2013 Year in Review: The best songs, artists and stories in Jamaican music

by Jodee Brown

After a 2012 which saw Jamaica return to the roots of its music during its 50th anniversary year, the majority of 2013 proved to be a major letdown and appeared to be heading for irrelevancy within the pantheon on memorable Jamaican periods. That is, until a certain sparkly 28-year-old singer reminded everyone that our music still has a very long shelf-life, if attention is focused on the right channels.

Tessanne Chin added a much needed boost to what was a mostly ordinary year within Jamaican music and entertainment. From a downsizing of hit songs, to increasingly poor album sales in the United States, to undying scrutiny regarding lyrical content and party regulations, these were trying times for artists and music lovers alike in 2013.

Nevertheless, we try to look on the brighter side of things in our music. With that said, check out the slideshow in the middle of this article, showing slides looking at the songs, artists and news makers that made Jamaican music interesting in 2013.  Feel free to comment below if you agree or disagree with these picks.

Best New Artist – Jah Bouks

Best New Artist – Jah Bouks

Honorable Mentions – Keznamdi, Kelissa, Alkaline, Samantha J

This year was a strong year for debutantes on the local scene. Keznamdi has music lovers re-thinking how they would spend each Weekend, Alkaline inked his eye and his name on the Dancehall scene, Kelissa continued a recent run of impressive, upcoming female singers coming out, while teenage sensation, Samantha J bragged about being the girl in the Tight Up SkirtBut, in this writer’s opinion, there is only one winner.

As an ardent listener of Portmore’s Sun City 104.9FM, there is a strong amount of good, featured music by artists with potential, but little to no mainstream assurance. One such artist was a St. Thomas native by the name of Jah Bouks whose vocals and concepts were unique and smooth.

After hearing songs like Angola and Don’t Cry play so many times on radio, there was no doubt in this writer’s mind 2013 would be Jah Bouks would be a breakout act, if he got the right push. Sai push came in the form of competing on season six of Magnum Kings and Queens of Dancehall, where his singing ability and stage presence instantly made him a hit with music lovers. He failed to emerge with the million-dollar grand prize, but his star had shone too brightly for him to fade in the limelight soon thereafter.

Angola has been a big hit in mainstream media and on Jamaican streets, landing him several shows locally and overseas in the last six months. Going Home, Vital and others proved that this was not just any ordinary, fly-by-night tinker in his music, but someone whose vision is more wide-ranging than some veteran acts in today’s business, if you listen to his content. 2014 will be a year in which music lovers will look on him Highly! As he would say.

Male Deejay of the Year – I-Octane

Male Deejay of the Year – I-Octane

Honorable Mentions – Aidonia, Vybz Kartel

There was a huge struggle with this pick, nearly a temptation to leave this award vacant in all honesty, as no Dancehall artist really made his mark on the scene all year-round, struggling for a string of hits.

Konshens, who asserted his authority in Dancehall throughout 2012 with a slew of number ones, was mostly an afterthought this year, with Pull Up To Mi Bumper (feat. J Capri) really being his only standout song, with well over six million YouTube views.

Vybz Kartel, still awaiting word on his freedom from a long-standing murder charge, produced his share of noteworthy songs such as School, Business and Georgina. But, as often the case with the ‘Worl’ Boss’ in recent years, he follows up one big song with five low quality ones.

Aidonia certainly looked like the frontrunner in the first half of the year, driving female audiences mad with songs like Fi Di Jockey, Bruki and Tip Pon Yuh Toe, but his work released since the summer drastically failed to replicate that early success.

So, in the end, this honour goes to I-Octane. His hit at the start of the year, Gyal A Gimme Bunwas a hit with music lovers, adding a mix of old-school vibes with new school humor, as evidenced by the accompanying video. Happy Time and Wine and Jiggle have also been strong on local charts and, despite some skepticism going in, Octane validated the faith shown in him by Reggae Sumfest organizers to close their Dancehall Night with one of his better performances.

Mind you, this was not as solid a year for him as 2010 was, but in a year where many Dancehall acts flattered to deceive, he managed to topple them all.

Female Deejay of the Year – Lady Saw

 Female Deejay of the Year – Lady Saw

Female Deejay of the Year – Lady Sawjamaica-gleaner.com

Honorable Mentions – Macka Diamond, Spice

Unlike the male version of this category, the female one took much less thought, because frankly, content from female deejays was very limited.

