Challenges. As we continue our look back into the most vast catalog of Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite, we now come to a very interesting point and one which I was really looking forward to. I've always maintained, even during our sudden journey through their vaults, that I most certainly do not count myself amongst their biggest fans just yet. Midnite is a group which elicits a great deal of immediate passion from so many people and while I some day may become such an individual, the pillar of my sudden fascination has been one of intellectual curiosity, predominately. I like things that stimulate my overactive mind and now that my ears have been opened to their music --as you can see -- I'm kind of addicted. And part of that curiosity is definitely hearing things which I do not enjoy so much as well and then noting the contrast between what I, personally, would consider a good album from Midnite and then a lesser one. Up until now we've almost strictly dealt with albums which I've either generally liked from first spin, wasn't able to comprehend or ones on which I've had a grand change of thought in regards to and while today's situation may fit, somewhat, into the latter of those cases, it is quite different. As much as I am a fan of anyone, if you release enough songs, albums or whatevers, eventually you'll turn out a bad one or two and the two Midnite albums that I point to these days which I just do not enjoy are, of course, "To Mene" and then recently I've noticed that I don't like "Current" either. I'm HAPPY that I don't like those albums, lest that I might be turning into a robotic type of head that swears that everything from someone is fantastic (Sizzla is my favourite artist and he has more than a few albums that I do not enjoy) and I think, just as being able to say why you do enjoy something is a large part about being a good fan, the total opposite is true as well. Today we take a look at an album which, coincidentally, may actually be one of the least regarded Midnite albums to date - one which of, over the years, I've read quite a few negative reviews of and one which I also didn't hold in a very high regard. But as we've shown in the past, when you shine the brightest light on something, it shines in a different way and maybe it's time that "Thru & True" got its time in the spotlight.
|"Full Cup" |
At least that's what Daniel would like you to believe. The reason that I bumped this album to the front of the line (ahead of "Nemozian Rasta" - review coming soon) was because a week or two back we got a message from Daniel who suggested that I take a closer look… and he even challenged me to do so. DANIEL: I ACCEPT YOUR CHALLENGE. He said that there was one song in particular which had suddenly been ignited for him (more on that in a minute) and that maybe the rest of the album was on its way to developing likewise. Unfortunately Daniel also mentioned that he was a "frequent visitor" to the blog, which obviously means that this man has exceptionally poor taste -- really, REALLY bad -- but I decided to take a listen anyway and maybe begin to chip away at my own down thoughts regarding "Thru & True" (and maybe take some of the rest of you with me as well).
Even on paper there were things which didn't seem so good about this album. The first is definitely its unusual size. "Thru & True" carries no less than eighteen tracks and it also comes through at well over seventy-five minutes in running time. And as far as that tracklist. It's just odd to see so many songs with a single word title and there're nine of them here. On top of that, 2006's "Thru & True" followed "Full Cup" by two years and a Branch I album in "Project III" by three as the first trio of albums to link Vaughn Benjamin with producer Ras L. Incidentally, the first two of those came via the Natural Vibes imprint (as did the aforementioned "Current" album) (Mystic Vibration collaboration), whereas "Thru & True" was, by my surely inaccurate count, the fifth album on the Rastafaria label, most immediately following the immaculately received "Scheme A Things" from 2004. The Ras L projects, which would also later include "Maschaana" (also on Natural Vibes), aren't amongst the most well known or best regarded sets within Midnite's catalog, even with fans far more educated than myself. Also, and this is worth nothing but I'm going to mention it anyway, known for their amazing art work on album covers, this album probably also features one of my least favourite as well. Still, I have to admit that at least in regards to "Thru & True", the last time that I did take an even remotely intense listen to it (to write it up for "Discography: Midnite") it wasn't that bad. I had never really dug into it with any type of depth ear still, probably well turned off to it from what I had read about the album, but while I was expecting this awful album - that was not what I had heard. The prevailing critique of "Thru & True" was its sound. The more I listen to Vaughn Benjamin, the more I come to give him his own scale to register on. He will never rank in the same way that artists such as Capleton or a Jah Cure do in terms of how dynamic he is. On the same scale, his music just isn't like that. HOWEVER, that certainly isn't to say that he cannot be entertaining because he can be as has been demonstrated on albums such as "Kings Bell", very recently "Free Indeed" and others. And though it takes awhile to pick up steam, after grinding down this album, I'm inclined to include it in that lot. "Thru & True" certainly isn't the best album that I've ever heard and it isn't the best Midnite album I've ever heard and if I went back and looked it up, I wouldn't even be surprised if I'd say that it wasn't the best from 2006, but it is considerably better than it's been given credit for over the years. Let's take a closer look!
