Today marks the 58th celebration of Jamaica becoming independent from British colonial governing.
August 6th 1962 was the date Jamaica became independent and how it has flourished since. The nation with a population of around 3 million has impacted the world culturally across so many aspects with music being one of the biggest. With that in mind rather than tell you the chronological musical history, the most influential artists or just dropping a playlist we have got a list of 25 artists as a starting point for people to find a sound they like. So without further ado let’s start things off with an obvious choice.
Vybz Kartel – Thank You Jah
The World Boss. General of the Gaza. Adijah Palmer. He really needs no introduction, Vybz Kartel is synonymous with Jamaican music and has remained musically relevant no matter what is in front of him. Having been making music for well over 20 years he is a staple in the game. Rather than picking out one of his many bangers, I went for the more lowkey and mellow ‘Thank You Jah’ just because it feels like a fitting way to start a list of celebration with a track about giving thanks.
Mr Vegas – I Am Bless
Another superstar, Mr Vegas has equally been around for a very long time with a whole host of hits under his belt including ‘I Am Blessed’. If you’re celebrating Jamaican Independence Day today I know this one will be getting sung with extra vim. The celebratory and joyful vibes are abundant on this one so it’s the logical choice for Mr Vegas although ‘Heads High’ was an equally close contender for this pick.
Mavado – So Special
Mavado didn’t lie with this one. He is a special talent, the song is special, and the people of Jamaica are clearly special. Is it boastful? Maybe. Confident? Absolutely. A banger? Well if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be here, would it? Mavado again is an artist that has had a lengthy career and even had a feud with Vybz Kartel which is a key part of both of the artist’s careers. He has worked with huge names inside and outside of Jamaica and has been signed to DJ Khaled‘s We The Best Records since 2011. Fun fact for the moment is that he’s also currently feuding with Drake which you can hear on his latest track ‘Enemy Line’.
Beenie Man – Who Am I
No matter how you spell it ‘sim simma’ or ‘zim zimma’, if you say it around someone it doesn’t matter how old they are they will know what the correct response is. A classic track that has lasted the ages that remains to this day one of Beenie Man‘s most recognisable tracks as well as one of the most recognisable tracks to come from Jamaica from an international perspective. The ‘King of the Dancehall’ recently had an iconic clash with Bounty Killer as part of the Verzuz series that has been taking place on IG and had a whole host of talent locked in and celebrating two greats.
Elephant Man – Pon De River
With one of the most iconic looks with his always colourful hair, Elephant Man has always had a lot to live up to and he delivers. I think like a lot of artists on the list he has had certain moments that transcended his own cultural context and ‘Pon De River’ is one of them. There are people who paradoxically don’t know the song, aren’t Jamaican, and have never been to Jamaica yet know the phrase ‘Pon De River’ which only shows how much impact Jamaica can have on culture. The uptempo and dance inspired track is just the first of many tracks that you can still run in a party today.
Popcaan – Party Shot
The Unruly Boss himself, Popcaan. Sticking with the them of parties ‘Party Shot’ is one of those tracks that will bring a smile to anyones face. Even the most hardfaced person can’t help but want to do a little two step or something to this track. The catchy chorus paired with the infectious production and Popcaan‘s unique tonality make for a one of a kind sound. Make sure you play this one through speakers for full effect and remember to party safely (especially if you are drinking Wrey & Nephews).
Spice – So Me Like It
This one is standard party affair, or at least it feels like it has been since it released. Now I admit it is a bit of an odd choice for a celebration of independence but I guess we could say that it’s an anthem of women’s sexual independence. So we’ll run with it in that loose thematic link of independence. Aside from that, it is an iconic track from one of the most influential female artists from the Island. Spice has influenced the likes of Stefflon Don in the UK and continues to be a force for Jamaican music.
Tony Matterhorn – Dutty Whine
Now, this might be me projecting, but I feel like one of the earliest songs that a lot of us heard from Jamaica was Tony Matterhorn‘s ‘Dutty Wine’. I can hold my hands up if I’m just speaking for myself there, but even if I am the track is one that has stood the test of time. I don’t think much needs to be said about this track, it speaks for itself so I will leave it to do the talking.
Dexta Daps – Shabba Madda Pot
Dexta Daps is one of the newer artists on this list but he has caused quite the storm. Now I say newer because Dexta Daps is by no means a new artist having been releasing tracks since at least 2013. It was his 2015 single ‘Shabba Madda Pot’ that really brought him to international attention, just a few years late. You have no doubt seen clips of him performing the track floating around social media and ut’s for good reason, his talent is undeniable.
RDX – Bang
RDX are known for several songs but I feel like ‘Bang’ is slightly underappreciated, only because some of their other tracks are played much more frequently. The track has a chorus that is extremely catchy and will have you saying it aloud at the most random of moments.
Vicious – Freaks
This track is culturally important. Vicious is a Brooklyn- born Jamaican artist who at only 14 years old created a track that lasted the ages. His track ‘Freaks’ was sampled on Nicki Minaj‘s ‘Freak’ featuring French Montana. The original is, well it’s just a lot better than the later track that sampled it. On top of featuring a 14 year old rapping about things he had no business knowing about over the legendary Doug E. Fresh beatboxing.
Shaka Demus & Pliers – Murder She Wrote
Speaking of tracks Nicki Minaj took from on ‘Freak’, the melody used on the track comes directly from ‘Murder She Wrote’. Luckily where ‘Freaks’ has slightly waned in its popularity ‘Murder She Wrote’ remains steadfast as the classic it deserves to be heralded as and gets plays to this day.
