TJL’s Favourite Jamaican Songs of the Last Five or so Years

TJL had an interesting conversation (read: quarrel) with a friend recently. Our friend insisted that the mid 1960s to mid 1970s Rock Steady/Reggae era produced the finest Jamaican music ever made and the quality of same has never been equalled. He named artistes like Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis and Ken Boothe and songs like “Dancing Mood”, “Girl I’ve got a Date” and “Everything I Own” as examples of the greatness of the period and while TJL agreed that these artistes are legends and the songs are all classics we vehemently disagree that music of equal worth hasn’t been produced since. We think that Jamaica is unusual in the world of music in that it has consistently produced great music over several decades and one shouldn’t make the common mistake of looking back at a particular era, ignoring the crap that was produced in that era (every era produces its share), lumping together the best songs, adding dose of nostalgia, and then concluding that this era or that was the greatest ever.

The habit of over-nostalgizing an era is, we think, partly caused by a misunderstanding of what makes a “classic”. Yes, a classic is a song with a superior lyric, melody, instrumentation etc but what truly makes a song a classic is the fact that it lingers in your memory long after you first heard it and it continues to evoke strong feelings each time it is heard again. Said another way, a classic is just a song that successfully captures a mood, feeling or memory in a lasting way. Even the most “frivolous” song can become tomorrow’s classic if it manages to resonate or strike the right chord (pun intended) with enough people.

To make the point we’ve put together a list of 20 songs from the last 5 or so years that we think will become the classics of tomorrow. We think these songs compare favourably with any other group of songs selected from the “golden era” of Jamaican music. In no particular order, our selections are:

1. “Ramping shop” – Vybz Kartel ft Spice (2009) – Yes, its “slackness” but its such fun slackness “mi will bruck you back when yuh come inna ramping shop….. mi wi mek yuh run outta mi house inna half a frock when yuh come inna mi ramping shop… Spice ah you mi love yuh know how fi do yuh stuff… plus it squeeze like a handcuff”. Those who complain about its content should cast their minds back to Max Romeo’s “Wet Dream” from 1969, long regarded as a classic of early reggae which features classic lines like “Lie dung gyal mek mi push it up, push it up, lie dung”

2. “One by One” – Laza Morgan ft Mavado (2012) - A straight dancehall/pop/r&b banger that rammed dancefloors for a solid year or so in 2012/13. In terms of its infectious danceability it reminds us of 1981’s “I’ll do anything for you” by Denroy Morgan (who happens to be Laza Morgan’s father).

3. “Hold Yuh” - Gyptian - (2010) A lovely (though fairly obvious) piece of word play over a sparse beat by Ricky Blaze and not that far away in sentiment from 1975’s “Natty Dread She Want/Soldering” by Big Youth. “Hold Yuh” helped catapult Gyptian to fame in 2010 after first coming to public attention in 2005 for “Serious Times”. “Gyal mi waan fi hold yuh, you give mi di tightest hold mi ever get in my life”.
4. “Holiday” – Ding Dong ft Chevaun (2010) – A huge party anthem in 2010 on an irresistable dancehall riddim produced by Notis Productions this track is destined to be played at summer bar-b-qs and spring break parties for decades to come.

5. “Affairs of the Heart” – Damian “Junior Gong” Marley (2012) – Easily one of the best lyricists in dancehall, Junior Gong is a son of whose musical talents his father could be justifiably proud. This is him in conscious but romantic mode in the vein of his father’s “Is this Love” (1978). Produced by Teetimus.

6. “Cheaters Prayer” – Christopher Martin – (2011) Born in Back Pasture, St. Catherine Christopher Martin is one of the most talented young vocalists in Jamaica today (think “Chill Spot”, “Watch me Lord”, “Big Deal” and “Mama”) Martin created a big hit and instant classic with this tongue-in-cheek entreaty to the Almighty for the strength not to cheat on his woman. “Oh Lord don’t let me cheat on my girlfriend, cuz as far as I can see she loves only me… but Lord if you cant stop me from cheating just don’t let me get caught”

7. “Smile Jamaica” - Chronnix –– (2013) – Not our favourite song from an artiste we think is one of the best Reggae singers in years (a little too Jamaica Tourist Board-ish for us) but in 2013 people everywhere seemed to love it (well over 7 million views on Youtube when last we checked) and we think its one of those songs that will last forever. In case you’re interested, our favourite songs from this artiste are “Start a Fire”, “Behind Curtain” and “Alpha and Omega”.

8. “Hard and Done” - Wayne Marshall feat. Junior Gong, Agent Sasco, Bounti Killa, Aidonia, I-Octane and Vybz Kartel – (2012) One of the hardest dancehall collaborations we’ve heard in ages and not surprisingly so. After all, when you combine some of the best djs/lyricists in dancehall with a beat by Baby G the result is likely to be a perennial dancehall anthem.

9. “When I find that girl” – Jah Cure – (2012) One of the most distinctive voices in reggae/dancehall Jah Cure used his trademark nasal/slurring delivery to create a wistful and melodic masterpiece with this 2012 love song. “Got a king sized bed but no queen to share it with”.

10. “Run Road” - Aidonia & Deablo (2012) –- One of the hardest dancehall tunes we’ve heard in a long time. Full stop.

For those of you who lament the fact that musicians (players of instruments) have been replaced by producers (makers of beats), we would urge you not to think of it that way. Music evolves continuously and the method of its creation, changes and must change, with time, innovation, economic circumstances and advances in technology. What matters most creativity, integrity and whether the music is pleasing to the ears of the audience for whom it is intended. That’s all. There will always be a place for musicians but we believe that the talent of Chimney Records, Daseca, Seanizzle, Troyton, Notis Productions, Russian, Stephen Marley, Steven McGregor and Don Corleon are to be respected in the same way as the great singers, songwriters and producers of eras past.