As I alluded to - our friend Daniel said that there was one song in particular which had been lit up for him, personally, after not having heard it for quite some time and, as it just so happens, that tune actually begins Midnite's Ras L produced album from 2006, “Thru & True”, 'Viybz'. I spent a lot of time "beating" this song, because he was so high on it was Daniel and I believe eventually heard what I think he heard. It does have a spectacular quality about it, especially in its later stages or so. It certainly does, however, require some work on the part of the listener (it is a Midnite album) on a tune which is nearly six minutes long. Should it hit in the way I finally got it and the in which I'm sure Daniel did, it almost seems short, however. Next up is a song which has gotten a really bad reputation over the years, but one I'm about to sing the praises of, the supremely interesting 'Stars [Applawz]'. Okay, I will say that the riddim here isn't the strongest one I've ever heard (and it probably wouldn't rank within the top six or seven hundred or so). It's lumbering and kind of strange, but if you REALLY tune in to what is being said, that thing VANISHES!
"In exchange for beauty -
Wrap up inna sponge and gauze
What is the attitude of star?"
"Imagine somewhere waiting for a round of applause
Moses with Ten Commandments - ah stand up and wait for a round of applause"
The delivery on the song is even not that good, as Benjamin hangs on to several words much longer than you'd hope that he would, but when you sift through it you receive such a brilliant message about the crazy things people do to feed their egos and he takes an even greater step in mentioning some of history's most amazing accomplishments and "imaging" if those involved were more concerned with how what they were doing would be appreciated instead of doing it. Yes, it's very awkward and no, it isn't the best song on this album, but if you take just a little extra while, 'Stars', as they tend to do, lights up. While the first two songs on "Thru & True" may very well require a nice long gestation period, the same cannot at all be said for the third, 'BC.', which is just fantastic! A history lesson in motion not to be missed out on, 'BC.' is a nearly vintage level of Benjamin's unique vocal charms. No one else can sing a piece like this.
I'm going to make my major point about the actual quality of this album -- that it gets much better within its second half -- but the remaining six selections of the first are nothing to just kind of wash over either. Three of them really rise to the top amongst the very best that this album has to offer. Definitely check what is, in my opinion, the greatest of them all, the MASSIVE 'Belial'.
"To be loyal and to praise The King
But dem a Belial, dem no praise The King
To be loyal and to praise The King
Dem is Belial not to praise The King
From now shall I praise prevail
To see the confounded Jah enemies head
All dem intellectual deep guts spilled
AND DEM FULL NUMBERS AMOUNT TO NIL
Dem is Belial not to praise The King
Dem machine just ah mash dem in
For denial of The King of Kings
Dem is Belial not to praise The King"
Here, Benjamin speaks on those who do not walk a righteous path in life and have, in fact, gone away from The Almighty's will. It is a fascinating song in the way that it is written and that riddim, although brutally straight forward, is a gorgeous track. The next really strong tune you'll find is actually the one which follows 'Belial', the curious 'Beta Ment'. This piece is one which is entirely emblematic of what I mean when I say that Vaughn Benjamin needs his own scale in regards to being dynamic and energetic. You might not say so if it came from someone else, but 'Beta Ment' is a lively tune and at least somewhat infectious. It's also genius. And speaking of intelligent things, later we get the fine 'Skull Dung' which is also a dynamic composition although it takes a minute to get there. As it progresses the intensity (which actually starts fairly high) goes higher and higher and eventually Benjamin assumes a highlighting delivery which births an unforgettable stretch of lyrics.
"So much man ah seh 'enough fi dem'
Caan believe how dem lightning fly dem kind a trend
Bend dung before The King again, lose dem confidence
Get out di mine and ah wallow inna dem
Oil a oil and gem a gem
Jah come fi dem, look ya now
Fight di anchor of sinners and start eating to yah health
GANJA SANCTIFY ALL
Spirit and a all kin - look what dem ah talk
Lingua soliloquy of self-absolve-ment
With yah suffering nation present, looking to singular ends in neglect of messages -
Which celestial send the world - oh yeah
Heaven and creation sing unto the heavenly houses!
Who stand to pose and who order all these and those stand proud for all the world to see"
BOOM! The other trio of songs which round out the first half of "Thru & True" aren't necessarily bad songs either in 'Bak Bone', 'High Ona' and 'Tools', respectively. The first of them is another selection which may very well require a several dozen listens to tune into. That is largely because of the very odd and somewhat OFF marriage between riddim and vocals. The two just sound like they don't belong together, but WHAT is being said, as usual, is masterful as Benjamin gives thanks to those who feed and medicate the world. 'High Ona' is better sonically… kind of. There is just so much activity on the track behind that song -- including this very peculiar POP sound -- that it is kind of easy to get lost in there, at times, in what is a decent praising tune. And as for 'Tools' it is the best of this final lot and if you wanted to call it one of the best songs on the entire album, I wouldn't argue much with you. It's very good.
