Ancient King: Conquering Sound

Ancient King cover“Conquering


Grade Records
, 2005]
Monica Espiritu

Hi, my name is Monica and I’m
a recovering “slack” addict. Years ago, I was introduced to
dancehall and copped a musical buzz off the daring rhythms. As I craved
more riddims, I found that what was being pushed was cut with lyrics
replete with violence, misogyny, and materialism, and the instrumentals
it was cooked in were cheapened in order to turn a quick buck. I found
myself caught up.

Then, I got help in the form
of conscious dancehall. A growing list of deejays – or “chantas”
as they’re called in the Virgin Islands, and singers such as Lutan
, Richie Spice, Sabbatical
, Yahadanai,
and others have brought hope to many fans of the genre like myself.
Add St. Croix’s Ancient King to that list.

Ancient King is no newcomer.
You may have heard “Manage”, “ Ancient of Days”, or “Calculate the Levels”
when he recorded as Willow, on the acclaimed I Grade compilation Weep
. Maybe you’re familiar with his two tracks on the Indigo International
The B Sides or have experienced the energy of his stage performances
at a Midnite, Dezarie, Yellowman, or Capleton gig. It seems this young
artist has put in his dues to release a solo full-length CD.

When I first heard the Conquering
EP, I knew immediately that I had to have this artist’s
album. I dug Ancient King’s gruff inflection, the ferocity of his voice,
and his upright lyrical content. A warrior, no doubt. All that dovetailed
with I Grade’s solid instrumentals and I knew that four tracks weren’t
enough to satiate me. The moment I received the CD from I Grade, I popped
it into my stereo and let it loose.

The track that drew me most to
Ancient’s vibe is his battle hymn “Faith, Courage, And A Just Cause”.
It’s a forceful piece featuring Vaughn Benjamin of Midnite whose arresting
wail and chant barrel into the song. Bambu Station’s Tuff Lion supplies
an alternately staccato-frantic then breezy rhythm guitar. I Grade co-owner
Kenyatta Itola’s incessant bass line keeps one on edge. Ancient’s steady,
husky chanting corrals all this oscillation together into a cohesive,
controlled piece. It feels as though the energy of this track is one
vibration short of exploding. Then, the sound of chirping birds marks
the song’s coda as the audio quality begins to crackle and the sampled
voice of His Majesty Haile Selassie I builds into “…with faith, courage,
and a just cause, David will once again beat Goliath.”

“Access Psychologically” is laid
atop clean, stripped down, but funked out instrumentals. With a hip
hop backdrop, it seems Ancient King calls out to ghetto youth manipulated
by mainstream urban music. I hope the fellas posted up on the corner
of my block in Oakland, CA, get a whiff of this beat and absorb how
“Babylon control the masses”. (I enjoy his incredulous “wow” at the
end of this track, too.)

The rhythm in Yahadanai’s “Best
Thing” which celebrates the African woman is utilized in Ancient King’s
“St. Croix Run Red”, a warning cry to Cruz shottas and an illustration
of the fading morale of youth on the island. Same riddim yet Ancient
King’s lyrics transmute its tone and timbre from one of praise to one
of woefulness.

Two requisite topics of conscious
reggae music are one’s Black empress and the act of smoking copious
amounts of herb. Ancient King fulfills this with “She’s So Awesome”,
which doesn’t present eloquent verbiage but does deliver in its raw
energy. “Get the Best” is his ode not to quantity but his penchant for

Other noteworthy tracks are the
thundering title track “Conquering Sound” featuring Prince Pankhi ,
“Do Good”, “Heading for Failure”, and “Wake Up and Live Up”.

Ancient’s raspy and intense delivery
is backed by elegantly crafted music from I Grade co-owners Laurent
“Tippy” Alfred and Kenyatta Itola, I Grade artist/producer Abja, Tuff
Lion, Astor Campbell, and Eric Williams, and guest vocalists Prince
Pankhi , Empress Michel, and Vaughn Benjamin. The direction of this
fierce inaugural solo effort owes quite a bit to the keen production
work of Tippy along with Abja, Kenyatta, and Gregory “Bassie” Jackson
on singular tracks.

But there is so much more. This
is a densely packed album with fifteen tracks. You might find its entirety
in heavy rotation in your stereo.

If you suffer from a “slack”
affliction as I do, Ancient King might help you on your road
to recovery. So, take that first step and pick up Conquering Sound.