In recent years, following a relatively quiet period bereft of proper crossover hits from the region, a number of hit records drawing on contemporary renderings of dancehall and reggae — Byron Messia’s “Talibans,” Ireland Boss & Malie Donn’s “V6” and Teejay’s “Drift,” among them — have made major waves around the globe. That’s not to mention the recent global dominance of reggaetón, a widlly successful offshoot of dancehall’s wide-ranging legacy.
Just as the ’90s and ’00s were pivotal decades of record-breaking crossover success for Caribbean artists, the ’20s are starting to show signs of a mainstream resurgence in that direction. This new generation of Caribbean artists aren’t just building on the foundation of West Indian greats, they’re also subverting traditions by blending elements of dancehall, reggae, soca, calypso, Afrobeats, R&B, hip-hop, gospel, and pretty much every other musical style, into an exciting new frontier for Caribbean music. Along with artists actually living in the Caribbean, a new generation of the children of Caribbean immigrants in cities like New York, Toronto, Miami and London, are also making their presence known with a number of attention-grabbing genre-fusing tracks like Capella Grey’s “Gyalis” and Cochise’s “Buff.”
To help celebrate and honor the storied influence and and ever-increasing diversity of contemporary Caribbean music, Billboard is launching a new, monthly column to highlight 10 of the best new reggae and dancehall (and their cousin genres) songs each month. Of course, as is the case across genres in today’s age, there’s an overwhelming amount of new music released every day, let alone every month. Naturally, this column will not cover every last track, but our Spotify playlist — which is linked below — will expand on the 10 highlighted songs.
Now, to finally kick things off, here are 10 reggae and dancehall tracks that are heating up both our personal playlists and late-night functions from Kingston to Queens:
Millbeatz & Lyrikal, “Blessed Day”
A standout track from Millbeatz’s new Real Live Riddim project, “Blessed Day” finds Trinidadian artist Lyrikal leaning into the celebratory energy of soca music. With an anthemic hook that rejects the negative energy of doubters and naysayers, Lyrikal rides Millbeatz’ horn-laden riddim with equal parts gratitude and glee. There’s a genuine appreciation for the gift of life coursing through each phrase Lyrikal delivers. Despite the catchy percussion and horns, it is his voice that is the song’s driving force. “So tell them don’t worry, don’t worry about me/ I already prove di people who doubt me,” he proclaims.
Skippa, Najeeriii & Sulfa Ge, “Like Bob”
Leaning more into the grittier trenches of trap dancehall than the sunny sounds of soca, “Like Bob” — a new collaboration between Skippa, Najeeriii & Sulfa Ge — finds the the three artists expanding on the DNA that connects hip-hop, specifically gansta rap, and dancehall. Their gruff tones pair nicely with the soft piano and twinkling background synths, a contrast that creates ample tension for their high-stakes, shot-calling rhymes.
Nailah Blackman & KANIS, “Follow Follow”
On this sultry upbeat duet, Nailah and Kanis trade come-hither verses with a whispery, restrained hook that really drives home the slow-burning flirtatiousness of the track. Their alluring vocal tones are natural fits for the production’s intersection of Afrobeats and soca — and Trinidad and Haiti, by way of their respective backgrounds — further showcasing the diversity of sounds present in contemporary Caribbean music.
Bounty Killer & Cham feat. Dexta Daps, “Slow Motion”
Technically “Slow Motion” was released in May, but it found a home on Bounty Killer & Cham’s Time Bomb album, which hit streaming platforms on Sept. 22, so we’ll bend the rules here a little bit. The name of the game here is texture. Bounty Killer’s rugged tone is worlds away from Dexta’s fluttery falsetto, but when the two are juxtaposed against each other by way of the song’s verse-chorus structure, it makes for a truly dynamic song that breathes even more life into the sexy riddim — especially once the percussion drops out in the last 40 seconds.
Capleton, “Say Them Love You”
Probably the closest thing to traditional reggae in this week’s column, “Say Them Love You” finds reggae legend Capleton addressing hidden haters who pretend be friends with you while they’re actively praying on your downfall. Ever the animated vocalist, he plays up both the roughest and most tender pockets of his voice, bringing a sense of grounding to his cutting analysis of illegitimate friends and supporters. The new track appears on the Precious Time Riddim (Vol. 2) three-pack.
System32 & Lyrikal, “Stick On”
It’s fair to say that Lyrikal is on something of a hot streak right now. “Stick On” is the immediate standout of System32’s Sine Wave Riddim three-pack. With its hearty use of snare and tom drums setting the foundation for an ode to a woman who has completely taken over Lyrikal’s mind and heart, “Stick On” is a proper soca song that packs in jaunty chants, an infectious melody and a dynamic structure that moves through various refrains and hooks with reckless abandon.
Popcaan, “Nyqui” (with Anju Blaxx)
Squarely sat in the heart of modern dancehall, Popcaan’s new collaboration with Anju Blaxx isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s definitely enjoyable. An uninhibited ode to “freaky” women, “Nyqui” uses a simple hook, a reliably smooth melody and an eye-popping music video as a three-story Trojan Horse to respond to a recent spat with Denyque, in which the dancehall artist promoted her hew single by posting a picture of her wearing a t-shirt showing Popcaan (tagged as “somebody’s son”) eating watermelon (tagged as “me”). In the “Nyqui” music video, Popcaan features a plethora of beautiful women seductively chowing down on some watermelon.
Mr. Vegas, “God Out (Enuh)”
Although a solid chunk of mainstream dancehall prioritizes songs about sex and partying, the genre has myriad foundational topics — including God. On his new single “God Out (Enuh),” dancehall icon Mr. Vegas delivers a heartwarming hybrid of dancehall and gospel as he proclaims that he is “God pickney.” The song is characteristically confident and self-assured, but not from a place of arrogance. “God Out” champions God’s power over Mr. Vegas’ every turn and against all things that attempt to take him off of his destined life path.
Skeng feat. Valiant & Jiggy D, “Loyal Gyal”
It’s always a beautiful thing when collaborations between massive artists live up to the hype. On “Loyal Gyal,” Skeng and Valiant — alongside Jiggy D — lay down their requirements for “loyal” women. In actuality, these requirements are just the two men trading verses that paint some of their raunchiest and most explicit fantasies. Given that Skeng tends to operate in the gun chune lane, the pivot to this sound and theme is welcome. In addition to the smooth production, both men’s vocal performances — which feature a combination of Auto-Tune and slurring — make for a sonic environment that truly feels drunk on lust.
Nadia Batson, “Market”
To bring it back to soca, Trinidadian recording artist Nadia Batson delivers a pitch-perfect party anthem with “Market.” Seamlessly combining elements of traditional soca, a mood that carefully balances comedy and seduction and an extended “market” metaphor, the new song harnesses all of the joyous energy that makes soca music so infectious. She commands the track with a powerful vocal performance, assuming a position of control and agency throughout the entire song. “And if you lookin’ for sexy to throw inside a basket/ I am de whole, de whole, de whole blinkin’ market,” she sings winkingly.
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