Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Modern Classics Vol. XXXXI: "Know Thyself" by Ras Batch

"Know Thyself" by Ras Batch [I Grade Records]
There are certain albums that come down and do so with quite a bit in the way of both interests and questions regarding their quality. These are the type of sets which you so much look forward to but do not really know what to expect and how you are going to receive them… today we are not going to talk about an album like this. Instead, today we have a record whose exceedingly high quality was guaranteed even before it was created. 

The very idea of Ras Batch doing a project with I Grade Records is a sterling one. I don't actually need to hear that album to know that it is going to be a great one nor do I need to hear it to be able to give it a thorough recommendation, but thankfully I did get to experience this one. As I've gotten older one of the greatest gifts that a tiny bit of maturity has given me has been the ability to fully appreciate the music of the VI Roots Reggae wizard. Though I always had an appreciation of his talent (particularly as a producer), during the second half of my twenties and the first two years of my thirties, he's become a bonafide favourite of mine and you will not find too many other artists whose output I anticipate more so than Batch's. Prior to 2012, in my opinion, he had already produced a genuine classic in 2005's MASSIVE "Jah Guidance" (an album which STILL gets more impressive and every time that I hear it), but now I may even make the case that in the link with IGR and the Zion I Kings, Batch not only added another classic to his catalogue, but he added the absolute best album he has done to date.
"Jah Guidance" [2005]
Today we give the biggest honour we have on these pages, for the second time, to the brilliant Ras Batch for pushing one of the most obvious additions to this line and, easily, one of the smartest and just BEST albums that I have ever heard: "Know Thyself"

Ras Batch
1. 'Jah Children'

In 'Jah Children', "Know Thyself" had fully ROYAL beginnings as Ras Batch delivered a single classic and one of the best songs of his entire career in my opinion. The vibe surrounding this tune was of the caliber that it immediately grabbed your attention - it sounds like something crucial is about to happen and it subsequently proves to be even more. I look back at this piece now as Batch taking an appreciation of that same vibe and moment. The idea was to highlight and stress just how important YOU are. So while it is a spiritual tune to its core, it also had a substantially tangible context as being of such a powerful spiritual heritage, it is our responsibility not to waste what we have been given by The Almighty. And this song glowed from beginning to end. It was magical. 

Lyrics: "Rum dem ah drink, when herb Rastaman dem itinually planting. Deep inna di teachings of His Majesty, I & I stay standing"

2. 'Give Jah Thanks For Life'

I still hear echoes of Toussaint's tune, 'Jah Golden Throne' (biggup Toussaint) whenever I hear the riddim behind 'Give Jah Thanks For Life', but that does not (nor has it ever) take away from the high class of a song like this. As it fits on the album, the song kind of serves as an extension of ideology of the tune which precedes it here. On 'Jah Children' Batch spoke of appreciating the standards from which we originate, but on 'Give Jah Thanks For Life', Batch deals with actual standard, itself, and its foundations. From a lyrical point-of-view I've come to place the first two songs on this album in a pair which kind of go to tell a small story at the beginning of this album - one which is constantly revisited and expanded upon throughout. 

Lyrics: "Some trust in house and land. THE TEMPLE OF THE MOST HIGH BEGINS WITH THE STRUCTURE OF MAN. From Mount Zion, feel the touch from Jah hand. In humbleness receive Jah instruction"

3. 'Stay Fit'

The most fascinating aspect of 'Stay Fit', lyrically, is definitely Ras Batch's concept and usage of the word "fit". I've come around a bit on the acceptance of the physical nature of the tune. Yes, definitely Batch's idea of fitness in this case is one which is very much akin to staying aware, but for the many directions that one could well take this one in, I think even Batch would agree that all are more capable when physical fitness is first achieved. And when you place it in the context of "stay fit"(which normally does mean physical fitness), it creates a metaphor where both sides are applicable. Batch says to stay fit in every aspect of life. 

