Sharpened Iron: A review of The Kalling by Kabaka Pyramid
Today we take a look at an individual who has greatly fulfilled the very specific type of promise that I heard early in his career to a downright scientific level. When I first began to listen to Kabaka Pyramid, the very first thing that came to my mind about him (besides, of course, how cool his name was) was that the Kingston native was extremely SHARP. From listening to his music — in the way he wrote and presented his messages — I knew that I had found someone who had a very sharp intellect and had an exciting way of putting things together. Going back, in Pyramid’s same ‘class’ or ‘generation’, you also had the likes of Chronixx and Jah9, both of whom would also show staggering levels of potential which they would also live up to. What all three would have in common (many things) was a SKILL level only demonstrated by THE most gifted of artists.
Specifically, Kabaka Pyramid would TOY with the spoken word. It was a damn joke (and I mean that in a good way) what he was capable of. He’d say things that I’d hear clearly the first time through, but would find myself rewinding back just to hear it again and again and the artist would drop some lyrical GEMS (such as Liberal Opposer, for example). These days, I equate what I heard back then to someone like Agent Sasco but in the Agent’s formative years, as Assassin, it didn’t sound like THAT (if ever you want to go about developing a talent in Dancehall music, you go and find out exactly what happened with Assassin. Whoever or whatever did that is a damn scientist or something) (took a mountain of talent and placed an even larger mountain right on top of it). Kabaka Pyramid’s lyrical talent was immense and it put everyone on notice that we had a serious talent forthcoming.
In 2013 Kabaka Pyramid would give the world its first taste of how transferrable said talent might be to a full length project in the form of an excellent EP by the name of Lead The Way. That release would go onto become one of the finest EP’s of its day (and still is probably one of the best… like ever) and, again, whet the appetite of fans everywhere for an inevitable debut album. That would come half a decade on in the extremely well received Kontraband. BOOM! Though it released during our hiatus and I never got to sink my reviewer’s teeth into it (something which I can surely change at some point), in case you were wondering my take on it: Kontraband was awesome. It was a fantastic album and, given the number of times that Pyramid had appeared on one of our ‘Most Wanted’ lists (a feature listing out the artists I most want to do an album for the new year), it was probably one of the most anticipated debuts in recent times; and it did not disappoint. Tunes like the MAMMOTH Well Done, the title track with its guest who we’ll talk about more in just a second, Make Way with the aforementioned Pressure Busspipe, Reggae Music, Everywhere I Go…. (and I’ll stop there because I will literally name every song on the album), all went into making Kontraband a mighty fine debut album and a fantastic album, in general.
That set would come via Kabaka Pyramid’s own Bebble Rock Music in association with the venerable Ghetto Youths International – the label of the first family of Reggae music, the Marleys. Well, apparently everyone who was involved with Kontraband was very happy with the way it turned out (they had no reason not to be), because the exact same set of circumstances sit behind Pyramid’s brand new and second full length release, The Kalling. The previously alluded to Damian Marley, once again, acts as executive producer and I’m thinking that it has been quite awhile from the last time I reviewed a new album and FULLY EXPECTED to give it the highest possible rating. I’ve done it previously, I’m sure (Mark Wonder’s Working Wonders was one of them, I believe), but it’s been a few minutes since the last time. When I initially saw The Kalling (great title and very simple, yet interesting, cover) and realized that I had come across some early work form it already, I had a VERY good feeling about it. That, combined with the levels of Kontraband…. and pretty much everything else he’s done… like ever, led me to believe that what was to come on The Kalling was going to be something special. There’s something so inherently THRILLING (at least for me) to get into an album from such a gifted wordsmith like Kabaka Pyramid and by the time it had release, I absolutely could not wait to hear what he has to say on The Kalling.
