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Review

Album Review: Bling Dawg - Elev8

02/28/2022

by Steve Topple

Album Review: Bling Dawg - Elev8

It may have taken over 20 years, but Bling Dawg has finally released his debut, full-length album – and its content may surprise you, already being one of the stronger releases of 2022.

ELEV8, released via Creative Titans, sees Dawg move away from his Dancehall roots and create something overly Roots Reggae focused. The first thing that stands out is that the album is filled with glorious fusions of varying styles with the Roots sound – making it infinitely listenable. The mastering has created a sympathetic tone which ebbs and flows across the 17 full tracks, some of which were previously released. Moreover, ELEV8 sees Dawg reunite with two familiar faces from his days with Dancehall collective The Alliance – along with some of the biggest names in Jamaican music, too. And overall, the album is a smart, creative and engaging listen.

The orchestral, sweeping Intro leads neatly into Yo! featuring Christopher Martin, produced by Damian Marley. It’s pure ‘Jr. Gong’ – blending Reggae sensibilities like a bubble rhythm with a harder, Hip Hop drum line (note the kick hitting the downbeats) to create a Revival sound. Martin’s slick vocals compliments Dawgs excellent singjay well, and it’s a strong opening.

God Is Amazing, produced by Ferdinand “Young Boy” Maynard Jr, is one of the album’s strongest tracks. It winds ELEV8 back to something more Roots with its whining guitar lines, soulful minor-major chord progressions and backing vocals and one drop. This gorgeousness continues on Father God A Guide Me where Starplayer Music Group co-produce with Dawg – but with a change of melodic tack, being in a full major key with a stripped back arrangement containing elements of Dub.

Step Son, produced by Bobby Digital, takes the musical tone back further – with that traditional root-to-seventh chord progression, engineering focusing on the lower Hz range and some nicely arranged horns. Then, Pride featuring Romain Virgo and produced by Baby G brings Lover’s Rock to ELEV8 but with some heavily stripped-back, bass-led Dub vibes going on – which occasionally stray into Dancehall with the use of that ‘oneeeeee-twooo-and’ x2 rhythmic clave. Virgo is effortless and he and Dawg bounce off each other really well and the track is an interesting Dub/Dancehall/Lover’s Rock hybrid. The latter is expanded upon across There She Goes, with Maynard Jr back on production duties – creating a beautiful Lover’s Rock arrangement which gives Dawg a chance to showcase his singing skills.

Feelings featuring the always-incredible Morgan Heritage and produced by Dawg, Michael Jarrett and Nigel Staff marks a shift in ELEV8’s tone – moving into the Soul-meets-Reggae territory Heritage are known for. It’s an impressive composition, overly Pop-Soul with its complex chord progressions, fluid piano line, coupled with some smart instrumentation and Heritage’s on-point vocals – but then interspersed with Dawg’s pleasing singjay. Again, another one of the album’s stronger tracks.

Walk This Way is produced by Dawg, Starplayer and Steve “Lenky” Marsden. It ups the BPM as well as the Roots’ vibes: heavy on the post-Rocksteady winding, melodic bass; a pleasing electric organ and some well-placed keys embellishing a bubble rhythm. But then ELEV8 gets switched up with the appearance of Popcaan on Prayer We Use. Dawg teams up with Adrian Locke and Staff across the production – which is a smooth, soulful AfroDancehall affair. It utilises modern elements like Trap-inspired slow buzz rolls on the hi-hats; that broken Dancehall rhythmic clave; some EDM synths and strings and soulful backing vocals. Popcaan and Dawg are both strong – and Prayer We Use serves to showcases the versatility of both well. Strong stuff.

Married To The Music sees Marley return to produce with a return to the intricate, Revival sound too. But here it’s more brooding an unsettling than Yo! – stripped back in a majority minor key, heavy on the breaks and reverb and synths – which then suddenly moves into a major key chorus with a Barrington Levy sample to boot. Ingenious. Then, Buss A Road featuring legendary Alliance founder Bounty Killer and produced by Bulby York takes the sound into Zion I Kings/Oneness Records realms: that modern, intricate and lush Roots sound which has defined the scene for several years. It’s musically complex, with the instrumentation winding in and out; taking traditional Roots devices and embellishing them (note the keys complex bubble rhythm-based arrangement) and heavily utilising Dub across it. Killer and Dawg are well-matched and it’s another strong track overall.

The self-produced Gaze sees Dawg take on the Revival sound himself, with excellent results: a track filled with unsettling vibes including use of a theremin, choral samples, a growling, wah-wah’d guitar and driving bass and drum lines. But he’s kept nods to traditional Roots with the one drop and bubble rhythm – and overall, it’s an impressive offering.