Macka Diamond certainly had the biggest song amongst her compatriots with the chart-topping single, Dye Dyebut could not duplicate that form with her follow-up efforts, no matter how raunchy or edgy her promotional or lyrical content gotSpice also had a pair of modest hits, Twerk and Dun Wife which were catchy and thought-provoking, but she was mostly anonymous otherwise, with her beefs with Macka Diamond and the winner of this category mainly keeping her talked about in the press.

For all intent and purposes, Lady Saw was supposed to be done with Dancehall – moving on to a calmer, more spiritual lifestyle after growing tired of the stress and obstacles within a genre she dominated for decades. But the inner ‘bad gyal’ in her just could not resist staying away for good. Her video for Heels On, and the remix (featuring Flo-Rida) put her back on the international map again.

Her solo set at STING 2013, and, moments later, lyrical decapitation of the aforementionedMacka Diamond during their heated clash at the show really summed up how much Dancehall still needs its queen. She still has the edge and lyrical quality left to be a force in the business, as Heels On proved. Time will tell if she follows up on her decision on walk away for good, but her fans will certainly try their best to keep her around.

Reggae Artist of the Year – Chronixx

Reggae Artist of the Year – Chronixx

Reggae Artist of the Year – Chronixx reggaesumfest.com

Honorable Mentions – Sizzla, Beres Hammond, Etana

After a year which saw him rise to instant super stardom with one international hit after the next, one could forgive Chronixx if he relented and moseyed along 2013 while trying to find firm footing within this new-found status. Nope, he is a Warrior, and he continues to fight his way to the top with alarming ease.

Conceptually, he is well beyond his years, showcased through his chart-topping hit,Smile Jamaica, a song reminiscent of Bob Marley’s classic, with a spin on it comparing Jamaica to a beautiful woman. After dropping one of the best songs of 2013, he could again be forgiven for taking his foot off the gas pedal. Of course, again, he refused.

Access Granted, Rain Music, Most I and Here Comes Trouble went over with Jamaicans far and wide, earning rotation in markets such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Billboard has already identified him as potentially Reggae music’s next big superstar, and who would blame them for jumping to that conclusion this early, given his catalogue.

In fairness, Sizzla, Beres Hammond and Etana put out solid hits which did not received nearly the same airplay or approval, but were solid throughout the year, both in studio and on stage. The former two received nods for the 2014 Best Reggae Album Grammy, whileEtana, in this writer’s opinion, should have earned a similar nod.

Given the trajectory Chronixx is on, such recognition will be coming his way much sooner than later, and deservedly so.

Song of the Year – Bumaye (Major Lazer feat. Busy Signal)

 Song of the Year – Bumaye (Major Lazer feat. Busy Signal)

Song of the Year – Bumaye (Major Lazer feat. Busy Signal)twelvefresh.com

Honorable Mentions – Smile Jamaica (Chronixx), Gyal a Gimme Bun (I-Octane), Nuh Compatible (Bugle)

There were a few gems that sparkled song-wise within the seemingly rusting jewel that was Jamaican music in 2013; all of them dominating for a long stretch of time.

Gyal a Gimme Bun was Dancehall’s biggest, most noteworthy hit between January and March, racking up number ones and giving pop culture a new term to exhaust with ‘Mi chest plate a bun mi.’

Nuh Compatible was one of the spring’s most talked about songs, composed by journeyman artist, Bugle, who finally earned his first real mainstream hit since his debut single, What We Gonna Do five years earlier. The acclaim it received was deserved and gave those going through untenable relationships a song to hang their hat on.

As mentioned in the previous slide, Smile Jamaica was a stroke of genius by Chronixx, and was easily the best Reggae song for 2013. But, the winner of this category had his song play in the background of a Pepsi commercial featuring world footballing great, Lionel Messi.Enough said.

Busy Signal, seeking that next, big mainstream hit since being released from prison in November of last year, teamed with Major Lazer for the single, Bumaye, which in English, means kill them (a phrase shouted during Muhammad Ali’s legendary fight with George Foreman).

This top-of-the-line, collaboration was, to use another boxing reference, an instant knockout, earning over 40 million YouTube hits, platinum status in Denmark and that aforementioned commercial with Messi. It was a throwback-themed song – using old-time Dancehall sounds and terms – that morphed into a commercial success and made Busy a major international player once again.

Story of the Year – Tessanne is ‘The Voice’

Story of the Year – Tessanne is ‘The Voice’

Story of the Year – Tessanne is ‘The Voice’ File photo

There could only be one winner or nominee for this honor; a no-brainer really.