He actually had quite a bit to say and, as it turned out, he had ‘kalled’ in quite a bit of help to get the message across. The fifteen tracks here clock in at a very healthy fifty-five minutes and twenty seconds (for all of the nerds out there, that’s about a three minute and forty second average) (very solid) and ELEVEN of them are combinations, featuring variety of different artists; some were very expected and others, not so much. Typically, I don’t enjoy when it is THAT much and I was not overjoyed to see it here either but, after having worked my way through it, I can honestly say that there were no missteps in choosing who came along on this journey and, in most instances — if not all — the featured artists helped things along and not, as I may’ve expected, taken some of the time to shine away from someone who I just wanted to hear more and more of (coincidentally, it also happened on Pressure Busspipe’s Rebel With A Cause, where Kabaka Pyramid guested (as did Jah9, Akae Beka, Sizzla, Reemah, Anthony B and others). The single biggest name of the entire lot to appear on Kabaka Pyramid’s brand new album, The Kalling, is also the first as Pyramid takes on a remake of Mystik Man and does so with the original mystic, himself, the Stepping Razor [“don’t you watch my size – I’m dangerous”], Peter Tosh. I listen to this one and I’m kind of jealous because I know that there’re a lot of people out there who will have Mystik Man as their introduction to Kabaka Pyramid and what they will find is a damn TORCH who uses this moment to not only introduce himself to newer fans, but it’s also somewhat of an intro for what is to follow. However you choose to categorize it, Mystik Man is DEVASTATING!
Mystic man, new album weh you listening, man
I’ve been patiently waiting, but a my time fi tek ova di business, man
Mystic man, mystic man Chef KP in di kitchen man
Cooking up ital hit song, mi nuh miss one, mi ahgo fill prescription
Mystic man, mystic man stocks and crypto – risk it man
Passive income, I’m wid dis man
Bank accounts up in Switzerland
Mystic man, mystic man Kingston mi born, mi nuh English man
Locks pon mi head, man a Rastafari
TELL DEM HAILE SELASSIE IS THE MAN
Like Peter Tosh when di beat ah knock through di speaker box
YUH KNOW MI LYRICS DEM CLEAN, DEM NUH NEED FI WASH
NEW ALBUM AH DROP AND DI STREETS AH WATCH
I mean…. just DAMN! Surely Tosh, himself, would approve of what had become of his work as Pyramid had breathed new life into one of the greatest songs of all time with a very impressive rinse [“I go deeper than di surface. More time I swim wid di urchins”]! Another storied figure appears next as Jr. Gong, blesses The Kalling with his first of two vocal contributions with the big pre-release single, Red Gold and Green. I have previously called the PROUD tune “perfect” and I stand by it to the degree of it being — by the slightest of margins — the best tune I hear on the whole of The Kalling, at least for the moment and, just because, should I find myself changing my mind, I’ll just say it, I won’t even come back and edit this out! Red Gold & Green, along with being the downright dominant lyrical display that one would imagine resulting from such a pairing, also has such a simply nice vibes around it. A beautiful but not overdone riddim carries complete and utter genius and one of the best things about this tune is that YOU KNOW that it isn’t the last time these two will team up (they literally will do it again in about forty-seven minutes) and the next time it will be amazing as well.
Make Things Work is the first of four solo and it IMMEDIATELY has my questioning my choice of favourite songs on The Kalling. Somewhere during the middle portions of this one I just stopped it and started patting myself on the head (good boy! Good boy!!) because of what I was listening to and at the risk of overloading this review with lyrics (I promised myself that I wouldn’t), watch this:
Man ah hustle fi di paper
Fi di break, I am di baker
Dung inna Jamaica, fi mek it, it nuh easy
Mi rather be a waiter than siddung and wait like a waste man
Fi no man gimme nuttin, mi nuh needy
My determination: Fi richer than Akon and uplift di population cah Rastaman no greedy
A no hesitation inna mi meditation cah man a no nuh slave and mi waan fi move freely
But until then:
Somehow, someway got to make things work
Long life, more pay, that’s what I deserve
No time, no day hand-to-mouth caan work
I got to hold my destiny, I know what my life is worth
I was born a King like the Pharaohs of Kemet
I no forward fi yah slave out, so neva you forget
But I’m always on time, mi neva miss a step
Why you treat me unkind?
Through a mi ah buss a sweat
But mi nah go deyah long because mi have some bigger plans
Mi waan fi be mi owna boss and mi ah save up all mi can
Invest inna some stocks, some options and bonds
I’m thinking long term
I hope you overstand
There is a way to uplift your current lot in life. There is some positive way of bettering yourself, that is the sentiment behind this master class of lyrics and though it may not feature a helping-hand vocally, it does have going for it one of the most beautiful musical tracks on the entire album. BOOM!