Sister Nancy – Bam Bam
If we talk about sampling, Jamaica, and having to give credit there is no place better to look than Sister Nancy and ‘Bam Bam’. The track is widely considered the most sampled Reggae record ever, and has been used everywhere from commercials to movies yet under tragic circumstances Sister Nancy wasn’t making money off of it. Luckily that situation has now been rectified and Sister Nancy is getting some form of reparations receiving backpay in royalties from the track. Reparations are something closely tied to Independence and are something Jamaicans still ask of the British. The situation with Sister Nancy as such also serves as a reminder of how the British have never financially paid back their debt to Jamaica after years of fuelling the slave trade there.
Buju Banton – Driver A
A legend. A man who spent a number of years incarcerated came home a free man and has never looked back. So again in the spirit of celebrating the freedom of Jamaica it was only right to feature one of, if not his most, iconic songs.
Koffee – Raggamuffin
The young star that seemingly came from nowhere but stole global limelight, Koffee‘s ‘Raggamuffin’ feels like the national saying of “We likkle but we tallawah” brought to life musically. Or at least the most recent musical representation of that. Koffee embodies the cleaner cut side of Jamaican music without it ever feeling like it is lacking any of the ingredients that make the many musical genres from the Island shine.
Tanto Metro & Devonte – Everyone Falls In Love Sometimes
At this point, I feel like I should have just called this a list of classics and potential future classics from Jamaica. ‘Everybody Falls In Love Sometimes’ is yet another classic and the chorus is what really shines on it with just how well it fits with the production. It has some quotables and catchy fragments across the verses too but being honest it’s the chorus you’ll be coming back for.
Stalk Ashley – Young
If you have followed our coverage for a little while you will know about Stalk Ashley already. Her R&B sensibilities make her exciting on so many fronts not least because of her creating a space for herself. The fresh blend of Patois with R&B melodies is one I’m surprised we haven’t had a lot more of as they work extremely well together. But none of that would really matter if Ashley didn’t have the voice to back it up, and what a voice she has. Stalk Ashley is easily one of my personal favourites on this list.
Stylo G – Touch Down
I don’t know where the original for this has disappeared to but I can’t find it anywhere. Regardless the remix of ‘Touch Down’ slaps and features the aforementioned Vybz Kartel which is a bonus. You’ve definitely heard this but in my head, this is the song I’d want playing on arrival should I ever go to Jamaica. It’s filled to the brim with braggadocio and that kind of energy and confidence is contagious.
Shenseaa – Shen Yeng Anthem
I’m all for female empowerment so when I heard the brazen nature of some of the lyrics in ‘Shen Yeng Anthem’ I couldn’t help but get on board with the track. It is of the same cloth as Lady Saw‘s content but in the current musical climate mirrors that of the energy brought by City Girls over in the US. Only Jamaicans tend to have more flair than the American’s and musically tend to be more tapped into creating great sounds than going with trends. As such it feels like ‘Shen Yeng Anthem’ is going to become a longstanding anthem for women across the diaspora.
Ding Dong – Fling Yuh Shoulder
And we are back with the party vibes and dances. If you don’t ‘Fling Yuh Shoulder’ today I think you’re missing the opportunity to indulge in one of the cultures easiest dances to get on board with. But more than that it is testament to the nature of Jamaican music to actively encourage dancing culture and the ability of the music, in general, to get you moving.
Aidonia – Yeah Yeah
I picked out this one for a number of reasons. One, it has one of the best openings to any song in recent memory. Two, I needed Aidonia to feature on this list somewhere. Three, this is the most important one, it showcases the ‘Riddim’ culture that makes the Jamaican musical landscape so unique. ‘Yeah Yeah’ makes use of the Genna Bounce Riddim and is one of many instances of multiple artists tackling popular instrumentals which usually ends up with artists bringing the best out of each other. I mean think about it, when they all have the same base to start from they all want to do what they can to stand out as the best on the track. I think this unique aspect of Jamaican musicals culture is what helps keep its best artists the best as they can constantly and healthily challenge themselves to be better than any of the other top artists.
Jada Kingdom – WiN
A young star in the making, Jada Kingdom only released her debut single in 2017. As a relative newbie she, of course, has similarities to some of those that influenced her or came before her, but what marks Jada out is that despite any influences she took things in a direction unique to her. I’ve seen her sound described as the “emo side of Dancehall” and if we take emo to mean darker or even more simply as emotional that’s a fact. Whilst this list has been largely dominated by men, Jada is part of a wave of new women staking their claim and places in Jamaica’s rich musical tapestry.
Lady Saw – Sycamore Tree
Lady Saw inspired a whole host of female artists inside Jamaica as well as outside. Her style of provocative writing and bold in your face sexuality is really the template for a whole host of artists that in Jamaican culture would be referred to as ‘slackness’. In today’s context, you could even trace the styles of the likes of City Girls, Megan Thee Stallion and that ilk of female rapper back to Lady Saw‘s style. She won Grammy’s, went triple platinum, and she commands respect in the Dancehall world although she has now embraced Christianity and makes Gospel music.
Damian Marley – Welcome To Jamrock
If you don’t like this inclusion – I get it. But the track really fits the theme, and for a lot of audiences ‘Welcome To Jamrock’ may well be one of the most synonymous tracks with Jamaica. Personally I like the song, it’s by no means my favourite song from the nation but it feels like a more easily digestible choice due to the patois being delivered at a slower pace than in most of the other tracks.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – One Love
There was absolutely no way I could do this list and not include Bob Marley & The Wailers. A musical icon that took the world by storm and tragically passed young. Despite this his music has transcended his time and ‘One Love/People Get Ready’ feels like the perfect closer for a day all about Jamaicans uniting.