World Exclusive – Sizzla: Million Times Album Review by Mr Topple for Pauzeradio.com.
It’s a privilege for Pauzeradio to be able to present to you the world exclusive breakdown of Sizzla’s forthcoming new album. Not officially released until 2 October, it looks set to be huge. And judging by the quality of the project – rightly so.
Sizzla Million Times, released via Zabogaubhi Music and Kalonji Music Productions, sees Sizzla and producer Michael Fairman construct a project as versatile as it is compelling. Dedicated to women, in his own words Sizzla told Pauzeradio:
“The ladies have always loved Sizzla, I’ve done lots of female songs but seemingly they’re not really getting them as much as they’d want to. So, I managed to compile an album all about and for them. This album fused different genres of music so I know that there will be something for everyone”.
“Something for everyone” sums up Million Times. Because it’s a melting pot of genres and styles. It’s important to note that the album is ‘clean’, in terms of there are no profanities from Sizzla nor any offensive content. This is a good move on his part, and showcases his ability to make compelling music without the need to shock.
It opens with Feelings, showcasing something that Two-Step influenced 90s RnB sound pioneered by Timbaland and Darkchild. The glissando (slide) on the bass in the intro sums the vibe up perfectly. Percussion wise, the kick runs a complex, syncopated rhythm, while the snare drives the Two-Step feel – hitting the two and four which gives space for the hi-hats to do rapid and complex riffs in between. A bass is rich, on a lazy lick; synth horns tinker; keys perform a very RnB accompaniment (chords in the bass clef, a countermelody in the treble) and there’s even a G-Funk whistle. But there’s another clever musical device used, here, which compounds that 90s vibe: on the chorus, the chord change in the fourth bar of the phrase happens on the third offbeat. Wholly late 90s Two-Step RnB; as is Sizzla-s falsetto-led vocal and the accompanying backings. Sensual and smart.
Lady Lady takes the album to more throwback RnB, but with a distinct nod to Afrobeats along the way. The latter is hinted at in the drum arrangement – with its stuttering, on-then-offbeat snare and claps. But the track has RnB at its heart, with the heavily engineered electric guitar line (almost sounding like a horn) being central – running a persistent, funky riff which counterpoints Sizzla’s main melodic line well. Keys again drive the chord progressions, which move just before the third beat kicks in. There’s a great use of a vocoder (or similar) across Sizzla’s backing line, creating a nice old skool vibe. The juxtaposition of female backing vocals, too, harks back to the ‘Nelly/Kelly’ early 2000s sound – and Lady Lady ends up being an attractive, rich and pleasing musical piece.
The title track is a distinctly Hip Hop-RnB affair, taking you back to the heavily orchestrated sound made prominent in the late 90s. The tinkering piano line that opens the song, reminiscent of the genre’s use of Soft Rock arrangements and instrumentation, is evocative – before it gives way to the track proper. A hard Hip Hop drum beat dominates, with the snare dominating the two and four. The bass drops those beats, coming in on the offs following them – honing the ear to the drum line. The piano continues to weave in and out; there’s an attractive, fluid string line and the backing vocals are heavily layered and harmonised. The sum of these parts is a lush, cinematic experience, compounded by Sizzla’s urgent and purposeful vocal.
Then, there’s Don’t Stop. Overly AfroDancehall but not abrasive, it takes Sizzla back to his musical roots. Percussion again takes its influence from both Afrobeats (the snare on the two then the offs) and Trap (hi-hats buzz rolling). The bass catches the third beat just before it, creating forward momentum across the fairly slow BPM. Those arpeggio acoustic guitars are back; strings run elongated, upper register notes; a dampened electric piano leads the chord progressions and a bell bottle synth gently sparkles in the background. But this is Sizzla’s show, and he’s at the peak of his powers. He showcases his voice perfectly – switching the vocal from a middle baritone straight into his airy falsetto with ease; interspersing elements of singjay at points too. His ability to maintain control and pitch in his falsetto range is particularly impressive – and the track is a stunning piece of work.
Nah Go Happy is an intricately arranged Hip Hop-RnB track – full of detailed orchestration and warm overtones, with the merest hint of New Jack Swing drizzled on. That part is clear in the intro, as the kick and snare do a ‘oneee-and-two-andd-three(—)four(—)’ riff, immediately taking you back – and continuing throughout. But overall, the track is firmly rooted in Hip Hop-RnB. The meandering bass spreads out across the bar, rich and resonant. Strings are complexly arranged – running a persistent, syncopated melodic passage. There’s a counter string line, too – which at points runs a stretched-out melody high up the treble clef register. Guitars are quietly present on arpeggio chords and chimes fleet in and out. Sizzla is, meanwhile, on point – mixing elements of singjay and rap together across a broad vocal range to create an urgent and compelling performance.
The track Phone Ring is another smooth, old skool RnB track – showing once more the clear influence the late 90s and early 2000s had on Sizzla. It’s dominated by the rhythm section: a bass that runs a long-then-short rhythmic phrase at the lower end of its register; drums running a laid-back, snare-led riff; just out of earshot are some riffing, high-passed synth horns, and a consistently present guitar, working between strummed full chords and arpeggio (broken) ones. Keys drive the chord progressions, the use of chimes brings a shimmer to the track and a wah-wah’d, rasping electric guitar does a funky extended skank. Sizzla showcases his vocal abilities, too – switching between an impressive, RnB vocal performance, scintillating singjay and an in-your-face rap. It’s an impressive move, as if most artists attempted this it may sound odd or convoluted. But not here – as Sizzla makes the three different styles feel at home with one another. Inspired.
