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.

10 hit Reggae albums that deserved Grammy nominations

by Jodee Brown

On Friday night, The Recording Academy announced its nominees for the 56th Grammy Awards, slated for January 26 in Los Angeles. A fair amount of intrigue surrounds this year’s Reggae Grammy nominees, with Snoop Dogg (under the Snoop Lion moniker) and Sizzla standing out amongst the contenders.

However, while the selection committee has managed to correctly reward some of Reggae’s most influential projects in the past, there were some top-of-the-line albums by Jamaican artists that were inexplicably snubbed, for whatever reason, with regards the Best Reggae album honor. Here are 10 such projects that deserved a shot at music’s most prestigious prize:

Honorable Mention: Reggae Music Again (2012)

Honorable Mention: Reggae Music Again (2012)

Honorable Mention: Reggae Music Again (2012)File photo

A certain honorable mention for this list is Busy Signal’s Reggae Music Again. The all-Reggae effort, released months before serving a six-month stint in a U.S. prison last May was relatively solid as he and Shane Brown combined to produce hits like Come Over (Missing You) and Reggae Music Again, showing Busy’s undoubted versatility. This project was a classic case of quality of music out-trumping quantity of record sales. Yet, The Recording Academy chose not to take too much notice.

10. Etana – Better Tomorrow (2013)

10. Etana – Better Tomorrow (2013)

10. Etana – Better Tomorrow (2013) File photo

Regarding this year’s award selections, there was not much of an issue from my perspective regarding the nominees, which also included Beres HammondZiggy Marley and Sly and Robbie and the Jam Masters. However, this year seemed like the ideal opportunity to buck a longstanding trend of female acts not earning a Grammy nod, with Etana’s most recent album, Better Tomorrow warranting such an honor.

The album featured some of her best work including songs such as QueenBeautiful Day and the addictive track, Reggae and, had it been nominated, would have marked the first album by a female act since Sister Carol’sLyrically Potent in 1997 to earn such a nod. Alas, it was not meant to be for the ‘Strong One.’

9. Romain Virgo – The System (2012)

9. Romain Virgo - The System (2012)

9. Romain Virgo – The System (2012)vpreggae.com

Last year, the Recording Academy failed to buck yet another recent trend – mainly elder acts and familiar names getting nods – and overlooked a strong breakthrough effort by emerging Reggae superstar, Romain Virgo with his debut album, The System.

This album made Virgo a standout name in Reggae music, with hits such as Rich In LoveI Know Better and The System and showcased his vocal range and versatility to the world. Though the album was not a smashing commercial success, it featured quality music from top to bottom and would have fit onto a final nominations list with work less heralded and similarly struggling in the sales department.

8. Sizzla – Praise Ye Jah (1997)

8. Sizzla - Praise Ye Jah (1997)

8. Sizzla – Praise Ye Jah (1997)reggaeville.com

In 1997, a young, fiery singer by the name ofSizzla Kalonji announced himself to the Reggae scene with this thought-provoking album, Praise Ye Jah. This album was a slight turn from the albums of the early-mid 90s which were predicated on soft tones and soothing melodies. Not to say this album didn’t have sprinkles of either, but on this record, you could feel Sizzla’s passion as he helped usher in the more edgy, aggressive type of Reggae music that would force others to pay attention.

The album did not quite make Sizzla a mainstream hit, but with songs like Praise Ye Jah, Homeless and Dem a Wonder, it warranted a Grammy nod just based on the fact it offered something different from the usual Reggae project and found some measure of credence with music lovers, allowing his star to shine early on in his career.

7. Beres Hammond – Moment in Time (2008)

7. Beres Hammond - Moment in Time (2008)

7. Beres Hammond – Moment in Time (2008)amazon.com

Beres Hammond’s 11-year wait for a Grammy nomination could have been cut in half if his 2008 album, Moment In Time had been one of the five finalist for the 2009 Reggae Grammy. This was a breathtaking album from the Reggae legend, featuring hits like No GoodbyeI Feel Good andGive It All You’ve Got and possessed enough quality to warrant a call in a rare year when six nominees were selected.

6. Diana King – Tougher Than Love (1995)

6. Diana King - Tougher Than Love (1995)

6. Diana King – Tougher Than Love (1995)7Digital.com

In the mid-90s, Diana King was one of the hottest properties in Jamaican music, particularly for her hit single, Shy Guywhich was featured on the soundtrack to the first installment of the Bad Boys movie series. Other tracks like Treat Her Like a Lady, later covered by Celine Dion, made her a breakout star internationally.

Despite that and the fact Tougher Than Love was certified gold in the United States, she was snubbed for the award, again proving how much harder it was for a Jamaican female act to garner the same attention for such a major award than her male counterparts.

5. Bounty Killer – My Xperience (1996)

5. Bounty Killer - My Xperience (1996)

5. Bounty Killer – My Xperience (1996)amazon.com

Having arrived on the scene with a rough-edge, no nonsense style in the early 90s,Bounty Killer became one of Dancehall’s most prolific stars and was soon gaining international recognition, collaborating with the likes of The Fugees and Busta Rhymesfor his 1996 project, My Xperience.