Lyrics: "Rastafari genealogy - unbroken. Four corners of the earth, Rastafari name is spoken. HAILE SELASSIE FIRST, I HAIL HIM IN THE OPEN"

4. 'Dem Against Jah Rules'

'Dem Against Jah Rules' is a tune on which I'm convinced that Ras Batch is fully ANNOYED by oppressive society and the oppressors, themselves. It, subtly, has a bit more of an edge than some of the similarly vibed songs on the album, including one particular stretch which is somewhat Damian Marley-esque in terms of how it is presented. It is one of the most memorable stretches on the entire album (and surely I chose it as the lyrics just below) and stands out on a tune which is a social commentary about something which has obviously rotted away at Batch's patience. Despite the aforementioned "edge", this isn't on which Batch is angry. He's disgusted. 

Lyrics: "REBEL! Bun babylon and send dem straight to hell. REBEL! For too long Jah children under your spell. REBEL! Controlling what we buy and what sell. REBEL! Dem ah suck you out and leave an empty shell"

5. 'Love Always'

'Love Always' is a song which has always done something to my senses. I can listen to it as a song, straight-forward, but it is MUCH more of a fun experience to take in the sonic FEEL behind one of the finest pieces on "Know Thyself". As for the song, what it is for me is the idea of keeping a smile on your face, no matter what people try to do against you and keeping your 'head up' when others try to drop it. When you combine that with its presentation, you have an exceptional composition and one which, fittingly, makes you feel good in the face some dire situations ["Cause if a love, wi want yuh rally and come take a stand. So long wi ah suffer and ah bleed inna dem foreign land"]. 

Lyrics: "Cheat and try to win, cah they don't have no joy within. HATRED'S GONNA DIE. LOVE'S GONNA WIN"

6. 'Guns on the Street'

Batch captures the moment on a song which has grown on me tremendously in the past couple of years, the anti-violence themed 'Guns on the Street'. What I focus on these days from this tune is its very easy and organic sound. I think there is something to be read into there, particularly when you notice it alongside the lyrics. For Batch this is a very simple thought with an equally uncomplicated course of action ["things woulda been nice if dem abolish di gun"] and throughout the song he is fairly level-headed and presents himself as someone who just so tired of the violence and is trying to inject some COMMON SENSE into the world. A BEAUTIFUL song which even I, personally, may've overlooked - but never again. 

Lyrics: "Things woulda been nice if dem abolish di gun. Wi know inna dem colony, nuff Afrikan blood run. So many Afrikan daughter, Afrikan sons - get killed by an Afrikan shooting an American gun" 

7. 'Together'
'Together' was, very much, a 'goal-oriented' type of song and it wasn't about the ultimate goal it was more about the journey towards achieving it. The thought is that you're more likely to appreciate something you had to work for over something that was given to you. And, as you would hope, he also presents to you the idea of the goal, he shows you what unity will bring ultimately:


Something which I hear now is that this song, really, is a call to action. It is a piece which is asking for a most basic level of unity to begin something in a major way. If this had already happened, if it was a piece about enjoying the fruits of labour, the tune wouldn't be necessary, but it exists because Batch is saying that it is an ultimately (and, perhaps, immediately) reachable set of circumstances. It isn't unattainable! Also I should mention the vibes of this song. The very catchy piece isn't one which you typically hear from Batch, but it contains enough of his more distinctive characteristics that, when combined with that big sound, makes for a song which is a very easy choice for a single. BOOM! 

Lyrics: "Must haffi make it somehow! Must haffi mek it someway! Inna Sound Vizion Rastaman sight how babylon ah fade away!"

8. 'Live Pray'

It isn't only for the riddim and how nice it is every time I get to hear it but, looking back, 'Live Pray' was an amazing song and one of the strongest on this album in my opinion and a mighty way to lead into the second half. What I now take from this song is the notion that, again, things walk both spiritually and tangibly. Batch acknowledges that we much, MUCH work to do, but that work can only begin when we can seek the aid of The Almighty. In its latter stages, the artist hits a stretch where he even presents PRAYER as a utopia, immune to the ills of society and a direct line to His Majesty. I also look at the arrangement of the song (particularly at the chorus) and there is just so much to enjoy about this song and I'm STILL working on it. 

Lyrics: “Catch if you can! I & I ah run to the Mountains of Zion. To The Conquering Lion, HE is a Lion. TO THE POWER OF PRAYER, ONE OF THE GREATEST WEAPONS. Meditation of prayer, origin Ethiopian! AFRIKAN DEH DEH FROM TIME BEGUN - FI COME WITNESS DEM DESTRUCTION"


9. 'Roots Tradition'

Professor Batch held class as the mighty 'Roots Tradition' rolled in and he made it crystal clear at the head of the track, "These are the things you nah learn inna babylon school". I'll surely come back to this one in synopsis, but to get it started: For me, this song has a direct line to the title track. They are 'siblings' if ever two songs were biologically related (and they were) and it is the first part of a double dosage of taking in the full meaning behind this album to my opinion. 

For itself, the tune was sublime and one which can be carried in several different directions. The one which I follow most now is the importance of setting a proper example to the youths, in general, but specifically in educating them on their heritage. I think Batch makes songs like this to instill pride and you may not be aware of everything he mentions (and you may be), but the thought is to show just how GRAND your bloodlines are and were hundreds of years before you - so you have a benchmark to live up to and living disgusting and nasty lives is just unacceptable. 

Lyrics: "If a nuh root, the tree won't stand. I & I a Olmec, I & I a Nubian. All melanin in skin come from the Afrikan land, Man and Woman"

10. 'Trees' featuring NiyoRah
Oft Batch collaborator and another favourite of IGR (and me) (and you) (… and everyone else), NiyoRah ["And if you feel a way about the herb"] made an appearance on another single from "Know Thyself", 'Trees'. I listen to this tune now and I hear such an unusual composition behind it (the riddim, which is perfect for this song is just something really different) and that well adds to the fuel of this song. Touching on one of Batch's favourite topics of discussion (Niyo isn't a stranger to it either), 'Trees' was a piece about the splendours of marijuana and it was one so passionately produced on the subject that, in a line of many songs coming from Batch about the same thing (including another on this same album), it still manages to hold a special place for me ["Wi burn a spliff and burn babylon dung"]. 

Lyrics: "Coming from the root, the stem and the leaves - green ganja trees. Cannabis smoke bring so much relief. Sacramental burning! Higher heights of learning. AFRIKAN MEMORIES RETURNING!"

11. 'Dem Wrong'

BOOM! 'Dem Wrong' may have grown to becoming the second best tune on this album (and it didn't have much growing to do on that) and that is based on the fact that it is COMPLETELY BRILLIANT from beginning to end. You may be able to call this one a 'social commentary' and you'd have an easy case to make on that point, but I call it more of a spiritual commentary. Batch is dealing with a long line of rotten behaviour and actions which make up the line of observations on this tune. What I hear most glaringly now is HOW appalled he has become with the ways of oppressive society. Not only is it, as a structure, disgusting (and it always has been) but, anyone who would say anything other than that is also living a foul life:

"Tell you dem wrong -
Tell you dem wrong 
An dem push di wrong things all along"

Oh and the guitar on this song is in the stars. It is fantastic as is the entire riddim. 

Lyrics: "Slow poison from the doctor's pill. Radiation and the oil ah spill. Babylon ah live in a world of sin - caan win"

12. 'Mama Daisy'

I can't make a song like this but, hopefully, someday I'll come up with something to show my appreciation for my Mother the way Ras Batch did for his, who had recently transitioned, with 'Mama Daisy'. There is an entire 'institution' of Reggae music specifically devoted to singing the praises of mothers -- there have probably been THOUSANDS of songs on the subject -- but this is one of the best I've heard in recent memory and maybe ever. 

Lyrics: "In your honour, I'll do my best. For the love and time and money invest. You've passed the test. FULL-JOY YOUR REST"

13. 'Know Thyself'

Professor Ras Batch returns to the class on the MAMMOTH title track which, just like its elder brother, 'Roots Tradition', 'Know Thyself' is a lecture you do not want to be absent for (or talking on your damn phone). I'll have to save some of what I'm thinking for synopsis, but 'Know Thyself' was a pillar! Specifically standing out now are two things: First of all would be the sound. While what you have here isn't very dynamic in the way of 'Together' or a song like that, but I hear a song that Batch had fun singing. I hear a JOY in his voice and it isn't a misguided one, it is one well utilized in dealing with a very powerful subject. Second of all is just how crucial this song is. There is not a fraction of it which you can overlook. Every second of it is used to do something very important and more on that in second. 



14. 'Most High' featuring Ima

Humility and humbleness are the central themes surrounding the final combination on the "Know Thyself" album, 'Most High', where Batch and his Empress, Ima, are giving thanks for the giving of thanks (biggup Marlon Asher). Songs like this always resonate for me because they strike at the absolute core of someone's mindset. If you are extremely humble or if you are as arrogant as you can possibly be, there is something for you in 'Most High', where the thought is that whatever you have, no matter how big or small, you give thanks for it! There are no exceptions. Later in the song Ima takes the lead and her crystal clear vocals light up not only this song, but a piece of the entire record (and you can check out Ima's own album which she released after "Know Thyself", "Ah We Deh Ya"). 

Lyrics: "I thank you for this gift of life, Most High!. And for the love that You provide, Most High! In your creation we abide. Jah guide I & I"

15. 'Never Forget'

TEARS! Your ears and your mind really have to be open to appreciate what Batch does with 'Never Forget' a very thorough look at one of my own favourite topics, the Afrikan Diaspora. It certainly does not come a surprise -- his passion on the subject -- but I'm well thankful that someone with such a skill took this type of look at it, from a musical perspective. It is another tune which builds towards the prevailing premise of this album to my opinion and what it adds, specifically, is an even greater importance. Yes, you come from a very proud and upstanding lineage of people, but you also come from a people who have endured monstrous treatment and have managed to overcome and continue this journey. And I also have to mention the chorus on this song which is downright haunting and such a joy to hear.

Lyrics: "Cah di city woulda neva without the Afrikans. Slavery, come steal I from out wi land. Inna shackle and chain inna foreign land. To America and Europe and the Caribbean. And dem system neva gave a damn. Hard work and the days are long. So they try fi kill our will, still Jah bless di powers of the Nubian. Rising above oblivion, still trying to overcome. Water down the struggle in the pages of I history curriculum. Where we going, where coming from. Afrika a where wi from! don't you forget your roots and culture if you are an Afrikan. I & I WILL NEVER FORGET"

16. 'Sacramental Herb'

If you take some of 'Trees' and some of 'Most High', you may end up with something which doesn't sound too disparate to the golden 'Sacramental Herb'. The tune finds Batch both giving thanks for the plant as well as singing its virtues but, in the case of the latter, he takes things to an even more detailed level than usual. This song won't register in the same way as the one preceding it, the title track and 'Roots Tradition', but it is, arguably, every bit the musical address that both are in terms of packing SO much knowledge behind one's point. It is also a lyrical achievement and one of the best songs of its kind that Batch has ever done 

Lyrics: "When the THC get up inna di pineal gland. Nuff youth inna di ghetto start write and start to sing song"

17. 'Repatriation'

"Know Thyself" reached both its peak and its completion in the same song in my opinion. 'Repatriation' was one of the best songs that I've ever heard and while it may not have gotten the level of attention as some of the other songs on this album (and that's fine), but it was THE signature moment for me. The song served as the PERFECT closing tune as, seemingly after you've followed the instructions given on the album's first sixteen tunes, the only step remaining for you is to return home. On top of that, Batch also speaks of the decline of society and how important it is to begin the journey and how NECESSARY it is as well. A triumphant piece and, again, one of the single best songs I have EVER heard… from anyone. 

Lyrics: "Tell di carpenter and di mechanic and di farmer - mi ah tell dem unuh come! Tell di plumber and di mason fi stop waiting - mi ah tell dem unuh come! Wi in too long inna babylon now yeah. Cycle repeating from Sunday to Sunday! Mama Afrika ah waiting and aching - mi ah tell dem unuh come. Inna di marketplace of colonial-ship, well dem ah bargain - tell dem unuh come. Must haffi return to di land where we're from yeah. BUST WEH DI SHACKLE AND DI CHAIN THAT HOLD US DOWN YEAH"


My idea of the core sentiments behind "Know Thyself" is a pretty easy conclusion to reach but I also think that it is the most likely one. This is an album about instilling pride, specifically, within people of Afrikan descent. And throughout the album it seems to be the goal of Ras Batch to show what the standard is, then to set it and reinforce it and then give his ideas to how that standard (in the sense of having a base level of behaviour and life) can fully be met. That is what this album is about. 

