Own This Life – Raz Bin Sam

Something Different: A Review of Own This Life by Raz Bin Sam – Rated 4/5 stars

Given my not so deep and novice- level experience and knowledge of Israel the country and Israeli culture and my better than ‘not so deep’ and novice- level experience and knowledge of Jamaica and Jamaican culture, the two would seem to have a bit in common. Therefore, at least theoretically speaking, one would think that our greatest ‘cultural export’, Reggae music would be something which would find a home in Israel and amongst Jewish people, being by far the most popular (and best) form of STRICTLY cultural music in the world in my opinion and Israel, of course, being one of the cultural and historical capitals of the world. Of course that wasn’t the case, at least not to my knowledge, up until a few years back when I started getting questions from everyone and their mothers as whether or not I had heard ‘Matisyahu’ or something like that. Matisyahu is a Jewish Reggae artist (I think born in the States) who makes a brand of Reggae which is noticeably a bit ‘different’, but its also very noticeable that he knows exactly what he’s doing and has had quite a bit of experience (and reading through his bio he lists Sizzla as amongst his inspirations musically) in Reggae music. One could rather easily go to make the case that Matisyahu is even one of the most popular Reggae artists in the world, now having two certified Gold albums to his credit in the US (2006’s Youth and 2005’s Live At Stubb’s) with an album for 2009 loaded and ready to go as well, which is certain to be one of the biggest selling Reggae albums of the year. Matisyahu would have at least SEEMED to open the door to many other Jewish and Israeli Reggae artists and although we may have yet to see the FULL benefit of his ascension, DEFINITELY a few years down the line I’d be absolutely shocked if Israel didn’t turn into a more consistent producer of Reggae talents as many of its European neighbours are (even though it’s technically in Asia), as well as several Asian countries also (it is also worth mentioning, perhaps, that Jamaican Dancehall superstar Sean Paul is also half Jewish to my knowledge). However, while we wait for someone to emerge, perhaps an individual with more IMMEDIATE aspirations could step forth and set a pace on something which may prove to be more in line with the typical Reggae standards (thinking of Matisyahu as more ‘mainstream’) and, who knows, maybe even do some of his business actually in Jamaica.

Meet Mr. IMMEDIATE. Australia isn’t a very bad place for Reggae music to be popular either. Although I struggle to think of many major acts from ‘down under’, outside of the very popular band Katchafire, I do know that there are some of our artists who are very popular there and tour Australia and neighbouring locations quite consistently, in particular Jah Mason. Australia also has somewhat of that laid

