Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Exception: A Review of Project Groundation's Down In The Ghetto - The Mixtape Album by Various Artists

can’t even begin to tell you just how many albums that I get in any given year from a ton of different people boasting it to do something such as “stepping up the levels” , “taking it to a different place” or my personal favourite , “changing the game”. Most of these albums, despite maybe being decent, or having potential to be at least decent, never reach those lofty goals (although if you do send me albums, I do appreciate it and please do continue to do so J). But that number of albums I receive, whatever number it may be, PALES in comparison to the number of mixtapes I receive claiming to do the same thing. Especially with Caribbean geared music, such as within the scopes of Reggae, Dancehall or Soca (and even Zouk these days really, also) you see such an INCREDIBLE number of mixtapes put out from so many sources that it’s just ridiculous. They’re seriously running out of tracks and should you get more than two or so at any one given time which claim to be ‘new’ then rest assured you’ll more than one which are pretty much EXACTLY the same. Take with this the fact that, for the most part, I don’t like mixtapes. I’m a well spoiled and downright JADED Reggae head at this point and in most situations, I just want to hear the ENTIRE song which is something you certainly wouldn’t look forward to seeing in a mixtape (I do like them when I’m working out however). On top of that I have a very lengthy list of the common mistakes and things I just don’t like hearing or seeing when it comes to Reggae mixtapes and even Soca mixtapes, all of which seem to be very popular unfortunately: The first and biggest complaint being when the mixer/producer chooses to try and make him/her self the star of the show by TALKING so much over the tune and yelling and adding entirely too much of themselves when the real star of the mixtape is supposed to be the music itself (duh). Another of my big dislikes is when you find one loaded with tunes and artists who are very familiar to you and you spin it only to discover that those songs aren’t the ones you actually like but are instead bastardized versions of those tunes and have the same song over some CRAZY riddim and is virtually rubbish throughout (and of course they don’t say that on the cover). And lastly, as someone who listens to a great deal of music, when you load up a mixtape with nothing but stuff that not only I’ve heard, but AM LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW and thus taking away from any type of ‘exclusivity’ you may have on your project, it may not be so cool in the overall quality of your mixtape. And, as I said, I like to hear the entire song most times. But also as I said, I’m not a person who likes mixtapes. Right?

Thankfully there are exceptions to every rule, however. Also thankfully, the only real CONSISTENT exception to my ‘don’t like mixtapes’ rule has been mixtapes coming via one Californian based operation, Project Groundation Massive which I believe is headed by one DJ Child. My first interaction with Project Groundation would have been way back in 2004 when they released the AWESOME mixtape, Calling All Jah Children (which is listed as Mixtape Vol. One on it’s cover). That piece was largely culled together from some other material which I had been listening to at around the same time from one of my still favourite international labels, Lustre Kings Productions. That mixtape, Calling All Jah Children was simply a work of art and as much as I say I don’t like when someone takes so many tunes that I’m already so well familiar with, that one, in my opinion did exactly that but succeeded by using tunes which weren’t exactly dominating at the time and genuinely did what so many people assume to be the ‘real’ purpose of a mixtape: The promote the music. Since then, after seemingly disappearing for a few years on my radars (they hadn’t disappeared at all actually, they just weren’t releasing mixtapes through the same obviously very viable channels as Calling All Jah Children) Project Groundation has become one of the most CONSISTENTLY GOOD producers of Roots Reggae mixtapes and has really become the only label that I usually check for. In the face of very familiar and popular names like DJ Rondon and the likes, I’ll almost always draw in favour of a PG release. Through the years they’ve release very strong material working with some of my favourite lesser known artists, particularly Lutan Fyah for whom they released a WONDERFUL mixtape (which was actually more like an album if you ask me) by the name of Underground to Overground and they have often shown support to the Spanish Town chanter who just happens to be one of my favourite artists going right now (and another name I pretty much stumbled upon listening to Lustre Kings Productions, much like Project Groundation itself). They have also worked extensively alongside artists like Sizzla Kalonji, Natty King, Perfect, Pressure Busspipe and Messenjah Selah all of whom have acted as unofficial ‘hosts’ to PG mixtapes and they even ran a BIG mix for St. Thomas singer/chanter NiyoRah which was very well done and released through Niyo’s base label, I-Grade just a couple of years ago. So, I ALWAYS stay up on what’s coming good from Project Groundation, therefore when I saw they had put out yet another release, Down In The Ghetto I definitely put it on my list of ‘things to pick up’ but I quickly discovered that I wouldn’t have to necessarily resort to my usual Californian based contact as Project Groundation had FINALLY decided to return themselves back to the ways of the Calling All Jah Children piece, by once again going international with a release, their latest installment, Down In The Ghetto. This one, touted as Mixtape/Album features a few conscious hip-hop artists (which isn’t an odd thing from PG releases) alongside the typically more than SOLID cache of well known and up and coming Reggae artists. And for a release chosen to re-kick open the doors internationally for Project Groundation, maybe they couldn’t have picked a more well done all around project than Down In The Ghetto.

