Friday, September 15, 2023

Run With It: A review of Born For Greatness by Buju Banton

Source. I wonder if, at the highest level of doing just about anything, there comes a point where you more begin to look at what type of legacy it is that you're leaving in an even greater way than the current work that you are doing. Certainly the two could go together as if you're always doing the best that you possibly can, presumably, the greater it will be perceived immediately and later on. As time passes and as a new generation has taken very large steps ahead, there is a class of artist who I've began to think about in a more historical context (even if they aren't doing it themselves for the most part) because I think that not only is it directly interesting, but I also think that we're now seeing and going to continue to see a number of individuals come to prominence who were CLEARLY influenced by them. For example, the last review that I wrote was for an album called "Simma" by Beenie Man and Beenie is DEFINITELY one of those artists who I've began to place in that wider-than-present scope. I don't know just how inspirational Beenie Man has been directly -- if you think about it, how many times have you heard someone and thought, 'now this guy sounds a lot like Beenie Man -- but I think the levels that he has reached and the way in which he did it helped to inspire not only a forthcoming generation, but also many of his peers as well (whether or not they'd want to admit it). Beenie was one of the few people that showed just how powerful Dancehall could be in both its authentic form and with just a bit of additions and, clearly, he continues to do that to this day. You can't have one without the other, so certainly from Beenie you go to Bounty Killer and while the Killer's legacy is less complicated than that of his longtime rival's, it is no less powerful at all. While he has enjoyed success across the world and back, Bounty Killer is and will for the foreseeable future be known as THE most influential artist that the Dancehall has ever produced and one of the most influential that Reggae, as a whole, has ever seen as well (surely he hasn't approached the levels that Bob Marley has, but you name me someone else making Reggae music.... or any type of Caribbean music that has CLEARLY inspired more artists than Bounty Killer). Not only in terms of his HEAVY, kind of villainous, style; but also with the work he's done with actually helping bringing youths to the forefront, there're a lot of people who would not be anywhere near they are these days without the help of the Killer in someway or another. The Vybz Kartels (him being one such individual), Sizzlas, Capletons and Sean Pauls of the world would be others who, although still active and firing well, I've begun to consider just how we'll look back on what they've already done for us and are, most thankfully, continuing to do - as a CREDIT, because they've earned it and many of their peers, many of those who came before and those who are yet to arrive have not and will not. They are our greats.

Someone with both feet firmly planted and both hands gripped within that group would definitely be Mr. Mark Myrie, Buju Banton. When Buju's time is done and we look back on his career, he will DEFINITELY be regarded as one of the most noteworthy (and controversial, in both good and bad ways) figures that we've ever seen and he'll also likely go down as one of the most respected as well by both his contemporaries and fans, alike. I always remember a quote from Tony Rebel from maybe twenty years ago now where he said something to the effect of Buju Banton being the sun around which every other Reggae artist revolved! That is a HUGE compliment, particularly coming from someone as esteemed as Rebel and I would think it wasn't an opinion that he, alone, kept at the time. Throughout the years Buju has maintained a very interesting place in the music as someone whose work, inherently will receive international attention because he had built his name up so highly (through various ways) around the world and also on the local level as well. Though nowhere near as active on 'this riddim or that riddim' (and it's been a very long time since he has done that) as he once was, when Buju does release new music virtually everyone with an eye on Reggae music pays attention.

