Testing. Though it certainly isn't something that I demand from everyone and it isn't something I'd even want from everyone, I do definitely appreciate when an artist brings something extra to a song in the way of something that I was not expecting. I enjoy not only the surprise aspect of listening, but also the kind of challenge that exists from particular individuals when presenting their music. This is present in a variety of different ways - with the first and most obvious being lyrically. People such as Sizzla Kalonji, Vaughn Benjamin, Ras Batch and, lately, Jah9 and Kabaka Pyramid, consistently organize BEAUTIFULLY worded portraits to their listeners in a way where it requires a bit extra work to decipher and, at least for me, that's a good thing. In the same way musicians spend years and years developing their crafts, musically, I think that people like You and I do the same thing as listeners and, regardless of what type of music you listen to, I think that it is possible to get better as a listener and an appreciator of what you're listening to. Also, I think it is a sign of respect from artist for their audiences in saying, essentially, that they trust our intelligence and that we'll find a way to get to the root of their meaning (or, as I always say, even appreciate the journey to comprehension). There is, however, someone who fits into another category, where they are able to combine the art of the unknown (and it is an art form in his case and he‘s spent the last three or four years or so perfecting it) with a strong lyrical test as well and that is, of course, the always interesting and always colourful Perfect Giddimani. There is something wildly compelling and downright intoxicating about listening to someone who you can predict AT ALL. I have virtually no idea what the chanter is going to do on any song and getting new music from him is always this double wonder of whether or not the song is going to be any good (which is there in the case of anyone) and… WHAT the song is going to be. After doing this for sooooooo many times, I'd like to think that I can predict the direction, and probably the sound, of a tune by the name of 'Give Thanks and Praise' or 'Hail HIM', and I'd say that 90% of the time I can, but when placed in the one-of-a-kind hands of Perfect Giddimani, my percentages diminish greatly.
So when one of your greatest of qualities is the element of surprise ["FULL TIME BABYLON REALIZE, SIZZLA IS THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE"] [WHAT!] [BOOM!] what do you do? You probably should spend your time making many, many albums as your wonderful unpredictability shines brightest when displayed going song to song and Perfect agrees as he has well spent his time doing that in recent years. It's also of note that, as I've said constantly lately - in general, he's currently making the best music of his career in my opinion. This was evident, most recently, just last year when Perfect Giddimani (and all of his cousins) linked with the House of Riddim (more on them in a minute) to deliver one of the greatest albums of his entire career in my opinion, the jam packed "Over The Top". In that instance, one of the major developments there was this very relaxed and organic theme of the album where Perfect and HOR just seemed to… do anything they could think and what they 'thought of' was a big album. And despite the enormity of that album (it was two or three days long), apparently he had a few more things on his mind.
|"Over The Top" |
And what he's thinking is "Better Off Dread". This time around, helping Perfect get his thoughts together is, interestingly, the Hawaiian label, Jah Youth Productions. Our readers should immediately recall that JYP were one of the engineers behind the GORGEOUS "Indigenous" album from Rob Symeonn just a couple of months ago (it doesn't even seem THAT long ago) and, along with getting a new album from Perfect Giddimani, I'm also very happy to so quickly hear from that same label again and with one of my favourites as well makes it even better. Though the "Indigenous" album was relatively straight forward in retrospect (which is something more befitting the style of Symeonn), I'm still expecting very good results here and that is, at least partially, due to who else works on "Better Off Dread". Where last time it was Jah Youth alongside Goldheart Music, this time the label taps the likes of our old friends at Rumble Rock Recordz, the aforementioned House Of Riddim, one of Perfect's most frequent collaborators in Swiss powerhouse, Weedy G Soundforce and others. When you do that - you don't have an album which follows a script and, once again. Perfect Giddimani manages to bring forth a very LIVELY set. I've enjoyed seeing some of the early attention paid to this album. Going back to much earlier in this year, when what turned out to be the album's first single dropped, it has slowly been building momentum to its release date and, hopefully, it does really well. As far as I know, it is a digital-only set (I think that the same was true for "Indigenous", but I'd just like to think that there is a physical copy of that album cover floating around somewhere because it was masterful) (biggup Ras Elijah Tafari) courtesy of Zojak Worldwide but, again, given the relatively strong buzz around an album of its type, I'd like to think that it could do really well. Perfect, as an artist, has also been picking up steam in recent years and, along with his musical quality, his profile has consistently risen, something which is readily apparent in his activity these days, both in and out of the studio. And going by the results of his latest musical screening done inside the studio, "Better Off Dread", he's doing quite well for himself. Let's talk about it!