Third generation Reggae music royalty, Jemere Morgan (a complete TWIN of his father, Gramps Morgan), checks in for the first of a pair of contributions to The Kalling on the very interesting Grateful. I like the kind of old school… Jazzy sounding structure behind this one, it actually helps to heighten the periods when Pyramid awakens and decides to lyrically destroy everything he can find, EVERYWHERE. Most remarkable is the fact that, although he does cover a lot of ground [“…look how mi happily travelling, just like a javelin. Nuff a dem babblin”], he never really does stray too far away from the theme of being grateful and thankful to be who he is and where he is. Morgan will later return on what is a definite changeup on The Kalling, the dance-ish catchy Energy.
I was very happy to hear the direction of the track as, after hearing the vibes, I’d kind of assumed it was “energy”, meaning just an up tempo song, lacking an actual direction but I was wrong (what else is new?). At the core of Energy is just positivity and having good feelings and outlook on life, while refusing to let others spoil it for you. So many times you hear pieces like this one and they’re, effectively, just throwaways. They sound nice and that’s what is why they exist and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s always nice when someone takes advantage of every single moment to make a point and that is what happens with Energy.
Striking social commentary, Stand Up is made all the more mandatory because it features songstress, Nathalia, with her all sorts of colourful vocals. The specifics on Stand Up are HUGE! You listen to Kabaka Pyramid’s final verse on it and tell me different [“You si dem, waan fi muscle mi, but I ah speak out. That’s why dem record label dem no try and reach out. Dem know seh dat mi different from dem guys weh bleach out and Rasta nah go sell mi soul fi buy no beach house”]. Nathalia instantly takes things higher, blessing the chorus with her talents and I’m very curious to see if/when my typical listening routes lead me into her path again at some point with that voice.
As far as what stands out, on paper, there is a pair of songs on The Kalling which’re likely to gather a huge amount of attention (along with the two with Jr. Gong), the title track and Faded Away. ‘The Kalling’ links Kabaka Pyramid with a trio of big artists in Protoje (new album, Third Time’s The Charm, out now), Jesse Royal and Stephen Marley. The tune is a ‘kall’ to action, stating that there is a need in the world now for new leaders and soldiers to take up various causes, especially in the name of Rastafari. All four artists SHINE and what I really loved hearing was that, although they do glorify the position and present it with the deserved importance, they don’t paint an unnecessarily and unrealistically BRIGHT picture [“When you take up Rasta banner, do not take it fi no joke. IT’S MORE THAN JUST THE LOCKS UPON YUH HEAD AND WHAT YOU SMOKE”]. Normally, when you see a song like this and just how many people are involved, you may get the feeling that there is simply too much going on with it, that is not the case at all with ‘The Kalling’. Instead, everyone is afforded their proper time to get their point across, with Marley so wonderfully tying it all together with a stirring chorus. You’ll hear three more voices on Faded Away as, along with being joined by the great Buju Banton, the tune stands as a remake of probably the most well known piece of work by the venerable Junior Byles (who has lived one of the most interesting lives in Reggae history) (biggup Junior Byles), Fade Away. Faded Away, for me (and maybe only for me) is even stronger than the title track! This thing is gold! Along with the vocal performances, which center around people just having their eyes on the wrong things in life, that PULSING riddim running around it all is a stunner. Again, I have to mention just how skillfully everything is put together. Everyone stays on topic and doesn’t deviate and it makes for one powerful package which, just like the opener, hopefully goes on to bring new added attention to a classic.
The other combination in this middle portion of The Kalling, Mr. Rastaman, may be destined to go overlooked, but that will be your fuck-up if you find yourself guilty of strolling by it because it is excellent. The versatile (and often funny) back-and-forth between Pyramid and Tifa [“Baby girl just come yah, mek mi tie di knot. Mi show you every style mi got. Mi know you have a tiny slot. Mi have di key fi fly di lock. Gimme all di time you got. Ras no use no Viagra”] is delightful on a tune, again, with some of the other names on board, may not get a major listen, but for everyone who does – ENJOY! Mr. Rastaman is definitely a romantic/love type of song as is the lovely solo number preceding it on The Kalling, Safe Right Here.
