Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh Yeah. I'm Listening: A Review of The Mighty Right Riddim by Various Artists

I’ve made this point somewhere along the way I’m sure, but I have absolutely no problem reiterating it for the sake of this review: If you make good Reggae music, Achis will find you. Yes I will. If the music is REALLY good, in fact, I will annoy you, I will track you down, I will ask you questions and if you have the extra room, I will try to move in. Once you have made GOOD music, also, it’s kind of hard to get rid of me, I’m not going anywhere. A great subject of case and point recently would be the California based Itation Records, who SLOWLY, through course of two (and then three) riddim albums, got my attention to not only their quality level, but subsequently, their consistency as well. So much so did Itation catch my eyes and ears that I even picked up their latest release, Good Profile, from an artist in Delly Ranx, of whom I haven’t had exactly stellar things to say of in the past. The ‘Itation’ word in the mix on that one definitely had more to do with my thoughts in grabbing it up than the ‘Delly’ one, in that situation. Similarly, there’s a label which resides both in California and the town of it’s namesake by the name of Philadub, who is going to have an EXTREMELY difficult time releasing just about ANYTHING (an artist’s album, a compilation or even a single) within the next half century or so (after that, you’re on your own boys) without me paying attention to it. Why? Well, not very long ago at all the then previously unknown label placed itself on my radars with what was, by far, one of the greatest strokes of genius so far in 2009, the release of Lutan Fyah’s EPIC Justice album back in July. The generally very well received album gets better and better every time I listen to it, personally, and it also has begun to ‘threaten’ album of the year lists for many, I’m sure. If you were ever going to do something that was specifically designed to grab the attentions of ME, then, outside of dropping one of the greatest Sizzla albums that I’ve ever heard (which probably just isn’t going to happen for a new label at this point), you couldn’t do anything better than pushing one from Fyah who, in my opinion, has quietly become one of the most SIGNIFICANT and POWERFUL artists we’ve seen in Reggae over the last two decades or so. Focusing specifically on the production of the Justice album (because that’s why we’re here today), it was very well done and if you take it from that point of view, you have to start to wonder about that also: Lutan Fyah’s is a talent which is well PROVEN at this point, but Philadub? You have to start thinking about just what else they have under their sleeves.
Maybe a riddim album might give us a proper idea? The production on the Justice album was pretty focused actually, in retrospect. Despite my initial suspicions, based on their origins (and the fact that it’s predecessor, Lutan Fyah’s African Be Proud that Philadub was this exactly), that Philadub might take it in a decidedly Hip-Hop direction, the very colourful array of riddims they presented Fyah with, proved to be on-point and predominately HEAVY modern Roots Reggae and he definitely shined because of it. It also was quite ambitious as I imagine (although apparently Justice has proven to be a rather decent commercial success at this point) I wasn’t the only one who saw “new Lutan Fyah album coming soon” with a Philadub label near and wondered ‘exactly what is a Philadub?’ Also, specifically in the album, the bonus version included a very nice dubbed out version of one of the songs (‘Show Me Some Love’) which, again, at least suggests some type of larger aspirations for the label, outside of pushing one album and then vanishing. Well, we didn’t have to wait very long at all for Philadub to provide ‘evidence’ of their arrival (and staying power) on the scene, as about two months after delivering Justice (there was also an album prior to Justice by the name of Words and Sounds from Gardian, who is the most prominent member of Philadub Records), Philadub now delivers their next piece that DEFINITELY fans who enjoyed Justice will be interested in, a riddim album for what is apparently one of their signature creations, The Mighty Right Riddim. Just like the Show Love and the Higher Meditation (which were the two riddims with which the aforementioned Itation Records caught my attentions) riddim albums, and maybe even more so, The Mighty Right riddim album is absolutely STACKED, so much so, in fact, that even if I didn’t know the circumstances surrounding the label releasing it and its past work, I would most likely STILL pick up the piece, finding it incredibly difficult to ignore based on name and star value alone from the people who reach through to voice it. Now you add to that all of what I do know and what I’ve heard and the outstanding bit of information that of all the tunes which made it on the Justice album, the one which was the most powerful in my opinion just so happened to be the one which I had heard prior to the release of that album and it ALSO just so happens to be the same tune which was voiced across The Mighty Right (and the coincidences abound). The Mighty Right riddim itself is quite ‘familiar’. It’s not something that’s whole-scale revolutionary at all and it’s not something aimed at (at least I don’t think it is) ‘changing the game’ or such things. It’s just a HEAVY HEAVY piece which, to my ears, is incredibly easy to look good over, especially with some of the best hardcore Roots Reggae talents in the game. It does, however, have a SLIGHT lean to the old school with the pulsing one-drop so, for slightly older heads (or those with older tastes), there’s definitely something there for you as well. So let’s reexamine now: You have a riddim from one of my favourite recent albums, from one of my favourite recent artists, which was used on my favourite tune on that album, is voiced by some of my other favourite artist and is all supplied by what is quickly becoming one of my favourite young labels? The Mighty Right Riddim album has ‘WINNER’ written all over it.

