Every 5-10 years, we as reggae fans are blessed with an album that virtually resets the “reggae dial.” In effect, an album that sets the bar for a tone, vibe, and spirituality for what every release after is measured against. Stephen Marley did it with Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life. Damian did it with Welcome to Jamrock. Buju with ‘Til Shiloh, and so on.
And finally, Midnite has done it with Children of Jah on Rastar Records.
Midnite’s 49th release just may be their best and most accessible work to date.
Why do I say this?
Because I’m not a Midnite fan and, in my opinion, it’s one of the best reggae roots albums I’ve heard in twenty years. It’s not that I haven’t followed Midnite’s progession, in fact, the brothers Benjamin lived in my hometown (Washington, D.C., USA) for quite some time before returning to their native St. Croix to set up the African Roots studio. I truly believe they are one of the most talented and prolific reggae outfits around. However, like many, Vaughn Benjamin’s “chant and call” style, which gives their music an overtly spiritual and African feel, is extremely hard to decipher. The riddims have always been solid. But not like this.
I don’t know if multi-talented brothers Ron and Vaughn Benjamin set out to make a more accessible record, but that is exactly what they did. And unlike most records which are recorded in an attempt to reach a wider audience, this one works – and it’s heavier than ever.
The key track is not the first single “Children of Jah,” nor the 2nd single “Carboniferous Land,” but the 2nd track on the album “Incline.” “Incline” is a reggae roots track for the ages. The riddim is so deep, and so tight, the listener will inevitably be swallowed up and lost in this tune for days and days. I’ve been listening for two weeks and I haven’t even attempted to analyze the lyric because I’m too damn lost in that riddim. Of course, you get a vibe of what the song is about, and it’s no surprise. Midnite never shies away from overtly political, social, or economic themes, and “Incline”perfectly encompasses them all
“Leaders of man and teachers overstand and covenant and supply and demand, a dragon –
Demanding a tribute from the population
Demanding all the first fruit from the generation
A monk lost his famine inna deeper meditation
Chemical and never prescription”
The lyric is more Wu-Tang Clan than reggae, and it bangs even harder.
“Incline” transforms seamlessly into “Supply and Demand,” which finds Vaughn Benjamin doing what he does best: spitting fire and brimstone over heavy drum-n-bass. This tune is a phenomenal representation of “chant and call,” as Benjamin sounds like a possessed Rasta speaking in tongues, showering the listener with a barrage of lyrical bullets. Truly an astounding display of lyrical and vocal range and talent.
“Children of Jah,” is perhaps the most accessible song on the album, and it was released with a hard-hitting high-definition music video on You Tube. The tune is as strong a warning against technology and the use of technology to alter natural science as one will find. The irony of it all, as the listener realizes, is that we are doing it all to ourselves-killing off the human race with technology. As Benjamin proclaims:
“Robot armies of a drone embrace
Peer satellite cyber warfare at a hectic pace
There are some social ideals that must be replaced
They can already annihilate a race…human race
We are the children of Jah
Look what our hands have made
Acceleration of disgrace”
The album includes 14 tracks, each better than the next. Listening to it for the first time, I expected the album to lose strength toward the middle and end. However, with tracks like “Carboniferous Land,” “Bad Man Trade,” “In the Hands of Jah,” and the astounding closer “Nothing Restrain,” Midnite has assembled their most consistent album since Ras Mek Peace. It is a reggae roots album the likes of which we are only blessed with once every 5-10 years.
Yes, it’s that good.