Some four or five months ago, Tessanne Chin was a relative afterthought struggling to find a major breakthrough that would launch a once promising career that mostly stalled since making her mainstream debut as a teenager in 2004. Thanks to smart advice from Shaggy and one-chair-turning audition in Los Angeles, she went from Hideaway to being one of the most sought after musicians in the world right now.

Chin long possessed the vocal range, clarity and stage presence necessary to become a superstar, and after successfully auditioning for season five of NBC’s The Voice, those qualities were finally there for a much bigger audience than ours to witness. Song by song, she hit every high note with ease, and round-by-round, more American viewers were warming up to a woman whose personality and talent were too irresistible a combination to overlook.

Her last two solo performances – of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waterand Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing – were two of the most memorable performances ever displayed by a Jamaican artist, or on any talent show worldwide for that matter. With every well-sung word, she had her own coach, Adam Levine, and really everyone else speechless, leaving one to wonder how high her ceiling really is.

Winning The Voice and an American recording contract were mere formalities really. It was the way the she galvanized her entire country to the point bars and Half-Way-Tree square were filled to Bolt-like proportions that was the real story. Jamaican music, and Jamaica in general, now had something to smile broadly about in a year filled with economic and social mishaps and drug controversy surrounding the island’s main source of unbridled joy in recent years, its track and field team.

Chin brought a badly-needed light on the island in dark times and has given every local musician to believe that a break is coming, with just a little persistence and attention to detail required. She now has the opportunity to become the island’s next musical icon and open doors for Jamaican in an American market which has not been kind to them since the days ofDamian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, Shaggy and Sean Paul.

Here is to hoping in 2014, she lays the foundation for Jamaica building a much stronger home musically.

Tessanne Chin features twice more on Billboard Hot 100

Tessanne Chin is seeing double on the Billboard Hot 100, earning two spots in the chart thanks to her stunning run on the NBC talent show

Tessanne Chin is seeing double on the Billboard Hot 100, earning two spots in the chart thanks to her stunning run on the NBC talent show

by Jodee Brown

The Voice: Season Five winner, Tessanne Chin has once again earned recognition from music’s most established chart as Billboard magazine now features two more songs from the Jamaican sensation, according to reports Friday.

After peaking on the Billboard Top 100 chart at 64 with her rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water during The Voice semifinal, Chin has outdone herself once again by placing at number 51 for a similarly masterful performance of Whitney Houston’s classic, I Have Nothing in the final.

Additionally, her performance of Let It Be with coach,Adam Levine has entered the chart at number 76. Both songs are also featured on Billboard’s Heatseekerschart, with I Have Nothing topping the chart while Let It Be is seventh.

Meanwhile, Chin’s new single, Tumbling Down, written by One Republic’s Ryan Tedder could enter theBillboard charts as early as next week, according to reports. The song has been heavily promoted and was performed during her media blitz in the United States following her victory on The Voice, including on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Live with Kelly and Michael and Access Hollywood Live.

Her new album is expected to be in stores early next year.

Tess is the best – Jamaican singing sensation takes home ‘The Voice crown

It is fitting that Tessanne Chin’s handle on the popular picture-sharing website, Instagram is ‘TheBesTess,’ because after pulling off one of the most incredible renditions of a Whitney Houston song in recent memory and showing exemplary humility throughout her run onThe Voice, she has painted an image of excellence and grace that has ever graced a talent show stage.

That image is now worth a lot more than 1,000 words, as the 28-year-old Jamaican singer took home the title on the season five finale of the American talent show on Tuesday night, pocketing US$100,000 and a recording contract with a major U.S. label. The result, which also made Adam Levine the winning coach on the show, was confirmed following a two-hour season finale, featuring a number of performances including all the season’s contestants, as well as guest performances by the likes of Lady Gaga, Ne-Yo, Paramore and many more.

The standout performance of the night, however, was from Tessanne, who received the opportunity to sing with legendary singer and idol, Celine Dion, causing her to hysterically burst into tears as she tried to channel the shock. That nervous energy, however, was translated into the typical vocal brilliance she displayed throughout the competition, performing Love Can Move Mountainsalongside the Grammy-winning musician, with both clearly enjoying themselves and giving a display of pure musical talent.

As surprising as that performance was, it was a fitting follow-up to her final live performance show set on Monday night, as she competed against eventual runner-up, Jacqueline Lee and second runner-up, Will Champlin for top spot on The Voice. After singing her rendition of the song which got her in the competition in the first place – Pink’s Try – and performing a sumptuous duet of The Beatles’ Let It Be with Levine,Chin was handed the toughest of tests – Whitney Houston’s classic, I Have Nothing.

