2016 was another great year for reggae music. Coming up with a Top 5 Reggae Album list was definitely not an easy venture. There is so much incredible music that continues to be created in this ever-expanding genre, but this year reminded us that the Jamaican tradition of roots-rock-reggae remains the foundation for the established artists as well as the rising stars on our list. Along with the flood of new releases came busy touring schedules, offering many artists the opportunity for worldwide travel and the chance to get up close and personal with fans who are craving the good vibes and the message of positivity that reggae music provides. KingstonToLA was fortunate enough to cover shows from several of the artists on our Top 5 list throughout a special year in reggae.
Topping our picks is contemporary Jamaican band, Raging Fyah, with their first-time release for VP Records’ Dub Rockers titled Everlasting. Recorded at legendary Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, with one pass, it is easy to hear why this project was recently nominated for a Grammy award for Best Reggae Album. With the signature vocal stylings of lead singer/guitarist Kumar Bent, their strong songwriting chops, use of traditional riddims and a high level of musicianship from each member in this self-contained group, song after song offers groove, vocal harmonies, lyric and inspiration, while also addressing some serious topics of the day. The influence of talented producer Llamar “Riff Raff” Brown is evident throughout and collaborations with special guests including J Boog, Busy Signal and Jesse Royal are highlights. Our favorite tracks include “Dash Wata," “Ready For Love," “Try Again” and “Wondering."
Next on our list is Compton, CA native and island reggae favorite J Boog with his EP release for Wash House Music Group called Rose Petals. Though just four tracks, plus a bonus track featuring Snoop Dogg, this project is equal parts Jamaica, Hawaii and LA. It prepared fans for the goodness to come on the full-length album Wash House Ting just released at the end of last month. Press play and repeat. This is one of those EPs where each song becomes your favorite in the moment. Featuring track collaborations with Stephen Marley and Chaka Demus, it is no surprise that Rose Petals also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album. Backed by the ever-talented Hot Rain Band, J Boog’s live shows are full of energy and fan camaraderie. It is very easy to see and hear why this beloved artist continues to rise.
And then we were blessed by 9 The Album. This sophomore project from Jah9 (Janine Cunningham) - released on 9.9.9 (2+0+1+6=9) - continues to shed light on the infinite talents of this Rastafari songstress. This cohesive group of songs are deep on every level – in the music, in the message and in their delivery. Growing up in Trelawny Parish in Jamaica, Jah9 shares philosophy, spirituality and experience through (sometimes) heavy subject matter, offering lyrical opportunities that prompt the listener to ask questions of themselves and their progress on life’s path. Jah9 is real, powerful and unafraid. Our favorite tracks include “Humble Mi," “Hardcore” and “Natural Vibe."
Next up is Stephen Marley’s Revelation Pt. II: The Fruit of Life. Very different from the rootsy Revelation Pt. I: The Root of Life, this is a producer’s dream and features a spectrum of artist collaborations from reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and more. When interviewed, Stephen told us it was his grand plan to release a two-part project that represented all kinds of musical influences and styles – and he did just that. For us, it also represents the endless talents this man embodies as a singer, guitarist, songwriter, arranger and producer. Go see Stephen perform live and “purists” will be reminded that he will never forget where he came from. He breathes new life into all of his material each and every time. Our top tracks are “Revelation Party” (featuring son Jo Mersa Marley) and “So Strong” (featuring Shaggy), but we love hearing the simpler arrangements and Stephen’s beautiful vocals - so reminiscent of Bob - on “Thorn or a Rose” and “It’s Alright."
Our final pick is a celebration of all things Jamaican with Taj Weekes & Adowa's Love Herb & Reggae. A native of St. Lucia, Weekes and his band represent conscious roots reggae at its finest with truthful lyrics, thoughtful melodies and organic riddims. His unique vocals, the beautiful harmonies and that one-drop groove draw in the listener. No subject is off topic for this reggae warrior as he tackles social injustice, homophobia and legalization of marijuana. Favorite tracks include “Let Your Voice," "Here I Stand," “Full Sight” and the title track “Love Herb & Reggae."
We are already excited for some early 2017 releases from other KingstonToLA favorites such as Damian Marley and Chronixx. Pree Marley's latest release "Bitter Blood" here on KingstonToLA: