Tuesday, September 16, 2014

'Double Up': A review of "Africa Redemption" by Pressure

"It's a cold world, but the whole world haffi witness Africa Redemption." 

2014 has been 'so nice' to so many people when it comes to Reggae music and, with the year's final quarter rapidly approaching, it figures to get even nicer to fans who have already been treated to some truly SPECTACULAR displays of the genre. Along with the annual occurrence of up and comers coming up higher and a whole heap of older names assuming a lessened role in the consistent activity of the music, we've also witnessed a not so guaranteed but extremely powerful display on the album side. To my opinion, though the likes of Ras Muhamad, Midnite, Ziggi Recado, Rob Symeonn and a healthy roster of artists (like Addis Pablo) (biggup Addis Pablo) have turned in downright scintillating efforts -- and we are expecting more and more from Etana, Duane Stephenson and, of course, Sara Lugo, and such -- leading the way remains another favourite of ours, Pressure Busspipe, whose MASSIVE "The Sound", is still the year's finest. On that amazing release, the St. Thomas standout put on a dominant exhibition of the calibre he has risen to in recent times in becoming, in my estimation (and yours too), one of Reggae music's currently most talented names. It was as complete of an album as I've heard in a few years and each and every time I return to it I still walk away with the feeling that I've just heard something entirely SPECIAL from beginning to end. It was one of the best albums that I've ever heard. And clearly I was not the only one with that thinking as a very powerful (and probably clear) case could be made that "The Sound" now sits as Pressure's most popular album to date and, the last time that I checked, it had also performed quite well commercially, which is always nice to know. Now, as we've talked about in cases such as those of Alpheus [new album, "Good Prevails", in stores now], it is always so interesting to see what happens to an artist when they take that next step after attracting a whole heap of new attention, particularly via a big album. The focal points becomes whether or not the new fans who got caught up in the hype of the initial project will return for its successor and whether or not that new album, in terms of quality, can maintain that high level also. In those aspects, Pressure is very interesting because he's already a big name and one which I would call a 'household' one in many Reggae circles, so just about anything that he does will receive a significant amount of attention and… it should go without saying that, given his recent form, it should also be a very strong piece of work as well. Now we just have to wait for that next album. 
"The Sound" [2014]
You can probably expect a new album from Pressure in 2016-ish or something like that… or maybe he could just make it very easy on all of us and do another new one this year. The very unlikely latter is the route taken by the chanter as, for the first time in his career (with his debut, "The Pressure Is On", now being nine years old), Pressure pushes two albums in a single year - chasing "The Sound" with "Africa Redemption". This album, at least to my knowledge, has spent at least a couple of years 'in the works' as, if I recall correctly, the first time I recall hearing about it was back in earlier 2012 (which would have been perfect!) (biggup Perfect). But I think that the next best thing after potentially being an artist's first album in a couple of years (following "Coming Back For You" in 2010), is coming just months after their most well known set to date. 

Along with being the latest in a very strong line of album releases, "Africa Redemption", Pressure's fifth album to date, also continues an immaculate line of collaborations for Pressure as well. Pressure and his monstrous gifts have been fortunate to be developed in the presence of some amazing maestros. His previous four albums have been vibed by Dean Pond (twice), Don Corleon and "The Sound" was the first (and hopefully not the last) to have come from the flaming I Grade Records. To have those types of links and credentials through just four albums is something remarkable even on paper and, if you've followed along, you know that the actual results have been as strong as you would have expected them to be. While the quality of "The Sound" was incredibly impressive, it was not slightly unexpected as a whole. This time around things have not changed as helming "Africa Redemption" is the well reputable Baby G and his Yard Vybz Entertainment label (distributed by the wonderful people at Zojak Worldwide). And while this link, superficially, may not have seemed as apparent as those with Pond who really did a lot to develop Pressure's talent early in his career, Corleon who produced the first giant hit of Pressure's career in 'Love & Affection' or I Grade Records, the VI's biggest label, something which becomes very "apparent" very early in this album is just how comfortable vocalist and producer are in working with one another. That's also something that would be reflected in how long it took for this album to arrive and, presumably, any changes they may have made to it. As a listener, I wasn't expecting the best Pressure album I've ever heard (and, this quickly, I don't know that I would have even wanted it, although…) but, as I alluded to, it's still a NEW PRESSURE ALBUM and that it is more than enough to get my attention and I surely was expecting another high-level showcase of one of the largest caches of talents to be found in Reggae music today.
And I got exactly what I was expecting. Checking in at seventeen tracks and more than an hour in length, "Africa Redemption" was a bit longer than I would have hoped and it does have it's moments (one in particular) where you wish that they would have gone in a different direction, which is almost always the case on an album this large. That would, however, surely NOT include the album's intro which precedes the first tune and title track. The intro is actually pretty good and while I do confess that I typically do enjoy intros that are so well done (probably my favourite album intro ever came on Turbulence's "Hail To The King", where it was absolutely the best song). As for the eponymous track, it is clearly being hailed as one of the signature spots here as not only is the song a previous single, it also features someone else who is enjoying a mighty 2014, sitting Achis Reggae AoTY, Chronixx. On the surface such a combination is full-on appetizing and in actuality it does not disappoint with Pressure, particularly, unsurprisingly putting forth an outstanding lyrical display. With that being said, however, I am more fond of the album's second full song, the Damian Marley produced 'Freedom Fighters' (biggup Chezidek). I hope that I won't be the only one to make this connection, but 'Freedom Fighters' sounds directly like something out of the vaults of Sizzla Kalonji, especially at the chorus, but Pressure makes it a sublime set all of his own and a giant moment as well.

"All my warriors for a cause let di battle feel you
Dem weh barefoot know how cut-glass bottle feel
I tell you what's the deal
You treat your dog much better than a human being
Better yet, you turn and feed your dog a human meal
That's how mi get fi know the system is so unreal
Rastafari bust di seal

Freedom fighters weh firm and strong
Freedom fighters weh live as one
Facing great trials and tribulations
Freedom fighters weh brave and bold
Freedom fighters weh young and old
Freedom fighters weh nah sell dem soul

Hey, Black people you no worry none at all
Just gwan, take yuh time, YOU NUH HURRY NONE AT ALL
Mi no sip, neither nyam dem curry none at all
Selassie I ah shock dem wid di real thunder ball
One, two Nyahbinghi inna mi African shawl
Nuff a dem never listen when The Most High call -

Right behind 'Freedom Fighters' is another big effort in the grimy 'Where I'm From'. While this tune didn't leave me with any type of lasting vibe, just listening to it and appreciating it in the moment is very easy and it kind of sits as this seemingly instantaneously vibed display across the classic riddim. And then there's the BOOM!

"Praises be - To The Ever-living who resideth in me
Whose energy flow amongst the land sky and sea
Anyhow you know yourself then there's no need to worry
Then King James couldn't trick you wid no Bible story
I read the Bible, but some things don't fit my ethnicity
Babylon you make a mockery, you thief
Babylon you too greedy, you a vulture, you see it
Rob from di needy and di poor and give di wealthy and rich
Conquering Lion break di chains and free us all from bondage
If only they would see that Blackness govern the crown"

The single best song my ears hear on the whole of "Africa Redemption" is the MAMMOTH 'Lead I Home' and it falls into the quality level of some of the finest songs I've EVER heard from the chanter (and I have dozens of favourites from Pressure, so that is saying a lot coming from me). Aside from the dominant torrent of lyrics, I also really appreciate the PRESENTATION of this song which gives it this LARGE feel that is well fitting for a composition of this nature. BOOM!

The next batch of tunes (biggup Batch) from "Africa Redemption" actually features a pair of songs which're likely to receive a great deal of the attention paid to it, 'Belly Full' and 'Mental Disturbance'. The former is very interesting as it has kind of a [softer] Hip-Hop type of vibes to it, but it features Pressure alongside the vocals of the late and great Garnet Silk. The song is a BEAUTIFUL one about going through and experiencing the struggles in life and how people manage to make their way through. It is simply one of the nicest listens on the entire album and a standout to my opinion. 'Mental Disturbance' has its own set of circumstances which makes it compelling even prior it hearing it. Making contributions here are both the aforementioned Damian Marley and Reggae super star, Tarrus Riley. Again, just lining that up in your mind -- a combination with Damian Marley, Tarrus Riley and Pressure Busspipe -- is fantastic and a piece like this will leap to the top for that reason, if for no other. Fortunately, this one plays out well as, although I do favour songs more than it, 'Mental Disturbance' is a huge tune with Pressure's star shining brightest alongside the instrumental which is given a Dub treatment in its latter stages - an excellent touch. Pressure is also sure to check his lists and in doing so he provides “Africa Redemption” with its obligatory song for Mama, 'Dear Mamma'. This selection took no time at all to grow on me as, apart from the immediate thought (it is a delightful track to listen to), Pressure really does dig in and eschews the typical line of thanking Mama because of who she is (and there's nothing wrong with that) and, instead, puts a great deal of SUBSTANCE and DETAIL behind his gratitude. And lastly here is a song which probably won't receive a quarter of the hype that either 'Belly Full' or 'Mental Disturbance' will but, at least for me, is stronger than both, the glorious 'Parents'. This song is a comprehensive praising from Pressure which absolutely DAZZLES! 

"All your life you've been doing things the only way you know
Unity is strength cause that's the only way to go
People dying all over the world, so watch the seeds you sow
Nobody is too smart to stop learning as they grow
I keep thanking Jah for life, not knowing what tomorrow brings
Even though it's hard, I just stay humble with HIM
Make a joyful noise, lift every voice and sing
Jah Jah, You're the King of all Kings!" 

The tune also features one of the nicest riddims on the entire album and if not for ‘Lead I Home', I may have made the case for this being the best song here altogether.

If 'Parents' didn't lift your spirits then (it's time to get some new spirits for yourself), surely 'I'm Grateful' will do it. Having heard it more than a few times at this point I smile each and every time I hear the opening to the tune. And that is the direction of the song as well - being happy and putting a smile on your face. I always take pieces like this just a little further because I think when you combine the notion of being happy (a prevailing notion) with an inherent level of humility then what you have is someone basically saying to be thankful for what you have. You may not have everything or not even everything that you want, but you do have something to be thankful for, even if it is for waking up that day and that is a SWEET approach behind a song which is just as pleasant. And definitely biggup Baby G and a masterful guitar player who explodes on this song. In next is a song that I was really looking forward to hearing, the ganja song for "Africa Redemption", 'My Herbs'. The final combination on the album, 'My Herbs' carries Jah Mason alongside Pressure and, as expected, the two make for a DYNAMITE pairing. Cruzan chanter, Volcano, held a similar role on 'Herbsman Town' from "The Sound", a song which I loved and this piece is nearly on those levels as well. The only thing I did not like about this one is the interlude which comes ahead of it which is essentially… half a minute of listening to someone coughing and was just unnecessary in my opinion. But what follows is amongst the very best this album has to offer and I knew it would be (and so did you). And I will mention 'Just Like Dat' here, though I'd probably prefer to save it for the next lot. This song is a decent lover's piece which kind of begins the trend on which "Africa Redemption", surprisingly, ends (this is the part where our friend Sam Gray will probably begin to tune out) (biggup Sam Gray). It has a different sound to it from everything ahead of it but, as he has shown in the past, love songs are not a dearth of quality for Pressure. 

The final round of tracks on "Africa Redemption" follow suit of 'Just Like Dat' for the most part and it was, as I said, somewhat surprising. The first of them, 'Right Love', is an R&B song. This isn't my favourite song on this album (it isn't even close) and it never really sounds like Pressure is fully immersed in the song. It may just be my speakers (or my ears), but it sounds like the vocals are somewhat separated from the riddim at times. HOWEVER, despite not being his best, the wordplay featured on 'Right Love' is often damn impressive ["Long time mi fi get yuh inna mi villa. Gal mi know she you a thrilla. And I've never seen such beauty before. And when I look into your eyes it's like I see my future wife, I'd be a fool to see the signs and ignore"]. 'Love Me So' is a similar track with a very nice and catchy vibes. It does not quite register on the same levels as 'Right Love' in my opinion but it isn't terribly far behind. 'Many Moods' is probably better than either of the two songs just ahead of it. It is more complex and has one of the most infectious sounds on the second half of this album. Finally is a song which is even better and is nearly as good as some of the class of "Africa Redemption", 'Feeling Fine'. It echoes 'I'm Grateful' in some ways as the artist strikes a wildly entertaining way in which to take the listeners on a day in the life of Pressure Busspipe. 

"Dance done and now mi gone pon di beach
Glad fi si di whole a mi friends dem ah reach
Bad Ras bring in two brand new jet ski
And di bikers dem ah wheelie and bust stunts inna di street
Mi waan know dat gyal yah inna Brazilian two-piece
Mi hear seh she a tourist weh come from Middle East
Di fragrance from di ting weh mi ah bun, it smell sweet
Mi friend, Jam2, give mi a Roots wine fi beat

Enjoy life, it's your life
Only happiness, alone, can cure life"

In general, I do not have a problem with these songs at the end of the album, but I do think that it would have been better to kind of sprinkle them into the body of the album, rather than to save all of them for the end. 
Overall, it's difficult to not compare them, coming from the same year, but I won't talk about "Africa Redemption" in direct reference to "The Sound" (because I don't have to at this point), what I will say, however, is that this album is a more than merely suitable next album and if you are a fan who first took notice at "The Sound" (you should really dig up "The Pressure Is On"), you will not be disappointed. More familiar fans, I shouldn't have to tell you this (but I will anyway), if you do give it time and really tune it in, you're sure to be impressed by "Africa Redemption", particularly (unsurprisingly), on a lyrical aspect. This may actually be a level or two below what Pressure is fully capable of, but the writing on this album soaring! He presents some very broad and general ideas and breaks them down to the smallest detail and that is something which should be highlighted for you throughout "Africa Redemption". Pressure is one of the greatest lyricists of this generation and that is reflected on just about everything that he does these days, but it is highlighted on this album. So, while "The Sound" continues to set the pace when it comes to Reggae albums in 2014, "Africa Redemption" steps up and proves itself to be something significantly greater than a sidekick as Pressure Busspipe turns in a double not to be forgotten. Well done.

Rated: 4/5
Yard Vybz Entertainment

Review #525

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