To give a bit of background, the most exciting thing in music is currently happening in Jamaica. Never mind what everyone else is going on about, their talking about something old, something that's here or something that isn't worth talking about cos it's just forced hype. We're not talking about forced hype movement, we're talking about organic music for the soul coming from one of the forefathers of modern day music. A familiar guardian around these parts of the web, Reggae.
One thing I don't like about journalistic definitions of reggae and dancehall is they're very lazy, therefore inaccurate and commit an injustice to both sides. It is said reggae is conscious and dancehall is slack which isn't strictly true. Conscious songs are always present amongst the biggest songs in dancehall. And with reggae being known as conscious, people forget many greats from John Holt and Beres Hammond to Jah Cure are better known for their lovers collection. (They also say that reggae is live instrumentation which is also incorrect. Some great ones are digital without an ounce of real instrumentation. Oh, and not all reggae is "one drop".)
To me, you know the difference when you hear (or feel) it. And if you don't, well, it's rough on you. Get acquainted with both then make your own description. A quick one that gives credit, dancehall is made primarily for dance floors, reggae not as much. Used to, but not as much anymore. Dancehall is where the music was played, morphed into sound system culture, then became what it is today.
So anyway, back to why we are gathered here today, "reggae revival". Where to start. Ok, what I love about it. I love that they're a set of youths working together with the same meditation. And there's a shed load of them. Literally always finding about a new one in the gang. It is said the core members of the group met and made music down at Jamnesia, located down the road from where I stay in Jamaica, Bull Bay.
They're coming to the forefront at the right time. The world needs this movement almost as much as Jamaica does for a few reasons. Reggae isn't something you hear as frequently on Jamaica's most popular youth radio station, Zip 103FM. You're more likely to hear Billboard Hot 100 songs by the likes of David Guetta and Katy Perry than reggae in many places around the Jamaican capital, Kingston. The perception is the youths in Jamaica don't care about reggae, favouring dancehall or sounds imported via American propaganda. While I have no problem with the former, the latter would be a disaster.
Dancehall hasn't been as exciting in the past couple years due to many jumping on established popular trends sonically and subject instead of expressing themselves.
The debate about whether European artists currently wave the reggae flag has been raging for the last 4/5 years. Alborosie and Gentleman lead the way as the stars of Europe, reggae festival line-ups filled up by European acts ever since the economical crash (dutty babylon). American reggae artists like Soja and J Boog capitalise off the demand for reggae and lack of US visa's for their Jamaican counterparts.
The world needs this because there isn't a movement quite like it currently from a major music market. It represents an alternative to the flashy, Mandy/Molly-popping and champagne-toasting music currently out there. With all that's going on in the world currently, they are saying the right things, acting as a voice for the disenfranchised youths around the world annoyed frustrated at the moves politicians pull, lack of jobs and youths facing a dimmer future than the previous generation.
The history attached to reggae in terms of rebellion and upliftment is unrivalled making it an advanced position compared to most other genres. Also, reggae isn't dependent on radio pluggers, PR companies and corporate sponsorship to push the music, meaning it's harder to suppress. I mean, it's as suppressed as it is, yet the message still travels.
While I understand it, I don't like the branding term. Great term for marketing, PR and journalistic reasons yet short-sighted. Jamaican Reggae never died. Jamaican reggae artists still tour and are very present on festival circuit. Jamaican reggae did get very monotonous and stale; similar tempo, subjects and sounding riddims (living in the Don Corleon sound). Almost too Americanised, on the soulful side of life. There wasn't any sound of defiance or rebellion either, probably because the artists were living the good life, travelling a lot and not as aware or effected by the issues at street level.
Calling it a revival turns what is essential a cultural cycle into something trendy. Trends don't last long. Trivialising an organic movement. It's just a new generation of artists. Last major cycle introduced artists such as the incarcerated Jah Cure, I-Wayne, Fanton Mojah, Gyptian, Turbulence, Lutan Fyah, Natural Black and others possibly ushered in by Sizzla's classic album, Da Real Thing (2003) and shortly after the death of the man who put dance into dancehall, Mr. Bogle (2005). (Tarrus Riley rose to prominence near the end, along with Queen Ifrica, Romain Virgo, Busy Signal's transformation etc. etc.)
I guess like that time in mid-'00s and the big mid-'90s movement (Tony Rebel, Capleton, Anthony B, Luciano, Sizzla, Buju Banton et al), there were a series of incidents lead to more attention for an alternative to contemporary music in Jamaica. Frequent complaints about the face of dancehall - Vybz Kartel - and his peers' output; Too slack, lacking substance, association to crime, not staying true to the Jamaican sounds and traditions, and the likes. Oh, and good music from the reggae artists.
I personally refer to them simply as the new generation of Jamaican reggae artists. Flippin creative, ay?! Don't sit there wondering how I came up with such genius. Some people are born with it. More of a mouthful and less ear-catching than "Reggae Revival", but it is what it is.
So after all that, who are we talking about?
This is the fun bit. Here's where I write a bit about each artist I like and why:
Let's start with the most obvious name in the movement, breakout star Protoje. Born Oje Ollivierre, the son of Lorna Bennett (famous for UK charting single "Breakfast In Bed") burst on the scene with a flurry of singles including personal favourite "Dread", before eventually capturing the genre's attention in 2011 with debut album 7 Year Itch. Big single on the project
"Rasta Love" garnered 11 million views on YouTube and plenty of forwards in his homeland. Festival tour last year was bettered this year when he performed at approximately 30 performances this year with a tour scheduled later in the month.
