CD Review: Reggae Gold? ... Exceptional?
Is it that time of year already? The Reggae Gold compilation is without a doubt the single most popular reggae compilation that there is in the world (which is saying A LOT considering that there are a billion of them) and is probably best used as a litmus test of the music for the rest of the non-reggae listening world. To put it frankly, even people and groups of people who do not really like reggae, check out the Reggae Gold compilation and one could make the point that besides being the most popular, easily, it is also the one which has attracted the most new listeners to the music. For example, there was a rather brief 6 month period during the year 2002 when a song by VP artist Sean Paul named Gimmi di Light was absolutely taking over the world. I myself, living in the states at the time was very proud that the music had attained such heights, but was growing very tired of the song (especially considering that there were 3 even more powerful tracks on that same riddim, The Buzz, by Beenie Man, Sizzla and Mad Cobra, respectively). The song would eventually lead to a bidding war for the artist and then ultimately a bidding war for the releasing rights to the entire independent label itself, which Atlantic Records would win on both accounts. However, before the eventual November release of Sean Paul's major debut album, Dutty Rock, the only (legitimate) album on which you could find the absolutely MAMMOTH track (not including the regionally released Buzz Riddim album which dropped the previous September in the Caribbean) was the May 2002 released Reggae Gold 2002. After that, similar situations occurred with mega tracks which were released before the artist's album actually reached the road; RG 2003 featured Elephant Man's mega international hit, Pon di River, Pon di Bank six months before his album, Good 2 Go was released; RG 2004 featured Beenie Man's equally large hit Dude for Dave Kelly and featured a remixed version of the tune with US rapper Shawnna (for which the international video was shot), a version which to this day has yet to see the light of day on any other official reggae release. VP Records, the label which is responsible for pushing the compilation every year, is slick! The label generally packs the albums full of releases from their artists (particularly popular are the ones with albums on the way and those with very recently released pieces), slides in one or two odd remixes with American artists, a big name or two which they don't have under contract and a couple of unknowns. The result is generally a greater access for all involved one way or another.
VP Records is ran like a well oiled machine and if you really love reggae music (or if just are really interested in the genre), you will definitely find yourself having to deal with VP in one way or another. This is largely due to the fact that they boast some of the finest talent in all of the Caribbean and they do an international promotion for their artists on a level perhaps unlike anything the music has ever seen. As of this writing, VP's roster of artists is absolutely ridiculous! Besides maintaining at least partial rights to international superstars such as Beenie Man, Sean Paul and Elephant Man; they also have reggae superstars such as The Messenger, Luciano; Capleton; Morgan Heritage; Beres Hammond, who hasn't had an official non VP release in over 10 years, and although Lady Saw recently completed her contract with the label, her current release, the well solid Walk Out is in their hands to promote and care for. Besides those names, the label boasts serious roots talent in the form of three young geniuses, I-Wayne, Warrior King and Gyptian; and not to neglect the dancehall, their roster of young dancehall talent includes TOK, Assassin, Kiprich and the recently inked hit maker Mavado. If you know nothing about reggae music, yes, this is a very big deal! Not to mention that I've forgotten such names as the Warlord Bounty Killer, the dancehall poet Tanya Stephens, Richie Spice and Junior Kelly (although you wouldn't know that because Penitentiary still makes a point of releasing albums by them) and soca heads Bunji Garlin and Edwin Yearwood. The label is stacked! Their roster is the equivalent of a single NBA team having four of the starting five of an all star team in any given year, and the following year and even the following year. If you make reggae music also, you have to deal with VP in some form or another as well in any aspect of the business. They sponsor tours for their artists, have their excellent and ever-growing Riddim Driven series which links them with some of the finest producers Jamaica has to offer, and other artists, who are not signed to the label and yet routinely have albums released, such as Turbulence who has had four VP releases to date, Glen Washington, Buju Banton, Anthony B, and most notably the legendary Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and Sizzla (who himself, by my count, has had 10 VP releases). Again, if you are into the music, or even if you just KNOW about reggae music, the name VP Records definitely needs to be one with whom you are familiar.
