Tuesday, March 11, 2014

'A Must': A review of The Rise Up Riddim

Going around. 'Need' is likely too strong of a word, but when you listen to enough music, there're certainly things that you come to expect and depend on to some degree. I imagine that in other genres, where the goal is almost always in leading to some type of an album, that there isn't such an existing 'schedule' (or if there is, there's a longer one), but when you listen to Reggae music (and DEFINITELY Soca, which not only has a schedule, but it also has its own calendar), things move a bit more regularly and it becomes most apparent when those regular things become a bit more infrequent. In terms of artists, as I alluded to, Soca is easily the biggest instance of this. Can you imagine that if someone like Machel Montano just up and decided to… take a season off?! He's nearly forty years old and he's been making music from when he was a small child, so he's entitled and he's earned the right, but I'm of the opinion that somewhere in the universe some irreparable rift to time and space may occur if Montano, feet hurting and wrist cramped, suddenly arrived at the conclusion that he was just too damn tired to jump and wave one year. Personally speaking, wondering whether or not the next tune from someone like Sizzla Kalonji is going to be THE song is also something I've come to depend on. Longtime the man has shown himself to be somewhat of an unwilling (or under-willing) genius in the consistent sense and I've developed a very curious fascination in awaiting the next master class, no matter how long it may take to reach (and it will. It always does). So as odd as it may be, if Kalonji just started to make every song a classic (something which I think that he, and he alone, is capable of), I think I may even find that less enjoyable than having that entertaining question of what he's come up with on any given track. I also would have problems if Vaughn Benjamin stopped challenging my brain and made the journey to comprehension of his music a straight line and if Jah Cure developed a deejay alter-ego who would take away from the opportunities to listen to… the greatest voice ever given to a human being. On a slightly different scale, over the past few years I've also come to healthily anticipate and expect the wonderful work from one of our favourite labels, Oneness Records, and I didn't really realize it until last year. 
"Not The Same" by Denham Smith [2013]
In 2013, almost as if taking a ‘victory lap' for their MASSIVE 2012, which included the release of one of the best albums I've ever hear, "Working Wonders" from Mark Wonder, the Oneness Records wasn't terribly active. What they did push, however (expectedly), was one of the best releases of its type for that year, as the label delivered the excellent "Not The Same" EP from Denham Smith (which would have been the best Reggae EP of 2013 in my opinion, had someone not released a full album for Kabaka Pyramid and called it an EP). It was really, really good, but I came to be a fan of Oneness’ on the strength of a giant album (more on that in a second) and their consistently BEAUTIFUL tracks. The ranks of the latter are filled with stellar creations such as the Rub A Dub Man, the Redeemer, the Backstabber, most notably the ReggaeVille, most besftully (not a word) the Soul and others. And they didn't begin a millennium ago. So much of this work has been cramped into just the past few years and… I kind of got used to hearing from them every few months.  
"One Love, One Heart, Oneness" [2014]
But if I have to wait a little longer - I can. Oneness got off to a very good start in 201, already, with the releasing of a greatest hits-ish type of compilation, "One Love, One Heart, Oneness" [in stores now], back in January and for their next display, they're making me smile again as the label returns with a GORGEOUS new track, the Rise Up Riddim. The release is the very first officially from Oneness from the aforementioned Rub A Dub Man in 2012 and, hopefully, it stands at the head of a very active year in terms of similar endeavours. Should that be the case (and especially if you aren't very familiar with the work of Oneness Records then, once again, you can expect some truly big work this year, because at their best, in my opinion they're one of the finest active imprints today). I think that I'm beginning to hear some type of unifying characteristic in the work of Oneness Records because the first thing that I noticed when I heard the Rise Up was just how comfortable it was and that definitely isn't the first time that's happened in relation to one of their pieces. This particular track, as an album, is an expansion of one of their older compositions which has now been developed into a full project more than befitting and deserving of the recent history of quality output directly behind it. Also, because of the gap (and how familiar I was with the actual track), I was really looking forward to hearing how this one turned out and although it may not have generated the type of early attention as one or two of their other releases (that happens when you name a riddim after a website), we were DAMN excited to get our hands on the Rise Up and even just to see the album cover (which is a really cool idea) and see the record forthcoming. As they always do, Oneness Records turns in a winner and one which will certainly find a place for itself within the collection of pretty much any type of the genre. Let’s talk about it. 

