After teasing us with mixtapes during the last decade, along with singles in 2020 – Lawgiver The Kingson has released his long-awaited EP. Thank goodness – because it is a delight.
The Kingson from Kingston, released via Imperishable Uprising on 7 January 2021, sees LawGiver sweep across genres via seven tracks. He executive produced the project, and teamed up with various legendary names and also newcomers to the industry on production and writing duties. The end result is a smorgasbord of musical and lyrical treats.
It opens with Vibe (Big Sound). As an introduction to the EP with its combinations of established and emerging talent, it’s perfect in some respects. Because it sees LawGiver join forces with legendary producers Sly and Robbie, along with the up-and-coming Kardi Tivali who assists with the lyrical content. Interestingly, the track is a ‘back to the Old Skool’ affair, evoking the Sound System Dancehall vibe of the 1980s – while also being a reworking of a track by LawGiver from 2011. All the rudimental elements of the classic sound it evokes are there. Drums are on an unfussy one drop; the bass uses a syncopated, drop beat rhythm which melodically focuses on the root triad chord’s notes, and a reverbed and tinny electric guitar skanks. Dub engineering is used, notably across the guitars as they decay and compress into the ether.
But there are some nice additional touches in play, too. Keys occasionally tinker high up in the treble clef across dotted notation – creating the effect of reverb without the engineering. Strings run smoothly across semibreves, giving Vibe (Big Sound) some flow. Also of note is the improvement in engineering and mastering generally when compared to the 2011 original. LawGiver’s vocal line has been increased in dB, making it prominent. Drums are the main audible feature of the rhythm section, ensuring the momentum and wind of the track is noticeable. And the keys and strings’ levels have also been elevated. LawGiver gives a slick and rhythmically detailed performance, showcasing his considerable singjay abilities which work around an impressive vocal range. Overall, Vibe (Big Sound) is a strong throwback track: infectious and smartly executed.
Next, and the track Jah Never Fail I takes the EP into Roots territory – with elements of Dub and Soul woven throughout. Production from LawGiver, Cleveland “Clevie” Browne, Owen “Bass Face” Rennalls and Tivali is perfectly-pitched: levels of dB across the instrumental lines are sympathetically managed, the EQ engineering is delicious and some purposeful use of high-and-low pass filters on certain aspects creates a rich yet almost haunting timbre. You can read Pauzeradio’s full review of the track here.
The Kingson from Kingston takes an AfroDancehall turn with Queen’s Treat, Refuel. It’s a reimagining (but not quite a ‘remix’) of a 2018 LawGiver release – both featuring the promising talent of Benks Ez Boy assisting with the vocals. I say ‘reimagining’, because the fundamentals of the original are still in play. Sam Fillie’s production takes a traditional Dancehall clave (‘oneeeeee-twooo-and’ x2) and spreads it out across the instrumental lines. Then, additional Afrobeats elements are added into the mix, too. For example, the snare hits beat two, the off after it, then the third off beat and the direct four. This stuttering rhythmic sequence is endemic of Afrobeats. Keys mimic this across tinny chords, but also add the final offbeat of the bar in. The kick’s role is actually quite downplayed compared to some AfroDancehall, focusing on the downbeats (versus the more standard method of striking every beat). It’s a clever use of the instrument, as it creates a lighter touched track which fits the thematic content well. The bass is also more stripped back, consistently skipping beat two entirely. All these instrumental lines combined give that Dancehall clave. But as with all good AfroDancehall because of the arrangement the hardness is lost and the track feels gentler and more fluid.
There is also additional/reconstructed instrumentation on this new “Refuel” version. For example, the keys have been elongated out: note across the break that starts just before a minute in, they continue with their choppy snare rhythmic motif; absent on the original. Also, the traditional Afrobeats horn line has been re-performed, providing a raspier sound which has then been engineered into the foreground. And Fillie’s pan flute is a joy to hear – bringing the warmest of musical breezes to Queen’s Treat. LawGiver and Benks are vocally on-point and a well-matched pair – and overall, this “Refuel” is musically and production-wise an improvement on what was already a solid composition – making it a lush and cleverly pieced together AfroDancehall cut. Nice.
The track Real Hustler gets an Extended Dub Mix. In this instance, when compared to the original (released nearly a decade ago), it is fair to call it a full remix. The first version was almost Dancehall meets Hip Hop – a heavy, brooding and grimy affair laden with devices more at home in a club. But now, the track has had new life breathed into it – creating a highly impressive Roots/Dub sound, with Tivali back assisting with the lyrical content. Basic Roots devices are in play: Browne’s drums on a one drop, Rennalls’ bass on a constantly moving riff which relies on dotted notation and the diatonic scale for its melody, and an electric guitar which veers between riffs and skanks. The absence of a bubble rhythm from the first half of the track is a notable exception to the rule book. It’s one that gives Real Hustler a slight feel of Hip Hop as per the original, by removing that offbeat stuttering the bubble usually provides. The odd buzz roll on the snare enhances this feel. Sherida Sharpe’s backing vocals are formed of multi-layered call and response duties, bringing some Soul to the mix. And the engineering is all very Dub – with heavy use of reverb across the snare.