In my opinion, it is evident on each and every tune here, but I narrow it down, especially, to three songs. The first, as I alluded to, is 'Roots Tradition'

"These are the things you nah learn inna babylon school
Of Mama Ethiopia, when Afrikans rule
From the lands of Maroon, knowledge of Timbuktu
The fighting Ashanti, warrior Zulu
Afrika a di root, dem nah tell di truth
We ah bring this to the nation, teach this to the youth
Afrikan attribute to civilization fruit: 
Solid and absolute"

Besides everything said in the song (and you really need to pay a special amount of attention to the lyrics in that song), I fully love the usage of the word "tradition". As I said previously, I look at this song as one which is saying, amongst other things, to set a good example for young people. And when you think of a tradition, in general, it is something which is taught and shared and passed between generations. So what I take from this one, in particular, is to LEARN your own heritage and then to become capable of presenting it to your children as well. Next is 'Know Thyself' which is, I think, the first half of 'Roots Tradition'. You cannot possibly teach something to someone if you do not know it yourself and I think the title track for "Know Thyself” is Batch's way of telling everyone to LEARN about your culture and your tradition and heritage, for your sake. 

"Could it be today
Could it be tomorrow
Inna dis time and space, to balance I joys and sorrows
So I & I can be free
Live long and prosper
Fulfill thy destiny with I mind over matter

Know thyself
Know thyself" 

You could make the case that in this particular stanza Batch equates knowing thyself with a genuine freedom… he equates an education of self with freedom which, immediately, strikes you with a grand importance! Very few things are more attractive than freedom and if one of those things are prosperity, then he's also offering you that as well. The title also presents a question in a way of what are you to know of yourself and I think that you can break that down as finely as you like but, here, I think that given the direction much of the album goes in, Batch is talking about knowing thyself from the source. Knowing where your people have come from. But I also think that is a general statement to say that the more you know about yourself, in any capacity, the better it is for you. And I also go to 'Never Forget' to further my point. The line of ancestors isn't only filled with royalty in Kings and Queens, it is full of some of the most tragic stories in human history and that is a point illustrated on this piece.

"I'll always remember how they beat I ancestors down
And taken to the bottom of the belly of the beast, down, down
With a lifetime of work with chain and shackle pon feet 
With no release, rob right of dignity
From the day they were born until this earth they leave! 
Afrikan sacrifice - they don't want you remember this

I & I will never forget
The middle passage
I & I will never forget
Weh dem talk bout three of fifth of a man
Bun all di Ku Klux Klan
Racist segregation, discrimination, Apartheid
I & I will never forget
I'll always remember

All the lynching and raping run, run
Didn't want to set us free so plantation haffi born, born
Messing with our thoughts, I ways, I dreams, I memories
Complexion of biology who distribute great brutality
They are the workers of great inequality

For me this highlights that standard even more. If your people have come through this then suddenly you complaining about having a bad day or something not being right in your life doesn't seem as justifiable. And I also want to bring in songs which may not look as if they go towards this point ostensibly, but both 'Trees' and 'Sacramental Herb' do fit into this premise as well. Both of these songs speak of very tangible gifts from The Almighty, and I think that Batch's point would be - how can you "know thyself" and be unaware of your Creator and what He has done for you. This places a concrete object in hand in a similar way to how 'Give Jah Thanks For Life', 'Most High' and others places intangibles in mind (and a tune like 'Guns in the Street' would take things out of hand and out of mind, but replace them with something of a far greater value). 

And hopefully, I'm placing something in your mind about just how mighty of an album this was. These days I look at an album with this length (or even a little shorter actually) and immediately begin to think that it is probably a little too long. Even if it's good you're likely to run into three or four songs which should have been cut out, but if you take any of these songs away, this is still a very good album and I may even still be writing about it in this context (and I'd be done by now), but it loses something. ALL of them are outstanding and substantial and make for an album in "Know Thyself" which was absolutely sensational and a bona fide modern Reggae classic!

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