History in the Making
I was remarking just last week to a fellow blogger, Dale Cooper, regarding just how wonderful of a time it was that we both found ourselves on this planet at a time where being a fan of Reggae music is proving increasingly fruitful and incredibly entertaining. And in that conversation, while I was speaking mostly about a certain developing trend (more on that later), I’m definitely under the impression that what we are currently experiencing HAS TO be regarded as one of the strongest eras of Reggae music, as a whole, that there has ever been. Of course I’ve placed myself up as a vocal defender of all things Reggae modern, but I even suspect that, particularly given the globality the music currently enjoys, that even the most steadfast of old school heads would have to agree to some degree (although they’d probably credit such popularity to an era gone by). Getting into specifics more and more, of course I’m drawn to the greats in terms of artists and because I’ve covered them endlessly and you know who I’m about to mention,
I won’t go there too in-depth and instead what I’m going to do is focus on the producers (obviously). With producers it’s interesting because you’ll RARELY if ever experience or get into the same type of heated discussions that you’ll have when speaking of artists. The ‘debate’ for ‘the best’ artists is ridiculous. They generally quickly escalate into something very negative and wholly unnecessary (and still I have them quite frequently) and you’ll hardly ever sway someone’s opinion that your favourite artist is wickeder than theirs. With producers, however, even if they’re only remotely noteworthy, the conversation will be built upon this kind of respectful type of foundation upon which the notion of ‘agreeing to disagree’ is almost always useless because the ‘disagreements’ are so miniscule. So unlike the discussion of artists, what you end up with is - Yes you may think that producer is the wickedest, BUT you can surely see how someone would think this other is just as accomplished. I say that all of that to go back to my original point of enjoying the moment because, seriously speaking when you look at just how producers are ’measured’ and the very high esteem in which they are held, then in my opinion, Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor may just be EASILY the clearest choice of being a future all time great (right now) over ANYONE in Reggae music currently whose career has hit the top flight within the past decade or so. Definitely that’s a very big declaration, but to be simple about it, there probably isn’t a single individual MAKING MUSIC who has as much ‘command’ as to the music’s ultimate direction as McGregor as Roots Reggae music from this generation (like every other) will be categorized by the dominant Roots producer from this generation and you already know who that is now.
So who better than such an individual to release a Classic? You know I consider myself fortunate because I get to write these things about four or five times a year or so now. “These things” are of course reviews for Flava produced riddims and lo and behold it’s that time of year again. The Classic Riddim offers quite a bit of firsts for the producer, besides the typical cases of new artists he’s voicing, it’s also (as I mentioned his first of the year), and more significantly, the very first to be released through his new label, Flava McGregor Records. For the last few years I’ve grown quite accustomed to mentioning ‘No Doubt Records’ every chance I got, which was his previous home (and still appears on this album cover), but I do have to admit that the newly christened label is probably going to roll easier off the tongue and fingers and again, it takes THE name in terms of Roots Reggae music from the current era and makes it even more identifiable. So, with the new label locked up and a riddim in hand, of course one would know that Flava’s newest piece (whatever it may be), is now going to come through industry leader, VP Records’, famed Riddim Driven series as thankfully they have caught on and done so seemingly into perpetuity, so here forward I’m assuming that all of Flava’s riddims will receive (fittingly) the greatest light that can be shone on them in the international sense, Riddim Driven. This particular riddim, while not a great deviation is kind of what I’ve been referring to as a ‘Concept Riddim’. Of course the term ‘concept album’ is one which is quite familiar and floated around, but in this case, what you have is a riddim in the Classic, which was either developed with a certain vibes in mind or was named because it, rather easily, has a kind of wonderfully exaggerated old school and classic feel to it. In either case, this thing is I LOVELY! It is absolutely enchanting! And strictly from a sonic standpoint, the Classic becomes one of the strongest of Flava’s career to date and probably one of the strongest as of late from anyone. It doesn’t have the kind of ‘gimmicky’ or ‘strange’ melody that you’ll hear on some riddims (which I have absolutely no problem with at all), but it just has a prevailing sweet vibes and as I say that, I kind of take that as an encompassing trend for the vast majority of McGregor’s compositions - They aren’t the flashiest and they won’t have the most flare to them, but when you take them as a whole, they are gorgeous and they’re currently (and in the process of creating quite a history as I said) the finest in the game, period! His riddims also serve wonderfully as backdrops for some of the finest vocal talents in the game and it’s becoming more and more interesting to see just who McGregor decides to voice. Pretty much anyone who’s anyone within the scope of Jamaican Roots Reggae has voiced his riddims (and he’s started to branch out to Europe with names like Ziggi and Alborosie) and that continues to be the case on the Classic Riddim as my early favourite for Riddim of The Year 2010 produces an EXCELLENT album.