Apparently a part of the goal for Philadub on The Mighty Right riddim was to literally COLLECT as many big names as they possibly could as the collection of artists whose names head nine of the first ten tracks on the album is absolutely RIDICULOUS, especially for an international label. And the majority of the other seven artists present also do a very nice job. Beginning the album for The Mighty Right Riddim from Philadub and, by extension, the incredible row of names we see here, is probably the single biggest name associated with the project as the Fireman himself, Capleton, goes after an herbalist anthem for the riddim with expectedly LARGE results on ‘Higher Than The Sky‘. Capleton is, and has been for quite awhile, one of the strongest artists when it comes to pushing his emotion into a song and I talk about others doing such a thing (most notably Jah Mason) (more on him in a minute) and Higher Than The Sky is a beautiful example of that as (and I’m assuming he didn’t intend to do it like such), the tune gets more and more focused in the verses following a frantic opening (just as you might expect if one were ‘indulging’) and gets thing simmering for The Mighty Right. Next in is former David House member, Fantan Mojah, who deals with those who spread rumours and talk behind backs on the quietly scalding ‘False Allegation’. This one is HEAVY and it should probably take a few listens through for you to view the tune away from the rather anonymous figure who appears because of the way the tune is written (keep listening, he’ll tell you who he’s talking about), but it’s well worth it. Trust me (love the beautiful way the tune flourishes near the end with the backing singers also). The last name at the beginning of the album for The Mighty Right Riddim is one which I was VERY happy to see although one who I definitely wouldn’t expect to see, that of [Little] Hero. The beautifully voiced native of ST. ANN (!) usually doesn’t just happen to appear on pieces like this, but big respect goes to Philadub for making that link as Hero blesses the riddim in his own inimitable fashion with it’s obligatory tune for the mothers, the SWEETLY vibed ‘Love You Mama’. I could literally listen to the man sing all day and Love You Mama, which has quite a bit of ‘substance’, definitely rises to the occasion and completes a STELLAR opening.