But the inclusion of industry stalwart Dean Fraser’s saxophone is one of two pieces of the icing on the cake. His performance is rich and resonant, working as a counterpoint to LawGiver’s main vocal line. His inclusion has been sparingly used, too – making it all the more pleasing when he does enter the fray of the track. The second, somewhat genius move, is the break half way through. The instrumentation is stripped away to just guitar, bass and fleeting drums. It then slowly builds, with the keys and a heavily compressed version of the guitar joining proceedings – before the track continues. But now we are properly in Dub territory: the keys bubble rhythm comes in, then vanishes again; other instrumental lines wax and wane in their appearances and Sharpe takes the main vocal stage. LawGiver has redelivered his vocal with aplomb, fitting the new Roots/Dub sound perfectly. And overall, this extended Dub Mix of Real Hustler is in some respects the EP’s most impressive moment – completing reworking the original and doing it in a highly accomplished manner. Brilliant.
Then, The Kingson from Kingston moves into a modern Dancehall vibe with RoadSide Re-UP; an embellishment of LawGiver’s 2016 hit across Avikon Records’ Dancehall Loud Riddim. Here, original producer Okieve Brown has tinkered with his first riddim well – removing some of the 2016 abrasiveness which placed the track firmly in Dancehall, and replaced it with a slightly smoother sound. The basics of the rhythm section remain similar – with the bass, kick and snare driving the sound across a broken Dancehall clave, along with tinkering hi-hats causing a mild stutter. But he’s reduced the franticness of the drums, which on the original employed a multitude of rapid buzz rolls, verging on the Trap. Instead, Brown has brought some reworked instrumentation in. Strings were present on the original but at a lower pitch; here they’ve moved up an octave. The prominence of a previously distorted and rasping horn section has at times been reduced. But then it comes back with a vengeance, adding additional dimensions to the track. Well placed synths bring some 2021 flavours; LawGiver is furious and impressive, especially at the top end of his vocal register – and Roadside Re-UP is a well-arranged Dancehall track, again showing the artist’s versatility well.
The 2011 track Ruler gets a reworking, with Yaksta coming on board to join LawGiver on the vocals. Much like Real Hustler, here a complete reimagining/remix has been done. The original was a stark Sound System track which heavily employed Funky Soul across its swaying horn section and a more Hip Hop vibe to the drums, specifically the rapid hi-hats. Now, the 2021 version is firmly in Roots – most notably at first with the reduction of the BPM and alteration in the pitch. The drums have been pared-back, sounding steadfastly Roots with their one drop – except for the occasional buzz roll on the hi-hats at the end of some bars. Additional percussion, including chimes and a shaker are well placed, as are some synth drums. Rennalls’ bass is imposing, deep and elongated, feeling quite Dub – versus the picked and heavily syncopated original. But there’s still a distinct nod to Funky Soul – as Rennalls’ gives a heavily wah-wah’d, bending performance with his riffing and whining electric guitar. Horns are still present, but this time they’ve been distorted and their arrangement changed – making for a grimy, unsettling sound. Keys run a guitar-like skank, which drops in and out to create an evolving feel to the track. Sharpe and Asante Amen’s backing vocals are a brilliant move – arranged in an almost choral manner with a fulsome and complex opening section, which then veer into Gospel-style improv at points. Yaksta’s softer singjay-come-vocal places itself in perfect opposition to LawGiver’s more forthright and urgent one – and overall, once again the team has proven its skill in taking an original track and completely reinventing it. No easy feat but pulled off effortlessly.
The Kingson From Kingston EP closes with Alive and Kicking, featuring the incomparable Half Pint. It’s a distinctly Reggae affair – fresh, summery and upbeat. Tivali’s production across the track is impressive. Its rhythm section is the driving force. The bass works around a syncopated, dotted rhythm that hits every beat except the three at times. But melodically it harks back to a time before Rocksteady’s weaving, diatonic riffs took hold – instead playing purely the root broken chords. Keys run a choppy bubble rhythm, with good use of staccato. Drums are on a traditional one drop: the kick and snare hitting the two and four, with hi-hats filling in the breathing spaces – employing nice use of both an open and closed technique. Electric guitars perform a dual role: skanking on the one hand, and doing bending, whining riffs on the other with a timbre which sounds like the mid and treble on the amp have been turned up. Then, there are some lovely additional touches to Alive and Kicking, too.
Tivali has expertly arranged the horns – bordering on the Lover’s Rock as opposed to straighter Reggae. They perform wonderful calls and responses, and the crescendo and decrescendo across them is beautiful and extremely well-placed. Browne’s additional percussion, including a cowbell, is pitch-perfect. A fleeting, just out of earshot almost choral-like electric organ brings some Soul in, as do Sharpe’s backing vocals – like the horns across call and response duties along with vowel-led sounds and straight accompaniment. The engineering touches of reverb and decay are used sympathetically and sparingly, to give the faintest nod to Dub. Half Pint is on top form – having lost none of his ability – and LawGiver clearly relished the opportunity to work with him, as his performance marries perfectly. The whole track is extremely good: well-composed, arranged and produced and a glowing example of the talents of not just the artists, but Tivali too. Stunning.
The Kingson from Kingston is a triumph in every sense of the word. Rich, musically exciting and lyrically powerful, it represents the homecoming of LawGiver as an artist. Most impressive is his ability to turn his hand to any genre – especially the hard Dancehall juxtaposed with the traditional Roots. Production and engineering (the latter coming mostly from Marvin Jackson) are all first-rate – giving the quality of a major label. Moreover, it’s an excellent showcase of the growth of LawGiver as an artist – as the improvement in all aspects of his craft is very discernible. And so, the EP will surely cement him as one of the most exciting talents to emerge from Jamaica in recent years. Bravo.
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LawGiver The Kingson – The Kingson From Kingston EP review by Mr Topple (6th January 2021).