I still can't get over how easily accessible Apple Music has made Jamaican music. I grew up during a time when Napster, Limewire, then Limewire 2.0 were monstrous. When Napster surfaced in 1999, it changed my life. I'd spend hours online tying up my mom's house phone, risking my clear and cerulean blue desktop Mac to download music that ranged from new singles to entire discographies. It may sound excessive but it was newfound freedom. No more asking my parents to drive me to the store to buy a CD. I also didn't need an adult anymore for anything with a parental advisory label. And let me tell you, I was the queen of burning CD's up until they became obsolete.
With the rise of social media and streaming platforms, it's now easier than ever to support your favorite artists. This excites me because it opens up doors for Jamaican artists to make the money they deserve. In 2018, UNESCO added reggae to it's Intangible Cultural Heritage List which now grants the genre protection. The organization said reggae "functions as a vehicle of social commentary, as a cathartic experience, and means of praising God remain unchanged, and the music continues to provide a voice for all". I've always told non West Indians that Jamaican music is similar to black American culture. Hip-hop mirrors dance-hall, conscious rap mirrors roots reggae, and soca can be compared to dance/booty music.
Buju Banton's Long Walk to Freedom Tour was plastered all over my social media feeds and the footage gave me chills. It was his first performance since his prison release after a 7 year bid and he performed at the historical National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica for over 30,000 people, making it the venue's largest event. As I saw the crowd, I couldn't help but think of Bob Marley when he graced that same stage with The Wailers for the One Love Peace Concert. In some instances, you know immediately when history is being made.
Yesterday morning Sizzla Kalonji released Victory, a flawless album. He makes conscious music laced with African drums. His music has always comforted me in the same way a plate of soul food could. As soon as I heard the first track, Its Dangerous, I experienced nostalgia. It felt like my childhood days in Hartford. He speaks of protecting our suffering youth, a constant theme throughout his music. "Don't you let them go astray, they're the leaders for the future," he sings.
He keeps his strong approach in Life Is a Challenge, stating "there are ups and there are downs, you've got to manage." This warrior track was much needed this morning. Nutten Nuh Come Easy's beat lightens the mood, however, the message remains heavy: life doesn't give handouts and hard work is the only way to arrive at your destination. "One man's garbage is another man's treasure" he sings while describing how those who have are ungrateful and those who are struggling can't seem to catch a break, using a popular Jamaican proverb.
Hard to Survive touches on the struggles of ghetto youths, a common patois term for poor kids who ultimately end up aimlessly roaming the streets. He acknowledges their constant struggle to survive and how that easily leads to a life of violence. He opens the track chanting "Set my people free!" and later mentions repatriation, a cornerstone of Rastafarianism beliefs, which paves the way for Worst Every Day. He discusses the hostile relationship his community has with police, their corrupt government, and the lack of good paying jobs within an economy that wouldn't exist without his people's free slave labor. He repeatedly asks God to guide them all.
Jah Guide and Protect Me, my favorite track on the album, is an entire mood. "Jah guide and protect me from my foes when they hide in places I don't know. Selassie I, give I the powers let I trample them!" he sings as he wonders why he's surrounded by dirty hearts and bad minds posing as friends, something I know all too well! The thing is, when you walk with God you don't fear any man. "I've got my hands on my enemies neck!" he confidently states. My parents and grandparents have constantly spoken "Who God bless no man can curse" over my life, so I operate on a frequency rooted in my divine existence. I firmly believe it's why I'm so poised, even in the midst of storms. Those who don't love themselves can't love anyone else, which begins an endless search outside of themselves, so don't take it personal!
In Marijuana, he speaks of the healing properties of cannabis, as it relates to health and his nation. He believes the profit from the crop could help lessen poverty due to it's various uses. In Money Cant Buy Life, he reminds us that "money cannot buy life" but makes it clear that it's needed to "protect" said lives. Nuh Guns speaks of not owning guns unless it's used to take power back from owners, which in modern times are politicians and other various oppressors. It's his alternative to them being used to kill the youth and for gangsters who he encourages to further their education. It talks about restoring balance within society - young respecting the old, the old not taking advantage of the young, and erasing police brutality. He calls for Israelites to join him in a mass exodus in Roll with Me, where he promises peace, love, blessings, and spiritual guidance. Something he's stood firm in since I've known his music.
He thanks the most high for his protection, favor, and grace in Thank U Jah Jah. He leans on God's strength in Jah Jah Give Me Victory, asking to prevail over all things evil. "Never see me down, never lose my crown," he sings. What R Frends For, my second favorite track, dives into snakes and their backstabbing ways. "What are friends for if not for the good of you rising up? What are friends for if its not for the best of you standing out. What are friends for, I'd like to know? What are friends for if it's not to help you along the way God?" he preaches over a hypnotizing beat "What are friends for if not to see you blessed? See the best in each other and let each other prosper." Amen to all of that.
Never be afraid to shed dead weight, especially if the person is draining. It's cliche, but you can't take everyone to the next level with you because people get complacent. While the process may not be pretty, it's worth the reward. Mama Make Mi Deh Yah So feels like a follow up to "Thank You Mama" with a little something for the dad's this time around. He demands that we respect and appreciate our mothers. He won't stand for anyone disrespecting their foundation, which includes the Most High and parents. He reminds us that we’re forever indebted to them. Another theme I'm totally here for.
You don't have to live in Jamaica or be of Jamaican heritage to receive this legend’s powerful messages. Contrary to popular belief, our culture is much deeper than upbeat reggae music and weed. You can easily connect with him on a human level - compassion, politics, and oppression is something we all know, whether we acknowledge it's existence or not. He opened DJ Khaled's Grateful album with a spiritual intro that still gives me chills. Rick Ross also featured him on Mafia Music III with Mavado.
Warning: listening to it will leave you wanting more so I put together a list of some old favorites! Some of these songs aren’t on Apple Music but you can find them on YouTube!
Ain't Gonna See Us Fall
Black Woman & Child
Dem Ah Wonder
Give Me A Try
Guide Over Us
Just One of Those Days
Love Is Divine
Praise Ye Jah
Solid As A Rock
Thank You Mama
Thanks and Praise
Woman I Need You
(Intro) I'm so Grateful
Mafia Music III