Album Review: Jahdon - 369
by Steve Topple
The rising stars coming out of Jamaica at present are perhaps the most exciting of recent times. Among these, the young artist Jahdon has dropped his debut album. And it’s set him up to be a legend in the making.
369, released via Look Ya Noww Entertainment, Bacchus Entertainment Services and Zojak World Wide, is a delicious opening full project from Jahdon. He released the EP Congo Bongo in 2017. Three of the tracks from that record also feature on 369: Congo Bongo, Congo Bongo Empress and Truth. But his new body of work is equally impressive.
The album opens with Time To Advance. It’s a pure, conscious Afrobeats/Dancehall mash-up of the highest order. The traditional five-beat clave bass is present, at times stretched across two bars and dropping the fifth beat to smooth and slow the track down according to the lyrics. The percussion is an Afrobeats jitter, almost always missing the second beat, focusing on the third and the offbeats. But what’s interesting is Jahdon has introduced elements of Trap/Drill into the track: the signature buzz roll on the snare and the heavy use of choral synths take Time To Advance out of standard Afrobeats/Dancehall into grittier territory.
But Jahdon’s vocal is truly the most impressive thing. His singjay is exceptionally dextrous, getting up to around eight syllables a second at one point. It’s also extremely expressive, with clever and intuitive use of phrasing and accenting of certain syllables. Overall, Time To Advance is a very strong opening.
Humble almost moves the album into RnB, albeit with traditional vibes from the Motherland coupled with Afrobeats and Roots musical devices. It’s a curious yet moving hybrid of genres. The inclusion of a synth tambin immediately conveys the West African influences, as do the djembe. But the percussion is on a partial one drop variation, accenting the second beat, then coming in again just before the fourth. But the kick is off doing its own double time, downbeat thing, adding ambiguity to this Roots device. The beamed bass gives the feel of RnB, as do the heavily layered backing vocals. But when coupled with the lyrics, discussing colonialism and slavery, this mixing of African-derived genres sits perfectly with the track’s aim. It’s a smart and affecting composition.
Next up is Spliff, which takes the album into a whole new area. It’s Revival in its composition, incorporating elements of Afrobeats (the offbeat percussion flourishes), Soca (the acoustic, Latin-led guitar riffs), RnB (the double time, onbeat, driving piano chords) and Roots (the pointed, driving bass and Jahdon’s beamed vocal line). But as with much of the output from the Revival movement, you get a sense of Hip Hop from the track overall; even though on the face of it it’s not. The sparseness of the arrangement, with the emphasis being heavily on Jahdon’s vocal, indicates that influence. And it focuses the listener to the important message about cannabis contained in the track. Very impressive.
We Grow is one of those Hip Hop/Afrobeats ballads which other artists like Govana have already done so well this year. But Jahdon’s effort is up there with the best of them. Expansive strings, an RnB piano line and an almost chanted vocal riff from him open the track in an almost cinematic manner. Then we’re straight into Hip Hop/Afrobeats. The drums tread a musical tightrope: the use of the kick, snare, hi hats and their arrangement are pure Hip Hop. But Jahdon takes the rhythmical stuttering of Afrobeats, using a double time kick on the third and fourth beats, and an accent on the second. And he can’t help but introduce that buzz roll again. The riff on the piano with the continuous, beamed string arrangement makes We Grow a gorgeous foray into more Soulful Hip Hop/Afrobeats territory.
Congo Bongo and Congo Bongo Empress were both previously released. In terms of their inclusion in 369, they almost act as a bridge between the albums two parts: the former being heavily Roots/Ska-led, while the latter leans towards Afrobeats. Because after this point, the album’s focus moves more into traditional Reggae territory.
I Got Love is heavily Roots orientated, but with the odd bit of Afrobeats intertwined throughout. The production and mastering of the track are what makes it work so well. Because each instrumental line has been perfectly balanced to create an ambiguous crossover effect. For example, you can hear the keys on a bubble rhythm. But the dB is so low they’re just out of earshot. So, you still get the Reggae wind but it’s not too heavy. This allows space for the other elements to breathe. The bass is on a syncopated Rocksteady riff, driving the track forward. The percussion does a standard one drop, but this is contrasted with breaks and offbeat syncopation, which leans more towards Afrobeats. The inclusion of acoustic guitars, riffing in the background, also lend themselves to this more than Roots. But even then, the addition of an intricate violin line and what sounds like a clavichord take the track way off either of these genres. The whole piece is a pleasing, intricate buffet of musicality.
The penultimate track is Bastard Children, featuring Rashane Tsp. It’s in a more stable Roots environment with a prominent bubble rhythm and one drop. But again, it’s more than that. Plus, vocally it’s probably the most complex of Jahdon’s new material. The backing vocals are intricately scored, flitting between broad Gospel/Soul duties and call and response. Both Jahdon, Rashane Tsp and the backing vocals’ lines are notably clipped, with precise rhythmic patterns. This juxtaposes well with the smoothed-out orchestration, and gives urgency to the lyrics. Yet again, it’s a cleverly constructed track.
369 finishes with the previously released Truth. The stark, brooding Roots-based track serves as a fitting conclusion to the project.
It should be noted that the production of the album is top-class. Audiotraxx has done the majority of the cuts, with the exception of Bryco Music (Time to Advance), Aerodynamics Productions (Humble) and Brown Boss Musiq (We Grow).
Lyrically, Jahdon enters the proverbial ‘hall of fame’ of conscious Afrobeats/Dancehall artists, inhabited by the likes of Govana and Jahmiel. 369 is a powerhouse of thought-provoking lyrics and subject matter: from cannabis, to faith via social emancipation and revolution. Humble is perhaps the standout example of this. It’s a devastatingly powerful education in colonialism and slavery, but also of the state of current society and how the diaspora is still treated. It’s a moving and thought-provoking experience. But as with all the tracks, it’s Jahdon’s infinitely expressive voice, coupled with his intuitive phrasing, intonation and use of light and shade, which bring his poetic lyrics to life.
Overall, Jahdon has produced a stunning album with 369. It treads a delicately constructed tightrope between Roots and Afrobeats as its main influencers, while incorporating other genres and styles to create an expansive and fascinating project. The composition, arrangement, production and mastering are all inspired, as is Jahdon’s effortlessly compelling vocal performance and lyricism. It serves as a glorious full introduction to this talented artist. And hints at the potential greatness to come.
Jahdon - 369
DIGITAL RELEASE [Look Ya Noww Entertainment]
Release date: 02/21/2020
01. Time To Advance
04. We Grow
05. Congo Bongo
06. Congo Bongo Empress
07. I Got Love
08. Bastard Children feat. Rashane T.S.P