Without a doubt the late and great Philip ”Fattis” Burrell produced some of Sizzla’s best songs and albums, including Praise Ye Jah, one of his breakthrough sets in the 90s.
The extremely prolific Sizzla was at his most consistent during the 90s and have since had a more than varied output, especially in recent years when he voices riddim after riddim after riddim.
Now reggae powerhouse VP has teamed up with Philip Burrell’s son Kareem Burrell for the release of Radical, a set said to compile rare and unreleased material from Sizzla’s formative years in the 90s and the early 2000s. But it includes both rare and unreleased gems from Sizzla’s period with Philip Burrell as well as more recent material, for example What’s Wrong With the Picture, produced by Kareem Burrell and put out in 2011.
Over 16 tracks Sizzla rallies and rails against inequity and the ills of society, but also chants and sings affectionate love songs. It’s both raw and honest, as on It’s a Rocky Road and on the excellent title track, a version of Greedy Joe, but also uplifting and groovy, for example on I Am No Better and That’s Why I Love You.
Some of the cuts included should maybe have remained shelved, while others definitely deserves attention, for example tracks showcasing a young and fierce youth.
If you want a lesson in Sizzla’s early years I also suggest you head over to BMC’s Reggae Blog, where this Dutch mixtape maniac has published two mixes with over 50 tunes covering Sizzla’s work between 1995 and 2002.
Three years have passed since Phillip ”Fattis” Burrell passed away at the age of 57. Via his progressive powerhouse Xterminator (initially Exterminator) he released some of the best reggae songs and albums of all time. Luciano’s Where There is Life and One Way Ticket are modern day classics, and so are Sizzla’s Bobo Ashanti and Mikey General’s Spiritual Revolution.
Phillip Burrell was among the first to put modern day chanters such as Sizzla and Turbulence on wax, but he also recorded already established artists like Marcia Griffiths, Freddie McGregor, Cocoa Tea and Beres Hammond. And together with Richard “Bello” Bell and Bobby “Digital” Dixon he created a new version of reggae with one foot in the roots tradition and one foot in the dancehall. Militant, diverse and haunting, but also accessible and melodic.
Phillip Burrell’s son Kareem Burrell has followed in his father’s footsteps. He’s also a producer and regularly drops clever and interesting riddims via his own label XTM.Nation. But the latest release is a tribute album to his father. It marks the 25th anniversary of Xterminator and collects twelve tracks produced by himself and his father. It’s not a best of compilation, rather a set of tracks that are special to Kareem Burrell and his father.
The songs compiled are perhaps not the most well-known from Xterminator’s mighty music vault, and it for example includes Nadine Sutherland’s tribute to the late Garnett Silk, Buju Banton’s acoustic Oh My Father and Ini Kamoze’s We Pop it Off.
Most exciting are actually some of the cuts produced by Kareem Burrell, and especially the upbeat, joyous and uplifting soul/reggae scorcher Little Did They Know by Jesse Royal. Whenever I hear this tune I feel like jumping up and down, while shouting the sing-a-long friendly chorus.
Living Heart Vol. 1 is probably not the best Xterminator compilation out there, but it’s special since it showcases the talents of both father and son. If you need to quench your Xterminator thirst, check Armageddon Times Vol. 1 & 2 and Rough Inna Town – The X-Terminator Sound.
I get the feeling that every new album from Sizzla in recent years has been labeled as a return to his sound from the mid and late 90’s. But everytime I’m disappointed. Because none of his more recent albums is nearly as great as the fierce and spiritual music he did for, say, Phillip “Fattis” Burrell or Bobby “Digital” Dixon.
The Messiah – Sizzla’s 70th and latest album – has also been described as something of an album where Sizzla goes back to the roots. Well, lyrically it may be true, but then again his three latest albums have all been jammed with spiritual and righteous ravings and chants.
Musically The Messiah is better than both his albums released in 2011, but not as good as The Scriptures released in 2011 and produced by King Jammy’s son John John, even though they are similar.
On The Messiah Sizzla sings – as usually an acquired taste – and spits his social commentaries over mostly relicked popular reggae and dancehall riddims, including the mighty Tempo riddim and Harry J’s buoyant skinhead rocker The Liquidator, a rather odd choice, but one that actually works really well. The festive sound clashes nicely with Sizzla’s falsetto singing about politicians killing and stealing from the poor.
No Wicked Man, voiced over Barrington Levy’s Tell Them Already, is one of Sizzla’s finest album tracks in a long while, and the high-powered Suffer So Much, on the aforementioned Tempo riddim, will definitely set any dancehall or living room ablaze.
Sizzla is one the greatest and most prolific reggae artists, but his intricate vocal style is hard to cope with on a full album. He has clear pitch problems and it can be charming and add character, but only to a certain point. Sizzla’s musical mission and struggle to make a positive change in the world is overshadowed by his eagerness to extend over his vocal limitations.
Available now on CD and digital platforms.
UK-born singer Mikey General has been in the music business for ages. He recorded his first tracks in the UK in the mid 80’s and later relocated to Jamaica where he started to work with the late producer Phillip “Fattis” Burell, for whom he has to date recorded his best material.
When in Jamaica he met vocalist Luciano and together they formed the jointly owned label Qabalah First Music, a label on which Mikey General has put out several albums. The latest is African Story, African Glory.
This 16 track set includes both old and new material recorded for a variety of different producers from Jamaica, Europe and the U.S.
The album offers mostly roots and culture material and includes a few gems, such as the Toussaint combination I Blaze, Innocent Blood on the haunting Sunrise Boulevard riddim and the pounding Pep in Your Step. There are however also a few disappointments, of which the synthesizer drenched Not Impossible and the Lfa Tunde combination All Over the World are the worst.
African Story, African Glory is decent album, but nothing outstanding despite some bright moments. Mikey General’s high tenor voice is also an acquired taste. His style works best in smaller doses, for example singles or combinations, such as the recently released Work with Uwe Banton or the bass heavy King Selassie I Alone for Reggaeland.