After establishing that you have a nice track (and you do), the next step is putting  together a strong, and hopefully colourful group of vocalists to tackle it and neither has ever been of tremendous difficulty for Oneness Records and they do not start to be here. In this instance, while none of the artists leap out as being great surprises, Oneness does manage to impress with the group who, subsequently, also manage to impress with their songs. The first to give it a try on the Rise Up Riddim is probably the track's most immediately recognizable tune for me, 'What Goes Around' from Naptali. The tune appeared on his MAMMOTH 2010 album, "Long Journey", which was the single best album I heard from that year (and if you still disagree with me about that, you're still wrong). One of the heavier selections on the riddim, 'What Goes Around' still very much has a light vibes about it and this tune has, essentially, been etched in my brain as carrying this track -- it's the signature piece and every time I hear this riddim, I start singing it in my head (still) -- but thankfully the Rise Up later offers up more potential main attractions as well. One such exhibition could DEFINITELY be the second tune 'Give Thanks' for the woefully inactive Prince Malachi. Malachi's is a name which, unfortunately, you just don't run into very much these days and it's made even more regrettable when he reaches with songs like this one which is golden.

"Give thanks for the rising
Ises for a brand new day again
Give thanks, yes my bredrin
And from wickedness you must refrain
Send a strength for my sistren, they say a woman's work is never done
Say a prayer, Jah is listening
Plant a seed and the blessings, they must come

Say we all must come together
Put our differences aside and let's try to unite
And learn to love one another
Oh don't you know that hatred is blind
Come on, let's do the right
We all can see that war, it makes no sense
It's time we realize we've got to help ourselves" 

Absolutely delightful is the tune which, easily is one of the finest you'll hear here. Reggae superstar, Capleton, is in next alongside Positiv Young Lion with 'Peace'. This one has one of the strongest choruses present and the tune constructed around it isn't bad either. PYL initially has a very harsh delivery, but by song's end, it isn't much of a problem while, predictably, Capleton dazzles.
"Working Wonders" by Mark Wonder [2012]
If, on paper, Naptali didn't offer the most familiar tune on the Rise Up Riddim (and he did), then that distinction shifts to another favourite of ours, the aforementioned Mark Wonder who brings forth a tune from the also aforementioned "Working Wonders" album (two classic albums from a relatively young label) [WHAT!] [BOOM!], 'Jah Love Is So Amazing'. This tune finds the immaculately gifted singer giving a supreme praise to His Imperial Majesty and is not only a fine representative of the Rise Up, but also the powerful album on which it originated (which I don't have to tell you to buy, because you already have it). Another song which I recognize is the very clever 'Best Things' from the underrated Vido Jalashe on which the artist goes against material assets in the way of those things which are purchased freely. This tune may get lost in the proverbial shuffle here, but YOU definitely pay it a proper attention, because it's very good and nearly exceptional. Veteran Anthony John and D Julion team up nicely on another selection you may know, 'Don't Give A Dem' on the second of four combinations on the Rise Up Riddim (you're really going to like the third and fourth) and check 'Who I Am' from Solo Banton which appeared on the artist's 2012 release, "Higher Level". Solo Banton POURS lyrics all over the riddim and provides it with a sound unfound on any of the other tunes here and he does it for a good purpose on a tune which is one celebrating individuality and uniqueness within all people.

"Mi nah go change mi ways
Every day fire blaze
Talk mi lyrics loud, clear and plain
Mek di people know exactly how mi stay
What's mi game
How mi play it
This way they should never be mistake
Always got an opinion, especially when you inna my dominion
A million times, tell dem I am not a silly man
Jah Jah's my companion, shining like medallion
West Indian, my Mother, Father deh ya Kittitian
Like Y to the T, I was born inna babylon
Mi no follow back a man 
So now you know how I stay
Never ever try to lead me astray"

The excellent love oriented 'More Than Sometimes' from Ziggi Recado is also on the Rise Up Riddim and it also featured on the first edition of his double set EP "Liberation" a couple of years ago. As is his norm, this is a big tune and biggup Ziggi Recado who reportedly has an album on its way for the Zion I Kings later this year ["You got it good, I need you so bad. WHATEVER YOU GIVING GIRL, I GOTTA HAVE!"]. 