This year's installment of VP's signature series, Reggae Gold follows a year in which reggae, although not in the international spotlight (perhaps largely due to the continued postponement of Elephant Man's Bad Boy debut) as much as previous few years has actually been very solid. Although, a quick perusal through JA tabloids and newspapers (and some would say those are the exact same thing) might make you think some of the bigger names spend more time fighting amongst themselves than in the studio: With Bounty and Beenie's decade old rivalry hitting new heights (or depths that is) with the inclusion of an `Angel' (and Bounty's own seemingly endless women problems); Vybz Kartel's unhappiness with his label, Greensleeves and ultimate departure from Bounty's Alliance (along with his protégé Aidonia) and bloody war with latest VP signee Mavado and many other things that music overcame (and used) to its benefit in making one of the finest music years in recent memory for reggae. The proof is in the pudding as RG 2007 is without a doubt one of the finest installments the series has seen in quite a while and it doesn't depart from the lineup which I mentioned at all. It is still, relatively a glorified promo album for VP Records, but what a solid promo it is! This series is typically hit-or-miss style and truly the better VP Records series is so consistently without a doubt the double annual installments of Strictly the Best, but Reggae Gold 2007 does an excellent job in attempting to close the gap and this year, all you who make this your one reggae album of the year to check might be looking for something else which interests you later as the new comers here absolutely steal the show, but the one or two older heads present do themselves fine as well.
First, just getting the bad out of the way: I live in somewhat of a reggae box. If I'm not listening to reggae music or soca then there's an African vibes playing, other than that, I don't get too international, therefore, as of writing this, I had NEVER actually heard the song This is Why I'm Hot by Mims (and I can imagine someone somewhere is sitting down writing a review of a `hip hop gold' styled album and mentioning that "you're probably well tired of this song by this point") although I had heard of it. This remixed version of the song (which I guess is basically a Baby Cham and Junior Reid combination over the original track) I do not like very much at all, it almost kills the early vibe of the album sandwiched between a ridiculously over hyped Watch Dem Roll by Sean Paul over the migraine inducing hype Tremor riddim by Stephen McGregor and Mavado's epochal Kartel aimed Top Shatta Nah Miss over McGregor's massive Power Cut riddim. The song is the obligatory odd remix with a foreign artist and, as usual, the song just doesn't work here. Then there's Elephant Man's answer to Buju's MASSIVE Driver tune, Bring It, which just doesn't bring very much over the same riddim (which should have been retired immediately after Buju put that genius piece on recording, the song pretty much never gets off the floor and fittingly at its conclusion, Ele gives credit to where its due, Buju. And lastly (literally) the closer, Shaggy's More Woman which lags far behind some of his other far better work as of late (wouldn't an excellent way to end the album been with his megahit Heathen?!!!). And I've been called a reggae snob, so if a Reggae Gold album comes down the road 15 tracks deep with only 3 bad ones, its definitely a winner!
The good? To all those people who have asked me in the past sixteen months where they could get that Morgan Heritage tune about NYC and Jamaica, here you go! I'm not the biggest MH fan in the world but I definitely have to concur that the tune Brooklyn & Jamaica is amongst their finest work over Shane Brown's well powerful Statement Riddim. Check the man himself, Buju Banton reuniting with Penthouse where he got his start on yet another riddim called the M-16, this time, an absolutely divine sounding Dean Fraser cut which melds itself around Buju's very Driver-ish flow. AND THAT'S IT representing for the older heads the balance of the album's top notch material is put out by artists on whom the international spotlight has yet to shine, but hopefully and obviously is making its way towards. Check the magical Sticky by martian voiced singer Jah Cure. I could perhaps never tire of hearing Jah Cure and following the past 12 months where the artist had been less than active (perhaps in anticipation of his release which is now scheduled at just about a month and a half away as of this writing), Sticky is a great big WELCOME BACK to the Montego Bay native over Ce'cile's new riddim, the wonderfully old school spiced Jam Down riddim (which always has A LOT of people on the dance floor and whose album is actually due the same day as this RG 2007, also on VP). (and don't be surprised at all should Cure's release from prison coincide with the announcement of a signing with VP as he has released two albums with the label since his incarceration)
