Saturday, November 3, 2012

'Pillar': A review of "Change The World" by Macka B

Unchangeable. When you look at Reggae music right now and over the course of the past few years or so, you'll probably notice that we're very much in the midst of a changing of times in terms of a great deal of the artists. Even if you go back just a couple of years before that, you'll still see the rapidly changing 'climate' of the music and while that's certainly not something which is new, at the moment it almost seems as if the changing, itself, has become a legitimate attraction in many cases. For example, if you even think about it just a bit, it doesn't seem from a very far time ago at all when we were welcoming the likes of Busy Signal and Aidonia and Mavado to the hierarchy of Dancehall artists and now, while they're still considered young in many aspects, particularly when compared to some of their peers (three in particular), we've already leaped ahead to the likes of Tommy Lee and others who not only seem poised to take the proverbial reins of the music (in a VERY strange fashion), but also may only be babysitting for an even younger group still to come. And it's like that pretty much everywhere with very few exceptions and, really for the full strength of the music, that's a good thing. Still, with that being said, there very much remain specific entities in the music which are still very much viable and have done so without, largely, changing themselves to match the times and, instead, have seen the change welcome them! In this area, we're looking at people Luciano (more on him later), and, probably the biggest example would be someone like Bounty Killer. The Killer has seemingly inspired so much of the coming generation (friends and foes alike) that, really without changing a damn thing, he has not only dealt incredibly well with the changing of the times, but has orchestrated it in some respects as well. Today, we take a look at the UK scene which, as we've thoroughly examined throughout the life of this blog, has been undergoing a landscaping of its own with powerful names such as Mr. Williamz and definitely Gappy Ranks becoming, arguably, the most identifiable acts from out of the region. Still, as you might expect given the type of old school Roots and Lover's Rock music which was far and away the dominant sound coming from the UK not too long ago, they have very much established a group of anchoring artists who continue to be big names and serve up big work. Included in this lot are names such as Tippa Irie, Achis Reggae favourite Lloyd Brown (he'll come back too) and, of course, Macka B

Although I don't watch for his output as much as I probably should, Tippa Irie is still very active and anytime I do take a look at what he's been up to, the process is one of catching up to what he's been doing as both an artist and producer alike. Brown - up until last year he was good for an album a year and, obviously, has been amongst the more prolific UK artists and artists of his stature in the entire world, altogether. For his part, Macka B is and has always seemed to be somewhat different from his peers, at least to me. And it was, at least in part, in the way that he managed to distinguish himself that made him such a powerfully interesting figure.  
"More Knowledge" [2008]
The other part of that surely had something to do with him… being phenomenal at what he does. Macka, much like Luciano and Mikey General and very precious group of others (maybe a Prince Malachi, maybe a Yami Bolo) has remained this very stoic and musically incorruptible figure and it's been an image which he has carried proudly throughout his career and one which continues to shine on his brand new album, "Change The World". The last time we heard from Macka B on an album (which wasn't one of Brown's, he did make an appearance on the singer's decent 2010 record, "Cornerstone") was now way back in 2008 when he delivered the nice and expected "More Knowledge". That set was another display of the curious talents of Macka B and although it went overlooked in my opinion, was ultimately a success in terms of getting out his message. That's always been another penchant of the artist's and his most unique delivery which is so flat and so straight forward that it's developed SO MUCH character over the years and has become really a revolving musical signature of his and only his. Also, Macka uses that striking method of approach to underline what his most major of talents is - his writing. I'm not going to sit here and make this point about Macka B being this crazily outstanding lyricist (even though he is but that isn't my point here), but what he is, definitely, is one of the most UNIQUE writers the genre has ever seen. Somewhat like Tanya Stephens, whose style is one which thrives as being based on this HUGE foundation of a supreme level of common sense and intelligence which is then piled upon by copious amounts of genius and, in Macka B's case, a beautiful old school approach and charm and wit which makes his style, although as straight forward as I said, one of a kind, downright inimitable and a complete joy to listen to and write about when he gives us the opportunity. Previously a great deal of Macka's work came via Ariwa Records, while the aforementioned "More Knowledge" was on the Humal Records imprint. "Change The World", however, was actually released on Chinelo Records, which I believe is Macka's own label and this album was their very first venture. You would hope that they would also do other things for other artists (like I said, the last Macka B album reached back in 2008) because the idea of Macka actually DEVELOPING young artists is a powerful one. On "Change The World", however, he was DEVELOPING himself and he did so, as expected, to the tune of yet another strong release. Let's have a listen. 