back ‘beach’ and ‘surfer’ type of culture which is also present in Reggae hotbeds across the globe, such as Brazil, Hawaii and especially California in the States. THUS, if you were going to introduce me to a Reggae artist who was originally from out of Israel and then had spent part of his time developing in Australia that is someone I’d be interested in hearing. Add to that fact that this artist had been linked through a Jamaican label which just happens to be one of my favourite going right now and I’m more than just ‘interested’. I DEMAND that you tell me who this individual is. Well in this case, the aforementioned ‘Mr. Immediate’ is one Raz Bin Sam. Raz Bin Sam is apparently quite the veteran, although I only first heard his name back in 2007 which would have been the release year of what I thought was his debut album, the well regarded Bin Tote Too (which I really need to track down one of these days). Two things which weren’t directly involved in the music of that album were of very interesting note, however, outside of the album itself. The first was the fact that it turns out Bin Tote Too wasn’t actually RBS’ first album but more like his third, as he had previously albums Kitset (I don’t know what that means either) which was in Hebrew and arrived in 1999 (thus predating Matisyahu I believe) and also there was Domesila, a predominately English album which arrived in 2002 and apparently provided RBS with the tune, Dalai Lama which was quite popular for him. The second thing which was quite interesting about Bin Tote Too, besides the album itself is the fact that it was released via one of my favourite labels going right now, Dasvibes. The same label has been heavily involved in some of my favourite albums over the past few years including Cali P’s EXCELLENT debut album, Lyrical Faya from just 2008, the MASSIVE The Most High album from Jamaican veteran chanter Daddy Rings which was arguably the best album in all of 2007 and ESPECIALLY King Of Kings, the long overdue debut from singer Elijah Prophet from out of Westmoreland which in 2006 which just may have been the GREATEST Reggae debut album from the last two decades or so (and he is also apparently coming with the follow- up to King Of Kings this year also). Also, were that not enough for DasVibes’ credentials (and it was), they also had a hand in one of my favourite riddims over the last few years, the Gloria, which they also released on a very fine album compilation as well. Take Raz Bin Sam and combine him again with DasVibes (who, incidentally has re- released much of RBS’ existing catalogue, making it available to the masses today) and I’m definitely taking a listen and what I’m listening to is Own This Life, Raz Bin Sam’s latest full length album for DasVibes. The sounds going into Own This Life are ‘different’ to say the least and USUALLY ‘different’ isn’t my thing concerning Reggae music (I do, however LOVE ‘different’ in Soca). Thankfully, Own This Life is some other kind of ‘different’ obviously as about three spins into it, it started to grow on me. Raz Bin Sam delivers on Own This Life a vibe that will TEAR THROUGH the casual Reggae listener and will grow on the hardened Reggae head at the same time.

Trying to think of which artist Raz Bin Sam most reminds me of and its kind of difficult. The one I’m leaning towards would probably be Italian star Alborosie. The two have similar vibes although RBS is consistently a bit harsher in his approach (think Alborosie + Agitated version of Junior Kelly = Raz Bin Sam). I’m sure RBS would be happy to be included in such company and he makes his case on Own This Life beginning with the opener, Crazy For Righteousness. I wasn’t sure if I had tuned up a Reggae album or a score to an Indiana Jones movie with the way this tune begins. This song definitely isn’t one of my favorite but it, like much of the album has grown on me quite bit. Despite how it sounds I think it’s kind of an ‘uplifting party song’ or one for the dance floor, given the exotic vibes. Odd, yet strangely addictive opening for Own This Life although I do hope Raz Bin Sam tones it back a little. While the next tune, Pull Up, isn’t all the way leveled off compared to Crazy For Righteousness, it definitely takes a FAR more lyrical approach and ultimately, in doing so, proves to be one of the stronger efforts on the album altogether. He had me from the first lines he uttered on the tune, “Yes you know, MANKIND IS LIKE THE MELANOMA OF PLANET EARTH!”. Indeed Raz Bin Sam. Yet another exotic and Arabian vibes back this one which is a BIG TUNE by its end. The tune which finishes the opening of Own This Life is the first NORMAL bit of Reggae music we hear from RBS on the album as he spins What’s The Matter on a straight forward one-drop backing which sounds SO GOOD here. This tune is probably the best written on the album it is downright CLEVER at times (it sounds like something which is kind of harsh in ‘disguise’ like something you would hear from I- Wayne). The start is kind of awkward, but it grows on you, and of course it helps that the rest of the album is better. The majority of ‘better’ comes in the form of two WICKED combinations which go to comprise the CLASS of Own This Life. The first is Livin Like That alongside veteran top notch Jamaican chanter Jah Mason. Any tune on which the Mason voices immediately gets that much better just because of his presence and this one is no different. When he gets into his section on the tune RBS has already built the vibes to a fevered pitch and although he is ultimately outshined by his friend here (which is what you would expect) Raz Bin Sam definitely holds his own on the OUTSTANDING tune. Livin Like That is only topped by previous single from the album, the HUGE Life Is A Gift which features RBS alongside ‘The People’s Choice’ Ray Darwin. This one is SPARKLING! You almost wish Bin Sam would employ this type of laid back delivery a bit more often, but maybe the fact that he doesn’t make this sound even better. The song is primarily is a nice message to the youths about appreciating LIFE and all the virtues and beauties which it offers to us. For his part, as expected, Darwin pulls in HEAVY vibes, including ‘invoking’ a bit of vibes from his now legendary signature tune. The song is just RIDICULOUS a certain winner and certainly the best you’ll find on Own This Life, which is saying a lot. Left to his own direction, RBS continues to infuse the Middle Eastern vibes in his Reggae, which around half way through the album REALLY started to catch me a bit. Check the tune Mist In The Jungle which isn’t much Reggae at all, save for the lyrical approach (and RBS does have a quite detectable Hip-Hop cadence to his normal delivery as well) but is just so well done for what(ever) it is and seriously by the album’s end I think it was the tune which I had spun through the most altogether. Clean N Pure For Sure is a tune which has a similar vibes and is another strange tune (and it features RBS about forty paces ahead of where I’d like to see him on such a tune), this one supporting the merits of keeping oneself clean, both literally and spiritually. It definitely is something different and although RBS apparently loses his mind halfway through and just starts screaming randomly, he eventually rights the ship to a degree. Sweet N Vicious is pretty much a Dancehall tune and a surprisingly straightforward one at that and one which RBS definitely handles quite well. I think this is a style of tune which he should explore doing in the future as well, he did a great job on that one and I wasn’t expecting that AT ALL. Now, if you go through the album focusing on the Reggae tunes exclusively, it gets even stronger. No Pegan is a WONDERFUL example as it is a VERY meditative vibes on a straight one-drop. Easily one of the best on the album and if you want to call it THE best, I’m not arguing with you as RBS espouses on the beauty of his culture. The title track is a Reggae/folksy hybrid of a tune which, if it doesn’t do something for you on some level, you may actually be deceased. Its kind of corny sounding at times, but rest assured, you spin that song enough, you’ll be standing in line somewhere and be COMPLETELY UNABLE to shake it out of your head. And it brings a good message at the same time, thus, big tune. No Place In Our Hearts is even stronger and has one SWEET sound to it. All of the hardcore Reggae heads will love this one! The vibes being so high and RBS taking his own sounds back just a bit, go to making this one a WINNER, definitely. As Own This Life winds down, it stays on that same heavy Roots Reggae vibes, wonderfully (except the aforementioned Sweet N Vicious, of course). Gevald (which, if I researched correctly, is a Yiddish word

