Kabaka smuggles in protest on ‘Kontraband’
On his debut album Kontraband (launched officially last Friday at the Bob Marley Museum), Kabaka Pyramid focuses extensively on protest messages. That can be an over-hackneyed approach and wear very thin very quickly, but not in this case. Kabaka not only has strong delivery and lyrical capability (long shown in his near one-hour Accurate mixtape of mid-2016 and the preceding single, the sweetly sarcastic Well Done, which appears on this set), but he makes strong, relevant statements which show an engagement with current affairs and history which goes beyond the superficial.
Also, in this era of politically correct rebellion - where information travels at the speed of a click, and careers can crash like smartphones, Kabaka calls names - not for name-calling sake, but within the context of his overall message. One of the results is that he smuggles in the contraband of awareness to listeners, with songs like Kaught Up providing the relief of man and woman business before a return to the main matter at hand. Tying it in to the cover art, the title across his eyes could just be a statement that he is presenting the world how he sees it.
As far as generations and themes go, Make Way gets the album off to an Asafa Powell like start, as Kabaka deejays about "Jamaica whe we born the situation sorta sticky/The yutes dem a de future but de leaders over 60". In short order, he revisits the issue of containing youthful energy in a more outright way on Can't Breathe, with "de yute dem a future yet de police a remand dem".
My Time, the personalised companion track to Make Way, uses examples to encourage perseverance. Pyramid not leaving himself out of the real-life inspiration against giving up, as he deejays, "if mi do dat you woulden hear me pon yu station/Jus imagine if Usain never try/An Messi did give up...." The humour of the title track - an excellent interplay between Jr Gong and Kabaka over a security search in which the latter deejays:
"Meanwhile Gong is having an epiphany
I'm being searched by a squaddie named Tiffany
... Suppen get stiff on me"
In his turn, Marley deejays:
"As they are done searching the pyramid
They turn their attention to the Grammy Kid"
The burst out of the blocks ends at track four and, for the other 13 songs, Kontraband settles into more of a 400-metre approach easy movements while still covering ground rapidly. But that striking level of protest is before and after Kontraband, as on Make Way Pyramid delivers:
"The people inna crisis
Blaming it on Isis
Terrorism funded by the same ones whe a fight it...
World War III and everybody is invited"
In Africans Arise (featuring Akon singing the hook), Kabaka demands:
"If yu not a African child
Stop digging up we African soil...
Dem kill off Gadaffi fi wi African oil"
The outright repression of Rastafari, especially in the 1960s, is revisited on Blessed is the Man (featuring Chronixx), wit "chastisement was upon all African/Bustamante say kill all Rastaman." The former British Prime Minister gets his due as well, with the dismissal "tell Cameron that is not we problem." Still, in addressing current affairs, Kabaka utilises empathy in 'Borders' (featuring Stonebwoy), looking at the migrant crisis with:
"Travelling in the desert for days to escape it
Only to get denied
By the ones who should a rectify
Now the people get desensitised
With the refuges them we a identify
They deserve a place to call their own"
With all this finely focused fury, he is not above a little braggadocio about his consider-able abilities (see Lyrical Deity). Neither in looking outwards is he not introspective; in Meaning of Life Kabaka deejays:
"Remember Christ said that John the Baptist was once Elijah
So maybe each of us beyond the grave is a survivor...
So when you see a stranger, that's really so familiar
It could have been your lover, or maybe someone that kill you
We always keep returning..."
Apart from the obvious in the title track and the reference to "Junior Gong flagman" in Can't Breathe, the Marley's production influence on Kontraband is obvious. There are very few outright one drop reggae tracks on the set - tying in neatly with Kabaka's rapper roots (he slips into that persona on Kaught Up). By dint of similar backgrounds or design, in Reggae Music Kabaka name checks Bob Marley and Super Cat, who Jr Gong also has on his playlist in Beautiful (where he adds Dennis Brown).
The music is excellent in composition and sound - it is easy to take that for granted, but it must be said. The Reggae Month powers that be, intent on having the main concert a focal point for tourists, may be interested in the Reggae Music lines "and if yu born overseas yu have to take a trip/Like a pilgrimage to Mecca cause we created it."
In terms of guests, Chronixx's plaintive a cappella end to Blessed is the Man is memorable. Kontraband eases to the finish line with Natural Woman, which may just pique Pastor Gino Jennings' interest, the reflective I'm Just a Man and lovers' interplay of All I Need (featuring Nattali Rize). Taken together, they are not the finishing surge I had expected, but that is personal taste more so than a deficiency in what is a thematically cohesive and structured set with excellent lyrics - after all, he does say that from the be-ginning up to 2018 he "never dumb it dung."
Make Way (featuring Pressure Busspipe)
Kontraband (featuring Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley)
Borders (featuring Stonebwoy)
Africans Arise (featuring Akon)
Meaning of Life
Everywhere I Go (featuring Protoje)
Blessed is the Man (featuring Chronixx)
I'm Just a Man
All I Need (featuring Nattali Rize)