I can't point to any type of significant change in Macka B's approach on this album or really a different sound or style either. The album's title may give you that type of an idea going into it, but long time fans of the artist's (who should already have this album) are sure to appreciate what they hear here and new fans are just as certain to get a proper introduction to Macka as well through "Change The World" from Chinelo Records. The album gets up and moving via its LOVELY title track which features Macka alongside the aforementioned Luciano, as well as David Hinds from Steel Pulse. This song was a bit more vibrant than I was actually anticipating (for some reason I was thinking of a very slow, almost crawling, type of a social commentary), but it is excellent. The idea here is that the "change" is one which has yet to come, which also changes my early notions surrounding what I was going to hear. The tune is easily one of the album's best and signature moments and, given who is involved, I'd automatically suggest you have a listen if you haven't already. Next in, Macka B tackles the topic of 'Nuclear Energy'.

"Wi no waan no nuclear energy
Nuclear power is the enemy
We got the sun, we got the wind, we got the rain - 
Coming on our windowpane
Wi no waan no nuclear energy
Nuclear power is the enemy
We got the sun, we got the wind, we got the rain - 
Coming on our windowpane

Seh Mother Nature is there for us
And she can care for us and give us all that we need
Radiation is strange to us and it is dangerous and so you better take heed
Dem ah seh dat it is prosperous
At what cost to us?
So mind how you proceed
Politician they lie to us 
So can you really trust and can you really believe?

They're cutting down the trees
They're killing all the bees
They're messing up the breeze and they're polluting all the seas
They're mashing up the soil
Addicted to the oil
And now they realize it only last for a while
And the nuclear waste, you know it isn't safe
What you gonna do with it?
Have you found a place?
I know that if they could, they woulda send it inna space -
Detrimental to the human race"

BOOM! Besides being just about perfect lyrically, this tune is also one of the most sonically pleasing tracks on "Change The World" and one which I immediately gravitated towards. Actually, if you wanted to call it the single most impressive piece here, you wouldn't get an argument from me at all. And then Macka B mines a classically vibed track (and classic/old school riddims abound throughout the album) to dip into one of his favourite topics on the absolutely delightful 'Medical Marijuana'. The tune finds the artist, returning to England after going to California and trying to see if the title subject can run for him as well. This is a lovely tune and one which makes its point while being funny and entertaining concurrently. 

As "Change The World " plays out more and more the real story becomes the very interesting way the tunes are set up. As I alluded to, Macka B's lyrical approach is completely one of a kind and there're several undeniably BRILLIANTLY written and arranged selections on this album. Joining 'Nuclear Energy' and 'Medical Marijuana' is a song like 'Never Played A 45', which was a pretty big hit and deservedly so. Here Macka, besides dealing with the topic precisely, also is basically examining the music as a whole and how many different and new people are coming into it and not really appreciative or even knowledgeable in some cases about what they're dealing with. 

"Well I'm not saying, that you should be playing
The seven inch 45 only
But if you are able, go buy a turntable
You can also get dem with the USB
It's alright to play laptops 
Alright to play CD's
Its alright to play yah MP3's
But don't leave out the vinyl cause you can use them side-by-side with the modern technology"

This song is just gorgeous and a clear big winner on the album. Similarly, you can check a tune like the very clever 'Reggae Daddy' where the artist goes through and identifies the influence of Reggae and it's impact on all of its 'progeny' (literally, the song actually changes in spots, which is just a stroke of genius to my opinion). Macka B touches nicely with 'Can't Sleep' (biggup Capleton) where he talks about some of his fowl living peers in the music who have troubles when laying in their bed at night knowing how much nastiness they've done in the music. You REALLY have to listen to the words on this one (which I really want to write for you, but I'm probably doing that too much right now and it'd be nice to finish this review at some point!), because he takes it in a wide variety of directions, all of which eventually become crystal clear. There's also the DEEP 'Post Code War', which is a social commentary and an excellent one observing an instance of the changing of the times for the worse. The aforementioned Lloyd Brown comes through on the very interesting 'Enemies' which is HUGE. This tune specifically says to give love to people who do not like you and intentionally step in your way because… maybe if you do they won't do that anymore. You'll hear songs and sayings like that in other places - people giving love to "haters" for giving them some type of motivation - but this song is different because it directly says that maybe you can help them see the good in you, what you're doing and even themselves. And I should also mention here, the DELIGHTFUL repatriation anthem 'I Return', which is definitely one of the biggest moments here. This tune won't get very far into itself when you, like me and very likely everyone who has heard it, will begin to start singing along and it isn't just a sonically gifted track, it's packed with a whole heap of knowledge within its swinging flare. Still, my absolute favourite tune on "Change The World" is also the one which I consider to be the most clever, the devastating 'Make A Claim'