I’m going to resist the temptation to write it out because I’m probably about to do it for the next song, but you PAY ATTENTION to what Kabaka Pyramid says on Safe Right Here. You can style it up as a love song and you know no one ever really says anything important on love songs, but this man’s attention to detail (more on that in closing I’m thinking) is amazing [“Come close to me. Make yourself comfortable in my upholstery. Yuh getting treated like a Queen is supposed to be. Let’s break the monotony. I want you all over me”]. The sonics are also very well done and help to build the mood on a potently sultry type of selection. And then there’s the BOOM! The penultimate solo track on The Kalling is certainly the best of its kind and is also, arguably, the best of any kind. Addiction is…. just ridiculous.
Wake up in di morning as I open up my eyes
I see my phone light right next beside
Nah go mek a minute pass before I-
Tek it up fi go pon Instagram and check my timeline
Scrolling and swiping before mi brush meh teeth
Probing and liking before mi cup of tea
Check how much new followers mi get from last week
Then mi post a picture weh mi know di likes ahgo peak
Feeling down, need a boost of energy
Go pon Amazon fi buy something mi nuh need
‘Same Day Shipping’, yow a wah dis mi ah pree?
‘Anytime before 10, doorstep delivery’
Every ten minutes Fed Ex start to send di tracking
Then after that, mi click, continue shopping
SCROLL TIL MI WEAK AND YOU KNOW THERE’S NO STOPPING-
DI ALGORITHM WEH DEM GET MI TRAPPED IN IS CALLED ADDICTION
Sucrose, fructose, granulated
Up inna di cupboard, weh mi have it waiting
Straight to di sugar weh mi gravitating
PARASITE DEM INNA MI BELLY HAVE A CRAVING
ALL WHEN MI FULL MI STILL NAH STOP
IS A NEXT SLICE OF CAKE MAN AH ASK FAH
Ice cream and di works and that’s just fi desert
How mi nah get diabetes or cancer from this addiction?
Do you remember when I said that one of the first things that I thought about Kabaka Pyramid when I heard his music was that this youth was SHARP?! This man breaks down, geniusly (again, that might not be an actual English word), three different addictions which I would say are relatively commonplace these days, to the point where, if you cannot DIRECTLY relate to any of them, then you surely know someone (probably someone fairly close to you) who can. It’s such a POWERFUL tune, particularly in the way it is demonstrated because there’s no drama here. Pyramid is fairly laid back and relaxed and never forces things, even slightly. He’s speaking like someone well within the mindset of being in these feelings, who has accepted that this just the way it is for them. Addiction came as a pleasant surprise to me. I had no idea what to expect from it but, by its end, what I got was one of the strongest offerings that I have heard from Kabaka Pyramid.
I will also mention the album’s final solo selection here, the COOL EZ Ride. Although it is the most broad piece you’ll find on The Kalling, EZ Ride still definitely manages to make a point and leave an impact. The final verse dazzles [“Easy ride, mek wi trod a Mount Zion high. Elevate and show dem wi have a higher mind. Selassie I, HIM a di blueprint fi I & I. So wi stay up, wi have whole heap a frequent flyer miles”] but even up until then we find the Pyramid in great form with the unifying theme, to my opinion, being the observation of a moment to be taken to find a clear head and frame of thought. To LISTEN and respect others and, generally, just attempt to treat one another better and with more respect. As I said, it’s more on the broad side than you’re going to hear from Kabaka Pyramid anywhere else here, but EZ Ride holds its own. I also want to mention the vocals on EZ Ride. Kabaka Pyramid is not a singer, but he does push his voice a little more on this song and it is a nice variation (I would tell you who I think he sounds like, but I’d have to chip away it somewhat to get it across, so I’ll keep that to myself) (Iyah) It is a very strong selection.
