Along with the likes of Protojé, Chronixx, and Jesse Royal, Janine Jah9 Cunningham has become inextricably linked to the Jamaican “reggae revival” movement. Her new album 9 places her back in the forefront as one of modern roots reggae’s flag-bearer’s. The album features strong production from Jah9, who takes the helm on five of the nine total tracks. It also features key performances from musicians and producers alike, including Wayne “Unga” Thompson, Earl “Chinna” Smith, Belgium’s Puraman Bregt, Akae Beka, Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred, and the Zion I Kings band.
Jah9’s appeal is not so much in her vocal delivery, or her lyricism, but in her livity. She is a strong and striking young woman with a take no shit attitude and an authenticity that is unmatched by her contemporaries. She is a strong stage performer who can hold her own in town or over in Europe, where she recently played to tens of thousands at Rototom. Jah9 is not an artist, she is a being.
The best moments on 9 are when Janine gets introspective like on the self-produced “Humble Mi” and “Prosper,” two tunes featuring poignant lyrics over deep percussion and nyabinghi style drumming. The best track on the album is an upbeat modern and rootikal tune called “Hardcore” which comes with an unforgettable hook (“Hardcore, you cannot claim the victory til your heart pure, and your mind”). I would love to hear what Tabou1 with Sly and Robbie could have done with this tune.
She revisits the Kenneth Hoo Kim/Gladiators-produced “Can’t Stop Righteousness” riddim on “Unafraid” but unfortunately fails to bring the full punch that the riddim deserves. It would have been great to hear her cut up that riddim with words like ginzu, however, she chooses a performance that is more understated.
Another high-point of the album is her performance with Akae Beka (Vaughn Benjamin formerly of Midnite) on “Greatest Threat to the Status Quo.” Janine has made no bones about the fact that Midnite, and Vaughn Benjamin in particular, is one of her greatest musical influences. In fact, it was the heaviness and urgency of Midnite’s music that is partially responsible for the Jamaican “reggae revival.” The track is co-produced and mixed by Laurent “Tippy I” Alfred and features instrumentation from Zion I Kings. I recently spoke with Alfred about the tune, telling him that it had a very “Portals” sound to it (Akae Beka’s latest album and the best reggae album of 2016 in my humble opinion). He laughed saying “Yes-I! I know Jah9 loved the sound the minute she heard it!”
9 is a strong album from Jah9 and one of the best reggae albums of the year. It is a powerful lyrical vehicle which undoubtedly delivers on truths and rights, roots and culture. The album showcases a more mature, introspective, and unafraid Jah9 than her 2013 debut.