Album Review: Kabaka Pyramid - The Kalling
by Gardy Stein
"The Kalling is really about my journey in music being for a higher purpose, not just to get rich or popular, but to inspire a higher vibration in whoever listens. While the majority seek pleasure and sense gratification, there are a few who the Most High kall upon to keep the balance inna earth. Music is what I use to answer the kall and you can feel it throughout this album." (Kabaka Pyramid)
Five years ago, Kabaka Pyramid blessed us with his debut Kontraband, and many of its tracks have become a staple on both private and professional playlists. Now, it's time to add some more Bebble Rock gems to these, as the "Lyrics Deity" releases his sophomore album The Kalling (in close collaboration with Ghetto Youths International). The reasoning behind this plain but momentous title is explained in the quote above – let's discover which treasures lie hidden within the depths of this oeuvre so powerfully depicted by Sameel "Samo Kush-I" Johnson!
True to the motto "never change a winning team", Kabaka joined forces with Damian "Junior Gong" Marley once more, who produced all the 15 tracks included, seven of them co-produced by Sean "Young Pow" Diederick. To lend substance to the music, a fine cast of instrumentalists was involved in the recordings: next to the two producers themselves, we hear Ali Darvish (guitar & bass), Shiah Coore & Craig "Grizzle" Higgins (bass), Richie Bravo (percussion), David Fernandez (sax), Shane "Fyah Keyz" Greensword (piano), Julian Marley (keys), Ronoy Gordon & Shackair McQueen (guitar), Christophe Smith (drums) and Fiona Robinson-Sterling as backing vocalist. Boom!
Starting with an intro of the 1979 release Mystic Man, including talking drums and the voice of the great Peter Tosh himself ("cause I'm a man of the past, and I'm living in the present, and I'm walking in the future."), the first track celebrates the Mystik Man in both artists. With one of them gone to Zion already, the living "Chef KP" introduces his album with fiery rhymes, making clear where he stands in this time and space, and what matters to him (an interesting observation is the similarity of Kabaka's delivery to the Atlanta series' anthem Paper Boi by Donald Glover). The revised version of the tune is slightly faster than the original, digitally enhanced by drum programming, with dominant, staccatoed flutes that lend a certain urgency to the beat.
Both the subsequent Red Gold And Green and the bonus track Kontraband Part 2 see Damian Marley join Kabaka on the mic. While the latter song definitely comes as a surprise (it's similar to the eponymous track of 2020's Immaculate Mixtape in beat and chorus, but KP put some sizzling new lyrics on here), the former was released two months ago, collecting accolades ever since. On a dynamic modern roots riddim, the two artists chant about Rastafari livity, stressing the symbolic meaning of the colours red, gold and green (a clever feat is the highlighting of only these in the otherwise black-and-white video). Damian rebukes those who appropriate these symbols: "Some a dem a wear the colours, an dem nah do dem research", and Kabaka provides the teaching: "The Red a fi di shedding of the blood weh set we free, the Gold stand for justice and equality, the Green is for abundancy and fertility, and the Lion stand for sovereignty." Word!
Other songs that have already been singled out are the fantastic Make Things Work (definitely one of my favorites, as it speaks of proper work ethics that can serve as a model for all idlers out there; and the video by Tizzy Tokyo and RaEyeVision is dope, too!) and Grateful featuring the young Jemere Morgan. The riddim on this one is something else, a fusion of disco and hip hop and what not, but the real amazing part is how Kabaka rides it, especially starting from 2:36 – this is some fast rapping right here! Transcending genre boundaries once more, the same duo of Jemere and Kabaka are heard again on the funky Energy, talking about personal boundaries and the need to protect these from negative invasions.
Ready for some more exciting features? Check out the enticing voice of Nathalia aka Lionchld, who sings about well-known truths in the chorus while Kabaka provides real-life context in the verses of Stand Up, mentioning both the heroes who stood up for their convictions and those that got killed for no other reason than being Black – say their names!
Another powerful lady comes in on Mr. Rastaman, and, damn, does she give that tune a sexy spin! The Dancehall singer Tifa takes a slow and low roll on the Latin-infused riddim, and the Pyramid answers in like manner when she calls out to him. Sweetness! And, while we're at the female side of things: although she doesn't show as featured artist on the track-list, Jah9 was essential in the creation of the intimate Safe Right Here – not only is she heard as backing vocalist, but she also co-produced the track. It's one of the rare instances where Kabaka turns to the subject of love (he even says it in the song: "Nuh usually show this side, but you deserve fi see it"), and if a man would quote any of his bars to me and mean it, I'd surely melt. Equally laid-back but in a heavy roots style, Mary Jane brings the talented Black Am I to the fore in a praise of the herbs, while Answele's soothing voice gives thanks along with Kabaka in Life Is Everything.
By far the most surprising feature, however, is Buju Banton on Faded Away. The Gargamel is known for keeping his circles small, but there could have been no better fit for this serious tune, and together the two artists create history. Three, actually, as the voice of Junior Byles is sampled throughout the track, singing the chorus of his seminal Fade Away. Apart from the accuracy of the lyrics and the on-point-production by "Gongzilla", it is this appreciation that makes the piece special to me, as Byles is one of those veterans who are still around but suffer and need support. Thank you, team KP!
From criticizing social media in Addiction to empowering his fellow terrestrials with conscious lyrics in EZ Ride, Kabaka gives us a lot of food for thought. The song that captures the artist's concern most precisely, however, is the title track The Kalling. In kingly communion with Stephen Marley, Protoje and Jesse Royal, the four lyricists find the exact right words to speak to us, to shake up the young generation, who are in dire need of bright minds like these to make them find a way out of this modern-day darkness: "When yuh tek up Rasta banner do nuh tek fi nuh joke, it's more than the locks upon yuh head and what yuh smoke. The words dem that yuh spoke, the energies yuh evoke, them must be a reflection of the king!" Music-wise, the piece is brilliant in that the instrumentation is unobtrusive enough to let the words take prominence, but at the same time so good that listening the track over and over again is pure pleasure. Magnificent!
Here is an album that rings with gratitude and wisdom, with top-notch productions and intelligent lyrics, with vibrant harmonies and excellent guest singers. Kabaka Pyramid has sent out The Kalling – who will heed?
Kabaka Pyramid - The Kalling
DIGITAL RELEASE [Ghetto Youths International]
Release date: 09/30/2022
01. Mystik Man feat. Peter Tosh
02. Red Gold and Green feat. Damian Marley
03. Make Things Work
04. Grateful feat. Jemere Morgan
05. Stand Up feat. Nathália
06. Safe Right Here
07. Mr. Rastaman feat. Tifa
08. The Kalling feat. Stephen Marley, Jesse Royal & Protoje
09. Faded Away feat. Buju Banton
11. Energy feat. Jemere Morgan
12. Mary Jane feat. Black-Am-I
13. EZ Ride
14. Life Is Everything feat. Answele
15. Kontraband Pt. 2 feat. Damian Marley