....especially when he does an entire album. Buju also has the distinction of, like very few others in the music, of being able to generate MASSIVE attention with an album release. Reggae and Dancehall have never been genres geared towards the construction of albums (or mixtapes as you'll see in other forms of 'urban' music), but his output like.... Beenie's, Sean Paul's, Shaggy's and even Capleton's for a short period of time (and Capleton would be an even more different case because, at his peak, he didn't receive the level of international consideration as the others I've just mentioned, but more hardened Reggae heads PAUSED when that man made an album around the early 2000's) (the 'More Fire Years) (MISS THEM NOW, DON'T YOU!) (so do I. Never knew just how good we had it until times were over) has always managed to generate a considerable buzz when Buju decides to make an album. His most recent, "Upside Down", set came just three years ago and not only was that his first release following..... an extended hiatus (that's what we're going to call it today), but it was also his first marking a union between Buju Banton's Gargamel Records, which always handles his work, and US major, Roc Nation. That relationship has now been rekindled (not really but I do so enjoy using that word) as Buju's latest creation, "Born For Greatness" has now been brought forth. The album comes in a curious and fruitful year for Reggae albums, on paper, as it releases very close to other sets from the legendary Burning Spear, the aforementioned Beenie Man & Sizzla Kalonji and is just a week ahead of a forthcoming release from someone we're going to  talk about shortly (that's Beenie, Buju and this other guy in three consecutive weeks (and also mixed in there is an album from Richie Spice) which is fantastic and Beenie and Buju release albums a week apart and both celebrated the completion of their fiftieth years on the planet just a few weeks apart as well). As I said, Buju Banton's albums have always been a very big deal as evidenced by the fact that six of his last seven albums (with "Unchained Spirit" being the only exception) have been nominated for the Reggae Grammy and, in 2010, his "Before The Dawn" would net him the award. I'm virtually certain that "Born For Greatness" will make it seven of eight and, despite a packed year and much competition, I think Buju has a decent shot at picking up his second Grammy (shockingly, his opus, 1995's "'Til Shiloh", was not nominated (although I don't think 'Grammy' knew who Buju was in 1995; but with full respect to the likes of Bunny Wailer (who won that year with "Crucial! Roots Classics" and Dennis Brown, Inner Circle, Black Uhuru and Aswad, all of whom were nominated, Buju's had the best album that year, in retrospect, in my opinion). If you're at all familiar with the artist's last few records then, musically, you're well aware what to expect with "BFG" as it features both sounds more terrestrial to Reggae music as well as a variety of different other vibes as well. Because of that, I wasn't as disappointed to not see much actual Dancehall still, what we do end up getting, because of a relatively large chunk in the middle of the album, comes off as somewhat uneven broadly, but the album does offer two or three moments which're wholly spectacular. Let's talk about it! 

One change that we do get here, however, comes on the production side. You'll usually find a Buju Banton album stuffed with big named maestros but, for "Born For Greatness", things have been streamlined just a bit. One or two of the names in at the helm should be well recognizable but, for the most part, production is handled by Buju, himself, along with longtime collaborator Jermaine J'August Reid. While I definitely have to admit that I would have LOVED to have seen another scorcher from Dave Kelly, what I do end up hearing on the new album does consistently manage to impress, musically, regardless of genre (doesn't mean I like them all, I most certainly do not, but the music is nice during the entire album for the most part) (I also feel inclined to mention (probably because of what happened on "Simma"), that only THREE of the album's SEVENTEEN tunes are collaborations). An example of just how good the sound can be here is to be heard on the opener of "Born For Greatness", the very unusual sounding 'Ageless Time'. With a kind of a spiraling R&B sound, Buju gets things going in a very nice and chilled way with a tune that takes me in a few ways. At its core, I think 'Ageless Time' is about depression and disheartenment. It's about losing one's way and having memories about much better time. I think the goal here was to attempt to vivify the good times but I don't know how successful Buju is at that, so if you come away branding the opener as kind of a SAD tune, I don't think anyone could blame you, but it is a GOOD SAD one, in my opinion. If 'Ageless Time' passes through just a bit too bleak or you, then the second effort, 'Life Choices' , might be a little more your speed as it is more lively. It's also nearly excellent. 