"I said I want to make a claim!
I'm seeking compensation for my name
Somebody tried to take my culture
I wanna make a claim!
I'm seeking reparation for my name
My heritage and my culture

I'm seeking a solicitor who deh pon di ball
Rest in peace Johnny Cochrane, a you mi woulda call
Hey, cah dis yah claim yah no small
Di whole a babylon coulda fall
I get contacted by firms all the time
Calling me, stalling me on me phone line
Most of the time I doh pay dem no mind
But this time, for some reason, I stopped on the line"

Macka B goes onto go through this song which, almost overly ingeniously, features him trying to make a legal claim for the travesties of the Afrikan Diaspora throughout history. If you've read my work in the past, you might know that I love songs like this which deal with that subject and I don't know that I've heard a single one this powerful in its creativity. BOOM! 

The remaining tunes on "Change The World", while maybe not as immediately and intensely captivating as that lot are just as strong in many respects and even stronger in others in my opinion. A pair of tracks right next to one another and similar in subject, 'Good Woman' and 'Bless U Mama', definitely stand out big as they both, in their own respective way, go about giving honour and praise to the good Women of the world and both are excellent songs to my opinion, particularly the latter which is ultra smile-inducing. VETERAN vocalist Earl 16 joins Macka B in doing a remake of Sylford Walker's [Jah] 'Golden Pen' which is the first of three really powerful praising tunes on this album. The album actually closes with another, 'Still A Seh Rasta', which almost comes off as a freestyle from Macka B, but it has a central theme for the artist which is that, throughout all of his research and all of his time on the earth and seeing things and individuals come and go, Rastafari remains his path in life, which is a MIGHTY statement. The best of these three in my opinion, however is also my second favourite song on the whole of "Change The World", 'Jah Will Provide'. TEARS! I LOVE this song which, on the surface, may seem merely within the pack of thousands of others which you've probably heard similarly, but I'd tell you to go back and have another listen because I did the very same thing and probably on the second or third time through - it just become a DIFFERENT song and something on a much higher level! This song could help a great deal of people if it got the opportunity. And finally is a tune which, I believe, was the first (or second) single from this album, 'You Could Be Wrong', which finds Macka B giving his opinion on the case of Troy Davis and the death penalty in general. This is an interesting piece which, obviously, has a direct subject, but it also comes off so naturally and free, which is a quality that makes you think, even before you get into the lyrics, that it was a very interesting case for Macka B and one which, obviously, he was very passionate about and it stands as one of the finest songs you'll hear on this album altogether. 
"Rasta Soldier" [2012]
I also wanted to mention the fact that from the time when "Change The World" reached, Macka B also has released a fine EP by the name of "Rasta Soldiers" via another example of change in the UK Reggae scene, the  mighty Necessary Mayhem, so pick up this album if you haven't already and then go back and get that one as well. 
Macka B
Overall, I had a rating in mind for this album and, like it seems to so many times, my opinion has changed in analyzing it for the sake of this piece and it's now going to be something ahead of the presupposed 4/5. This album is fantastic and it is for several reasons, not the least of which is that Macka B seems to be in another gear than he usually is and he usually is… much better than just about everyone else. This seems to be even a step ahead of GOOD Macka B music to my ears, which is definitely saying a lot. Clearly he spent the four years in between album releases writing and studying and researching and the results have to be considered one of the best albums of his very active and populous catalogue in "Change The World". Change can be a very good thing in music and no one probably appreciates it more than I do. But certain things should just stay the same - like Macka B remaining one of the most crucial artists in Reggae music today. A fact which hasn't changed in a very long time. EXCELLENT. 

Rated: 4.5/5
Chinelo Records
CD + Digital

Review #398

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