"Kingston Be Wise" lifted from follow-up album, 8 Year Affair, features on GTA V's reggae station, Blue Ark. The sophomore effort is more '80s rub-a-dub sounding than the first as the single suggests.
Check out Protoje "Music From My Heart" mixtape below
If Protoje is the breakout star, Chronixx is the man of the moment. To me, he's en route to the truth. Excuse me while I get the brass section, I reckoned big things were in the pipeline for him (and us) from the first time I heard "Behind Curtain" back in extremely late 2011.
Heard "Warrior", "They Don't Know" and "Rain Music" around that time and thought, "Yeah, this guy's got a little catalogue building there". Recognition in Jamaica began late last year following an appearance at a rammed Tracks & Records (Usain Bolt's sports bar) following "Behind Curtain" rising to one of the big tunes of the summer. Material released at the latter end of the last year to now has been sublime be it love songs like "Access Granted", songs of defiance "Ain't No Giving In" or ode to his homeland "Smile Jamaica", everything is gold.
"Smile Jamaica" features on Silly Walks Discotheque's Honey Pot riddim. The production crew are from Germany, demonstrating the numerous continents crossing to produce reggae at the moment.
Latest single, "Here Comes Trouble" sounds like a statement of intent on behalf of the crew. The video demonstrates it too, boasting nuff features from his mates.
Kabaka Pyramid (@KabakaPyramid)
First appeared on the radar last year with his breakout reggae single "Free From Chains". He was doing Jamaican hip hop which I hate, so no surprise the reggae set him free from the chains. The thing that attracted me to him is it is what he says: "this a rebel music don't you confuse it with the crap that the buggers them producing".
"Mi used to bun the weed a lot/ Now me start to read a lot", then "The system want to want fi keep us locked up in the prison, mentally them want defeat us..." a little "Cah the school them never teach us nothing 'bout we African features..." and "Officers, preachers, doctors and lawyers are liars..." Yoooooo, had to wheel every line. Hadn't heard anything that rebellious from a contemporary artist in a very long time. And the way he puts his words together with meaning. Sounds hip hoppy and reggae at the same time therefore sounding fresh over the rootsy dancehall beat. Perfect introduction.
"Free From Chains"
"No Capitalist" is what it says on the tin. Burning a fire on those in power who oppress and exploit the poor. Very apt considering not only the turmoil Jamaica is going through with regards to the IMF loans and increase in tax, water and electricity rates, but what's going on in many places across the world - both developed and developing countries.
"Worldwide Love", once again, is what it says on the tin. Unity amongst one and all. Cool video too. Features cameos from Kellissa, Chronixx
Batch of Kabaka Pyramid singles below
Jesse Royal (@JesseRoyal1)
Latest addition to the iPod from this generation. This guy is the truth/ Delivers a powerful message with melody and a style close to the history of reggae in time of peers using some hip hop styling.
"Modern Day Judas" features on the same Rootsman riddim as Chronixx's "Here Comes Trouble" and rivals it for best song on the riddim. Burning a fire on naysayers and non-believers.
"Warning To All" some '80s rub-a-dub sounding stuff in the locker too. Listen to how comfortably he floats on the riddim. Opening track on the In Comes The Small Axe mixtape
"Greedy Babylon" putting some fire under the Government for the people on a riddim sampling John Holt's "Up Park Camp".
Listen to mixtape 'In Comes The Small Axe' below
Yes, females time. No sexual discrimination around here. i-nity we seh! Although Janine Cunningham (you catch Jah9 is based on her forename?) only dropped her debut album this year, I first heard her back in 2011 on Protoje's debut album where she features on closing track "After I'm Gone".
Jah9's solo debut "New Name" is produced by Rory from the immortal sound system Stone Love. Her vocal style is pretty jazzy, init?
"Brothers" is an uplifting jam for the man dem that stand firm in the Gideon despite all the stresses and strains the system wants to bring upon us. Nah, but on a real, it's an appreciation song for the men that stand by women. So swap "system" with "women" in the first sentence. It's all the same innit.
"Preacher Man" questions the relevance and challenges hypocrisy of religion via an open letter to religious preachers.
Stream Jah 9's "New Name" album below and/or buy here
Dre Island (@Dre_Island1)
Andre Johnson, better known by stage name Dre Island, has a wicked vibe. Sings and singjay, sometimes sounds a bit Stephen and Damian Marley-ish (more an observation than criticism). The 25 year-old artist/producer ventures between reggae, Jamaican hip hop leaning stuff, and pop-reggae. Wicked voice, boom lyrics.
Self-produced "Rastafari Way" is the first song I heard earlier this year. Hip hop-leaning beat while retaining his Jamaican raggamuffin' vibe with rebellious Rastafarian conscious lyrics. Raspy voice is so emotive. Catchy much?
Latest release "Reggae Love" is more a pop-reggae sounding vibe. Displaying his versatility with a less raspy voice and one for the ladies.
Check out his mixtape here. Bit heavy on the hip hop-sounding stuff which is a shame because I feel he excels on the reggae stuff nor does it have the legs for festivals reggae does, but still:
There are others like Raging Fyah Ultimately, you can check out The Heatwave's reggae special podcast if the above is too much to digest (after all that).