"Life choices, true sacrifices
So many voices, except when there is crisis
The lifestyle, the struggles and the vices
Secret dealings
Major surprises
Slow to the top or meteoric rises"

When I really got into the meat of 'Life Choices' it began to bloom. It's a song about living life (DUH!) and the struggles that we all go through and the decisions that we make, the MISTAKES that we make and how we grow (and shrink) from those experiences. It is somewhat broad on the surface but, again, what you're able to dig out of this one, should you take the time is MIGHTY and I appreciate it more right now than I ever have. The infectious title track follows and while it also has more substance to it, the first thing you'll notice here is its sonic appeal. Good luck in listening to 'Born For Greatness' without moving something. Some part of your anatomy will be tapping or snapping or bobbing in some way or another and with it, Buju takes the opportunity to remind that the easiest way or the road most traveled isn't always the best course for everyone. I was fairly confident as to what my favourite tune on this album would be when I heard it and by its end I was correct (for a change) as the downright MASSIVE 'Coconut Wata' stood up as the peak here for me (by the slightest of margins)."Cool" would be the term dominating the description here: 'Coconut Wata' IS JUST A COOL SONG. Blessed with kind of a neo take on old-school Dancehall (that makes no sense at all, I know it. You don't have to say it), this one grabbed my attention and completely refused to let my ass go and for that, I am thankful! Charged with keeping the vibes high following 'Coconut Wata' is 'Yard And Outta Road' whose title had me thinking that its vibes wouldn't be very far, at all from the tune preceding it, but all was back to normal in that regards because I was completely wrong about that. Though its subject isn't too far out of bounds (although I wouldn't have predicted that either, actually) 'Yard And Outta Road' is much closer to being a ballad than it is to being this kind of dusty piece of Dancehall candy (that you brush off and eat anyway and hope no one saw you do it). Still, while I cannot count it amongst my favourites from "Born For Greatness".... it isn't bad and it fully displays a certain quality of Buju Banton's that I'll get more into in closing, but he has a very potent talent which makes moments like this work more often than not and I would argue that Buju at a level which isn't his greatest is more capable than many of his peers in their non-prime form. 

The first combination off of "Born For Greatness", the woefully named 'Body Touching Body', did come as a pleasant surprise. The track features Victoria Monét, an American Pop/R&B singer whom (is very easy on the eyes) I'm fairly certain that I've never come across prior to earlier this year when she had a song by the name of 'Party Girls'.... with Buju Banton. That tune was odd -- there was a Dancehall song wrapped up in the middle of R&B -- but it wasn't bad and, as far as I can tell, it and the album it appeared on, "Jaguar II" did pretty well. 'Body Touching Body', oddly enough, is more straight-forward R&B than 'Party Girls' and Monét returns the favour on a composition, seemingly, more directly to her specialty. I did not expect at all to enjoy this one as much as I ended up likin git after a few spins. It just has a really nice, easy vibes to it (and there is one SWEET groove somewhere in the middle of it all that is intoxicating) and, despite its brevity, it got to me and maybe we can see these two working together again at some point. Who knows, maybe the musical relationship between Buju and Monét may some day grow to equal that which Buju also has with looooooooongtime collaborator, the afore-alluded to Stephen Marley who not only features here as a vocalist, but also as a producer as it is Marley who stands behind both 'Feel A Way' and the opener, 'Ageless Time'. The relationship here goes back decades between these two as Marley also appeared on the previously mentioned "Unchained Spirit" record way back in 1999 (as did Beres Hammond, Luciano, Morgan Heritage and Wayne Wonder.... just a LOADED album and it may just be Buju's most underrated release to date); and it also carries forth as a week after "Born For Greatness" reaches, Stephen Marley's own full studio album, "Old Soul" is set to go and any guesses who appears on that one??? The relationship-centric 'Feel A Way' is pretty decent. That riddim has all kinds of twists and turns and it's mostly R&B, but I have no problem with this track. These two have been there and done that and gotten the t-shirt for it and they will continue to. You'll probably like 'Feel A Way'. Considerably stronger, however, is the very catchy 'Turn Up Tonight' (remember 'Gal Your Night Tonight'?). With somewhat of a Jazzy type of sound, Buju delivers another one for the couples-effect, but this one is just LOVELY to hear and he does manage to produce on sterling verse in its midst. I didn't hate 'Sweeter' either, but that one, which comes just ahead of 'Feel A Way' is the true beginning of a lull on "Born For Greatness" in my opinion. For its part, 'Sweeter', once again, focuses on relationships, this time specifically dealing with what happens after the fight, the... "making up" process. It's surely relatable (in a good way), but there's nothing really remarkable about it. The [EXACT] same thing could be said of 'Plans' (although I'm going to use it to illustrate a point later on here and give it a bit more credit), which kind of continues the run on mediocre love-like songs on "Born For Greatness". There isn't much to be taken from this one and, with a minimal backing, it doesn't really even try to be much (which ends up working for it in a way) but.... it's here. Okay now, if you take the very next two selections on the album, 'Nuff Love For You' and 'Walked Out' (might as well tack them onto the end of this big ass paragraph) you get yet another pair dealing with the same topic heard on the previous FIVE consecutively but, with the exception of 'Body Touching Body',(and maybe 'Turn Up Tonight') they're better, but still not what you'd call great tunes. The former is the better of the two with its more appealing vibes (and that chorus will have you KILLING it over and over again and have you doing it in short-order) and decent 'backbone' (I know I may you do you wrong sometimes, but they're mistakes and you do me wrong too, but I still love you!). The latter's strength is in Buju, himself. Yes, it also does have a different sound which is likable, but Buju's captivating reigns supreme here and saves 'Walked Out', ultimately. With alllllllllll of that being said, however, at this point of "Born For Greatness" I have to admit: I'm pretty damn tired of love songs.

