Album Review: Mykal Rose - I Give You Love
by Steve Topple
Former lead singer of Black Uhuru and Grammy-winner Mykal Rose continues to impress to this day – not least on his new album where the teaming of him and Donsome Records produces impressive and eclectic results.
I Give You Love, released via Donsome Records, is a collection of 10 songs plus three interludes, all crafted by Rose and Donsome founder Adrian “Donsome” Hanson (who’s been rather busy, having also just released the new Marcia Griffiths album Golden). The label has a reputation for quality on the finished product – and here is no exception, with a mix and master that has created a consistently rich yet rugged sound, representative of the styles I Give You Love covers.
Aside from the three dialogue-based interludes (Grandson Reasoning, No Love, and Grammy Kid – which all give brief snippets into Rose’s life), the album consists of tracks which - while sometimes grounded in Roots - blur the lines with other styles, genres, and more modern trends – often forgetting Reggae sensibilities entirely.
I Give You Love opens with This World. It’s a fascinatingly constructed track which, while filled with Roots sensibilities, has its basis in something more Soul. The chord progressions are filled with major-minor changes; Rose’s jazzy main melody uses lots of blue notes to create real interest, and there’s excellent use of a smooth, fluid electric organ.
World Crisis (not the previously lost-then-found track Rose recorded for Orchid Records at Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark) is narratively almost a part two to This World – but musically it’s something different. Here, Rose and Donsome return to something straighter Roots – albeit weaving and blissed-out. There are Reggae musical devices present (like the keys’ bubble rhythm), but these are juxtaposed with touches like the backing vocals running vowel sounds across the whole bar – which smooths the track out. A horn riffs just out of earshot, Rose’s vocal has vocoder and reverb run across it – and the track feels like something very Ambient, yet still Roots.
Don't Fall moves I Give You Love forward, taking it into Revival territory with its hard Hip Hop drum line, slightly distorted bass but still with Reggae touches throughout – like the decent breaks. The chorus here is particularly pleasing, with Rose, the backing vocals, and the horn working in melodic unison. When Dem Ago Let We Go featuring the always-reliable Jahmiel continues the album’s shift to a more modern sound. It’s dampened, plucked strings are heavily reverbed; the bass is deep and resonant (like an 808) with glissando laced across it, and hi-hats run Trap buzz rolls – all pointing to the highly fresh nature of the track. Jahmiel is on-point, as always – and if you listened from a distance, you’d be forgiven for thinking Rose had moved into Trap Dancehall. He hasn’t quite – but it’s getting that way.
War Is Not The Answer once again mixes up the Roots sound – here, heavily leaning into Dancehall with the bass on that recognisable rhythmic clave which the kick then replicates. However, it’s less abrasive than the genre usually is – with the backing vocals mellowing things out – although the heavy vocoder across Rose’s vocal adds edginess. Then, Babylon Burning switches things back to a rich Roots sound, intermingled with elements of Dub. The shrill electric organ brings something Soul to proceedings, while the heavy use of reverb across the percussion counterbalance this with some unsettling vibes. It’s effective and brooding in equal measure.
Freedom Way continues the Roots vibes, but here with the emphasis on an ominous sound increasing. The bass has been engineered to be more prominent; the introduction of a kette drum with added reverb is thunderous, and the horns are sharp and staccato – jutting in and out. Next, and the previously released I Give You Love You Show Me Hate featuring the excellent Bugle mixes the sound up further, with a four-to-the-floor kick picking up the pace and giving the track real momentum – almost Steppers in quality. This version is a reimagining of the original track, which was across Donsome’s 2021 Freedom Sound Riddim – and it works well. Rose and Bugle’s vocals complement each other perfectly, and the whole thing is affecting.
However, the previously released Brutal (across Donsome’s Rasta Yaad Riddim) changes the album’s tack once again. Roots on the face of it, with the purposeful bubble rhythm on the keys and skanking guitar, the direction of travel is far more soulful. The elongated horn line gives the track sway, while keys have a second role, with some nice riffing in the upper bass clef. The merging of styles is done particularly well here – finished off with a great sax line.
Steppin Like A Murderer features the legendary Bounty Killer and closes I Give You Love. Here, we head further into uncharted territory – with hard Hip Hop drums across a broken, swooping, and winding bass line, screeching electric guitars, some shrill synth horns, plus samples and EDM instruments a plenty. It’s almost UK Grime meets Dub meets parts of Jungle – impossible to box in, but effective. Rose and Killer are perfectly placed together – and overall, the track is a welcome surprise, and works brilliantly.
Across I Give You Love, Rose shows that even after all these decades, he’s lost none of his vocal prowess. Admittedly, there’s heavy use of vocoder on some of the tracks. However, this is clearly more a stylistic decision, as when it’s not in play you can hear Rose’s powerful and evocative voice in all its glory. This World is the perfect example – where he flips between his rich, rounded tenor and a strong falsetto – while dealing with a melodic line that is actually very complex - being at odds with the main chord progressions, and littered with inflections of Jazz. It’s impressive – and shows the talent Rose still has.
Lyrically, the album is predictably strong and stirring, with Rose dealing with various narrative themes throughout. The focus is often on the ills of society under Babylon – like Rose talking in broad strokes across This World and its follow-up World Crisis – where the first track deals with the problems, while the second calls for unity, solutions, and hope in the face of it all. War Is Not The Answer is a profound call for global peace (and for us not to accept the will of those in charge), while I Give You Love… is a dig at a former bandmate, dressed up as a shout out to haters generally.
Rose it as his strongest, though, when messages are themed and specific. Freedom Way, with its call for “unity amongst nations, today” against a backdrop of pleading for people to “wake up from [their] stumbling self” is effective. Steppin Like A Murderer is perhaps the best example of this, as Rose and Killer issue a heartfelt plea for people not to turn to violence under Babylon’s toxicity, compounding the messages that have come before it.
Overall, I Give You Love is a strong, fascinating, and well-constructed album from Rose and Donsome. Musically it shows the artist is still able to turn his hand to anything with excellent results – and the varied genres seen are all executed well. Lyrically, there are strong messages contained within – and as a sum of its parts, the album is a fresh and fearless project from Rose. Sterling works.
Mykal Rose - I Give You Love
DIGITAL RELEASE [Donsome Records]
Release date: 09/15/2023
01. Grandson Reasoning (Dialogue)
02. This World
03. World Crisis
04. Don't Fall
05. When Dem Ago Let We Go feat. Jahmiel
06. War Is Not The Answer
07. Babylon Burning
08. Freedom Way
09. No Love (Dialogue)
10. I Give You Love You Show Me Hate feat. Bugle
12. Grammy Kid (Dialogue)
13. Steppin Like A Murderer feat. Bounty Killer