Review: Natty King’s new Rebellution album won’t let reggae fans down

By Angus Taylor

With his ancient, summoning voice, and deeply spiritual lyrics, St Thomas-born Natty King is the archetypal 21st century Rasta reggae singer. He helped carry the 90s conscious resurgence, speared by his inspiration Luciano, into the 2000s, before the rise of Chronixx in the next decade. Natty King first bust onto the international reggae scene in 2005 with his hit No Guns To Town, co-produced by Jimmy Ricks and foundation 70s deejay Trinity (himself part of the wave who carried the Rastafari messages of Big Youth).

Natty King’s self-produced new album, Rebellution – spelled differently from the US reggae band sharing the name – is an unabashed gateway back to the 2000s reggae era. It’s released on Natty King’s New Wellowell label, and co-produced mainly with Sam Gilly, drummer of hardworking Austrian group House Of Riddim (with whom Natty King worked on the 2010s Born To Be Free album). It collects a full CD-length 19 tracks of polished, live-instrument-based roots reggae rhythms, with a consistent sound throughout.

The lyrical topics are very much Natty King’s staples, often arranged in sections to give the album a chaptered feel. The opening segment is one of several devoted to Rastafari spirituality and ghetto reality. The eddying horns of Jah Is My Guide and the hymn-like Hail Rastafari, affirm the central place of Rasta in grounding and protecting Natty King on his journey. Early Morning, a potential successor to No Guns To Town, warns against the dangers of straying into places where such livity is not to be found. 

A pair of herb tunes, Trees and Ganja Smoker celebrate the plant Natty King calls his “best friend” and question why it is not legal worldwide. Affairs of the heart are covered by a trio of love songs – the Kevin Christopher Roberts co-produced Lovey Dovey, She Bring Joy (on Carlton Marchall’s Jam Rock Rocking Riddim), and the Gilly co-helmed Me She Want. The latter is an autobiographical-sounding encounter with a woman called Winsome, who loves Natty King for his spirituality and not his fame. Also of a very personal nature is the reality tune Hungry Days, where the artist looks at the struggles he faced before No Guns To Town – and hopes that for the sake of his family, his success will sustain.

But while most subjects are timeless, Natty King touches firmly on contemporary issues. He addresses the divisive topic of Covid 19 during the pensive Plandemic, where he doesn’t consider the virus a hoax, yet does see it as a plan for population control. He also excoriates the ever-present problem of police harassment of Rasta on the syn-drum-driven Old Crosses.

The combinations mainly pair Natty with ancient, earthy voices, similar to his own. The 2018 David Mornet-produced duet featuring Luciano, Why Sacrifice, acknowledges their close musical and philosophical bond, with Luci dubbing them “father and son”. Gritty Gambian deejay Rebellion The Recaller joins him to call out economic injustice via Free Ghetto Youths. Contrast is found in the form of higher voiced singjay, and early 2000s busting contemporary, Turbulence, on the calming Prayer A Day (aka Love is the Order). The penultimate track, Africa Calling is a repatriation anthem featuring two rising artists, Mr. Peppa and (Prince) Theo Nyeemiya. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting it is co-produced by Hopeton Brown – not Hopeton Overton Brown the Scientist, but guitarist Hopeton Donald Brown.)

At a time when Jamaican reggae music is increasingly fusion-based, The Rebellution album offers a roadmap back to when live instrumentation and propulsive one drop rhythms were the order of the day. To quote its press release, it “won’t let the reggae fans down”.