Of the moments here which are new (at least to me), there were three songs in particular which were just… CANDY to my eyes and ears. Before that, however, German star Jahcoustix gives Oneness their title track for this piece with the very curiously vibed 'Rise Up'. There is something really hard to explain about Jahcoustix's style. There's just a little differentiation in what he does than what just about every one else does (which Solo Banton, obviously, would support) (biggup Solo Banton) that I listen to and it, whatever it is, makes an appearance on this big call to action. Unsurprisingly also appearing on the Rise Up is the infectiously and constantly pissed off Fyah T who turns in a GEM of a tune with 'Not Know Peace'. Fyah T's delivery may be harmful on a love song or something like that, but generally he aims it in a very proper direction as he does on this tune, which is blistering social commentary. I like to hear his songs because he sings about things in a way in which you think that they would be talked about. You don't talk about the ills of society using tones which are plain and detached - you do it with a passion and a fervour and an intensity and, presumably, you sound a lot like Fyah T and it helps to make the DISPLAYS of his music some of the best to be found today where subject and delivery meet on high ground. Someone else who generally is also quite expressive is the legendary Buju Banton, who gives the Rise Up another solid social commentary with 'Suffer So'. This one took a few spins to really grow on me (and I'm still working on it), but I don't imagine that will be the case for many other fans. Still, it is nice and has a very nice chorus to it (it just feels kind of 'loose' for some reason to my ears). By far the most interesting TRACK on the album for the Rise Up Riddim, and one of the top three I mentioned, is 'The System' which, ingeniously, links Lutan Fyah with the golden voiced Raymond Wright. The two favourites of Oneness Records produce GIANT results together. Wright is someone who I could probably listen to endlessly and should you find Lutan Fyah in a good form (and he usually is), you get big tunes. Together - they soar. The strange thing here is that the "TRACK" for this one is nearly eight and a half minutes long while 'The System', the song, is slightly more than half that length. I won't ruin the surprise for you, but the final four minutes here is filled with something else besides static and emptiness (and biggup Oneness for the nice touch). 

And then someone exercises good judgment and turns the Rise Up Riddim over to the women and they could not have picked a more interesting pair to my opinion. The first, as I've said in the past, is the single most gifted female making Reggae music today and she, Trini Reggae Empress Queen Omega, gives the Rise Up my choice as its best song, 'Blessed' (coincidentally, she also did the same thing for Zion High Productions' recent Jah Warriah Riddim with 'I Am Blessed') [in stores now].

II saw myself walking a lonely road -
With no one else to help me along my way
Was so blind, clearly, now I see
Walking with His Majesty
So free I am now that I've found my way
I live to please The Most High everyday
Oh yeah, and it feels so good to know that - 

I am blessed!
Shout it with me -
If you're living a life stress-free
Who Jah bless, mi seh no one curse
Blessed you are if you're blessed from birth
Shout it with me -
If you're living a life stress-free
Who Jah bless, mi seh no one curse
No, no, no 

I know you've been through so much pain
Working so hard on the little that you've gained
The hand to mouth, you're in the pouring rain
There is a shelter, there is a shoulder you can CRY ON!
Any mountains, together we can CLIMB ON!
I'll be a friend you can RELY ON!
Just put your trust in the Conquering LION!
He is seated in Zion

I’m living my life with a purpose
Keep my eyes open and I stay focused
Survival is a must, but it ain’t easy
Hotter the battle is the sweeter the victory
Nothing in life should be taken for granted
Just like the trees by the river which that were planted
Created of the heaven and the seas

TEARS! Queen Omega continues to dismantle everything she touches and we can hope that it leads to a new album in the near future which would be her first since the year 1917. And to join the Queen, Oneness also taps one of their staples and a MAMMOTH reason why I look forward to their releases so much, the Minister of Defense, The Familiar Stranger, Funky Comfort, SARA LUGO [BOOM!] [BREAK SOMETHING!] who tells us that 'Dubbing Is A Must'. And she doesn't do it alone either. Instead, joining Lugo is the currently flaming Skarra Mucci and the song is a magical one. This woman's voice is so beautiful and so damn easy on the soul that she could pretty much sing anything at this point and I'd enjoy it. Fortunately, however, she retains a discerning ear and she spends her time turning in diamonds like this one, instead. She and Mucci make another nice pair. As she has shown in the past, if you cannot make good music with Sara Lugo - it's time to go and find something else to do with your time. As for YOU, you can also check the clean version of the Rise Up Riddim which Oneness was nice enough to include this time and I'm now far too lazy to go and check if they usually do that, so I'll just assume that they do because I really like those things.  
Overall, the Rise Up Riddim falls in line with a catalogue of music which gets more and more interesting each time it grows. It didn't grow a lot in 2013, but what it has now done in what remains a very young 2014 is not only impressive, but it reaches in the same way that helped me become a fan of Oneness Records. And it can help you too! As I said, the Rise Up Riddim is well recommended and appropriate to fans of all types. Most experienced and longtime fans will appreciate it just as much as newer heads (and I don't even think that I can draw a distinction there and say that one is more likely to enjoy it than the other). It is an addictive sound and, as a riddim, it's probably one of Oneness' best creations to date. So while, of course, I'm already wondering what's next, I got what I needed as one of the best in the world return to doing what they do best. 

Rated: 4/5
Oneness Records

Review #497

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