Perfect's own Giddimani Records imprint takes an official credit here which would make you think that he had a great deal to do with the presentation of this project which is always a good thing and, at least presumably, means that the artist took quite a bit of care in the songs here and judging by what you hear here, it's the truth in this case. For example? Perfect's brand new album, "Better Off Dread" begins with its eponymous piece which definitely does come off as being a very personal tune. Here, we find Perfect going through what led him to walking the path he does in life, as opposed to any other option. For him (and probably only him) this is somewhat of a mellow track and that isn't a bad thing as the tune is easily one of the finest to be found on the album named after it.
"I’m better off Dread, than to be a baldhead
Though babylon take away my herbs and kicked me out of my bed
I'm better off Dread than to be a baldhead
Once I was a baldhead, roaming the streets of babylon
I never knew what was right from wrong
But I saw Zion -
Zion in a vision
And I can't fool myself -
THIS IS MY DECISION
I'm better off dread, than to be a baldhead"
As I said, one of Perfect's greatest gifts is his unpredictability and it is never more evident on the whole of "Better Off Dread" than it is on the album's second selection, 'Like Marley'. This song was absolutely nothing like I expected. First of all, it is a ROCK song, produced by Andrew Stoch and New World Sounds. It goes without saying (though you know I'm going to say it anyway), that this isn't my type of music, but… I don't hate this song and it's because of its lyrical direction. This song is about PRIDE. It is about feeling pride in who you are and where you come from and where your blood comes from. Again, there're certain things about this tune that I do not like, but don't make the mistake of hearing it start and skipping it because, as is his very strange norm, Perfect subsequently does make it work on some level, in a WONDERFULLY challenging way. And speaking of pride, definitely do check out the full on GREAT 'Awake'. TEARS! To my opinion, this tune has no equal on "Better Off Dread", it is FANTASTIC as it builds itself across an Afrikan chanting style which eventually blossoms so dynamically that… again, TEARS! It made me cry and I didn't mind! A BEAUTIFUL song and, in recent history, definitely one of Perfect's best.
The aforementioned first single from "Better Off Dread", 'Bad Boy', is one of several pieces on the album which ignite on paper. This tune, despite its rather serious theme is… kind of delightful… it is. It may take you awhile to focus and stop your head from moving around so much, but when you manage to do it, tune in to the message being presented which is even more crucial than the sound here, but do enjoy yourself because that, courtesy of the House Of Riddim, is intoxicating. After that tune, of course, you go to 'Revolution Come'. The first of a pair of official combinations on the album, 'Revolution' is almost overkill as it features Perfect (I'm writing this review at around the same time I'm writing another one for Pressure, and you have no idea how many times I have called one the other - dozens) alongside both Lutan Fyah and Jahdan Blakkamoore [WHAT!]. The song actually has more Hip-Hop textures to my ears, which isn't my favourite but you would have had to have tried really hard to mess this up for me and they didn't do that here. Listening to these three on a single track [also from New World Sounds] is a dazzling experience and all three are in fine form as they link up to chant down corruption anywhere it may exist. Though not armed with the same star power, the other combination on the album also made a big impression on me as well as. On 'Hail The King', Perfect Giddimani teams up with Dada Yute from out of Brazil to give glory to His Imperial Majesty and what this tune may lack in complexity, it more than makes up for in straightforward BEAUTY. Dada Yute's may be a new name to many, but we're I don't many people are going to be forgetting it quickly after his gorgeous effort here. I, like You, surely also wanted to have a listen to 'Fake Ass Friends', the single most attention grabbing title here (probably alongside 'Like Marley') and it doesn't disappoint. This one is also relatively straightforward, in terms of its subject (the sound is as well, but there're some very small things here which make it stand out) with the message being to be careful in whom you put your trust. Also be sure to check the golden and clever 'BMW [Black Man Wagon]', which is another selection straight from the House Of Riddim. This tune is very interesting because it almost has a skeletal type of approach, particularly for a tune from Perfect, but it WORKS as one of the best songs on this album as Giddimani takes us all for a nice drive. If you at all follow the career of Perfect Giddimani, you know that when it comes to making ganja songs, few people, if anyone, pour as much passion into the topic than he does and that remains the case on "Better Off Dread", in the form of its burning closer, 'Better Than Liquor'.