Given Houston was one of the greatest singers to ever grace the world, Chin would no doubt be judged by the highest of standards by music lovers and judges alike. But after showing fluency and vocal clarity that few singers possess, Tessanne not only performed to that standard, but had the audience and judges in shock, wondering if she had a ceiling, as Levine pointed out during his post-performance commentary.It was the stuff of legend that even had the likes of Piers Morgan speaking Jamaican patois and later earned her asecond straight number one on the overall iTunes chart.

Locals packed Half-Way-Tree in Kingston during the finale, reminiscent of last year’s Olympic Games in London, and erupted with joy and relief once Tessanne’s name was announced, and everyone from top local musicians, media personnel and high ranking politicians congratulated her from her efforts.

Where Tessanne Chin will go from here is unknown and how Jamaican music will capitalize on this victory remains unclear, but those pictures will be painted over time, everyone can only hope this artist continues to create masterpieces as her career blossoms.

Tessanne voted into last 12 of ‘The Voice’

Tessanne Chin's memorable performance on Monday night has earned her a Top 12 spot on NBC's 'The Voice'

Tessanne Chin’s memorable performance on Monday night has earned her a Top 12 spot on NBC’s ‘The Voice’

by Jodee Brown

Jamaicans are breathing a collective sigh of relief as multitalented songstress, Tessanne Chin has advanced to the final 12 of BC’s hit talent show, The Voice.

The Kingston-born singer was one of two from her team headed by coach Adam Levine voted past the first phase of the live performance round, joining American singer, James Wolpert. Both Chin and Wolpert were spared of the agony of being amongst the three singers left to face Levine, as he was left with the choice of choosing between Preston Pohl, Will Champlin and Grey.

Ultimately, it was Champlin who received the vote of confidence from Levine to move on.

Prior to the voting, Tessanne and her teammates performed a rendition of the Capital Cities song, Safe and Sound to rousing approval.

Tessanne earned her votes following a moving, high octave performance of Many Rivers To Cross, the classic single by her mentor, Jimmy Cliff. She was considered by many analysts to be the headline performer of the night during her set Monday. Additionally, her rendition of Cliff’s song charted as high as 27th on the iTunes charts prior to the end of voting Tuesday morning.

The Top 12 will perform on Nov. 11 and Nov. 12 respectively as they compete for eight spots in the next phase of the live performance phase.

Tessanne seals spot in knockout round of ‘The Voice’ with stellar performance

Tessanne Chin has every reason to smile after advancing to the knockout round of 'The Voice' after edging out Donna Allen during their performance on Monday night.

Tessanne Chin has every reason to smile after advancing to the knockout round of ‘The Voice’ after edging out Donna Allen during their performance on Monday night.

by Jodee Brown

Versatile Jamaican songstress, Tessanne Chin is through to the knockout round of the popular American talent show, The Voice after winning a tightly-contested battle round against veteran American pop singer, Donna Allen Monday night.

Chin and Allen, both standouts on the show mentored by elite singers, Adam Levine and Ryan Tedder were surprisingly paired together during the battle round, in which they had to perform a rendition of Emeli Sande’s hit song, Next To Me together. As expected, they gave a rousing, emotional rendition of the song and made it extremely tough for Levine and fellow judges, Christina Aguilera, Cee’Lo Green and Blake Shelton to choose between them.

Allen’s powerful, raspy voice immediately stomped her authority on the song while Tessanne’s smooth, sultry vocals effectively added the balance and extra charisma necessary to make the rendition come off flawlessly. Following their two-minute rendition, tension arose as the judges lauded them on their performance.

While Shelton gave the edge to Allen, Aguilera and Green both cited Tessanne’s clarity in their decision to give her in the edge. Ultimately, it was the coaches’ decision, and Levine ended up choosing Tessanne to move on to the knockout round, where she will compete against another member or her team for the right to move on to the highly-anticipated live performance stage.

Despite Allen’s exceptional performance in a losing effort, none of Levine’s rival coaches opted to use one of their two steals to take her on board to the next round, to the surprise of many. For his part, Green cited patches in Allen’s voice during her performance as a reason for not opting to take her on.

Battle Night 2 on The Voice will air live Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on NBC and 7 p.m. (local time) on RETV in Jamaica, with TVJ showing a delayed broadcast at 9 p.m. local time.