As I mentioned, for me, the second half of "Thru & True" really lights things up and begins to pour in more and more of the most significant work on the album. It also becomes less and less strange and more accessible. This obviously includes my absolute favourite piece here, the MAMMOTH 'Inity'. If you listen to this song in the dark, it will glow on whatever you play it on. I heard this song with ears I had never heard it with prior to for the sake of this review and I was caught and I didn't mind at all! The song is one dealing with the great statuses and times of life and enjoying them IN THE MOMENT. It never did and it never will, but if it got the opportunity to, I think 'Inity' could really do a lot of nice things for a lot of nice people. As I said, the album's second half is much more accessible, in the typical sense of the term, than the first and that is not only evident on 'Inity', but a few other compositions as well. Perhaps none are more 'open' than it which immediately precedes 'Inity', the BRIGHT 'Karn'. Well before I got into the words here, the vibes had me smiling and by the time that I did pay a proper attention to what was being said, I was already fan. Before that is another great sounding vibes, although in a much different way. 'Da Frame' is HEAVY! A selection about how things really are as opposed to how they appear to be, 'Da Frame' is a big winner here for me and it was so rather quickly. Later we get the also very impressive vibe 'Falla Gad'. Nice, delightful and easy - I'd almost be inclined to say that this was just a freestyle of sorts for Vaughn Benjamin. It is one of the rarest of moments where, by his standards, Benjamin just kind of takes things easy and enjoys the tune. For me, such a thing is PERFECT for an album like this and I'm wondering if everyone who thought this an awful record have ever actually heard this tune. Right ahead of 'Falla Gad' is the pillaring title track which is as substantial as you would have hoped for them to name an album after.
"Rastafari see and Jah know
Rastafari see and Jah know
Life is so full of acquaintances
But it's so good to know a friend
LIFE IS NOT BUILT UPON WORD PROMISES -
THAT ARE BUILT UPON WRONG PREMISES
Unreal, subtle demands - that's still cognitive
That they infringe your prerogative
THAT THE WILL OF JAH ALLOW THE WORLD TO LIVE
Beautiful, abundant and harvested
Through and true
Through and true
Through and true
Through and true!"
I also really did enjoy both 'Mat' and especially 'Abuna'. The former, with its sound kind of jumps up and gets your attention immediately (it is somewhat similar to 'Inity' in many ways in my opinion), with that golden piece of riddim which Benjamin utilizes to back a message of fiery message of being aware of EVERYTHING. 'Abuna', on the other hand, is clearly amongst the strongest lyrical efforts to be found on "Thru & True"
"Babylon come suck on all wi energy
And by dem action dem well did it spitely
"Do the Right Thing" is a Spike Lee movie
Dem come mek wi suffer -
Yes a so inna reality
And inna anonymity -
A NEW ALLIANCE BETWEEN JEALOUSY AND ENVY
All Kunte Kinte, Chicken George and Kizzy
HOW MUCH BACK CHILD SUPPORT DID SLAVE OWNER OWE SHE?"
This entire track is a Vaughn Benjamin special. Again, only he would ever be capable of doing something like this tune on any level - and then actually having it work well is something even more. And wrapping us up are the bookends of the second half of "Thru & True", 'Heat' and 'Ina Ye'. 'Heat' is definitely one of the best things you'll find on this album and you might never know it because it is exactly the type of piece which just kind of fades away into the background. The riddim is certainly nothing special, but what you hear being said is. What I took from this one is an idea of remaining determined in whatever you do, no matter what you may face in doing so. Benjamin has his usual unusual way of making his point, but he does in a major way here. And as for 'Ina Ye', while not my favourite song, it also grew on me considerably after listening to it just a bit closer.
You could say the same thing for the whole of this album actually and I now have something of a theory regarding just why this album has been so maligned (especially for a Midnite album) through the years: I don't think people listened to the entire thing. As I always say, I well consider myself to be someone of below average intelligence and if I'm able to kind of navigate my way through this one then I would assume that most people are (as is… a stack of papers, I would assume). But I think that the initial sound turned off people to discovering what is, otherwise, an above average set. Yes, it is too long and would surely have been stronger checking in at around thirteen tracks or so, but judging it based on the good that is here, I no longer entertain the idea of "Thru & True" being a bad album. It is a CHALLENGING one. Also I just want to say that I think albums like this and Midnite albums, in general, kind of get lost because you have people, on both sides, who just may not listen to it. On one hand there're the types who hear bits of it and immediately tune it out and then there're those who see the word "MIDNITE" and instantly declare whatever it is to be genius and album like this is a sterling example of why actually LISTENING to something as closely as you can truly does pay off.
Overall, yes it will take some time, but if you are a more seasoned listener to Midnite's work, then you should already be used to that and if you haven't dug this one up in a few years, maybe now is a good time and really focus in on what is being said and the second half of the album. If you are a newer head… I don't know, I'm even inclined to say that YOU will be able to find something here that you'll like as well. Having eighteen songs, even on a Midnite album, virtually ensures a variety of different sounds and that is also the case for "Thru & True". So, while it may not rank in my personal top ten (it doesn't), upon closer examination "Thru & True" isn't at all the monster in the closet of Midnite albums. It takes a little work, but as always is the case with these things - it's worth it. Thanks Daniel.
CD + Digital