Next, and Lasting Effect moves Million Times into smoother territory, across a modern Afro-RnB cut with a glorious nod to the former thrown in. It’s more modern than the title track – with its drawn-out bass, stuttering snare line and elongated strings. Acoustic guitars fleetingly strum chords at points. And the tribute to the Motherland comes first in the form of a kora – which runs a syncopated, embellished line throughout, creating an almost mystical vibe as it works around the chromatic scale. Africa is also nodded to with a delicate balafon line – and overall, the track is a clever, African-inspired RnB cut with Sizzla gliding across his vocal range, dropping a mean singjay too.
With Out You is different again, throwing back once more – this time to a Pop-Rock sound reminiscent of the early 2000s. It’s a guitar-heavy arrangement with multiple lines in play. An acoustic one runs a riff that travels across the track. Then, two electric guitars are also present: one performing a rhythm duty across a broken skank, the other (which is slightly growling and raspy) lower down in register running a constant melodic riff. The bass is on an unfussy lick, adding depth to the track but keeping the pace measured. The kick drives the drums, doing a syncopated rhythmic pattern while hi-hats and snares fill in the breathing space. Sizzla is commanding, here – flipping between vocal and singjay, lower tenor and falsetto ranges. And the track is a refreshing surprise from the veteran Dancehall artist – showing his unexpectedly Rock side.
Sizzla goes full on light-touch Afrobeats with Girlfriend. It’s a perfect example of the genre, and what can be done with some expert arrangement and composition. The choppy drums are focused on the snare, hitting the offs after the upbeats, which are quickly followed by hi-hats buzz rolls. That Dancehall clave is present, but the skill of the engineering is such that is a background feature – across the dampened kick and the low-key bass. Acoustic guitars lilt across quick arpeggio chords, while strings have two roles: one section performs double time, pizzicato (plucked) notation while the other performs a bowed, staccato (short) Dancehall clave. Some effective samples are included and synth horns run a response countermelody to Sizzla’s call – a vocal which is frantic and punctuated by rapid, complex rhythms. Perfection.
Next, and Motivation takes the album into heavy Afrobeats territory. The emphasis here is on the drum arrangement: the snare doing a rapid rhythm which flips between rim clicks and skin-hits; hi-hats runs semiquavers (triple time notes), while claps hit the two and four. This frantic arrangement makes Motivation feel double the BPM that it actually is. A smooth and dampened organ leads the chord progressions, while the slow bass hits and maintains the one, before doing the same on the off after the three. Frantic horns also run semiquaver-led rhythms; the use of a synth theremin is a lovely touch; strings perform a riff just out of earshot and combined this gives a non-stop backdrop for Sizzla to provide a non-stop, barely catching a breath vocal. Superb.
G Mac comes on board across Love For Money – which is perhaps the most hybrid track on the album. It’s hard to pin down, with various elements of several genres being in play. The strings are the perfect example of this. On the verses, they are heavily dampened and compressed, running single notes across each bar; all a bit EDM. But for the chorus, they suddenly become more rasping, high-passed and frantic, running across short, punchy notes; all a bit AfroDancehall. But the stuttering drum arrangement? That’s Afrobeats. There are some great synth horns involved too, with their rising lead-in passage to the chorus and countermelody which is doubled up by electric keys. So, Love For Money sits predominantly in AfroDancehall, but with elements of EDM and Afrobeats included. G Mac and Sizzla work really well together – their different voices complementing each other – and the track is an interesting fusion piece.
Sizzla’s musical voyage concludes at modern AfroDancehall on Out Of All. It’s a fitting ending, being utterly fresh and 2020 – and he masters the modern sound with ease. It’s dominated by the signature broken Dancehall clave on the first bar of each phrase (‘oneeeeee-twooo-and’), which is then syncopated on the second; performed by a synth string section plus the bass, adding to the modern Dancehall vibe. Drums are intricately arranged, with hi-hats and snare rim clicks alternating buzz rolls, nodding to Trap. Some pointed synths add to the vibe – and the overall arrangement is unfussy yet effective. This leaves room for Sizzla’s vocal to dominate, as he utilises his impressive falsetto to good effect, soaring passionately in a high register to an almost scream at points. All very modern, showing he still has his ear direct to the ground – and therefore, a wholly fitting closing to the album.
Sizzla Million Times is a highly impressive project. Not least in this is the fact that he and Fairman have taken a multitude of styles and genres, and turned their hands to them effortlessly. But moreover, it’s that they’ve done this seamlessly across the album, not sacrificing synergy for musical precociousness. The quality of the compositions and arrangements is first rate, while the engineering and production classy and sympathetic to each genre. But it’s Sizzla at the centre of it all. He has lost none of his power and ability over the years – and his voice is as impressively versatile as ever. It’s great to see him release a project with a central theme, too – and Sizzla Million Times is a masterclass in a Dancehall-based artist consistently thinking outside the box. Glorious, infinitely listenable and thoroughly enjoyable. Possibly one of the fusion albums of the year.
Sizzla Million Times review by Mr Topple (18th September 2020).