End of the year means making lists and the usual way to do is to have editors and writers selecting their favorites throughout the year. This year United Reggae decided to do it another way, so we asked artists and producers around the globe to provide us with their top ten tunes from 2014.
We received lists from 16 different producers and artists, including Frenchie, Jah9, Duane Stephenson, Etana, Unga Barunga and Taj Weekes.
The lists include mostly reggae, but also R&B, hip-hop, pop, soca and house. Judging by the lists there are two standout tracks – Rock Stone by Stephen Marley & Capleton & Sizzla and Protoje & Chronixx’ Who Knows.
The lists also include a few surprises. Check all lists over at United Reggae and download a Spotify playlist with most of the songs here.
When reviewing 2014 the second half offered stronger releases than the initial six months. I had more than 80 songs to choose from, only counting July to December. I had to merge these with my 25 favourites from January to June. The competition was fierce and I ended up re-doing the list altogether to get a top 50 tunes in 2014.
As usual, the list is an eclectic mix of reggae and dancehall productions from all over the globe, mostly from Jamaica, Europe and the U.S., but Australia is also represented by Mista Savona’s Champion Sound riddim and New Zealand by Fat Freddy’s Drop’s Slings & Arrow. There is also a mix of old and new talents, including both newcomers and veterans.
The list below is presented in no particular order and the songs included are only singles or tracks taken from compilations. If you are curious about the songs you can download this Spotify playlist with 48 of the 50 tracks.
Artist – song title (riddim/label)
Papa Michigan & Yami Bolo – People Rise (Flash Hit Records)
Toian – Rude Boys (Class One Music)
Micah Shemaiah & Infinite – Reggae Rockit
Lutan Fyah – Rasta Won’t Fail (Jump for Joy/Splatter House Records)
Mr. Benn & Nanci Correia & Buggsy – Stand Up (Nice Up! Records)
Yung Jr – General (Bassick Records)
Gentleman’s Dub Club & Solo Banton – Unbreakable (Ranking Records)
Burro Banton – Bad Like Mi (Champion Sound/Muti Music))
Brooklyn Jungle Soundsystem – Kulture (Dubmatix remix) (Destroy All Concepts)
Lutan Fyah – Real People (Crunch Time/Dynasty Records)
Zagga – Heal the Soul (Four Seasons/Union World Music)
Gentleman & Shaggy – Warn Dem (Universal Records)
Righteous Child – Good Morning World (Penthouse Records)
Fat Freddy’s Drop – Slings & Arrows (The Drop)
Bunny General – Mek Them Rock (Jstar remix) (Nice Up! Records)
No Maddz – Shotta (Taxi Records)
Notis & Iba Mahr & Tarrus Riley – Diamond Sox (remix) (Notis Records)
Queen Ifrica – Make You Rock (Clocktower/Silly Walks Discotheque)
Blue King Brown – All Nations (Blue King Brown)
Little Roy – Disaster & Signs (Tuff Scout)
Lutan Fyah & Turbulence – Criminal (The Empire/Riddim Wise)
Toian – Kingston Town
Dre Island – Way Up (UIM Records)
Spice – So Me Like It (Notnice Records)
Spring Wata – Holding Firm (Rokwon Drop/Rokwon Productions)
DJ Vadim & Matthew McAnuff – Be Careful (remix)
Protoje – Stylin’
Clay – Shadow After Dark (Countrybus Music)
Chronixx – Capture Land (Chronixx Music)
Don Camilo & Manudigital – Champion Juggler (Brigante Records)
Kelissa & Chronixx & Kazemde – Winna (Anbessa Productions & Zinc Fence Records)
Konshens – The Journey (Irievibrations Records)
Jah Sun – Never Give Up (House of Riddim)
Raging Fyah – Jah Glory (Frankie Music)
Stephen Marley & Sizzla & Capleton – Rock Stone (Ghetto Youths International)
Bugle – Anoited
Mr. Benn & Champian – Everytime (Stars/Nice Up! Records)
Stick Figure & Collie Buddz – Smokin’ Love (Roughwood Records)
Protoje & Chronixx – Who Knows (Overstand Entertainment)
Cornell Campbell & Burro Banton – Pressure (I’m Living/Muti Music)
Loyal Flames – Go Hard (Jah Blessings/Maximum Sound)
Sound Dynamiq & Skarra Mucci – Revolution
Lukie D – Calling (Way Back/Akom Records)
Zagga – Attitude of Gratitude (Zion Train/Liv Up Records)
Lutan Fyah – Roll it Up (Village/Irievibrations)
Burro Banton – Inna Mi Legue (Penthouse/Jugglerz Records)
Busy Signal & Christopher Martin – Lock Di Endz (Weedy G Soundforce)
Randy Valentine & LionHeart – Sound the Alarm (Hemp Higher Records)
Addis Pablo – Road to Addis (JahSolidRock)
Bushman & Skarra Mucci – Pretty Looks (Pretty Looks/Flash Hit Records)
UK’s eight piece reggae band King Porter Stomp have teamed up with reggae legend Prince Fatty to create the brand new single Warning. This rolling reggae rocker comes with trademark horns, heavy bass, layered guitar work and lyrics that throw blows of realism and revolution.
