Acclaimed U.S. production trio Zion I Kings is behind several of the finest reggae releases in recent years, including beautiful sets by Jahdan Blakkamoore, Lloyd Brown and Pressure.
Now comes the first album under their own name. Dub in Style is a tribute to the late drummer extraordinaire Lincoln “Style” Scott, who started playing drums in the early 70s and went on to record for many of Jamaica’s top producers as part of the Roots Radics band. He and Roots Radics are closely associated with rub-a-dub, a sound that defined the early dancehall era and together they recorded some of the deadliest riddims and records of all time.
Bassist Jah David, keyboard player Tippy I and guitarist Moon Bain are collectively known as Zion I Kings and for each production they work with a number of different musicians. In 2014 they had the opportunity to work with Style Scott and all riddims on Dub in Style were tracked in one day at the Tuff Gong studio in Kingston, Jamaica. The tracks recorded that day appear on releases from Midnite, Akae Beka, Pressure, Ziggi Recado, Jahdan Blakkamoore and Glen Washington.
And a number of those cuts – plus a few others – have now been given an excellent dub treatment by Digital Ancient and Jah David. They use some of the key dub ingredients, but they also focus on the strength of the rhythms and the real heroes on Dub in Style are the instruments, which are given plenty of space to shine.
Highlights include the playful Spare Change Dub with its beautiful horns and rolling bass line, the sombre Snow Hill Dub with vocals courtesy of pop/folk singer Sara Azriel and the militant Cold War Dub with its lingering Spanish guitar and fanfare like horns.
Dub in Style is melodious and graceful dub of the highest calibre.
About a year ago VI reggae trailblazers Midnite suddenly cancelled a U.S. tour and stated the reason being “a life changing medical emergency, convictions and revelations”.
Somewhat cryptic, but then again Midnite and their front man and vocalist Vaughn Benjamin have never been interested in the spotlight unless being on stage. He rarely gives interviews and rather study or writes and records music.
Later a new outfit surfaced, a band led by Vaughn Benjamin. Akae Beka is their name and it’s taken from the Book of Enoch. Akae Beka first stage performance took place in October last year and their debut album Homage to the Land was soon put out.
Now their second set has dropped. This one on I Grade Records, a Virgin Islands’ based label that has been an important partner to Midnite in their career. The label is spearheaded by Tippy I and the new Akae Beka album is produced by Zion I Kings, a production trio where Tippy I plays a key part.
In the press release accompanying Portals it’s stated that Akae Beka isn’t Midnite reborn, but a continuation of Vaughn Benjamin’s journey. Fans can however stay calm since this album both musically and lyrically lie very close to what Midnite did.
This is spiritual and Rastafarian roots reggae with conscious and introspective lyrics emphasizing commitment to Jah, justice, equality and universal love.
Vaughn Benjamin’s vocal approach is an acquired taste. It’s raw, monotonous and non-melodic. His vocal style is in need of an otherwise melodic sonic landscape. Otherwise it’s too raw. Luckily Zion I Kings have provided Akae Beka with heavily-textured arrangements and melodies from the players of instruments, but without failing to include dense grooves and hypnotic bass lines. The horns on Orderly are for example sublime and the guitar work is superb throughout the set.
Portals is powerful and spellbinding. It might not be commercially viable, but it’s memorable and mesmerizing.
With producers from about eight countries Niyorah’s fourth album Rising Sun would be destined to being a much varied and erratic set. But it’s actually not. And somehow it all balances very well.
The album collects 13 tracks with production credits from acclaimed producers like France’s Bost & Bim, Austria’s Irievibrations, Zion I Kings from the U.S and DJ Frass and George “Dusty” Miller from Jamaica. And it presents some of Niyorah’s best material to date.
Apart from Midnite and Pressure he’s probably one of the most prominent artists from the Virgin Islands. He has for many years dropped conscious and spiritual music telling stories from the streets and from the heart.
Rising Sun is no exception. Rain Forrest is a beautiful environmental prayer, Media Portray is an unforgiving attack on popular culture, War is Not the Answer is a plea for equality on Zion I Kings’ gorgeous Song Bird riddim and Medicinal Ganja is an angelic marijuana anthem.