This was easily the best project ever compiled by the ‘War Lord,’ featuring hits like Living Dangerously (w/ Barrington Levy), Maniac (w/ Richie Stephens),Seek God and Revolution (Part 3) – w/ Beenie Man and the late Dennis Brown.Certainly, one of the greatest Dancehall albums ever put together should have received a nod, but did not make the final list, for the 1997 Reggae Grammy, which was won by Bunny Wailerfor his 50th anniversary album dedicated to the late, great Bob Marley.

4. Luciano – Where There Is Life (1995)

4. Luciano - Where There Is Life (1995)

4. Luciano – Where There Is Life (1995)last.fm

Though he scored a Grammy nod for his 2002 album, A New Day, his best album,Where There Is Life was surprisingly not deemed worthy of similar acclaim for the 1996 awards. The Philip ‘Fattis’ Burrell produced album featured some of Reggae’s biggest hits, including It’s Me Again Jah,Who Could It Be and Lord Give Me Strength. It was a shame considering how popular many of the songs were in the mainstream and the album would have presented a strong challenge to the eventual winner, Boombastic by Shaggy.

3. Sizzla – Da Real Thing (2002)

3. Sizzla - Da Real Thing (2002)

3. Sizzla – Da Real Thing (2002)reggaeville.com

Though he already had hit albums like the aformentioned Praise Ye Jah, Sizzla Kalonji never truly broke out as an international mainstream star until his 2002 album, Da Real Thing came out, which produced the mother-loving anthem, Thank You Mama, Just One of Those Days, Solid As a Rock and a bevy of others.

He put himself out there as Reggae’s next big star, but his star apparently did not shine enough to earn a look from the Grammy selection committee the following year, whenLee ‘Scratch’ Perry took home the honor. A surprising omission to say the least.

2. Buju Banton – Til Shiloh (1995)

2. Buju Banton - Til Shiloh (1995)

2. Buju Banton – Til Shiloh (1995)File photo

How Buju Banton’s greatest album to date did not earn a Grammy nomination is, in my opinion, one of the greatest travesties in Reggae music.

This undoubted classic featured worldwide hits such as Untold Stories, Not an Easy Road, Wanna Be Loved, Murderer andChampion. Though he would later score five more nominations, including winning the 2011 Best Reggae Album honor for Rasta Got Soul, Til Shiloh without question should have been nominated and would have made contention for the 1996 Reggae Grammy a lot more interesting.

1. Shaggy – Hot Shot (2000)

1. Shaggy - Hot Shot (2000)

1. Shaggy – Hot Shot (2000)File photo

As eye-popping as Buju’s omission was, however, there was no greater shock than when one of Jamaican music’s best-selling albums of all-time was snubbed for the 2001 Reggae Grammy.

Shaggy’s Hot Shot not only produced international hits like Angel (w/ Rayvon) andIt Wasn’t Me (w/ Rik Rok), the album was certified diamond in the U.S., with close to 10 million records sold there and over 20 million worldwide.

Despite the fact It Wasn’t Me was nominated for the Best Pop Collaboration w/ Vocal, what seemed like a shoe-in for a nomination and a possible victory in 2001 (Beenie Man’s Art and Life won that year) for Hot Shot was snubbed by the academy. It remains a mystery how one of Jamaican music’s best commercial successes – topping the Billboard 200 chart and U.K. Albums Chart – never received the call up it deserved for music’s greatest prize.

Snoop Lion, Sizzla amongst finalists for Reggae Grammy

Snoop Lion (left) and Sizzla (right) are both first time nominees for a Best Reggae Album Grammy award.

Snoop Lion (left) and Sizzla (right) are both first time nominees for a Best Reggae Album Grammy award.

by Jodee Brown

After temporarily ditching hardcore lyrics for songs about unity and anti-violence, Snoop Dogg has seen his Reggae efforts rewarded by The Recording Academy as he was named one of five finalists on Friday for the Best Reggae Album award at next year’sGrammy Awards.

The artist, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, is being nominated for his album, Reincarnated, released in April while using the Snoop Lion moniker. The album, which features collaborations with Mavado, Popcaan, Mr. Vegas, Drake and Miley Cyrus amongst others, was the best-selling Reggae album in the United States this year, with over 21,000 copies sold in its debut week and, to date, has sold well over 50,000 copies there.

Despite criticism from legendary Jamaican artists such as Bunny Wailer and Lady Saw, the album received a number of positive reviews. However, the Snoop Lionact appears to have been cut, at least for the time being, as he recently changed his name again, to Snoopzilla.

Another artist receiving his first Reggae Grammy nod is Sizzla Kalonji for his album, The Messiah. Having recorded over 70 albums in his career, it is the first chance he will have a music’s most prestigious award. The Messiah features 15 tracks, including Chant Dem Down and Psalm 121.

Beres Hammond is also amongst the finalists, securing his first nomination since 2002 with his One Love, One Life double album, featuring the hit single, In My Arms.

The other two contenders for the Best Reggae Album award are four-time winner, Ziggy Marley for Ziggy Marley in Concert and Sly and Robbie and the Jam Masters with Reggae Connection.

The 56th Grammy Awards will take place on January 26 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.