Last year Kiss my Teeth/Imagelala did a much more straightforward run down of the top ten riddims and singles of 2009, but this 2010 round-up goes a little deeper into the shifty geology that makes up this year’s successes and failures in dancehall. In 2010 we saw the sometimes successful, sometimes brash shuffle dancehall took into new sounds, the systematic revoking of visas, catastrophic failures in album sales, the incredible personal branding successes and some serious bleaching. Read it all after the jump.
Clashes No More
With the revoking of many artiste’s American visas, coupled with Bishop Herro Blair’s orchestrated peace initiative between longtime feuding deejays Mavado and Vybz Kartel in early December 2009, dancehall had no choice but to turn a new page. With no beef to simmer, gun songs became scarce and slackness picked up… well, the slack. Kartel and Mavado went head to head with gyal songs, but also delivered epic conscious songs with “Thank Yuh Jah” and “Nine Life.” Man a General!
Some peace initiatives were made in the studio. The most surprising being that of Cham and Bounty Killer who squashed their longtime feud to make the Dave Kelly/Mad House banger “Stronger”, a tune that shows the return of the 90’s dancehall beat. Even Beenie Man was seen out mixing and mingling with the old crew (and later talking frankly about his business relationship with Kartel on Ragga’s show). In fact, everyone seemed to be getting along except Kartel, who was still building enemies as quickly as he was slamming singles. Needless to say, not much controversy came to head by the end of 2010, which made business slow for some (especially the uncreative) and in turn left the annual Boxing Day STING concert with not much of a burn.
Cham featuring Bounty Killer and Mykal Rose, “Stronger”
While 2010 marked the year of amazing feats in sound for some artistes, an innocuous classification called “Island Pop” surfaced as the newest genre bending version of Jamaican music. Despite dancehall’s long history of being closely linked with hip hop, and reggae’s love affair with R&B, 2010 seemed to be name-tagged the year Jamaican music ventured into “pop” to create a new style (that’s to say the lines weren’t blurred already). The marking of its coming was due in part to the release of the Razz and Biggy mixtape titled “Island Pop” and newcomer Richie Loop’s catchy “My Cupp” tune. However, the new genre title began, and shortly ended, when the “cupp” ran dry.
Few dancehall artistes shed their skin to embrace new sounds, but female deejay Natalie Storm climbed to the top when she released her house/reggae/dancehall mixtape, “Songs to Fuck and Fight To.” Her producer, Prodigal Entertainment, released a refreshing riddim called Showa Eski with tracks from Grime artiste Wiley, Jamaican artiste Rage and British dive Lady Chann, showcasing dancehall’s intermingling with Grime. Dancehall trained Jamaican artiste, Terry Lynn, continued her romance with house/electro music in her Wildlife! produced track, “Nocturnal World.” American producer Diplo extended his affection for Jamaica by continuing to stick his fingers into the dancehall cookie jar, djing on multiple occasions around Kingston and producing singles with local artistes.
VYBZ takes the Cake
Vybz Kartel did a lot of things this year: He released a double disc album of his tracks from the last year or two, he infamously fired Gaza Kim and Blak Ryno from the Gaza Empire, he became the unofficial spokes person for Clarks (and cakesoap), he took over the Building (formally Asylum) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays AND Saturdays all while flirting with the topic of bleaching. Known as the unofficial Robert Johnson of dancehall, some have suggested the man has sold his soul to the devil for success, which could explain why the color is being sucked out of him. Of the many tracks he did this year, here are the top ten:
1. Clarks Pt.1 ft Gaza Slim and Popcaan (Notnice)
2. Straight Jeans and Fitted (Russian)
3. Clarks Pt. 2 (Russian)
4. Touch a Button Nuh (TJ Records)
5. Dumpa Truck (Smokin Riddim)
6. Cakesoap (Blue Bamma Riddim)
7. Oh Deh Gyal (Doncorleon)
8. Turn and Wine (DNA Riddim)
9. Thank Yuh Jah (Notnice)
10. Neva Get a Gyal Mi Love So Much (Blackstreet)
Mavado continued to build his success at a very different pace then Kartel but with the same self-branding boldness, assuming the throne as LIME ambassador and packing QUAD every Wednesday for his “Stulla” Wednesdays based on the popularization of the term. For those who don’t know, “Stulla” from the track with the same name off the Smokin Riddim is a term for a thoroughbred horse, a “long-distance stulla.” The Gully Gwad used a different angle, spending time in Europe and Canada touring and working on a newer, cleaner image (without the cakesoap routine). Here are the top ten songs from Mavado for 2010:
1. Stulla (Smokin Riddim)
2. Nine Life (Di Genius)
3. Come Into My Room ft. Stacious (Di Genius)
4. Nuh Fraid a Dem (DJ Frass)
5. Gyal a Mad Ova (Di Genius)
6. Hold Me (Sex Appeal Riddim)
7. When You Feel Lonely (Daseca)
8. Pon Di Ting (Seanizzle)
9. Gyal Dem Love Me Daily (Payday)
10. Stullesha (Winnings Riddim)
The Hold Yuh Phenom
Gyptian swept the world with his Ricky Blaze produced “Hold Yuh” track, the single for his album with the same title. While the song made waves and sparked interest everywhere, provoking a remix from rapper Nicki Minaj, his album did little to meet the hype. The track, however, resonated for a good portion of the year with remarkable success thanks to the pop style riddim and his keen play on words (tightest hold/tightest hole).
