Agent Sasco’s, aka Assassin, fourth studio album Hope River is his most versatile and intimate to date. He is one of Jamaica’s most successful dancehall artists and is also popular with hip-hop crowds, showcased by collaborations with Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Raekwon the Chef and Royce Da 5’ 9”.
On Hope River he is accompanied by an all-star Jamaican cast of performers, including Dre Island, Wayne Marshall, Stephen Marley, Kabaka Pyramid, Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Romain Virgo and many more. Most of them appear on the upbeat closing track All Aboard.
Agent Sasco reflects on his upbringing in Kintyre in the parish of St. Andrew in Jamaica and he passionately shares his beliefs in a greater force making life and love possible. It’s an album about hope, gratitude and spirituality. It’s also musically diverse and Agent Sasco borrows from gospel, ska, hip-hop and nyabinghi on this stylish set.
Two of the cuts – Energy River and My Song – stand out because of their insanely catchy sing-a-long choruses, two songs sounding like they were written for large stadiums rather than small clubs.
Agent Sasco – with his authoritative tone and rockstone voice – has once again created a landmark album.
Jamaican singer Popcaan has come from being Vybz Kartel’s protege to a superstar in his own right. He broke big in 2010 when he joined Vybz Kartel and Gaza Slim on the nowadays classic Clarks tune. It was followed by a stream of singles and collaborations and his debut Where We Come From was put out in 2014.
That set was produced by NYC’s Dre Skull and he’s also in charge of Popcaan’s second album Forever, a 17 track set where the duo presents a tasty blend of dancehall, pop, reggae, R&B and electro.
In the Jamaican singles-based industry an album could be a collection of singles, but Forever is more than a collection of songs. It’s a cohesive body of work that bubbles with emotion and struggles and Popcaan is both care-free and introspective and spiritual. But it’s not really raw and gritty, it’s rather polished and clean, although lyrically Popcaan can be on the slack side. It’s sex rather than romance.
His expressive voice if often soaked with Auto-Tune, but it still works pretty well. The melodies are infectious and the choruses are catchy. He’s at his best in the deep and powerful Firm & Strong, on which he is joined by a 20 person choir. The last minute or so is pure goosebumps.
Dancehall is everywhere these days and Popcaan has toured with Drake and collaborated with both Jamie XX and Gorillaz. And hopefully this album can help to further elevate dancehall and his career.
While waiting for the next Major Lazor album please check Jamaican producer Richie Loop’s debut album Manimal, which was released earlier this year. It collects ten cuts that could easily have fallen off Free the Universe or Peace is the Mission.
Manimal is a furious dancehall meltdown nodding towards tropical house, trap and soca with vocal contributions from a broad variety of lesser known performers, including Johnny Roxx, Kalibandulu and Tribal Kush.
This is modern Caribbean dance music with bombastic breaks, unpredictable hooks, distorted voices and frenzied percussion. Check album opener Way Up, a collaboration with Dutch duo Tribal Kush. It’s the blueprint of a modern tropical party anthem.
French singjay Bazil released his debut album 2011 and put out his latest set East to the West earlier this year. This is an intense and eclectic affair showcasing musical influences from Europe, the U.S. and, of course, the Caribbean.
Bazil started recording at the age of 15 and is nowadays a seasoned performer and recording artist not shy to break musical boundaries.
East to the West is colorful and urban and stands firm in the reggae tradition, but it also incorporates hip-hop, tropical and electronica. Check for example the infectious Vision, the bouncy Love the Night, the fierce General or the summery Escape with a strong cross-over appeal.
This is an album for a late-night summer party.
The midpoint of 2018 is behind us, and it’s time to sum up the first six months. Below is a list of 30 massive reggae and dancehall cuts released this year that I have been spinning quite frequently. Some have even been on repeat, like New Town Kings’ Borderline, Alborosie & Chronixx’ Contradiction and Micah Shemaiah’s Zion Trod.
The first six months have been very strong with a many contenders, but I need to draw the line somewhere. And 30 seemed about right this year.
The list is an eclectic one and is as usual 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 a Spotify playlist with all cuts. Download the Spotify playlist here and I hope you enjoy the music as much as I do.
Artist – song title (riddim)
Shenseea & Shatta Wale – The Way I Move
Soothsayers – Natural Mystic 7” Edit
Rudimental & Shungudzo & Protoje & Hak Baker – Toast To Our Differences
Slowly & Courtney John – The Rightway
New Town Kings – Borderline
Richie Loop & Tribal Kush – Way Up
Emeterians & The Island Defenders – Dub Master
Sean Paul & Major Lazer – Tip Pon It
Alaine – Lucky You (Destiny)
Rage – I’m Not A Lonely Girl (Episodes)
Lutan Fyah – Chant Down Babylon (Straight Step)
Kabaka Pyramid & Stonebwoy – Borders
TiMeka & Vershon – Live Life (Vibes Maker)
Naomi Cowan – Paradise Plum
Nico D – Money Come My Way (April)
Alborosie & Chronixx – Contradiction
Protoje & Chronixx – No Guarantee
Ginjah – Bring Heaven Down (Twilight)
Micah Shemaiah – Vibes Town (Good Balance)
Jahbar I – Friendly Foes (Pon Di Grind)
Keida – So Much More (Gems)
Jada Kingdom – Best You Ever Had
Racquel Jones – Take It Easy (Communion)
Soul Sugar & Leonardo Carmichael – I Want You (Discomix version)
Micah Shemaiah – Zion Trod (Extended mix)
Lutan Fyah – Where Is the Culture (Dinner Time)
Joe Pilgrim & The Ligerians – Migrants
Sara Lugo & Randy Valentine – Growing A Jungle (Nice & Easy)
Konshens – Tan Up (Bashment Time)
Kabaka Pyramid & Damian Marley – Kontraband
Big and bad Jamaican dancehall giant King Kong broke big in 1986 with the superb Red Rose combination Two Big Bull In A One Pen for King Tubby. It was followed by several strong singles and albums, including Trouble Again for King Jammy. But from the late 80s King Kong kept a low musical profile for about two decades.