As I alluded to, this album comes in the midst of what is lining up to be a MASSIVE 2010 from VP/Greensleeves with releases from some of the biggest names in the business (including four who appear here) already appearing and many more forthcoming. I’m sure in the lineup, for heavy Reggae fans, this release will be a highlight still. Why? Because of material like the very first tune on the album for Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor’s Classic Riddim, ‘No Apology’ from the great Beres Hammond. This is probably the best tune on the album and you can call me an idiot for not ‘formally’ declaring it so if you like, because this is absolute MAGIC! Hammond was born to do stuff like this, making just SWEET vibes and really showing what a riddim like this can do in the proper hands with the very inspirational vibes. HUGE opening. Flava favourite (and Achis favourite) (and YOU favourite), Etana, comes through next with ‘I Know You Love Me’. Etana is really becoming quite the ace with these love songs and I’m sure when her own album is released (on VP sometime later this year) that this tune will be a highlight on it, just as it is here, as being amongst so many strong lovers pieces, ‘I Know You Love Me’ (and doesn’t EVERYONE love Etana, I mean SERIOUSLY!) manages to stick out. It doesn’t stick out more, however, than the tune which follows it, the WICKED ‘Like An Angel’ from UK Reggae superstar and poster boy Maxi Priest. The Priest is in an excellent form on the tune and it stands as probably the finest recent effort I’ve heard from him. It’s a very catchy tune and although you could call it sappy at times, I’m not. I’m going to call it a very good because that’s exactly what it is and it’s also a cap on an EXCELLENT start to the Classic Riddim album.
Speaking of sappy and corny, those are words which could also apply to ‘Special Love’ from Singing Melody, but I think a more appropriate adjective for the finest tune on this riddim is AMAZING! Like I said, Beres Hammond essentially hit’s the biggest homerun on the Classic Riddim, but if that’s the case, then consider Singing Melody’s shot an inside the park homerun (and thus more impressive). EASILY the greatest vocal display on the set comes here and you just have to give credit when someone absolutely SINGS THE HELL out of a tune and that’s what Melody does here on this most bonafide of hits. HUGE TUNE! Thriller U is nowhere to be found on the riddim, but Singing Melody’s two other group mates from L.U.S.T., Tony Curtis and Lukie D are present. Lukie D does very good (and I don’t know if I’m starting to warm up to his music in general or if he’s just been doing better, but I’m finding myself more and more complimentary to Lukie D as of late) with his tune ‘Girl I Surrender’ (and we’ll forgive him for the autotune). Curtis, for his part, also doesn’t disappoint with ‘Golden Eyes’. This one isn’t amongst my favourites, but not being the biggest fan of Tony Curtis’ I probably vibe his music with more of a critical ear and honestly this tune is pretty good so if you DO enjoy his music you just may love ‘Golden Eyes’. Playing fill in for an absent Thriller U (thankfully), essentially, is superstar Wayne Wonder who also is paying close attention to the oculars with ‘In Your Eyes’. This one took a minute or two to grow on me, but it’s very very impressive and you shouldn’t expect anything less from such an established and venerable veteran as Mr. Wonder.
