Words by Saxon Baird
2013 turned out to be a surprisingly exciting year for Jamaican music. Dancehall bounced back after a few stagnant years while the new roots-reggae movement continued to take hold of the island. Jamaican DJs and riddims found themselves on albums by Jay-Z and Kanye West while even dubstep mastermind Skrillex linked up with Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley for a track.
Jamaican music has never shied away from looking outside the island for inspiration but in 2013, a number of songs, both from the island and beyond, seemed to be pushing Jamaican music in new directions, by actually fusing Jamaican sounds with various other genres from the Caribbean to Africa to the UK. Here are six songs in particular that were at the forefront of Jamaican music in 2013 that are sonically and stylistically taking Jamaican music to exciting new places musically.
Busy Signal — ”Same Way”
Busy Signal demonstrated in 2013 that his horizons are set well beyond the shores of Jamaica. Take 2013’s “Same Way,” his rework of the Ghanaian azonto hit “U Go Kill Me” by Sarkodie. Signal highlighted his own versatility on the mic while bending the sometimes rigid boundaries of dancehall by bringing in a popular sound from West Africa. Add in “Well Prepared” — his excellent dancehall rework of Lorde’s smash-hit “Royals” — along with his contributions to the new Major Lazer LP and Busy Signal is proving dancehall still has new territory to explore.
Mr. Vegas — “Give it to Har”
This 38 year-old veteran of the dancehall displayed his affection for EDM-flavored riddims last year on his gigantic hit “Bruk It Down.” This year, Mr. Vegas offers up another energetic jolt of club-ready electronic intensity with “Give it to Har.” Dancehall has been flirting with bass music coming out of Europe for a few years now but the success of “Give it to Har” might be an indicator that the mix is here to stay. Word has it that a remix is on the way featuring Dominican artist Amara La Negra. Jamaican music can link up with the sounds of the surrounding islands as well.
Samantha J — “Tight Up Skirt”
The 17-year old Kingston-native saw crossover success with her debut single, “Tight Up Skirt” in late 2013, resulting appearances on BET and hitting #1 Most Shared Video after debuting on MTV Buzzworthy. The single is a catchy, radio-friendly pop number with just enough Jamaican accent and reggae flair to give it an island-vibe without alienating overseas audiences less familiar with Jamaican music. Whether or not Samantha J is the next Rihanna as some have deemed her is yet to be seen, but her early success blending reggae with elements of electropop could begin a whole new chapter in female-fronted music out of Jamaica.
Major Lazer — “Watch Out for This (Bumaye)”
It’s taken awhile for Diplo’s Major Lazer to be recognized on the island of Jamaica but in 2013, that all changed. “Watch Out for This (Bumaye)” featuring Busy Signal, FX Green, and Flexican off the Free The Universe LP received plenty of airplay there this summer and was the number one single on Jamaica’s own Hot102 for two weeks running. Yet, even then, the track is not dancehall in any sort of traditional sense, sampling salsa artists Willie Colon and Ruben Blades and taking heavily from Diplo’s own electronic music background. The fact that the track’s unique blend of dancehall elements energetically swirled in with other styles found popularity in Jamaica further indicates new things to come for the dancehall in a year that already saw the genre beginning to look elsewhere for influences.
Stylo G — “Soundbwoy”
Originally hailing from Jamaica, Stylo G has been based in the UK since he was 15. He first cut his teeth on the mic as a grime MC before making a name for himself with a slew of dancehall singles including the Heatwave re-fix of “Call Mi a Yardie” which was a massive UK club hit last year. This year Stylo G continued to showcase his versatility by embracing other genres with the single “Soundbwoy”— a deft mix of dancehall, pop and dub-step produced by Dutch DJ Diztortion. As a result, the track reached #18 on the UK charts and got the remix treatment from Jamaican dancehall producer Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor. Stylo G may have not fully reached the ears of Jamaican audiences but he’s making waves nearly everywhere else and stands-out among a slew of exciting young dancehall artists outside of Jamaica.
Chronixx — “Here Comes Trouble”
As 2013 comes to a close, the reggae revival spearheaded by Chronixx has by now been well documented both outside and within Jamaica. It was a watershed year for the young reggae singer. Tracks like “Here Comes Trouble” take reggae back to its live-band, Rasta-roots foundations while injecting it with a new, heavy dose of crossover friendly pop. The infectious mix found appeal with reggae fans both at home and overseas with Chronixx scoring radio play and headlining concerts in Jamaica and beyond. Yet, the real story might be the meticulous care he’s taken in cultivating his image and sound this year. With a business-savvy, social-media heavy presence, Chronixx is a new breed of Jamaican artists trying to push the island’s often-fraught music industry into new places both sonically and professionally.