Tables Turn featuring Alliance alumni Busy Signal is produced by Dameon Gayle and sees ELEV8 take a ‘turn’, too. We’re in uncharted territory for the album, here – where an Old Skool Hip Hop rhythmic and melodic arrangement meets 2020’s instrumentation and engineering. It’s familiar but fresh; inventive yet recognisable – as 90s-style drum arrangements, Funky Soul chord progressions and scoring/instrumentation are smashed together with EDM synths and samples, Signal’s incomparable vocal and Dawg’s haunting singjay plus some nice Trap-style vocal skats. It’s truly powerful – and perhaps ELEV8’s strongest track.

Facts Of Life is produced by Dawg with the riddim coming from the legendary Bugle, Jermaine Forde (Ajang Music), Ghana’s Paul “Jazzwad” Yebuah, Keshta Menelik and Terrence Chamberlin (Bluesteel Studio). It’s a pleasing, Roots arrangement with a decent smattering of Soul throughout. Seh Dem A Love Yuh featuring the gorgeous vocals of the sublime Tanya Stephens is produced by Dawg, Adrian Locke, Ernie Wilks and Dale Brown. Stephens’ natural contralto range marries perfectly with Dawg’s melodic singjay and then tenor vocal – and the Nyabinghi-inspired, djembe-led drum arrangement coupled with the lilting acoustic guitar line is sheer bliss.

Nah Follow Trend sees Dawg and Evan “Zum” Jackson (Good Good Productions) return to a smooth, AfroDancehall vibe – but with the ‘oneeeeee-twoo-and-[three]-and-fourrr’ beat more dominant than on Prayer We Use. It’s cleverly stripped-back, instrumentally, with a pleasing focus on the keys, strings and stuttering drum line – with added chipmunk vocals thrown in for good measure. Then, the album’s songs close with My Struggles, co-produced with Dawg by Sean Diedrick and Veer Dhaniram. It’s a distinctly upbeat Roots affair, with an eloquent focus on an attractive sax line as well as the call and response backing vocals. The minimal chord progressions work really well – and overall, it’s an infectious yet affecting closer. And finally, Outro takes ELEV8 full circle – with a brief spoken word statement from Dawg.

Overall, across the album Dawg displays his vocal prowess extremely well. He displays a strong, rhythmically detailed and natural singjay across cuts such as the forthright Pride with his building of syncopation, to his softer more restrained but still detailed delivery on Prayer We Use. Also, on this track we see Dawg stray into straight vocal – which he then expands on further across other tracks. There She Goes sees him show his ability to hold-back his vocal when needed, providing a delicate and thoughtful performance. Then, he increases the strength of his performance on Fact Of Life, mixing singjay rhythmic tricks with a straight vocal. And on Walk This Way, he takes thing up a notch further in terms of both intonation (sweeping across both baritone and tenor ranges) and rhythmic variation – perhaps showing Dawg at his best.

Lyrically, ELEV8 is also extremely strong. Dawg swerves between the spiritual, Songs of Praise-style tracks like God Is Amazing and Father God A Guide Me to the Lover’s Rock-led content of There She Goes and Pride. Social commentary on the album is found aplenty. Yo!’s cautionary tale about falling into the traps Babylon lays for you is strong; Step Son’s poker literary analogies deliver a message of humble self-confidence and Feelings gives a thought-provoking narrative about living your own truth in life, regardless of the implications – again with strong use of literary devices (the “wizard/broom” metaphor is quite brilliant). But Tables Turn has (like its musical content) perhaps some of ELEV8’s strongest content – as Dawg and Signal lament the state of living under Babylon’s noxious system as the violence, betrayal and toxicity it produces plays out.

Overall, ELEV8 is an exceptionally strong album from Dawg and all involved. While it’s overly Roots, the sheer attention to detail in terms of varying the styles is highly commendable. When the album strays from this musical mantra, the strength is maintained – with the non-Roots tracks being some of the strongest. Dawg’s vocal performances and lyrics are top class throughout and overall, ELEV8 is one of the strongest releases of the year so far. 


Release details

Bling Dawg - Elev8

Bling Dawg - Elev8

DIGITAL RELEASE [Creative Titans]

Release date: 02/04/2022

Tracks

01. Intro
02. Yo feat. Christopher Martin
03. God Is Amazing
04. Father God A Guide Me
05. Step Son
06. Pride feat. Romain Virgo
07. There She Goes
08. Feelings feat. Morgan Heritage
09. Walk This Way
10. Prayer We Use feat. Popcaan
11. Married To The Music
12. Buss A Road feat. Bounty Killer
13. Gaze
14. Tables Turn feat. Busy Signal
15. Facts Of Life
16. Seh Dem A Love Yuh feat. Tanya Stephens
17. Nah Follow Trend
18. My Struggles
19. Outro

Featured artists

Bounty Killer / Christopher Martin / Romain Virgo / Morgan Heritage / Popcaan / Busy Signal / Tanya Stephens