Album Review: Natty King - Rebellution
by Steve Topple
It’s been over a decade since Natty ‘Man from the East’ King released his last album. So, for Reggae fans it’s been quite the wait for a full body of work from him. But that wait is over – and it has been worth it.
Rebellution, released via Wellowell Productions/House of Riddim Productions, sees King return to form; return to Roots after 2020’s foray into smooth Dancehall (JOE) - and return to his pairing with House of Riddim, after working with the outfit on his 2010 release (and last full album) Born To Be Free. Across the 19 tracks, the majority of the production comes from King himself along with House of Riddim (mainly Sam Gilly). It’s notable that King et al have remained faithful to the early days of his career (the turn of the 21st century, 2005 onwards) – as the Roots sound is generally rich, layered and intricate but still with traditional features like one drops and bubble rhythms. It should be noted that the engineering and mastering are both extremely good: sympathetic to each track’s vibe, while creating an overall sound across Rebellution that is rich but bass-heavy.
The fluid opening track Jah Is My Guide is a complex affair, with its layered backing vocals and swaying horn section – but nodding to the rise of Revival Roots with its haunting G-Funk whistle, and also Dub with the use of rhythmic reverb. Early Morning builds on this, while increasing the BPM along with a punchy electric organ bringing more Soul to the mix; making it one of the album’s stand-outs. Hungry Days is similarly pacey and intricate, but with nice use of a synth horn sound along with the G-Funk whistle sound.
Trees is also in this more modern vein: strutting and forthright, with that G-Funk whistle still present. But its accompanying track, Ganja Smoker, winds things back to the 20th century with its traditional, positive vibes arrangement including call and response horns. Hail Rasta Fari throws things into the pre-2000’s too, with its basic chord progressions, wah-wah’d bass and Dub breaks. Free Ghetto Youths featuring Gambian artist Rebellion the Recaller does similar, with its focus on its Old Skool Dancehall-esque root-7th chord progression dominating - and Prayer A Day featuring Turbulence is of a similar formation; both tracks being instrumentally stripped-back. Then, the conscious, 90s-like Universal Love, produced by Stefan Büchler of BackYard Riddims is a rich and meandering affair, lush in its smooth arrangement and flowing instrumental lines; another one of Rebellution’s stronger cuts.
The self-produced Lovey Dovey sees King move into Lover’s Rock territory - pulling the smooth, sax-led, major key sound off well across attractive melodies – creating another stand-out track. Contrasting this melodically is You Bring Joy, produced by Carlton Marchall across the Jam Rock Rocking Riddim – in a minor key but still in essence Lover’s Rock – albeit not as affecting as Lovey Dovey. Me She Want finished off the trio of romantic tracks, but leaning more into Reggae-meets-Funky Soul which works well.
Hopeton Brown comes on board for production duties across Powers, stripping the focus back to solid Roots but with some pleasing chord progressions. He also produced Africa Calling featuring Theo Nyeemiya and Mr. Peppa. This cements Brown’s quite recognisable production style, as the horns on both tracks are regal and clipped in their arrangement; percussion rhythmically intricate and with a focus on layered vocal harmonies.
Why Sacrifice featuring King’s inspiration, Luciano, is produced by David Mornet – and he’s honed in perfectly on both artists’ Soul tendencies, with the track’s whining electric guitar and call and response backing vocals. There’s more of this vibe with Plandemic, again seeing the electric guitars emphasised across wah-wah’d riffs and heavy bending. Smiling Face is not dissimilar in its bold guitar arrangement, but the sound is slightly more rounded overall.
Old Crosses is a curious yet engaging thing, using very 80s Synthwave drum pads as the main percussive feature with two different synth sounds (one organ, one dampened horn) has an imposing feel, enhanced by the wah-wah’d bass (a repeated feature across Rebellution) and the striking, heavily engineered Dub breaks. And the title track, which also closes the album, is a fitting ending: honing in on the early part of the century’s Roots sound well – creating a haunting and emotive track in which King’s interplay with the electric organ is particularly impressive.
Vocally, King is impressive throughout. His distinctive style is instantly recognisable, with that rich and rounded tone and signature vocal growl along with his vocal version of flutter tonguing (rapid-fire notes which almost sound like wailing). Rhythmically, he provides highly detailed performances across both straight vocal and singjay, delivering both at impressive rates of syllables per second (Smiling Face being a good example). He flits between his tenor voice, up into a pleasing falsetto on tracks like Jah Is My Guide, and then down into a low baritone on Me She Want; an impressive range.
Across Rebellution, King deals with all manner of themes and narratives. Much of it is about faith and spirituality - from Jah Is My Guide, Powers and Hail Rasta Fari’s veritable Songs of Praise inclinations, to Why Sacrifice’s analysis of Babylon’s proponents and Universal Love’s cry for unity. The three love-led songs don’t feel out of place amongst this, either. Early Morning deals with the system-created violence that pervades society. Trees and Ganja Smoker’s narratives on the legalisation of cannabis are strong, while Free Ghetto Youth’s message of emancipation is rousing. King treads a strong path in Plandemic, as he cleverly builds a narrative around how the system and its proponents are using the coronavirus pandemic to persecute us – while not falling into conspiracy theory territory. Old Crosses’ story of persecution by the police and government is compelling, while Rebellution is a strong cry for systemic change powered by the people.
Overall, Rebellution is a solid piece of work from King and everyone involved. A sound has been created that, while still feeling fresh, instinctively doesn’t betray King’s formative years. His voice is extremely versatile and pleasing; lyrically it’s a compelling body of work and as a sum of its parts, fans of the Man from the East will be pleased.
Natty King - Rebellution
DIGITAL RELEASE [House of Riddim Productions, Wellowell Production]
Release date: 01/07/2022
01. Jah Is My Guide
02. Early Morning
03. Hail Rasta Fari
04. Why Sacrifice feat. Luciano
05. Universal Love
09. Ganja Smoker
10. Old Crosses
11. Free Ghetto Youths feat. Rebellion the Recaller
12. Hungry Days
13. Smiling Face
14. Prayer a Day feat. Turbulence
15. Lovey Dovey
16. You Bring Joy
17. Me She Want
18. Africa Calling feat. Theo Nyeemiya & Mr. Peppa