In past years he has however been productive. In 2013 he dropped the album Ethiopian Dream and last year the showcase set In the Old Capital Vol. 1 was released. And a few months ago he put out Repatriation, an album produced by France’s Irie Ites.
Repatriation is pulsating dancehall with a contemporary twist and musicians include giants like Sly & Robbie, Russ D and Bongo Herman along with guest artists such as the gravel-voiced Burro Banton on the soon to be classic Old School.
Irie Ites’ productions are always well above par and Repatriation is no exception. Another killer album.
During the late 80s and throughout the 90s Bobby “Digital” Dixon produced a truckload of superb singles and albums, of which several are today hailed as some of the greatest reggae and dancehall ever released.
Bobby Digital grew up in the 70s listening to roots acts such as Black Uhuru and Wailing Souls and his journey in the music industry began when he from an early age attended sound system dances. He was an apprentice of King Jammy and he later branched out on his own creating a musical revolution that took Jamaica by storm.
He started out producing lethal dancehall and later helped the roots reggae resurgence in Jamaica with artists such as Garnett Silk, Jahmali, Sizzla, Capleton and Buju Banton.
And VP Records has through its subsidiary 17 North Parade now released two compilations dedicated to Bobby Digital’s productions. The first anthology X-tra Wicked covers his dancehall catalog, while the second anthology, Serious Times, showcases his rootsy side. These two albums cover a neat 80 tracks, including many classics, for example Shabba Ranks’ Peenie Peenie, Mad Cobra’s Tek Him, Morgan Heritage’s Don’t Haffi Dread and Buju Banton’s Til I’m Laid To Rest.
This double anthology showcases a musical genius and a game-changing producer. Now I’m waiting for an anthology dedicated to the works of Richard “Bello” Bell, another producer responsible for some of the greatest reggae released in the 90s.
French versatile singer and singjay LMK drops her second album Highlights, the follow-up to her debut full-length Musical Garden released in 2015. On this new set she has sharpened her musical edge and crafted many memorable hooks and catchy choruses.
Highlights is a dancehall album particularly influenced by R&B, hip-hop and pop. It’s delightful and the chorus on See the Light is simply irresistible with its strings and LMK’s sprightly and youthful singing.
But she also has another side. Check the fierce See Dem Out and the brilliant Skarra Mucci combination Crazy And Alive where she showcases her rapping and fast chatting style. She also has a distinct hip-hop connection and is joined by four U.S. rappers – Reverie and Gavlyn along with veterans Mann and Billy Danze from Brooklyn’s MOP.
LMK is along with Soom T and Marina P the most promising and interesting talent on the European reggae and dancehall scene.
Soundclashes are a vital part of reggae culture and soundmen around the world always aim to stay ahead of competition by having the toughest dubplates where the artists spits insults and boasts the sound they are singing and chatting for.
On the by Japan’s Dub Store Records’ recently reissued Soundclash Dubplate Style Vol. 1 & 2 this culture and style is highlighted through ten cuts complemented by their dubstrumental version.
The set is produced by the late engineer-turned-producer King Tubby and was originally released in the late 80s. It’s a solid collection of digital soundboy tunes showcasing the essence of reggae and dancehall culture with each track being introduced by hypeman Fuzzy Jones.
Johnny Osbourne delivers the blazing and pulsating Line Up. It’s by far the strongest cut on the album where Johnny Osbourne fuses tough boastful lyrics with a catchy melody. The grim Die Yu Die from Michael Bitas is another gem which will make competition run.
Reggae history right here.
Forward-thinking Scottish outfit Mungo’s Hi Fi has put out their first compilation featuring some of the key musicians and producers that have influenced them. And it’s a bass heavy bunch of people working out of Europe.
Puffer’s Choice comes with material that has previously appeared on singles along with in-demand dubplates played in dances and a few brand new cuts.
Prince Fatty kicks things off with a chilling and atmospheric version of Kraftwerk’s The Model – with an uncredited vocalist sounding a lot like Hollie Cook – and from then and there it’s a ground-shaking journey with wobbling bass lines, smattering drums and lethal chatting from Danny T, Parly B, Solo Banton, Daddy Freddy, Macka B and Mr. Williamz along with a few more.
A flavorful compilation for those aiming to annoy neighbors.