By Michael Watson
Of all the reggae albums promised for 2017, my most anticipated by far is the Lutan Fyah/I-Grade Records collaboration titled Music Never Dies (I-Grade Records) due to drop March 17, 2017. Though Lutan and Zion I Kings have collaborated on riddim projects before, this is the first full length studio album from the two.
Zion I Kings is the most prolific and influential reggae collective of the past two decades hands down. This fact is indisputable in my opinion. Their productions with the Virgin Islands contingent of reggae artists completely redefines the sound of modern roots reggae with creative and unique productions which distinctly separate their sound from everything else.
This sound is characterized by an authentic and profound spiritual intensity, overtly Rastafarian and Pan-Africanist thematic elements, and multi-layered percussive and horns-driven soundscapes which give the sound a deeply reverential and ceremonial feel – the perfect marriage of the digital with the ancient. It is a sound that has clearly influenced an entire generation of aspiring roots reggae artists and is largely responsible for the resurgence in popularity of socially conscious roots reggae throughout the world. Zion I Kings is the production triumvirate of Laurent “Tippy-I” Alfred of I-Grade Records, Andrew “Moon” Bain of Lustre Kings and David “Jah D” Goldfine” of Zion High Productions), who produced what is, in my opinion, the best reggae album of the past decade – Midnite’s 2014 album Beauty for Ashes.
Lutan Fyah actually got his start collaborating with Lustre Kings to produce his first album, Time and Place (2005). Lutan’s strength as an artist and live performer has been steadily building over the past decade and his most recent works with Zion I Kings (“Too Much Ramshackle”, “Put A Fyah In Deh”), Natural High Music (“Royal Empress”), Shiah Records (“Never Ever”), and Riddim Wise (“Bossman”, “Criminal”) has been his strongest work to date. He is one of the most versatile vocalists in reggae and is as brilliant a dancehall vocalist as he is a modern roots and lovers crooner. Lutan spoke about Music Never Dies in an interview with the Jamaica Star in 2016.
“It is an album of raw, roots-reggae music created by some of the most indigenous Rasta from the island of St. Croix. My fans have been requesting an album from me, and so I had to deliver.”
Music Never Dies is a rock-solid modern roots album from start to finish. In fact, it is the best album of Lutan Fyah’s career. Zion I Kings always seem to get the very best performance out of Lutan as the riddims they construct seem almost custom-made for the singer’s vocal cadence. When Lutan voices a ZIK riddim the flow is effortless and unconstrained. Tracks like “Kick It Inna Africa,” “Nah Go Down,” “Beat Dem,” and “Perfect Storm” showcase the ease with which Lutan artfully flows in and out of each riddim.
Perhaps more than any other Lutan Fyah album, Music Never Dies is a living testimony to the Rastafari faith. The singer addresses many different themes throughout each track, however, he always brings it back home to his spirituality and the elemental balance in his life – Rastafari. He just happens to be in top lyrical form as he brings it all together.
The fire and brimstone rain hard on both “Kick It Inna Africa” and “Nah Go Down,” Lutan’s strongest performances on the album. I was most looking forward to hearing the studio version of “Nah Go Down” having witnessed Tippy-I stun the crowd at Dub in DC III with his live dub mix of the tune .
On the production end, it is signature ZIK – heavy, driving roots riddims with elements of hip-hop and R&B. One aspect of ZIK’s sound that I have always admired is their commitment to classic percussive elements such as hand drumming. While many producers tend to bury the percussion in the mix for fear of the sound becoming too foreign, they take pride in the spiritual significance behind this sound, and bring it to the surface to counter-balance the heaviness of the drum and bass.
Another characteristic element of the I-Grade sound are the Celebrity Hornz. Nearly every track on Music Never Dies features the deadly trombone of Balboa Becker and the killer sax of Daniel Casares. One of the best-produced tracks on the album, Jah D’s “Test A Money,” is a truly remarkable dub reggae track where he truly showcases his production talents, constructing layer upon layer of atmospheric soundscapes through which Lutan weaves his message. Also check Lutan’s collaboration with Vaughn Benjamin AKA “Akae Beka” on “So Di World Ah Run.” My favorite track in the mix is the subtle yet compelling “Perfect Storm,” an infectious tune which is reminiscent of Midnite’s “Weather the Storm,” another brilliant I-Grade/Zion I Kings production.
Music Never Dies is an album that was years in the making and having finally laid ears upon it I can say that it was well worth the wait. As they say Iron Sharpen Iron. Lutan Fyah is an artist in his prime, both lyrically and vocally, and with Zion I Kings he is working with the best reggae production collective in the game. Together they have not only created what will surely be one of the year’s best reggae albums but also crafted a landmark album for the modern roots movement.
1. Music Never Dies
2. Kick it Inna Africa
3. Beat Dem
4. Put A Fyah In Deh
5. Real Woman
6. Nah Go Down
7. Bredrin Still
8. Take That Back
9. Perfect Storm
10.Test A Money
11. Too Much Ramshackle
12. So Di World Ah Run feat. Leaf of Life & Akae Beka
13. Beat Dem Remix