Mary Jane is the obligatory ganja tune for The Kalling and he tackles it with another staple of Ghetto Youths International, the very talented Black Am I [“IN THE GHETTOOOOOOOO!”]. These two previously teamed up on the scalding Jah In My Corner from just earlier this year [“Even when babylon buy out di referee, wi face di penalty and still ah win di victory!”] (BOOM!) and, CLEARLY, common sense has won out as someone who heard that first effort decided that the union needed to happen again and HERE IT IS! Mary Jane is a syrupy sweet vibes (credit to the saxophone player, whoever he/she may be) made even more delicious by the vocals. Go ahead and think that you’ve heard everything that can possibly said on such a song and ignore this one if you like and you’ll miss some truly powerful wordplay [“If you drink blood like dracul-er, caan tek a draw of mi chalice, sir”] and just one very nice tun altogether.
Another young GYI standout, Answele, joins Kabaka Pyramid on The Kalling, making his contribution on the outstanding Life Is Everything. Songs like this always hit me personally, because I see a great value in realizing just how well you do have it. You. YOU READING THIS RIGHT NOW, you have problems in your life; maybe you have a lot of them. You are a human being, which means that you are incredibly flawed, but you still have something going for you. There’s something or someone in your life that brings you joy and it’s important to be thankful for those things, because you don’t know how long they will remain. That’s what I took from Life Is Everything and, incidentally, should you want to hear more from Answele (and you should), you can check out either his well decent EP from last year, In Control from last year or One Way Mixtape which just released a few days ago (still working on the latter, but the title track on that one is really good work).
Lastly, our producer, Gongzilla, returns for his second vocal piece, a sequel to the title track of the first album, Kontraband, Pt. 2. This is a vibe. I dare not call it a freestyle from Kabaka Pyramid (if it is, it is the greatest of all time), but it comes billed as a Bonus Track and it exists — just in case you needed another example — of the FLOORING talent that is Kabaka Pyramid. Everyone has a talent. We all have something that we’re good at and we’re fortunate when we can find out exactly what that is. Music, in general, is fortunate because Kabaka Pyramid found his.
I do want to, briefly, dig into that talent just a bit more because, in listening to the album for the sake of this review (the first time I’ve reviewed a Kabaka Pyramid album), I feel like I have gotten a fuller experience and am better equipped to explain a few things. You have remarkable lyrcists in Reggae. We’re very fortunate. We have loads of them. People like Sizzla Kalonji who is capable of producing these large, anthem like pieces where, seemingly, every single letter has already been given to him and his gift is in bringing them all together on these immortal pieces. We have Vaughn Benjamin who GAVE us all a glimpse into his lifelong affinity with words unlike no one has ever done and there’re so many others like such as the brilliant Reemah, who all have what they individually do well. In my opinion, Kabaka Pyramid’s greatest strength as a writer and a conveyor of the word is his attention to detail. Not only does he seem to revel in his ability (it’s almost as if he enjoys it as much as we do!) (a very Bunji Garlin-ish trait), but he takes pride in grinding it down as finely as he possibly can – like he’s just as curious in seeing how far it may spread. What comes through at the end is a sound that is so NATURAL, yet so SCIENTIFIC that, if it has an equal, I do not know it. I brought up Bunji Garlin and I do hear some of that in Pyramid, but I also hear Sizzla, I also hear the teaching style of Reemah and the COMPLETE range of passion from someone like Agent Sasco, all the way to a Capleton, for example. Kabaka Pyramid covers every base and I don’t know if any other single individual has EVER done that.
Overall, I am very pleased to say that The Kalling is almost EXACTLY what I thought it would be. Both in terms of its sound and quality, the album delivers what I was hoping and it is a GORGEOUS display of the tremendous talents of Kabaka Pyramid. Also, as a complete package, as I mentioned, I love how everything feels around this one. I don’t know if they finished everything and thought that they may have had something truly special on their hands (they did) or if came beforehand, but when you look at The Kalling, your eyes tell you one thing and, later on, your ears will confirmit: It’s special. So as I sit here and make my greatest attempt to not become a prisoner of the proverbial moment and give some sort of historical look into this day and half old release, what I will say is that if 2022 were only nine months long, The Kalling would take the top prize for me. It is THE best Reggae album I have heard this year so far. Period.