Relief (in subject only) comes at track #13 'We Find A Way' (and I didn't think it would, I thought the shift would come on the next one) which is basically 'We Shall Overcome' and it isn't terrible but it most certainly isn't a highlight on this release and then there's 'My Microphone' which was NOTHING like I was expecting. I thought this one had the potential to be another Dancehall special (maybe one focusing on skill) but, instead, 'My Microphone' is a very quick return to form of the material coming just ahead of it (sans 'We Find A Way'). It is a slight changeup on the course, however, as it finds Buju with his eye on someone special, looking for the opportunity to get to speak to her and while he waits, his microphone serves as his outlet. The song is on the upper side in regards to quality when it comes to these types on "Born For Greatness" but... yeah, I'm kind of tired of them now.... is this a Turbulence album??? Still, I do give a credit to Buju and Reid for putting it together as such. 'My Microphone' is interesting to say the least but I am in dire need of someone taking a large, blunt object and smacking me in the face with it! I require some FIRE before the end of this album! As my luck would have it, one of the final pieces here is actually called 'Trial By Fire' and though it be largely without the type of flames that I was searching for, it does bring in a nice chunk of passion, oh, and 'Trial By Fire' is sublime. A spiritual piece with more social elements supporting it, this record is GOLDEN and steps near the top of the album IMMEDIATELY. This is the type of vibe that Buju kind of 'wonders off' and brings during many of his albums that completely works. It isn't a preponderance of love songs, it is material exactly like 'Trial By Fire' ["FLAME BURNING INSIDE YOU NEVER CONQUER THE ANCESTRAL PLANE: THAT'S MY FATHER'S PLACE!"] which is a big winner. The end of the album also carries 'High Life' which is, on paper (and in actuality, really), the single biggest combination on "Born For Greatness" altogether as it features Buju alongside Hip-Hop great and longtime fan and supporter of Reggae music, Snoop Dogg. I really like 'High Life' and have from the very first time I laid my ears on it. It won't change lives, I can't imagine that they intended it to, but if you're just looking for a fun selection about exactly what you're thinking it's about, then you will LOVE 'High Life'. Lastly is probably my second favourite tune on the whole of "Born For Greatness" as Buju channels the legendary Paul Robeson on 'Let My People Go'. A ridiculously short TWENTY YEARS ago (I can literally remember getting that album - like the actual moment I received it), Buju released an album by the name of "Friends For Life" which was crowned by a huge tune called 'Up Ye Mighty Race'. 'Let My People Go' isn't THAT good ('Coconut Wata' isn't THAT good) (that thing was perfect) but it reminds me of 'Up Ye Mighty Race' for its theme. 