meaning ‘Oh No!’ or some other exclamation like such) is one of the most laid back tunes on the album and one of the best at the same time (and musically speaking may just be the greatest composition you’ll find here). The exact same quality carries over the WICKED Something To Remember which may sound even better than Gevald (with the COOLEST guitar sound you’ll find on Own This Life altogether). And all of that sets the stage for the closer, another of the bigger tunes on the album Soul To Sound, an ode to the music itself and, by extension, life itself. Soul To Sound brings the very differently vibed Own This Life to a very familiar conclusion and does so BRILLIANTLY.

Overall, I think it goes without saying that I, like most Reggae heads listening to the album undoubtedly, favour the Reggae songs on Own This Life from Raz Bin Sam, but one would also have to appreciate the more exotic sounds to it as well, because it is there which provides RBS with his individuality. There are some tunes on this album which simply NO ONE ELSE in Reggae is making and, as I said, typically I frown on people taking Reggae and combining it with so many other things, but in this case, the style is so ORIGINAL. You go listen to Crazy For Righteousness and bring me the name of another skilled artist who would even ATTEMPT something like that if they had their preference. With Raz Bin Sam it comes off so easy and that, combined with a deceptively deep bag of lyrics is his REAL attraction and the real attraction for Own This Life. His new album is recommended for fans of modern Reggae (especially new fans) because I think it has enough of a ‘curious’ edge to sway even the HARDEST, MOStARROGANT, Reggae SNOB out there. Even me.

Rated 4/5 stars


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