As the title suggests, The Alchemystics’ Spread Hope is an upbeat, optimistic and infectious slab of tunes that defies categorization. This CD was four years in the making, but it was sooooo worth the wait. It’s an eclectic array of songs, built on a reggae foundation but blending styles well beyond genres and ethnicities. The 17 tracks mix reggae and Caribbean music, spirituals, hip-hop, dub and ska, rock, funk and soul (often within each song), into an amalgamation of music that will appeal to a wide range of listeners. Technically, the band is a six-piece, consisting of; (reggae music legend) Ras Jahn Bullock – Vocals, Percussion / Force – Vocals / Ian-I – Guitar, Vocals / Jay Metcalf - Keyboards / Garrett Sawyer - Bass / Demse Zullo – Drums, Percussion. In concert however, the band occasionally adds a three-piece horn section, exemplifying the members’ diverse and eclectic backgrounds.
Opener “Type Of Prayer” is a reggae styled spiritual, with bouncy and rhythmic piano melodies laid down by Sawyer and multiple choruses and verses sung by Ian-I, Ras Jahn and emcee Force, who trade verses and choruses throughout the CD. The song’s verses outline the band’s long held vision of bringing a positive musical vibe to people everywhere:
“Always stay where the peace will abide
The most positive thing I ever could have tried
Helps us to stay real inside
We’ve got nothing to hide”
“Coming with a new type a prayer
coming with a brand new thing to do
coming with a new vibe to bring
and we’re bringing this thing to you”
The Alchemystics fully embrace reggae music’s philanthropy of social, cultural and political change. “Let Them know” is a call to arms to the people of Babylon to come together, rise up and fight for change. And later, “Leaving Babylon” isn’t so much an appeal to leave the mystical city, as it is a quest to find one’s own inspiration for greatness. Both are musically grounded in reggae, with swirling keyboard rhythms and a soulful, swaying horn section. And calypso king Kurt Allen adds a guest lead vocal on the upbeat Caribbean flavored “Be The Change” which advocates that change starts with ones’ self.
Force is an emcee to be reckoned with, rapping with a smooth yet vigorous lyrical flow, he’s atypical of what we hear in modern, popular rap today, rapping with a socially conscious bent. Take the fast paced dub track “Mosh Up” for instance, on which he lays out a mission statement amongst blaring wah wah horn flares and rapid-fire percussion:
“Mosh up catch up this one’s for the masses establish a name
Can’t think of an adjective apt to describe
So why try just vibe out don’t doubt now
endowed with a power to transform crowds
till the chant so loud they damn near bounce out their trousers
If I’m allowed to be frank let’s just say
Ain’t nothin better betta get this straight.”
And “Shine I” is a moving and inspirational love song to a girl who got away back in the day, yet now he’s found her face in the crowd and he’s making his move.
“No illusions I’m done with the ruse
and you remember in school I was way into you
And you dated some dudes who were majorly cruel
And I hated to swoon or be played like a fool
I was takin it cool to the day you were through
And this right here’s like deja vu
Who’d a knew that we’d meet twice
And I’m still surprised cause I fantasized
So many times bout you and I
Can’t deny this here’s a sign.”
Yet on the aching but lovely heartbreaker, “Don’t Leave”, the protagonist begs a lover (the same woman?) not to leave. Yet as Ian-I makes clear in the final verse, the hurt between the lovers is too much to bare. Musically, it’s the most melodic song on the recording, with plaintive piano and shimmering guitar and a heartfelt and emotional chorus plea by Ras Jahn. “Summer Life” is every bit as breezy and warm as its title suggests, with a funky bass groove, soulful harmonies and Caribbean dance hall styled keyboards.
Perhaps everything can be summarized by the inspirational title track,” What We Need (Spread Hope)”. Against a cadent, percussive back beat, the band mixes all elements; hip hop, soulful reggae and sweet vocal harmonizing, verses traded back and fourth between Ras Jahn, Ian-I, Force, and guests including reggae legend Denroy Morgan, and Catalyst (Force’s brother). Ras Jahn soulfully pleads in a sinuous lilt on the chorus for “…a new vibe, inspiration, sweet sensation”. And then Force offers tribute to the masters:
“No defense for this intensive inventiveness from my squad
A positive message indebted to Bob Marl
Wit a lil bit of Marvin, Jay Biggie and Nas.”
“But let’s take a pause remember
when rap was all about change and Flavor Flav was sane
No half steppin with Kane and now ya reppin that caine
Y’all Mr. Glass rappers are actually quite lame.”
Ras Jahn and Ian-I bring the reggae back around on inspirationally moving verses, and then Catalyst grabs the mic to preach for peace in the communities:
“Yea I know times get drastic
Last thing we need is rappers putting guys in caskets
Should be evolution instead of the guns you shooting
Start a revolution instead we all losing.”
On Spread Hope, The Alchemystics blend several styles of music and an eclectic mix of influences, creating the ultimate elixir of life, and delivering an upbeat and optimistic message of peace and positive vibes. The music is infectious, funky, soulful and spiritual, and one can’t but help be moved by this groove.
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