But the best cut is the infectious and pulsating Let Love Flow, a track that might be a highlight of Niyorah’s career. He is a talented performer and has a slick way of mixing sweet singing with fierce deejaying. And it might just be his captivating flow that keeps the set together.
Guyanese born and Brooklyn bred Jahdan Blakkamoore has finally released his follow-up to the rightly acclaimed Babylon Nightmare, released in 2010. And Order of Distinction is yet another masterpiece from this ruthlessly versatile and talented singer, deejay, rapper, producer and Grammy-nominated songwriter.
Jahdan Blakkamoore isn’t a particularly prolific recording artist and Order of Distinction is only his third full-length, but he has also released singles and been key in a number of other artists careers, for example Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Lion aka Snoopzilla, and his underrated reggae effort Reincarnated.
Order of Distinction is well-crafted from beginning to end and Jahdaan Blakkamoore is a innovative wordsmith delivering positive and insightful lyrics, ranging from sexy locers rock on Smood Blakk Skin and Everything I Love to the encouraging and electrofied Faith, the spiritual Come Back Around and the more boisterous and energetic Ting Tun Up! with Lady Leshurr and Melodic Yoza.
This set is mainly produced Zion I Kings – one of the best and hottest production crews today – along with Paper Stars, a production and writing duo forged between Jahdan Blakkamoore and Andrew “Moon” Bain, who is also part of Zion I Kings. But on board is also dancehall maestro Dre Skull and electro whiz Nate Mars.
Zion I Kings and affiliated labels Lustre Kings, Zion High Productions and I Grade are synonymous with reggae productions of the highest calibre. They are no strangers releasing both fresh talents and seasoned veterans, and they always deliver on putting out music with clever arrangements, innovative production and a conscious approach.
Guyanese born, Brooklyn-raised and Grammy-nominated singay, rapper and songwriter Jahdan Blakkamoore finally follows up on his massive 2010-released album Babylon Nightmare.
Order of Distinction – set for release on March 24 – is his third album and features mainly production by Zion I Kings and Paper Stars. Zion I Kings is widely known for several powerful releases, including Midnite’s Beauty for Ashes, which was awarded iTunes album of the year 2014, while Papers Stars is the production and writing duo forged between Jahdan Blakkamoore and Andrew “Moon” Bain, who is also part of Zion I Kings. Other producers include electro dancehall maestro Dre Skull and electro producer Nate Mars.
On Order of Distinction the team has invited a strong roster of contemporaries, including Lutan Fyah, Pressure Busspipe and Kabaka Pyramid. And the set offers a mix of high-energy ragga hip-hop, sexy lovers rock and modern roots.
According to a press release the set pushes the envelope of the genre, introducing fresh faces amongst familiar ones while remaining rooted in a foundation of innovative musicianship and forward thinking production that resounds with positive and evocative messages. Check the first single off the album below.
Last year I interviewed Jah David, bass player and musical director in Zion High Productions as well as member of acclaimed production trio Zion I Kings. In the interview he mentioned he was working on an album from saxophone player Jah Bless. Now that set has arrived.
To state that the reggae market today is overflowed by instrumental sets would be a grand exaggeration. Vocal sets are the order of the day and dub albums are far more common than instrumental albums. It was however different in the 60s and 70s when instrumental reggae efforts were part of a label’s regular output.
I’m a huge fan of instrumental albums and was really looking forward to this new album from Jah Bless. He’s carrying the tradition forward and this is a set in the same tradition as the great instrumental sets from the likes of Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso.
Redemption is Jah Bless’ second album and it collects 14 sax-driven tasty and organic instrumentals, sometimes with a hint of funky jazz and sometimes accompanied with a dub workout on the mixing board. The riddims are steller and Jah Bless blows his horn with an elegant smoothness.
Expectations are always high on Zion I Kings and they always manage to deliver accordingly. Essential for fans of bright and stylish reggae instrumentals.
VI reggae trailblazers Midnite is back with yet another album with acclaimed U.S. production trio Zion I Kings – Zion High Productions, I Grade Records and Lustre Kings.
