Ask Nahko, Trevor Hall, Mike Love, (or pretty much any other contemporary artist blending reggae, folk, and hip-hop) who they have mad respect for- and one name will invariably turn up continuously: Tubby Love. He may not yet be headlining music festivals and young yoga-loving college girls may not be broadcasting his name on their tank tops- but I’m not sure Tubby cares that much anyway. He’s probably off in the Hawaiian mountains planting fruit seeds. But the man is truly one of the best musicians out there today, with a deep appreciation for reggae music without losing any of the folk and pop influences he grew up on. His vocals seamlessly progress from rapping to yodeling, chanting to balladeering.
On Waves (self-released, 2017), the message is simple: love all and walk lightly. At times throughout the album, Tubby seems possessed by ancestral spirits; at times, he’s political, speaking globally, while at others he shares deep insight into his own journey from a 90’s kid into someone conscious of his actions and words. Waves excels at being both danceable and meditative; it is both organically timeless and potently timely.
Waves is not flawless, though. Sadly, the album peaks at the start and continues to become less original and dynamic as it progresses, but that’s okay. Even the somewhat passive final track, “Go”, is beautiful. “I’m off on my great adventure,” he offers; “Well, I’ll take a piece of you with me/ so when I go I never really leave.” The lushness of his poetry can easily get lost in the simplicity of the guitar pattern.
“Chant Up Zion” features Tubby’s good friend Trevor Hall. Tubby often interweaves beatboxing with instrumentation, and does so here, creating a hip-hop song that someone could recreate easily over a campfire. The song articulates Tubby’s personality, (if you’ve ever met him in person you’d know he IS his music): “No more chanting down Babylon,” he pleads, claiming this is too much like complaining; “I’m going to chant up Zion,” he suggests an optimistic alternative. Trevor’s appearance is always welcome, although next to Tubby it becomes clear just how varied Love’s melodies and word choices are.
Yet “Everything Is Music” takes home grand prize for the sing-along anthem of the summer, a magical use of pop and hip-hop but holding on to the message in the way Michael Franti perfected a decade ago. Similarly, “Keep the Oil in The Ground” doesn’t subtly call out the Man. Featuring life partner Amber Lily, the song unites two voices where the pain and fear shines through the recording. “This land is not for sale,” Tubby argues. “Standing Rock is not for sale.”
Waves starts with the quintessential Tubby track. “You Are More Than Enough” is rich with his impressive vocal harmonies, roots reggae riddims, and Tubby suggesting, “Nobody is watching you/ so go and be yourself,” adding, “Even if they’re watching you/ go and be yourself.” Sometimes the songs on the album sound like they’re echoing too many influences at once, but “You Are More Than Enough” is unmistakably Tubby Love.
Yes, the album is fairly hippie-dippy, but let’s get real: we need more of this in the world these days. How refreshing to have an artist wearing no masks, taking little and giving so much. How wonderful to have an artist unforgivingly call out the politicians and forgivingly call everyone together.
Waves is good, man. Really, really good- the kind of album where you find yourself stopping whatever it is you’re doing, just to listen with complete attention.