Ruff Times Riddim EP Review by Mr Topple for Pauzeradio.com.
I-Sight Records’ latest release is an apt riddim for the ‘times’ many of us have been living through. And with a roster of stellar artists, the project is almost pitch-perfect.
Ruff Times Riddim, released via I-Sight Records, is a rich and cleverly-arranged track. Here, the focus is on the mantra ‘less is more’. As I-Sight have created an attractive riddim that is stripped-back to give a pleasing platform for the artists to bounce off.
The basic composition is a soulful affair, opening with a nice bass glissando and a pleasing refrain on a highly-engineered synth horn effect – produced to have a rich, resonant ‘woo’ sound about it. Its melody is a central feature throughout the track, winding in and out at various points. There’s also a second synth horn line which runs a countermelody to this. Then, some rudimentary Roots devices are also in play.
Keys run a staccato bubble rhythm which works around the mid-range of the treble clef – adding some additional syncopation at the end of certain bars. An electric guitar runs a skank and the bass does a drop-beat rhythm, missing the three but with some fast-paced, semiquaver-led work in between. The drums, meanwhile, actually avoid a standard Roots one drop. Instead, the snare hits the two, before stuttering across offbeats with the hi-hats filling the space in between with a guitar-like skank rhythm. Pattering djembe (or similar) also play their part, tinkering at points almost out of earshot. There’s some good use of samples, too.
But what I-Sight has done so well is taken this stripped-back composition and arranged it so there is a lot of light and shade. At points, everything cuts away except the bass and some Dub-like, heavily reverbed and decaying keys. At other times, the keys drop the bubble rhythm briefly, instead running quavers across the bar. Then, I-Sight strip it back to just the bass and one of the synth horn lines – and so on. The production and mastering are of a good quality, too – creating a rich sound that focuses well on individual lines, in line with the arrangement. Overall, Ruff Times Riddim is a smartly-composed and arranged piece of work – with plenty of variation for the artists to use to its full potential.
Bobby Tenna opens the interpretations with the title track. He has a classic Roots voice – swerving between a straight vocal and singjay across an upper baritone range which also moves into a tenor as the track progresses – then flipping up into a delicate falsetto, too. Tenna makes good use of dynamic light and shade, flipping between a whisper and a cry to accentuate the lyrics. He’s created an attractive melody across Ruff Times, as well as a memorable chorus, too. And lyrically, Tenna delivers a thoughtful narrative about how those ‘rough times’ in life shape us as people and that we should be thankful for all that is given to us, whether negative or positive.
Sahie then flips things with his interpretation No Like Lose. Here, he edges more on the side of singjay with a forthright delivery that works around his upper tenor range. Again, like Tenna he’s delivered a good melodic arrangement on the chorus – and on the verses, in true singjay style, the melodic variations are stripped back to focus more on rhythmic intricacy. Sahie makes good use of varying patterns, here – focusing around dotted notation that he mixes with to create interesting patterns. But towards the end, Sahie breaks out into a powerful straight vocal performance, which is rousing with a well-controlled falsetto. And his lyrics, about how he would not mess the woman in his life around, are strong.
Jahricio and AboriJah deliver One Life to Live. The artists themselves are very different. AboriJah delivers a rounder, more soulful vocal style across a singjay where he employs intricate rhythmic patterns across the verses with some nice melodic variation. Then, Jahricio is more forthright and rasping in his timbre – delivering a very memorable chorus which moves up and down his vocal register. The artists are perfectly placed together, complementing each other well – and the message, about staying humble, righteous while remembering we are only on this earth once, is resonant. One Life to Live is pleasing and well-executed.
The track Unification comes from Joshua Hales and he is impressive throughout. Opening with a delicate, soft vocal performance he sits nearer a straight vocal than a singjay, creating an attractive melodic line which he has formed into a running motif across the verses, while delivering rhythmic variation slightly nearer to singjay. But from the softer first verse, he then builds the dynamic across the chorus and second verse, before paring things back again as the first verse repeats. It’s really pleasing on the ear – as are his lyrics about us rising up as one in the face of Babylon’s twisted agenda. Lovely works.
The incomparable Lutan Fyah brings us No Gold Spoon. He’s always infinitely reliable when it comes to providing interpretations for riddims, and here is no exception – as he delivers the track with passion and aplomb. Fyah has plumped for a more forthright performance, across complex melodic and rhythmic arrangements at the higher end of his vocal register. But his lyrical content is perhaps the more interesting factor, here – as he gives a rousing narrative about how those of us born poor are subjugated by Babylon when in fact, we do hold the power; we can change things and just because we have “no money… we still got class”. Brilliant.
The EP closes with Ras Zacharri’s take on Ruff Times Riddim – Omnipotent. He has a piercing, resonant voice which glides across the music well in an upper tenor range. Again, Zacharri is an artist who sits between straight vocal and singjay, but here leaning into the latter more. He keeps the melodies unfussy, instead opting for some detailed rhythmic arrangement. He is forthright and unrelenting in terms of dynamics – and his lyrics are a veritable Song of Praise to Jah, which closes the EP well as it sums up everything that’s come before it.
Overall, Ruff Times Riddim is a strong release from I-Sight. It’s a clever composition that plays on its unfussy musical backdrop by good use of layered light and shade across the use of instrumentation. All the artist’s interpretations are strong, and this has created a pleasing and thoughtful EP – good for anyone’s collection.
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Ruff Times Riddim EP Review by Mr Topple / Pauzeradio PR Services (5th September 2021).