So I got some of the best news I could possibly get this morning when Bredz (biggup Bredz) linked me and told me that he had stumbled across a forthcoming new album from one of our absolute favourite artists and someone who I suspected we'd be hearing from in 2012, the most incomparable Ras Batch. "Know Thyself" is apparently set to drop next month (quite possibly on the worst day of the year) and it will instantly become, at least for me, one of the most anticipated sets of the year. It's also worth mentioning that this album will also be the long rumoured debut of the Virgin Islands Reggae wizard on the region's leading label, the always dependable I Grade Records. It's hard to give an album such a distinction prior to hearing ANYTHING from it, but whatever Batch was going to do next was destined to be very big and I wouldn't at all be surprised if "Know Thyself" ran in the company of the truly elite releases of the year by its end. We do still have quite awhile to wait for that, but I was inspired to go back and listen to a great deal of Batch's music for much of today and I thought that I'd take you with me. Today we take a quick glance back at the brilliance of one of Reggae music's most sagacious lights, Ras Batch.
|The music of Ras Batch|
"Who You Are" [Sound V.I.Zion Records - 2003]
If I recall correctly, Batch's debut set, "Who You Are", was either the second or third of his releases that I'd actually picked up. What I remember most about the background of this album was just how strong it became in the eyes of many. There was such a great deal of discussion surrounding this album and it, at least in part, would become the foundation of the 'word-of-mouth' reputation that Batch would initially have. It was an underground hit (and I hate that word). "Who You Are" is very much a record that I was unable to appreciate when I was younger so if I would have come across it in 2003-04 (when I was just . . . A mess!) it probably wouldn't have made much an impact on me, but all of these years later, it stands a project which I can completely lose myself in examining. The standouts remain what they probably always were for me in 'Ah Rulah' and 'Green Gold' (both were brilliant), but they're encircled by material which is arguably just as strong on many levels such as 'Lift Up', 'Selassie Way', 'Chant Dem Down' and the crucial title track.
"Keep The Faith" [Sound V.I.Zion Records - 2004]
His second long playing release, "Keep The Faith" which, just like its predecessor, was self-produced by Batch was very similar to the first album. Surely you wouldn't expect such a large difference between the two given their origins and the fact that they were just a year apart from one another. To me, however, it's a bit more 'delicate' of an album in terms of its sound. On Batch's own scale, "Who You Are" is somewhat flashy actually. It's nearly dynamic. "Keep The Faith", like its successor, is a more streamlined piece and that's something which comes through listening to it even now. Look through the tracklist of this album these days the first thing that hits me (besides noticing how many tracks it shares with the next album you're going to read about) are tunes like the title track, of course 'Sane Cry', 'Good Virtues', 'Jah Run Things' and a few others. It's not very odd that I'll still go to this album and listen to it in great detail because, still after all of these years, I kind of feel like I'm missing something in it.
"Jah Guidance" [Carrion Brookes Productions - 2005]
Me and the "Jah Guidance" album have been through SO much over the years. It's a release which I originally lauded for its INCREDIBLE music (biggup our new friend who sent a message and called me the "king of the uppercase adverbs) (who is the king of the uppercase adjectives!) - and it is spectacular throughout - but pretty much held regarded as an average set besides that. And if you go up to last year, the album had so terrifically grown on me that it became #30 in our series of 'Modern Classics' (and I was so happy with and proud of myself for having written that, definitely one of my own favourite posts on this blog). I've experienced so many things with it and I still find myself working on it occasionally these days. Musically we look at the heights with tunes like 'High Chant', 'Zion Kingdom Come', 'Fya Blaze', the downright dominant title track and 'Fighting Still'. The final of those mentioned is a tune very much not only encompasses Batch's message for this album and perhaps even beyond, but also really how his music has go through this fight to be appreciated ["eyes wide open, still blind"] and just how clearly ahead of his time this man is.
"To The Root" [Sound V.I.Zion Records - 2007]
The sound of Batch's fourth album, "To The Root", went back in the direction of his first in its sound, retrospectively. I jumped on this album for the first time in awhile for the sake of this post and I was slightly surprised at how vibrant it was. It also stands out in that track #4, 'Wha Wrang Wid Dem' actually features someone with whom we would later become acquainted, the impressive Ambush. Ras Attitude, Ahfyah (who really should have had an album by now!), Nazarite and even Ima who, I believe, is Ras Batch's Empress make appearances. This album also contains a song which may just be the finest in all of his catalog to my ears, the sterling 'Hail The King', which leads a fine cache of songs which also include 'Centripetal Smoke', 'Carry Beyond', 'Conquer Them', 'Liberation', 'We Stay' [with Attitude] and a gorgeous song like 'Generation'. Like a pretty much every other album you'll read about hear, I keep thinking that one time I'll vibe "To The Root" and a kingdom of words and sounds and ideas which had never before entered my mind in reference to it will be revealed. Hope to see you there!
"I-Ver Strong" [Green Sphere Records - 2007]
Despite the fact that it had an inherent difference in it at the time of its release (every album that I've told you about up to now was completely cared for, in every way, by Batch himself), I think that the "I-Ver Strong" set is very much an album which has gone on to become somewhat overlooked and underappreciated and, in a vault such as Batch's where such a statement may be obvious, that I felt the need to point it out in this instance is surely remarkable (DUH!). The album came via Green Sphere Records and was worked through by Batch alongside our friend Blaak Lung and, outside of it being arguably the most dynamic of this entire lot, I don't think that it was a stretch of the chanter's sound in anyway. Because of all of that, again, I think what we see in "I-Ver Strong" is an album which was a 'time-delayed' piece and so many people, be it tomorrow or twenty years from now, will wake up and declare the classic it likely was - and I'll probably be one of them (old and totally insane at the time, but one of them nevertheless) Ahfyah, Ras Attitude, Lung and Messenjah Selah all joined Batch on this journey, but the standout guest was definitely Malika Madremana who besides featuring on the excellent social commentary, 'No Love For the Poor', also sang a fine backup throughout.
"Vizionary" [Itation Records - 2008]
'We Nah Lose'
And lastly we end up in 2008 when Batch pushed up his most recently currently available disc, "Vizionary". It can well be said that, at least for another month or so, that this is his most high profile release to date and while I don't think that the music from it, in terms of individual tunes, have really gotten the opportunities to shine consistently, it does stand as a very well respected set and deservedly so. Two songs here are going to stick up probably into perpetuity - there was 'Wicked World', which was a combination featuring Batch alongside both Pressure Busspipe and Ras Attitude and there was also 'We Nah Lose' which I believe was the starring tune in the very first video of Batch's career at the time. But the presence of those tracks doesn't begin to diminish the excellence of creations such as 'Savage' (which gets bigger and bigger every time you listen to it still), 'Troddin' Out', 'Come Whatever', 'Righteously Striving' from the Show Love Riddim, 'Joyful To Be' and 'Jah Blessin' featuring Ahfyah once again. I don't have to tell what I think shall eventually become of this album at all (or at least I shouldn't at this point), but I listen to it now and struggle not to enjoy each and every selection on "Vizionary".
Have I mentioned that I'm now experiencing a great difficult in waiting for "Know Thyself"? I probably haven't, but until then Ras Batch has already given us a great deal to work with for the next month or so. So be sure to pick up all of his prior albums and enjoy one of the most all around skilled champions in all of Reggae music today.