Kenyatta Hill‘s new album, Riddim of Life, released on September 30, 2014 on Christos DC’s Honest Music label out of Washington, DC, is proof of Kenyatta’s talent as a singer and songwriter. It is also a testament to his father, Joseph Hill, who was the guiding star in Kenyatta’s life and a hero figure for the youth. Hill was a man whose life exemplified the virtues of hard work and eternal dedication to spreading a message of righteousness and humanity, in a world often devoid of both.
“Son, you know that your father was not a lazy man.” These words, eerily spoken in the past tense, were Joseph Hill’s final words to his son Kenyatta before a Culture show in Berlin, Germany on August 19, 2006. The elder Hill performed the show with all of the strength and vigor that he was famous for. However, he passed suddenly after the performance. As Kenyatta himself describes, his career started the day after his father passed.
Kenyatta Hill was thrust to the forefront of the group and bravely delivered 19 electrifying performances to complete the tour. This extraordinary feat was a fitting tribute to his father who always demanded that “the show must go on.” Kenyatta made his Jamaican debut as the group’s lead singer at the Western Consciousness show at the Llandilo Cultural Centre, Westmoreland on Saturday, April 28, 2007. The star-studded show was billed as a musical tribute to the late Joseph Hill who, ironically, was the very first artist booked for the show. Backed by founding members Walker and Days, Kenyatta has wowed reggae fans and critics the world over since that day with an incomparable work ethic and a voice which has been described as a carbon-copy of his father’s.
It is an older and wiser Kenyatta Hill than the one we heard on his 2007 debut, Pass The Torch. On Riddim of Life, Kenyatta portrays a vulnerability and humility that comes only with maturity. As an artist, he is more open, sharing a more complete picture of himself – a man who relishes the learning of life’s painful lessons and the unique opportunity he has been given to communicate the knowledge gained from his experience to those who are willing to listen.
The album is an incredible piece of work – one of the finest roots reggae albums of the year. Whether channeling the late great Peter Tosh in “Afrikan” or chanting dread with The Archives over a mean foundation roots reggae riddim on “Pressure Drop,” Kenyatta’s performance is profoundly authentic and eerily reminiscent of his father. Listening to this album, it is clearly evident that his father was right beside him in the studio, standing steadfast and giving strength to the younger Hill throughout, his livity coming through in every note. The album features brilliant production by Washington, DC’s Christopher Vrenios AKA Christos DC and The Archives’ Darryl “D-Trane” Burke and a cadre of multi-talented musicians including Earl ‘Mitch’ Michelin, Leslie ‘BLACKSEED’ James Jr., Ricky Swann, Desi Hyson, and DC-area roots outfit Machet.
The most notable track on the album is Dub Architect’s mix of “Jah Is My Friend,” a simple yet emotional confessional from Kenyatta Hill that just may be his best work to date. It is a timeless, traditional roots anthem that proves that there is still beauty in the world. With Roots Radics providing the riddim, Kenyatta wails in a voice all his own “Jah Jah is the only friend I know / Because my forefathers told I so / He follows me wherever I go / Thankful for the blessings he bestowed.”
Virginia’s Dub Architect mixes the track to perfection with a subtlety and restraint that is rare among dub producers. When mixing dub tracks, producers are often tempted to lean heavy on effects and put their own distinct signature on the track. In effect, most tend to take an artist’s work and make it their own. Dub Architect resists this temptation by constructing a mix that enhances and showcases Kenyatta’s brilliant performance and this is why he is one of the very best in the game. The album also features strong dub mixes by Jah Servant, Y & D Duke Production, and Dub Africa. Kenyatta Hill’s Riddim of Life is a remarkable effort from Culture’s frontman, and may just be the best reggae album of 2014.