The artistically diverse dancehall artiste, Busy Signal, dropped the album D.O.B. early summer providing a contemporary collection of Jamaican music at its most experimental. The artiste used an open mind to mix Latin sounds with one-drops and opera but lacked the hype to score major downloads. Despite slow record sales, Busy still made for one of the most focused artistes this year– leading in songs for girls to fling up dem backside– thanks to tracks like “Bare Gyal” and “Jafrican Ting“.
Spragga Benz also released a solid album with “Shotta Culture,” giving old school dancehall fans something to add to their collection, but all in all albums released in 2010 produced hardly enough of a wave to boost overseas sales. In most cases this had less to do with the quality of the album and more to do with the state of the music industry.
New Artistes/ Hot Shots
Very few new artistes emerged in 2010 with exception to Khago who built two instant hits with the tracks “Nah Sell Out” on the one Day Riddim and “Nah Sell Out Pt. 2” on the Split Personality Riddim. New artiste Chan Dizzy also took a lap around the dancehall track with his song, “Nuh Strange Face.” Breakout artiste for 2010 should be handed to Popcaan for the complete 0 to 60 he made in 2010 with “Clarks Pt. 1”, “Dream” and “Hot Grabba.”
Artistes continuing on a steady incline in 2010 included Chino, who took Japan (again) with “From Mawning”, Konshens, who toured Europe and Japan, Serani, who never goes off tour and I-Octane, who isn’t dancehall technically but really seems to be growing with the most foresight (take notice new artistes).
Riddims That Just Wouldn’t Quit
Riddims this year were damn good with Jeremy Harding coming outta retirement, Dave Kelly returning to old school sounds and Seanizzle sweeping the floor with two robust riddims and plenty singles dropping from them. Producers in 2010 were putting their foot forward to play with old dancehall sounds and new ones, but the best riddims were the most well rounded in sound and lyricism. Here are the top 10:
1. Seanizzle’s One Day Riddim
2. ZJ Chrome’s Smokin Riddim
3. Seanizzle’s Split Personality Riddim
4. Di Genius’ Bad People Riddim
5. Zj Chrome’s Mad Collab Riddim
6. Notnice’s Gangsta City Riddim
7. Daseca’s Genesis Riddim
8. Madhouse’s Turn it Up Riddim
9. Don Corleon’s Gala Riddim
10. Equiknoxx’s Jim Screechie Riddim
Mavado, “Pon Di Ting”, Split Personality Riddim.
Choosing the top five singles from 2010 was not easy considering how my top five favorites and the ones written here don’t necessarily align. But after taking into account what a sucker I am for a good gyal chune (for obvious reasons), I took the high road and came up with the top five singles based on what I heard from being at sessions, clubs and listening to the radio during my 2010 year in Jamaica. I invite you to disagree with the following:
1. Vybz Kartel ft. Popcaan and Gaza Slim, “Clarks Pt 1,” produced by Notnice.
2. Mavado, “Stulla,” produced by ZJ Chrome.
3. Vybz Kartel “Straight Jeans and Fitted” produced by Russian.
4. Bounty Killer and Baby Cham, “Stronger,” produced by Dave Kelly.
5. Khago “Nuh Sell Out”, produced by Seanizzle.
And while Gyptian isn’t necessarily considered dancehall, we can easily put “Hold Yuh” on top as the most “global” single from a Jamaican artiste for the year:
1. Gyptian, “Hold Yuh”, produced by Ricky Blaze.
Looking ahead into 2011 should be interesting since album sales are at an all time low, global collaborations are excelling and dancehall artistes are racing to get their visas back … even though some will likely never see that come to fruition.