King Porter Stomp have for this single also brought Prince Fatty and Nick Manasseh together on the same record for the very first time. Prince Fatty has mixed the two tracks and Nick Manasseh is responsible for the dub version on the flip.
King Porter Stomp embraces a musical diversity and have released a string of singles of which Warning is the third. Each track in the series differs in musical style and Warning is now available vinyl and digital download.
There are hundreds of books written about Bob Marley, reggae and dancehall, but none have been all about the women. Now all that has changed thanks to Heather Augustyn, a correspondent for The Times of Northwest Indiana, U.S., and an adjunct professor at Purdue University’s North Central campus as well as the author of Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, Ska: An Oral History and Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation.
Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music is the first the first book about women ni reggae, many of whom are critical to the ska explosion in the 60s or the global rise of roots reggae in the 70s.
The book is a detailed look at the daughters, wives and mothers in reggae; the vocalists, instrumentalists, producers, dancers and deejays who helped to shape the course of Jamaican music on the island and worldwide.
This is Heather Augustyn’s fourth book and she spent two years researching it. It features dozens of interviews with a number of key individuals, including Millie Small, Enid Cumberland of Keith & Enid, Janet Enright, Jamaica’s first female guitarist who performed jazz in the 1950s, Marcia Griffiths and members of the first all-girl ska band, the Carnations.
Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music is the story about women in reggae, women that has often been harassed and received little or no pay to perform as backup singers or alongside or in front of the male musicians. It’s also the story about women who found a way to share their talent in a culture and industry that is often marked by masculinity and along the way they changed the course of music all over the world.
On Sly & Robbie’s third dub album this year they have teamed up with veteran mixing engineer Paul “Groucho” Smykle, who mixed a few classics back in the 80s, including Ini Kamoze’s ground-breaking debut and Black Uhuru’s forward-thinking The Dub Factor.
Sly & Robbie are two of the main proponents of dub and have played on countless of dub albums and also produced and mixed more than a few. And Dubrising throws you right back when to a time when the duo started to make a name for themselves – the early 80s.
Dubrising is heavy as lead, yet melodic and refined. Paul Smykle uses quite a lot of vocals in the mix, so the original eight tracks from the likes of Bunny Rugs, Horace Andy and Chezidek can be recognized.
This album is not as sparse as two of Sly & Robbie’s more recent dub efforts – Blackwood Dub and Underwater Dub. It’s actually far from sparse. There are loads of instruments to play with for a mixing engineer. Apart from the usual bass, drums, guitar and keys, they have thrown in harmonica, strings and flute. Sounds like a real challenge for a mixing engineer.
The mixing is playful and Paul Smykle has created something of a meticulously coordinated chaos. Vocals coming in from the right, synths from the left, percussion from below and flute from above. It’s a joy to listen to and you are keen to know what will happen next.
Among the many highlights are the militant To the Rescue with its galloping drums, wobbling bass and odd sound effects and Freedom Ring with its haunting synths, hypnotic drums and ground-shaking bass.
Sly & Robbie have been in the music business for about 40 years, but they still manage to stay innovative and original.
Jamaican singer Stevie Face – who has had several number one hits in his native Jamaica – has recently released his third album. My Time is, just like its predecessor Tell It Like It Is, mostly produced by award-winning producer Paul “Computer Paul” Henton.
