Various Artists: Love Taking Over Riddim Review by Mr Topple for Pauzeradio.com.
After two successful releases, Roadblokk Records are back with a third – and the label has upped its game further, by releasing a full riddim this time – to good effect.
Love Taking Over Riddim, released via Roadblokk Records, sees the sister label of Anotha One Productions start to properly take flight. Roadblokk is headed-up by Milan Ivkovic and DJ Vandal, and had previously released two tracks: Dem Weak by Naptali and Stranger In Town by Ray Isaacs (a tribute to his uncle Gregory on what would have been his 70th birthday). Now, the label has lined-up an entire riddim with some great artists to boot – and both the music by Simon Johnston, and the performers, meet expectations.
After an opening which could equally be from an EDM track (for example, shrill keys hitting four-to-the-floor chords), the riddim then settles into a distinctly upbeat Reggae affair, at a BPM that is slightly quicker than would normally be expected. This is no bad thing, however, as the arrangement of the instruments mean that it feels right that it breezes along at such a pace. Some traditional Reggae musical devices are naturally in play. Keys run a bubble rhythm in their mid-range, with little deviation from this. The engineering on these has been done so they’re lower in dB than much of the other instrumentation – leaving them in a background role. On top of them and dominating the upper kHz instruments are the guitar lines. First, and one does a skank – which overrides the keys’ bubble rhythm and matches the pacey BPM well. Then, a second guitar line takes on an almost vocal role – running a countermelody. It’s pleasing, with nice attention to detail in terms of tone: almost Cali Rock with its bending and slight reverb. A third line then drops in and out with some frantic riffs (almost like the guitar equivalent of a buzz roll). Overall, this layering adds to the interest and the pace of the track.
Meanwhile, across Love Taking Over Riddim the bass guitar does a solid job. It’s on a two-bar riff, where on bar two it does a one drop (dropping the first beat) across what is otherwise a fairly fluid rhythmic arrangement that winds in and out across a combination of a melody and arpeggio (broken) chords. The sound is extremely rounded and resonant, and the melodic line is deep down the bass’s register – bringing real depth to the riddim. Drums also follow the one-drop pattern, with the kick hitting the two and four along with the snare, and hi-hats filling the spaces in between.
What sounds like a clavichord has taken over the keys’ four-to-the-floor from the intro; occasional well-timed and rhythmic reverb has been added, as has a decent Dub-like break – and there’s good use of a very EDM-sounding droplet synth that runs in and out of the riddim, doing off-beat semiquavers to excellent effect. The mixing by Offbeat Mastering, and mastering by Henry Bainbridge, are both well executed, with the latter being especially good across the different artists’ interpretations. Empress Chai has done a sterling job across the background vocals for each artists’ interpretations – who then add to the musical package perfectly.
The legendary Anthony B has given us his take on the Love Taking Over Riddim with its title track. Here, he delivers with his usual forthright, punctuated style. Working round the upper-end of his tenor register he gives clear and crisp, somewhat Old Skool performance – taking the melodic sensibilities of a vocalist and employing the rhythmic precision of singjay. The melody is pleasing and memorable, especially the chorus where he leans mainly into the vocal side – then on the verses he hones more in on singjay with a stripped back melody. Lyrically, Anthony B has delivered a powerful message that, if love could only guide us all, then we could defeat Babylon and its proponents. Overall, a strong contribution and undoubtedly the lead track.
Benks Ez Boy continues to be one of the more exciting artists to emerge from Jamaica in recent years – and here is no exception. Here, like Anthony B he mixes up the straight vocal and singjay to good effect. Across the verses there’s more focus on the former, but still with melodic interest – while on the chorus Benks delivers a solid melody and skilled vocal line. However, what’s most impressive in his performance is his vocal range. Benks dips down to a low baritone on parts of the verses before riding up to a high tenor across the chorus – with some quite big jumps in tones to boot. He has also delivered a cry for love among humanity across his lyrics – and overall, Benks’s interpretation is quality works.
Jah Wyz is up next, with a different take on Love Taking Over called Mama Don’t Cry – employing a more traditional singjay where the focus is on the rhythmic arrangement but with some impressive melodic gymnastics as well. Wyz takes a basic dotted note arrangement and embellishes it across the verses – doubling it, then paring it back, expanding upon it etc. This, coupled with his excellent use of melody – winding up and down his strong, resonant tenor, jumping around tones as he goes – as well as the excellent, and memorable, chorus, make for an engaging and impressive performance – with moving lyrics about how Black people have still not got emancipation from Babylon finishing off Mama Don’t Cry perfectly. Excellent work.
Equal Rights And Justice comes from Naptali – an artist who is a mainstay of Roadblokk. He winds the pace back somewhat compared to Wyz – slowing down the rhythmic activity at points across his strong singjay, before then picking up the pace, the hallmark of his interpretation. This quickening and then slowing allows Naptali to bring additional emotive light and shade, which he then accentuates with both the melodic line and also the varying dynamics of his performance (the only artist to really pay attention to this). His tone is rich yet resonant and at times, and his dynamics turn into that of an RnB singer – going from breathy whisper to full-throated Soul performance. Lyrically, Naptali has delivered a rousing cry for true equality across the world, regardless of ethnicity and class – and as a sum of it’s parts, Equal Rights And Justice is perhaps Love Taking Over Riddim’s strongest track. Sterling work.
Last up, and Ray Isaacs gives us Jamaican Anthem. Here, he doesn’t overstate his performance – giving a measured and controlled one, focusing on constructing a solid melodic line with a decent rhythmic arrangement to back it up. Isaacs has now established a signature, nasal vocal style which works well with the drawn-out notation, and there’s some nice attention to detail in terms of note length and use of syllable extension. Lyrically, Jamaican Anthem serves as a pleasing love story of the island, and Isaacs delivers it with clear passion.
Overall, Love Taking Over Riddim is a strong, solid released from Roadblokk and all involved. Musically, the basic arrangement is of a very good quality with some sparks of additional interest – especially the layered guitar lines. The artists have all delivered solid performances, with the stand-outs being Anthony B and Naptali. Chai should really be commended for her backing vocals too – and overall, the release bodes well for Roadblokk’s future endeavours.
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Love Taking Over Riddim Review by Mr Topple / Pauzeradio PR Services (22nd January 2023).