On paper I was immediately drawn to two tunes on the Classic Riddim for a couple of different reasons, ‘Soon As We Rise’ and ‘Thinking About You’. The former caught my eye because it’s a most unusual combination between the ‘rising’ Duane Stephenson and the ALWAYS welcomed Ras Shiloh and being one of the only two (if you count the opener and not the closer) non strictly lovers tracks on the riddim, it definitely sticks out audibly as well. I could listen Shiloh all day long and here with Stephenson he exhibits reason number 2,893,563 why his is a talent to pay a special attention to on what proves to be one of the finest outings here. ‘Thinking About You’ also features an always welcomed name, Pressure Busspipe and it didn’t let down either. Pressure just turns up the heart and the passion on the tune which finds him in a downright hopeless position of longing for his special lady and using it to deliver one of the best choruses on the Classic altogether.
The biggest two remaining names on the Classic Riddim, Gramps Morgan and Gyptian, also do well on their own, respectively. Especially Morgan on his excellent tune ‘Darling It’s You’ (despite the fact that ‘darling’ is an incredibly creepy word). This song is just HEALTHY! Definitely it’s a feel good type of a vibes and I almost struggle to call it a ‘love song’ (even though that’s exactly what it is), because it just FEELS like so much more than that. For his part, Gyptian drops the cool ‘All I Wish Is Love’. This tune is apparently missing on his recently release for Flava Revelation (and it’ll probably appear on his VP album I’m guessing), but it’s one of the strongest Gyptian tunes I’ve heard in . . . well maybe ever. Not being the biggest fan of the singer I can say such a thing, but I’m sure his fans will enjoy it very much as well (should they be able to pry themselves away from ‘Hold You‘. There’s also the siblings Lindo with Kashief and Nikiesha both doing decent work. Kashief’s fragile sounding ‘Searching’ is ultimately outdone by his sister’s very clever ‘Love On The Replay’ which is one of the better efforts here altogether. Although somewhat associated with that same group (at least in my mind there’s some kind of connection between that Joe Fraser camp at which she holds court and Heavy Beat where the Lindos do the same) is Fiona with the very familiar sounding ‘Which Side Are You On?’ I’m loving Fiona every time she reaches and this time out is no exception, she’s VERY talented and hopefully she continues to pop up on future Flava riddims because hers is such a nice and serene talent. And I also have to mention the up and comer Khago, speaking of clever, whose HALTING ‘Love Stomach’ is one of the better written tunes on the Classic to my opinion and is definitely something to spend quite a bit of time on (and speaking of up and comers, not too surprisingly not on the album is T Moore’s ‘Losing My Time’, but I’m sure you’re going to be hearing a great deal about her in very short order).
And thankfully there’s also a very nice and very clean version of the riddim on the album as well. This is a practice which is now NECESSARY in my mind, ESPECIALLY when the riddim is as good as the Classic.
Overall, I have to go back to the premise of this review to put this release into context: What you have here is material which, years from now, is probably going be regarded as a ‘classic’ riddim in some way shape or form or at the very least, part of a classic cache of riddims from Flava. That’s not to say that the Classic has suddenly become my favourite of his output (that distinction probably still belongs to the Triumphant), but it should speak to the quality of this work. And this work, in particular, is yet another master class. The Classic has a bit of a built in story to it, as I alluded to, and with that I think that there may be enough of an interest to recommend it to newer fans of Reggae music and, definitely with the roster of artists here, I’m also tempted to believe that new fans of the music will have a good opportunity to enjoy this one. For more familiar fans I think it goes without saying that this riddim has such a SWEET vibes that it’ll definitely hit you on a few levels. The Classic Riddim represents yet another mighty step forward for Kemar ’Flava’ McGregor, the best Reggae producer on the planet. Period.