Crucial Times was my first introduction to singjay Sizzla Kalonji, who was born Miguel Orlando Collins. Sizzla first hit the reggae scene with his 1995 debut Burning Up, and has released a staggering forty-five official albums since then. His latest disc seems as good a place as any to start, since it contains new and old material. It even includes his first recording, "Foundation," in which is talent is obvious despite the lack of polish.
Sizzla is known for being a conscious, Rastafarian deejay, avoiding the slackness and gun talk prevalent in deejay culture. His music celebrates Jah and living righteously. The positive subject matter makes it easier to digest than your standard ragga deejay boasting about his/her sexual proclivities (provided you aren't gay; homosexuality is a Rastafarian no-no).
The music on this disc contains the swing of roots reggae with the kick of digital ragga music. It starts off with "Precious Gift," allegedly his first attempt at singing, and his forced falsetto mixes well with his melodic deejay bark. "Agriculture and Education" also balances deejaying and roots reggae, and it is powerful but melodic. These two tracks are the best on the album, and seem to best capture Sizzla at his best, as do "Rat Race" and "Crucial Times."
Since the album draws from throughout Sizzla's fifteen-year career, there is a mix of musical styles that don't all gel. "Charming" and ""Jolly Good Time" have the slickness of American R&B, while "Atta Clap" and "Progress" have the abrasive sparseness of ragga, and "Get Rid Ah Dem" sees Sizzla toasting over a dub track. "There's No Pain" is an example of Sizzla's singing, and while he's not bad, it doesn't have the force of his deejaying.
The lack of sonic or temporal cohesion on Crucial Times makes for a bumpy listening experience, but the good songs make it worth listening to. Sizzla manages to meld the aggression and immediacy of contemporary deejaying with the spirituality and melody of roots reggae. It's hard for me to say how this stands up to the rest of his catalogue, but it definitely got me interested in digging deeper into Sizzla's recordings.