Now! I wasn’t too surprised to see that I, having been well ‘prepped’ by this point still ranked Lutan Fyah’s MASSIVE ‘Selassie I Within’ as the finest tune the riddim had to offer, but when it got to some of the other artists here, they really made it difficult to declare. The most ‘stubborn’ of the bunch is DEFINITELY the oft-overlooked Ras Shiloh who DESTROYS whatever remains of The Mighty Right on his call for all to ’Live Upright’, despite “others trying to fight you down”. Shiloh’s is another case like Hero’s where he doesn’t voice so much, but when he does you need to pay attention because if you don’t you stand to risk missing absolute GEMS like Live Upright. A face certainly more prevalent on projects like these and one I certainly love to see is Luciano’s who has a go on the riddim with ‘Set Things Straight’. The tune finds the Messenjah calling upon those who aren’t necessarily living too righteously to clean up their acts before they come face to face with His Majesty. The aforementioned Jah Mason chimes in on The Mighty Right riddim with his statement of repatriation, ‘Take Us Home’. I’m almost sure I’ve heard this tune somewhere before, but regardless, the tune is BIG. It’s almost like listening to two different songs in one with the way the Mason builds (did you catch that one???) his vibes and emotions every time out and Take Us Home has elements of soft and harder degrees to one HUGE vibes ultimately. Even Perfect gets in on things with the solid ‘Young, Gifted & Black’ as does a surprising Tony Rebel, who reminds all to ‘Never Get Weary Yet’ in the journey of life (more on him in a bit). And those are the BIG hitters here, but they are well complimented by some lesser known and up and comers as well. Of course there’s Mr. Philadub himself, Gardian, who I’m starting to warm up to and who grabs a bit of his own riddim with a selection from his album, ‘Yad Along’. I actually heard a next tune from Gardian and not a Philadub piece, on the G35 Riddim not too long ago and it was very nice (he actually had one of the best efforts on the riddim outside of the terror that is Bugle) and, who knows, maybe I’ll go back and check his album someday as Yad Along certainly isn’t the BEST vibes you’ll hear on The Mighty Right, but you’ll have a hard (IMPOSSIBLE) time convincing me that this isn’t good work, because it is. Smooth voiced Scare Dem singer Nitty Kutchie checks in with a Luciano-ish piece by the name of ‘Melt That Down’. I’ve never been too much of a fan of Nitty’s, but he does make BIG vibes every now and then and Melt That Down is one of his better in recent years to my opinion. Big voiced Spectacular unsurprisingly returns to Philadub studios after having guested twice on Justice alongside Lutan Fyah, to push one of The Mighty Right’s biggest tunes altogether, ‘Fi Real’. Again, I can WELL take Spectacular in moderation and a song like the dazzling Fi Real shows why as the Kingston native once again tells us to firm up ourselves and be ready for anything which may come our way in battle. And as things wind down, there was one nice surprise as I’m all but SURE the one name Flash is the former Mr. Flash and the former Flash, now known as Zareb, member of Fantan Mojah’s Macka Tree Family. Flash/Zareb gives the riddim its much needed lovers piece, the SMOOTH ‘Mr. Right’ and we‘re always happy to see his name (whichever one) on a riddim as well. The last vocal effort on The Mighty Right riddim album is from another double named artist, Ras Ptah (formerly Galaxy P) who sends us out with much needed ‘Praises’. To be perfectly honest, Galaxy P was always one of my LEAST favourite Dancehall artists, however, from since he’s made the change in his music (and in his life, apparently) I’ve found him far more enjoyable and Praises has to be one of the best I’ve heard from, again, regardless of name selection. And Philadub gets things right by including a clean version of The Mighty Right riddim to close things out. I always love it when producers/labels do this and the riddim here is EXCELLENT when stripped bare and a highly enjoyable way to end things.

WHAT’S MISSING??? I always make a mention of this when I don’t see it, so how nice would it have been if after linking Tony Rebel, Philadub also invited his protégé, the DIVINE Queen Ifrica to voice the piece as well? I think Ifrica or any of the Queens would have given The Mighty Right a much needed shot of STRONG femininity and made it even more mighty than it certainly is right now.

Overall, I’m definitely slapping a big seal of recommendation on The Mighty Right riddim album for all fans of Roots Reggae, especially of the new school, but, as I mentioned, I think there’s enough shine here for older fans as well. The riddim itself is quite hypnotic (I say this while listening to the clean version right now) and I’m sure there are a whole heap of technical music words I should be using to describe it like ‘synths’ and stuff like that, but I’ll just say that the thing sounds good! And there are more than enough STRONG vocal performances to really allow both riddim and artists to shine. Philadub delivers a very worthy and fitting follow-up to Justice and now we just have to ask ourselves which of the other fifteen or so riddims will get their own albums??? However many there are or even if it’s a next artist, I’ll definitely be listening. Well done and one of the best riddim albums of 2009.

Rated 4.5/5
Philadub Records

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