Midnite is known for being prolific and I believe the upcoming Ride Tru album will be their third in 2014 and the second with Zion I Kings. They worked together on Beauty for the Ashes, which was released about ten months ago.
Ride Tru drops in December and you can check its initial single Credited below.
Not many people can treat themselves with an album to celebrate their birthday. One who can is the celebrated and consistent UK singer and songwriter Lloyd Brown. He turned 50 in March and a few months later his 18 track album LB 50 was put out.
Lloyd Brown is one of the most productive singers in the industry and turns out at least one album each year. Last year he actually dropped two – New Veteran and Rootical. Both were critically acclaimed, with the Zion I Kings’ Rootical being slightly better with its spiritual messages and sparse arrangements.
LB 50 is Lloyd Brown’s 18th album and he has as usual invited several guest artists and has worked with a number of different producers, each with their own sound, which gives the album some versatility. It offers lots of reggae of course, but also a little bit of electro, dancehall and soul.
Lloyd Brown’s singing is always a joy and on LB 50 he is as comfortable and smooth as ever before. It sounds like he weighs every word and every syllable carefully before he sings them. His style is very well-crafted, easy-going and warm, and it’s impossible to him and songs like All About You, a rocksteady-tinged version of The Mighty Diamonds’ Country Living, the dense Million Dollar Baby, or the jazzy sound boy destroyer My Sound, with an introduction by David Rodigan.
Lloyd Brown has treated himself with an exceptional birthday gift, and this is yet another bright and harmonious set from one of most reliable artists in the reggae industry.
Ziggi Recado – formerly known only as Ziggi – is a fascinating artist. His earliest work was heavily inspired by dancehall and hip-hop, and then he moved towards roots reggae, but suddenly turned towards funk and rock. An adventurous approach to say the least, and he didn’t stay long in that genre.
His two EP’s following his funky venture were more or less traditional and well-produced reggae. And he follows this path on his fourth full-length album Therapeutic, produced by acclaimed U.S. production trio Zion I Kings and out on Zion High Records.
Zion I Kings have been very successful over the last couple of years and are responsible for a number of triumphant albums from Midnite, Pressure, Cornell Campbell and Lloyd Brown. And Therapeutic is produced according to the same effective and popular recipe – smooth riddims, skanking guitar, infectious hooks and uplifting arrangements.
The highlights are many, especially the slowly pulsating Earl Sixteen and Taranchyla combination Jah Mercy and the Lutan Fyah combination Guide Ova, with its dub effects and tight drum and bass.
Instead of calling the doctor you could do much better with this album. It will rock both body and mind.
Multi-facetted Virgin Islands born singer and singjay Pressure is back with a new album following Coming Back for You, produced by Dean Pond and released in 2009.
On The Sound he has teamed up with the mighty Zion I Kings, a trio of producers including Tippy I, who also hails from the Virgin Islands.
The Sound is Pressure’s fourth album and is his best to date. It includes the usual sweet arrangements and backing provided by Zion I Kings, but a few of the cuts are dark and edgy, for example Herbsman Town, Serious About It and Who You Are, a track that also offers a taste of wobbling dubstep.
The Sound is a family affair and a host of Pressure’s fellow countrymen flex their skills on a number of songs. Ras Batch and NiyoRah show up on Cry for Humanity and Volcano shares vocal duties with Pressure on Herbsman Town. And no other than Midnite’s lead singer Vaughn Benjamin can be heard on Nothing No Wrong.
A majority of the album was also recorded in St. Croix, for example the uplifting Virgin Islands Nice, a cut that is now an official tourist board anthem. Maybe no surprise when listening to the chorus – “so nice, so nice, sweet, sweet St. Thomas nice, so nice, so nice, St. Croix full of pure vibes, so nice, so nice, St. John a real paradise, so nice, so nice.”
The Sound exemplifies the strong roots and culture scene active in the Virgin Islands and even though Pressure delivered a strong set together with Don Corleon in 2007, The Sound outshines his previous material and will hopefully strengthen his fan base.