The set is an 18 track combination of lovers rock, well-known covers and more rootsy efforts. It’s mostly slick and smooth and expect song titles like Never Give Up On You and Missing You So Much along with lines like “I’m not leaving, I need you in my life, baby, I may not have so much to give, no fancy cars, no privilege, but this is certain, my love is genuine” and “you got me weak in the knees, I can’t even sleep, believe me, baby”.
Da Lovin’ Yah Nice is lead single off the set. It’s an infectious effort voiced over a vintage Studio One riddim. Two collaborations are also included. Both with UK artists. One with Jack Radics and one with sophisticated lovers rock star Adele Harley.
Together with Adele Harley Stevie Face takes on Brotherhood of Man’s folk-pop classic United We Stand and it comes complete with orchestral strings and a grand chorus. Just as majestic is a bouncy version of U2’s Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.
Stevie Face has a powerful tenor voice and My Time is a mature and catchy album with a rich sound, and it will probably go very well with more traditional reggae fans.
Last year I interviewed Jah David, bass player and musical director in Zion High Productions as well as member of acclaimed production trio Zion I Kings. In the interview he mentioned he was working on an album from saxophone player Jah Bless. Now that set has arrived.
To state that the reggae market today is overflowed by instrumental sets would be a grand exaggeration. Vocal sets are the order of the day and dub albums are far more common than instrumental albums. It was however different in the 60s and 70s when instrumental reggae efforts were part of a label’s regular output.
I’m a huge fan of instrumental albums and was really looking forward to this new album from Jah Bless. He’s carrying the tradition forward and this is a set in the same tradition as the great instrumental sets from the likes of Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso.
Redemption is Jah Bless’ second album and it collects 14 sax-driven tasty and organic instrumentals, sometimes with a hint of funky jazz and sometimes accompanied with a dub workout on the mixing board. The riddims are steller and Jah Bless blows his horn with an elegant smoothness.
Expectations are always high on Zion I Kings and they always manage to deliver accordingly. Essential for fans of bright and stylish reggae instrumentals.
Ghetto Youths International, the record label owned and operated by Bob Marley’s sons Damian, Julian and Stephen, will release the brand new compilation Set Up Shop Vol. 2 on December 23. The 15-track compilation follows volume 1, released exclusively on iTunes in February 2013.
The new album is primarily produced by the Grammy-winning brothers Stephen and Damian Marley. The set features new and already released material from the entire Ghetto Youths roster, including Jo Mersa, Black-Am-I, Christopher Ellis, Wayne Marshall and the label’s founders, along with dancehall artist Cham.
Damian Marley’s Is It Worth It? (Gunman World) is lead single off the compilation and will be accompanied by short film music video directed by Nabil Elderkin, who has previously worked with Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Frank Ocean.
There is one nature law in reggae – if one of the Marley’s has put out or produced an album it will be nominated for a Grammy that year. That is pre-determined.
The nominees for the 2015 Grammy Awards were presented yesterday. Guess who’s one of the six nominees in the reggae category? Ziggy Marley and his album Fly Rasta. The five other contenders for the award include Lee Perry’s Back on the Controls, Sean Paul’s Full Frequency, Shaggy’s Out of Many One Music, Sly & Robbie & Spicy Chocolate’s The Reggae Power and Soja’s Amid the Noise and Haste.
Two of these six albums are surely heavyweights and I would not be disappointed if Shaggy or Lee Perry received the award. Their respective albums are well-above the usual dull reggae albums in the Grammy Awards.
The 57th annual Grammy Awards will be held February 8 and notable nominees include Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams and Jay Z.
“This year’s nominees are a reflection of the music community’s diversity and range of talent, and a testament to The Academy’s voting process,” says Neil Portnow, President & CEO of The Recording Academy, in a press release.
Alborosie’s label VP Records certainly tries to make the most out of his acclaimed latest album Sound the System, released in June last year.
After the original album release a dub version was put out in December 2013. And now a new version is available in two separate editions.
Sound the System Showcase comes with ten tracks in full showcase style, i.e. followed by their dub counterparts. It’s available on CD, digital download and a limited edition 5×10” vinyl box set. The latter looks like a bona fide eye-catcher with its master tape style box with lift-off lid.
Sound the System Showcase effortlessly pairs Sound the System with Dub the System. It’s great set honouring the lovely showcase style. If you already own the vocal and the dub set, then this album maybe seems like a collectors item and only for die-hard Alborosie fans.
But that’s not necessarily the case. Here you get the best out of two worlds. Definitely well-worth seeking out.