I Kong is the nephew of Leslie Kong, producer of many reggae bands from the early days, including The Wailers. (It was Kong’s release The Best of the Wailers that angered the band so much that Bunny Wailer cursed him) I Kong sang with The Jamaicans back in the rocksteady days but his legendary status was secured by two records he made in the first part of the 70’s – Bushweed Corntrash in the company of his good friend Bunny Rugs for Lee perry, and perhaps most definitively the incredible The Way It Is for Tommy Cowan’s Top Cat label featuring members of the Inner Circle. If he only ever made that one record his legendary status among certain aficionados would be secure, the very deepest of deep roots comparable with the deepest Yabby You, Burning Spear or Abyssinians.
This new set of songs finds Kong working with Swiss based roots revivalists Najavibes and was recorded at Mixing Lab and Small World Studios in Jamaica with Najavibes alonside JA vets including Dalton Browne and Scully Simms and mixed at A-Lone Studio in Spain by Roberto Sanchez. It is presented as a kind of “showcase” album with two extended tracks and the rest followed by stand alone dubs. Kong’s voice retains its timbre and the album stands comparison with the The Way It Is album from the late 70’s.
I Kong’s The Way It Is is an interesting specimen from the late seventies. It shares a lot in common with the work of Willie Williams, Fred Locks, and Prince Alla. The production has a fun little finish to it that incorporates much of the sunshiny-ness of late-sixties/early-seventies sunshine pop, yet all the rootsiness of the era in Jamaica. The set opens up with the e-harpsichord intro of “Ghetto Cry,” a bouncy little tune about the hardship of children growing up in the ghetto. “Wolves in Sheeps Clothing” is full of thick sunny wah-wahs and Jerry Garcia-ish picking. I Kong’s vocal is similarly soft and reminiscent of Peter Tosh’s “Pick Myself Back Up”. The penultimate track is a not-to-be-missed cover of the then-popular gospel song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” which is a song about the Rapture and the sentiment of those who were left behind once they realize the truth. Still, all of the kitsch only adds value to a tight and heavy set of seventies roots. Every track here is on par with anything you’ll discover in the recent wave of reissues from labels such as VP, Blood & Fire, or Moll-Selekta. There are no real standouts, just a great selection.