his most successful to date if the early buzz around the release is any indication. Musically speaking, for the first time in a loooooooooong time, I have absolutely no expectations here in terms of quality. On the surface, Gyptian doesn't make music for me and I've never been his biggest fan. But, I do see things here (two in particular) that I like and, possibly, as a hopelessly incurable Soca addict, maybe he can put together something which, at best, will strike old jaded me as FUN (and enlisting the help of Jerry Duplessis, who runs this show, might help that). And regardless if I like it or not, with the absence of albums this year from the likes of Sean Paul, Damian Marley and one or two others, Gyptian makes a play for the genre's biggest seller with his latest release.

album trailer

It can be fun. "Sex, Love & Reggae", unsurprisingly, kind picks up where its predecessor ended. The "Hold You" album was this amalgam of Reggae-fied R&B, Pop and Soca which though it didn't lend itself to many traditional fans of the music, did have its moments and basically if they strung together that same album, I wouldn't mind too much and I don't mind what I hear here. Following an intro called 'G Spot' (what else would they call it), "Sex, Love & Reggae" actually gets off to a pretty good start with 'A Reggae Morning'. The older song was Gyptian's cut of what remained of the Kingston 13 Riddim from Ranch Entertainment after Alaine laid ruins to it with the MASSIVE 'Avalanche'. It's a pretty good song and one of the better on the album to my ears and, in terms of the vibes, a nice way to 'wake up' before the madness begins. Next in is our first taste of what is to come in the form of 'Be Alright'. I don't quite know how to describe this one - maybe you'd call it Pop music? It's infectious whatever it is and from an album having many similar moments, this is one of the better of them in my opinion. 'I'm So', is a song that works with it is sound. If you just kind of play it and fade away, the mood of the piece is exciting to listen to and while it isn't amongst my favourites here, it might stick around as a nice song to work out to. And on 'Overtime', which is decent, Gyptian tackles the Overtime Riddim from JA Productions. A solid and expected type of tune which really neither adds to or diminishes the album as a whole. 

I counted nearly a third of the tunes on "Sex, Love & Reggae" as combinations (although I was never very good at math) and three of  the five really stood out. The other two were 'One More Time' and 'Majestic Love' which feature Melanie Fiona (who sounds REALLY good) and a vocalist named Estelle, respectively. The former has a riddim which is divine. The track on that thing is golden and the tune flowing over it isn't horrible either. As for 'Majestic Love'… my Wife really likes that song. As for the other three, there's 'Vixen' which is the very first single from "Sex, Love & Reggae", which is the first piece here which features the suddenly flaming Angela Hunte. It is a curious selection for the first single because there’re so many other songs on this album which would seem to be more infectious choices (one in particular), but it is a nice song which may be too animated in some spots, but finishes well, ultimately. Then check the Groovy 'Wet Fete' on which Gyptian enlists the help of Groovy specialists, Kes The Band. THIS is exactly the type of music I was hoping for an album like this. It is a fun and harmless song which makes a very unique link and hopefully VP and Kes can do business together in the future. Right now definitely the label’s biggest Soca score in recent times has been its newest signee, the ALWAYS flaming Bunji Garlin and they waste no time in putting the Soca ace to work on what is, BY FAR, the best song on this album, its title track. The song, which is helmed by the unstoppable Major Lazer, also features the aforementioned Angela Hunte (and Busy Signal on the intro), is gorgeous. It is a simply unshakable bounce and, again, really the type of music I was most hoping to hear on an album like this. Mission accomplished.

'Vixen' featuring Angela Hunte

The remaining songs on "Sex, Love & Reggae" are also really interesting for a variety of different reasons. Check, as a pair, 'Non Stop' and 'Wine Slow'. The latter here is an okay song. It features on the Rio Riddim from Russian and Head Concussion and is one of the better kind of laid back moments on this album. The former, on the other hand, as its title would suggest, is just too much damn wining for one song. Hear it once and you'll know what I mean. Gyptian also goes Kevin Lyttle on 'Turn Me On' (which isn't a remake), which is another kind of midtempo offering with a nice Groovy Soca-ish type of track behind it. He later tells us all about 'Good Girls', which is a song I don't really like too much, but doesn't detract from the album too much in my opinion (and does feature a nice track). I saw the title 'Murderer' and I thought maybe we'd get some type of social commentary (you'll get none of that here), but instead it is a song about relationships (featuring Gyptian who sounds quite a bit like Jah Cure). Later, Gyptian does do a pair of actual remakes and the first is from an old song, 'True Colours', which was originally done by Cyndi Lauper. The song isn't terrible. It surely isn't the best song on this album and it isn't even close, but I was expecting a downright ghoulish offering and that isn't what is here at all. And next, on the album's official closer, Gyptian pays a wonderful tribute to the legendary Gregory Isaacs, with the well done 'My Number One'. A couple of years back, VP Records would deliver a tribute album, "We Remember Gregory Isaacs", for the legendary singer who transitioned in 2010 and it featured Reggae stars of today singing some of his most well known pieces. Gyptian was there alongside the likes of Alaine, Etana, Tarrus Riley, Busy Signal and others and he did one of the best renditions in my opinion and I was SO happy to see them include tune on what is sure to be such a popular release. There is a bonus song which may appear on some versions of the song (and I'm going to mention it because Bredz sent it to me) (biggup Bredz) by the name of 'SLR'. It is not as good as 'A Reggae Morning' and certainly not as strong as the eponymous tune, but everything else here within its range. It is easily amongst the album's best material. 
Overall (probably the easiest review I've written all year), "Sex, Love & Reggae" (are three glorious things) is exactly what you would have hoped it would be. If you are the type of fan who jumped on board during the 'Hold You' craze, you will LOVE this album. As a unit, it isn't far from that release's quality and although it does surely take things further in intensity and sound in many cases, I don't think that it is such a large deviation from that release and the music around it. Also, I do really like hype around it. It is being treated as one of the year's most popular albums from a Reggae-ish genre (although it is certainly not a Reggae album, but I think an album called "Sex & Love" wouldn't have been... well they could have done that, why not?) and the early material that I've read has been almost completely positive. "Sex, Love & Reggae" finds vocalist and label continuing on the course they both set years ago, which has reached yet another checkpoint as Gyptian and VP Records have clearly found what he does best. 

Rated: 3/5
VP Records
CD + Digital

Review #475

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