Down In The Ghetto doesn’t actually have a host. I have found myself to be quite fond of that format given that Project Groundation generally chooses TOP NOTCH artists to host their equally top notch productions (and I say that to go against my complaint of talking too much on a mixtape: I don’t think I even know how DJ Child sounds, if I’ve ever even heard him at all). Who I have heard are so many of the nice artists on his latest mixtape Down In The Ghetto and after the obligatory Intro - Interlude start which Child seems so fond of we get into the first segment of the project, the Down In The Ghetto Riddim which was done by Child and Project Groundation. This segment features the BIG title track (duh) from Noble Society’s Jah Dan and it MASTERFULLY infuses the original vocals from Eek-A-Mouse’s tune to take it to even higher heights before Jah Dan, just as masterfully, launches into his always dependable delivery. The first US rapper to chime in is M1 from the Dead Prez group and although I don’t listen much hip-hop AT ALL, I’ve always appreciated listening to it spiced in here and there and this format is PERFECT for something like that. I do have to say that in this segment, the ‘King Of The VI’ De Apostle arguably steals the show, spliced in between the second portion of the title track (another staple of Child’s, to actually give you the entire song, but split in parts). Mistah F.A.B. (whoever he is) is less appealing than M1, to my ears but definitely not too far off point before handing it over to VERY IMPRESSIVE Dutchie Winstrong to bridge the gap between the first and second segments and doing a very nice job of it.

Big respect for Down In The Ghetto has to go to Studio 340 as well as they are tapped twice for segments on the project, the Pure Life and the Flames. Of course, its not so much the segment themselves, but who the label brings with them, namely one Revalation (and another guy you may know named Pressure or something like that). The Pure Life features the BRILLIANT Spread Your Love from the young singer from out of St. Thomas (which frustratingly missed his WICKED debut album Serious Matters from last year, check that as well) before he makes way for that guy Pressure who gives the riddim (and segment) its title track with pretty much standard HUGE vibes on which he is quickly becoming accustomed to giving (I don’t know if he could flop ANYTHING at this point, even if he tried). And not to overlook Spla-I-Jah who starts the segment with his nice tune No Place. He’s definitely an artist to keep an eye on for the future, also from out of St. Thomas I believe. Later on Revalation returns for what is my single favourite tune on the project altogether (and should be yours), the MAMMOTH Flames On. I haven’t gone a week without hearing this tune since the very first time I heard it roughly a year ago now and I LOVE the fact that he’s present on this piece because it’s certain that someone will go and check his album just because of what they hear here who didn’t know the artist before. And rounding out that segment is De Apostle and Revalation again with the big Evil Doers which also appears on his album. A couple of other names I was very happy to see enlisted for Project Groundation’s Down In The Ghetto: Trini Royal Dainties who is sandwiched between the two parts of Humble, a tune from another nice artist, Sizzla clone Gounz Man (another Trini and sans his much better half), in one of the middle segments, Freedom Riddim. Gounz Man definitely impresses but Royal Dainties, a very good friend of Marlon Asher’s, (and Nadia Batson) well steals the show with his tune One Aim and I’m WAITING until he himself pulls an album for the masses as well. There’s also Cruzan Roots princess Lady Passion who makes the best of her single appearance with the smooth by EDGY Chasing You on the final segment. I keep waiting for Passion to just STOP PLAYING, she’s far more talented than she generally lets on and if/when she does eventually choose to maximize herself (or is given that opportunity) the results could be SHOCKING. Chasing You isn’t anywhere near her best but it’s rather easily one of the shining lights down the stretch of Down In The Ghetto. And also, I’ll re-mention Winstrong, whose yet to disappoint and doesn’t start on his uplifting tune Freedom in that same segment. And of course there are the big names hauling in as well. Lutan Fyah is all over Down In The Ghetto. Besides essentially running the intro he also gets three tunes, two of which comprise an entire segment, The Africa Section. That section is basically just a shout to his own recent album release the MASSIVE double album Africa as it features What A Woe and the combination with Vaughn Benjamin, No Matter What The Crisis from hat album. He outdoes both of those very nice tunes, however, with his later tune, Crush Dem, which actually ends DITG (as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end). I get tired of telling people how lyrically ON POINT the man is and I will gladly stop as soon as he proves me wrong. He DEFINITELY doesn’t do that on the MONSTER that is Crush Dem. If Fyah’s name isn’t big enough then certainly Sizzla’s will do. He comes in on three tracks, most notably on the somewhat awkward Ghetto Soul segment where his two portions of Best In Life sandwich another big name in Gyptian with Crazy World. I also HAVE TO mention the Remix Section (naturally my least favourite of the lot) which does actually go wayyyy back and taps Sizzla’s tune Crush Dem Out (now renamed Evacuate The) for Lustre Kings Productions which appeared on the now CLASSIC Culture Dem compilation and chasing that one is Capleton’s tune from the same riddim, Cyan Even See Dem (now renamed Ton A). And lastly I’ll mention the Garrison Section segment which features a well PACKED VI Medley which features the previously unseen Batch, Army and even NiyoRah amongst others (like Pressure again) before handing it off to a still very impressive M1 whose haunting tune Angel EASILY becomes the finest piece of hip-hop you’ll hear on DITG and just as easily one of it’s best tunes altogether.

Overall, did I mention that I don’t like mixtapes? Take that well into consideration when I tell you that I nearly LOVE Down In The Ghetto from Project Groundation and I generally feel that way about most of their releases. What’s different here is that it replaces what you would get from a typical album or a compilation with MOOD. DITG kind of tells a story to the listener using news clips throughout and even one from Malcolm X, as is DJ Child’s WONDERFUL ‘twist’ in his output. You’ll hear a similar type of things from others but this isn’t that CORNY or OUT OF PLACE type of thing here. Down In The Ghetto is a very nice re-introduction to the international world to what is quite simply in my opinion the best Roots Reggae mixtapes available anywhere. HOPEFULLY PG will make available their entire catalogue of solid mixes. Thus maybe, ACTUALLY “changing the game”. Very well done.

Rated 4.5/5 stars
Project Groundation Massive / SEED

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