"Whole world is in bondage
 Let my people go
Tell these tyrants to let go!
 Let my people go
What remains, they will not be able to salvage
 Let my people go
There shall be rioting, rooting, raiding and ravage
 Let my people go

They control the whole world, there's no one to stop them
They fiddle while the world burns-
Creating stress and problems
Chaos on a global scale, were created only by a few

Tribal war created for money
 Let my people go
This blood march you create ain't funny
 Let my people go
What I'mma saying is so real

I think the song is best described as PASSIONATE! It has tons and tons of heart at its core and such a vibe, just as it did coming from 'Up Ye Mighty Race', resonates immensely on an outstanding way to conclude things. 

I do want to mention a couple of things -- one pro and one con -- in regards to "Born For Greatness" and, perhaps, just Buju Banton, in general. On the positive side is something that I don't know that I've ever mentioned about him previously: BUJU BANTON HAS CLASS! It may not be a quality which comes quickly to mind about someone whose style is so tough and rough around the proverbial edges, but he's able to make things work that aren't necessarily going great. I go back to 'Plans'... not a great record. It isn't great at all, but when you section it up and take it in smaller bites, little blips or brilliance definitely come through. He always has that possibility where something about a particular tune will stay will you and there are not many people at all who the same thing can be said about. On the con side: "Born For Greatness" is too long. There're seventeen tracks (checking in at just shy of an hour) and it probably would have been healthier, at least in my opinion were it closer to twelve or so. That's not an unusual critique, I find myself saying it fairly often and that's fine, but in this in particular, the album definitely could have done with less relationship/love songs. 
Overall, "Born For Greatness" surely isn't the best piece of work Buju Banton has ever released and I don't think that it's even relatively close to it either. However, it isn't entirely bereft or merit either and after taking it in fully I think it fits fairly comfortably in the middle of the pack of Buju's catalogue (and if you wanted to rank it a little higher or lower, I wouldn't have much problem in either case). Buju's position in Reggae music is one which is wholly unique so it's likely that this album will be either overrated or underrated, but I think that when I look back on it, "Born For Greatness" will be an album which, though not without its obvious flaws, is another demonstration of the star power and attraction of one of the brightest burners Reggae music has ever seen. 

Rated: 3.35/5
Gargamel Records + Roc Nation/Def Jam Recordings


  1. I am disappointed you liked this album bro. It is the most shitty album put out by Buju yet. It is 95% R&B. Have you listened to Stephen Marley's OLD SOUL album? In a time where every reggae artiste seem to be veering off into Afrobeats and RnB, Stephen retained the Nyabinghi drums on an acoustic Reggae is hand down the best Reggae album released thus far in 2923

    1. I hate to say it, but it is what it is - I've gotten to the point where I don't expect Buju to go heavy on the Reggae on his albums. I expect the Reggae/Dancehall on it to be brilliant, but it comes in a mixture of other things. That's probably on my mind when listening to it. So the styles won't bother me as much, unfortunately, because I've been conditioned to expect it from him. Wayyyyyy too many love songs, for me, was the biggest problem here.

      I've listened to "Old Soul" just a bit, so far so good, but I'm still on it. Thanx for reading!

  2. Ive been a ran of yours for years. Your style of writing reminds me of one site that has been defunct now for years. I wonder if you were one of the writers on that site. I almost lost my mind when I realised the sure had ceased to exist. I used to consult it before deciding which Reggae album to buy back in the days. They had thousands of reviews on almost every reggae artistes who has ever put out an album on earth. Thanks to you, I am not missing them as I used to vis you're equally anazing

    1. You're entirely too kind my friend, but I do definitely appreciate it! I remember reggae-reviews as well. They were very useful back in the day and probably inspired me to start writing as well with the AMOUNT of material they had on that site. I never did write for them but for some reason I think I recall having a conversation with someone from the site, I could be wrong about that though.

      We do what we can and hopefully we've made an impact and, again, thank you so much!

  3. Fan of yours (I meant)

  4. Achi, the BEST Reggae Album I have heard this year is Collie Buddz' TAKE IT leads on my personal chart by a zillion miles

    1. That one I haven't listened to yet, but with the recommendation - I will get on it. Thanks for letting me know.