Heading the relatively brief dancehall portion of the album is definitely `hybrid' dancehall artist Munga Honourable's Bad From Mi Bawn. The self proclaimed `Gangsta Ras' who boasts of not only having the backing of dancehall ace producer Vendetta (over whom's excellent techno spiced Sativa riddim the track flows) but David House, label home of the Prophet himself, as co-managers, knocks an absolute homerun with the track which has become one of his biggest to date and don't be surprised if VP's next big dancehall signing is Honourable at all (unless of course Greensleeves again catches them off guard as they did with both Busy Signal and Vybz Kartel (and Fantan Mojah for the matter). The one that didn't get away from VP, most recent addition to their roster, sickly looking brutally efficient hit maker Mavado, offers two equally bullet laden tracks with the aforementioned Top Shatta Nah Miss and Last Night over the Show Off riddim. The better track is probably Last Night, but both are fairly equally solid tracks with both offering a decent taste of Mavado's vibes, but neither actually defining his shocking cold efficiency in the dancehall. The second half, and actually just about the final third of Reggae Gold 2007 is where the real quality lay on this album, however (of course minus Shaggy's closer). Pick any of the songs there and you'll have a winner! Starting with the young Tessanne Chin's (or Tami jr. as I'm calling her) beautiful Hideaway. I'm good and tired of the couple of years old Hideaway, but it's still an excellent track, which is barely reggae, save for that excellent guitar riffy one drop at the song's beginning, but an excellent inclusion to the album giving an international spot to what has undoubtedly been one of the most popular songs in the Caribbean over the past couple of years. Then there's the enigma that is I-Wayne. The downright peculiar singer who has attracted some of the most. . . Peculiar criticisms and praises of any young artist to date pushes forth the excellent lovers track I Need Her In My Arms, and while I'll always prefer the fire spitting and lava condemning I-Wayne, his offering for Reggae Gold 2007 is definitely amongst the strongest tracks to be found anywhere on the album (and hopefully this winter we'll see his sophomore studio release).
The top three tracks here definitely make themselves standout from the rest. Check Gyptian's ridiculous and frustrating My Fadah Seh which comes not too far after his album to make you wonder why it couldn't have made it, and. . . Not too far after his album to make you know that by time the next album rolls around (unless of course Gyptian is going to be following Sizzla's time schedule for releases) that the track will probably be too old to be included (and don't put that past VP to do anyway). Even with the presence of the MASSIVE Beng Beng on his debut, My Name is Gyptian, had you dropped My Fadah Seh on that album, it would have instantly become the finest track on the album, the wonderfully spiritual track is easily the finest tune young Gyptian has ever voiced. Then there's the odd man out on the album, Pressure Busspipe, whose cause I've been championing since I heard his debut album last year, links with Vendetta and the St. Thomas native pushes one of the best lover's tracks modern reggae has ever produced! Love & Affection is MASSIVE! So much so, Vendetta has taken such an interest in Pressure that he has signed him alongside Munga to his label and subsequent recordings from the duo have hit the street (especially the wicked Be Free), definitely Love & Affection is a big break for the artist showing just how far VI reggae has progressed in its short time. Lastly. . . Easily the best song on this good album and easily the best song I've heard in a while is ridiculously lovely songbird Alaine's Sacrifice. The song is something off an angel's play list and out of, of course, Vendetta's studio, it's a big chunk of romantic and lover's magic that you NEED to hear DEFINITELY!
Overall, in typical hit or miss style, Reggae Gold 2007 is a big hit. Also included is the now customary DVD which goes behinds the scenes (and even a little around my neighborhood!) definitely needs to be watched as its stocked full of cool pieces and frames, and as general, a nicely produced project outside of the music, VP always puts their best foot forward on the Reggae Gold album. Not as usually, I'm recommending this one to just about anyone, newer fans, definitely this thing is built for you, but older and more established fans, this is the first official cd for many of the pieces here you will LOVE the DVD.
Bramoi for Trini Jungle Juice
Reggae Gold 2007 - Various Artists (VP Records)
Release Date: Jun 12th 2007
01. Watch Them Roll - Sean Paul
02. This Is Why I'm Hot - MIMS ft Cham & Junior Reid
03. Top Shotta Nah Miss - Mavado
04. Bad From Mi Born - Munga
05. Last Night - Mavado
06. Bring It - Elephant Man
07. Bobby Reds - Buju Banton
08. Brooklyn And Jamaica - Morgan Heritage
09. Sticky - Jah Cure
10. My Fadah Seh - Gyptian
11. Hide Away - Tessanne
12. Love And Affection - Pressure
13. I Need Her In My Arms - I-Wayne
14. Sacrifice - Alaine
15. More Woman - Shaggy