Vanzo – S/T
One of the absolute joys of loving music as all of us do, is the chance to listen and absorb products from brand new artists and groups. No matter the genre, experiencing these initial offerings provides the opportunity to possibly expand one’s listening horizons, and even better put someone else on to some brand new fire. Even better is when critics such as myself are able to write about it. I always look as an artist’s first album as the culmination of a personal journey none of us are privy to, and for better or worse the vehicle by which potential dreams are made of. Okay, that’s a lot of word salad for saying if the album’s good, we’ll want more, but if it sucks, to quote the late great, Notorious B.I.G, “Don’t be mad UPS is hiring.” Sorry, but it’s just facts. The music game is packed with new jacks clawing at the door to success, hard drive in hand, clamoring to be the next, Drake, Harry Styles or Popcaan, but most often winding up being the next, Tag Team, Right Said Fred or Luimidee. That’s not to say that success hinges strictly on the ability to successfully birth a long player. Many artists have culled an underground following, via singles, social media followings, and in many cases live performances on some of the most known stages.
Spanish Town-born and bred dancehall artist Vanzo is as solid an exhibit A as any, having generated major buzz by his thrashing the competition in the 2017 Magnum Kings & Queens of Dancehall competition. Now you know as any good writer does, I had to do my homework on the young buck since I had never heard of him prior to drawing this assignment so I checked him out, and came away impressed! In a one-on-one face-off to determine the winner of the Magnum contest, he wound up losing to some cat named Symatic. (fair and square I might add). But the job was done, and my interest in Vanzo as an artist was piqued. Fast forward to 2023 and the reggae world is privy to his debut self-titled release on the Baco Music label, home to established labelmates Queen Omega and Marcus Gad.
Vanzo pops off the proceedings with In The City a very nicely arranged intro that highlights a very crisp, melodic sing style that lies somewhere between Chronixx and Samory I. Oftentimes, especially in Reggae, artists are subject to scrutiny (fair or unfair) if they even remotely resemble established artists. Vanzo does a great job, separating himself while still being smart enough to know what works for the fans. There’s no shortage of entertaining tracks on this album. Cuts like the sharp, head nodder Tuff Gyal, the beautifully produced uptempo Guide and the plodding, moody Survivor show tremendous versatility and let Vanzo’s charisma burst through the speaker. He even shows a lil’ gumption, attempting a version of Gregory Isaacs’s Rumors. A lil mediocre it is, but I applaud my man’s effort to give a classic a fresh sound. The album’s highlight however and no lie, my favorite song out right now is Happy Mood. Even if I hated this album, I don’t think I’d have the heart to trash it because of how good this track is! The perfect summer song, the lazy knocker of a track highlights Vanzo’s effervescent personality and how winning in life is oftentimes the result of a positive attitude. With the hook (“I’m in a Happy Mood, happy vibes yeah, feel like mi just get a million, feel good like summer love, yes”), I’m ready to book my flight to Jamaica right now for a much-needed dose of sun, sand, and endless Appleton cocktails! Trust me when I tell you it’ll likely be your new personal theme song as well. I listened to Vanzo 3 times before I wrote a word of this review, liking the album more with each listen. It’s not a perfect offering, but the brevity of it (10 tracks) was just enough to show the talent that got him to this point, and stoke the fires for more products in the coming years. I’m checking for Vanzo personally, and wish for him to make his mark in a crowded field of competitors. Now somebody point me to a good deal on a flight to Montego bay please!