"Don't be silly, nah do no follow
Don't follow Billy and go pop dung Molly
Just stick to di og, jam wid di collie
Herbs come west, come straight up a Kingston
Bobo youth tell di farmer fi bring some
Ten pound of high grade him bring come -
To how things run -
Weed is better than liquor
Weed is better than liquor
Weed is better than liquor
Weed is better than liquor"
I don't know who is playing the guitar on this tune, which is vibed by Rob Letcher and Brandon Bishop, but that person… good for them! It is THE dominant musical tone on a very colourful riddim over which the former head of the Chalice Palace brings forth his usual uniqueness as he goes off on, clearly, one of his favourite topics. And I should also probably mention (because if I don't do it now, I'll still have to do it later), the fiery 'Trim To Rass', which may or may not be a delayed shot at someone in particular ["Trim to rass! What mek you cut yuh locks below to di rim to rass? What mek yuh pull yuh lip up off yah chin to rass? KALONJI BUN DEM OUT"]. It is a pissed off Perfect who, when in a fine form (and he is throughout this album) is still a joy to listen to.
And then there are the surprises. There are four (and three in particular) tunes on "Better Off Dread" which may not leap out at a listener, ostensibly, but are EXCELLENT songs and I hope that they are not lost in the way of more standing out material. A song such as 'For My Mama', the album's obligatory mama tune, is really, really good. It goes more through the courses that you'd expect with the main exception being that this tune comes off, to me, as one being about respect and reverence, in general. To make his point, Perfect uses THE most respectable and reverential person in the world, Mama. Also of note here is the riddim which is a product of a Jah Youth and Rumble Rock collaborative effort and it is SWEET. Perfect goes full 'champion' on, easily, one of the best songs on "Better Off Dread", 'Market Ram' and he takes us with him. I guess you could call this one a social commentary to some degree, but it's also a piece about taking SATISFACTION in where you come from and your way of life. When you hear songs like this from Perfect, you go way back to 'Handcart Boy' and with good reason (it was the best songs in the whole of modern Reggae music) and while this tune doesn't reach those lofty levels, it is damn strong on this album and still rising. ‘Market Ram' is of a fine old school Dancehall quality and it isn't alone in that arena on this album. BOTH of the two remaining selections are also similarly vibed tunes and they are BIG. The truly ridiculous 'Baby Boom' is ear candy - it will make your ears feel good and features a chorus straight for us.
"Baby boom, baby boom, baby boom for me!
Show mi yuh splashing and yuh mashing up di room for me
And she ah whisper in my ear she coming soon for me
Nine months you'll get a girl or boy!
Natty haffi pick di cherry
Flowers haffi bloom for me
And she ah come from New York, June for me
And this is not an ordinary honeymoon for me
Nine months you'll get a girl or boy!
WI NO HAVE NO BEHAVIOUR!
WOMAN I WANT YOU DEH FROM WAH DAY YAH
YOU FULL UP A DI VIBES AND FLAVOUR
YOU MEK MI HAFFI TELL IT TO MY NEIGHBOUR, MI NEIGHBOUR, MI NEIGHBOUR!"
One of the most fun love songs I've ever heard and a piece fully emblematic of Perfect's wholly brilliant uniqueness. Not only could no one else do this type of a song like this, I don't know who would even make an attempt. It is quintessentially strange Perfect Giddimani and, like it usually is these days, damn difficult to cut off. And finally is 'Once Upon a Time', done by Weedy G (as is 'Market Ram'), which is just as good.
"I man ah tell you, once upon a moment, once upon a time
America was yours and Afrika was mine
The Kings were happy and The Queens were fine
WI NEVER HAVE NO BORDER, NEVER DRAW LINE
Mi and mi bredda quarrel, but wi never draw nine
A corn Papa plant, him nah bust carbine
And dutty babylon, you never make no star shine
SELASSIE I AH CHARGE YOU FI ALL WAR TIME"
Another really fun tune is 'Once Upon A Time' and that riddim has to be one of Weedy G's finest and if you follow the label's output, you know how large of a statement that is. And to my opinion, any one of these three songs, 'Once Upon A Time', 'Baby Boom' and 'Market Ram', could definitely be big hits if given the opportunity.
Overall, I think this album is a little better than I gave it credit for being before digging into it for the sake of this review. While I wouldn't call it THE best album Perfect has ever done, I can't say that it isn't at least on the fringes of the discussion. To my opinion, what it does best is what any good album from the peculiar chanter will do: It takes advantage of what he does best and a large part of that is 'drawing no borders' and, at the same time, not making it an album which is likely to alienate a substantial amount of Reggae fans. "Better Off Dread" won't do that. It is a modern Roots Reggae album at its core and it rarely walks in different directions. But when it does, it becomes yet another compelling moment to watch the completely unpredictable and wonderfully random ways of one of Reggae music's most captivating figures, Perfect Giddimani. Well done.
Jah Youth Productions/Giddimani Records