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Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks of the Month: Shenseea, Lu City, Jaz Elise, Masicka & More

We’re whipping through the Carnival calendar, and the music just keeps on coming.

April was a characteristically busy month for the world of Caribbean music, with noteworthy performance, album announcements and historic achievements cutting through the noise. Sean Paul, who recently sat down with Billboard for a wide-ranging interview ahead of his Greatest Tour, won his very first Latin American Music Award, triumphing in the crossover collaboration of the year category for his Feid collab “Niña Bonita.”

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“I always learn from my collabs, man,” the “Temperature” singer told Billboard. “There’s no time that I don’t learn… I learn something every time and I take that with me, so it helps my songwriting.”

Shenseea, who collaborated with Paul on her 2022 debut LP, announced her forthcoming sophomore studio album on Tuesday (April 30). Titled Never Gets Late Here, the album is due May 24 and features collaborations with Coi Leray, Anitta and Wizkid. “Hit & Run” (with Masicka & Di Genius) serves as the set’s lead single.

In addition, a pair of performances made major waves. Jamaican dancehall artist Pamputtae opened for Nicki Minaj‘s Pink Friday 2 World Tour in Toronto, CA, on Tuesday. “First and foremost I want to give thanks to the most high God,” she wrote in an Instagram post commemorating her performance (May 1). “Big up [Nicki Minaj] for allowing me to open her second show in Toronto.”

Across the globe, Skeng returned to Guyana to headline the Real All Black concert, marking his first live performance in the country in two years. In 2022, Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn proclaimed that Skeng and a bevy of dancehall artists were banned from the country due to their behavior and violence-promoting lyrical content. The emcee delivered a high-octane set that included “Likkle Miss,” which Minaj remixed in 2022 for her Queen Radio: Volume 1 greatest hits compilation.

Naturally, Billboard’s monthly Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks column will not cover every last track, but our Spotify playlist — which is linked below — will expand on the 10 highlighted songs. So, without any further ado:

Freshest Find: Jaz Elise, “Gunman”

On this deliciously dramatic mixture of R&B and reggae, Jaz Elise pleads for her rude boy lover to leave his life of reckless abandon behind and settle down with her. It’s a story that’s been told countless times before, but Jaz’s emotive abilities inject “Gunman” with nuance and verve. When she sings, “Me nuh wah fi bury you early/ Nuh wah yuh fi live a life a crime/ So, baby, if yuh love me/ Me beg yuh fi leave it all behind,” you can hear every last bit of desperation dripping from each syllable. Of course, the drama truly intensifies in the song’s final minute, with a swirling orchestra of backing vocals, impassioned ad-libs and grandiose strings driving the song home.

Etana, “Thankful”

For her take on the Engraph Riddim, Jamaican reggae singer-songwriter Etana flexes the full expanse of her vocal range over swaggering guitars that employ just the slightest bit of swing. “I lift my hands to the man from whence my health comes, yes/ And every day I give thanks for the rising sun, yes,” she croons as she somersaults through dizzying riffs as easily as she dips into the depths of her sultry lower register. A laid-back praise and worship song that doubles as a vocal showcase, “Thankful” is a winner.

Lu City, “Sexy Love”

St. Lucian duo Lu City has a catalog that stretches across the scenes of dancehall, reggae and electronic music, and their latest LP — I Miss You, the official follow-up to 2022’s Lucidity — offers more of that intoxicating amalgam. On “Sexy Love,” which feels like a dancehall-bred cousin on the Ne-Yo song of the same name name, the duo marry their respective AutoTune-tinged voices over a relatively sparse soundscape that relies on moody synths and a healthy dose of Afrobeats percussion. “Sexy Love,” like all of I Miss You, is a true testament to how the African diaspora’s myriad genres all lead back to each other.

Anika Berry feat. Lil Jelo, “Safe”

Soca always gets the body moving, and “Safe,” a new collaboration from Anika Berry and Lil Jelo, is no different. Here, their joy isn’t sourced from the Road March or the general Carnival mood. They find their joy in one another and their monogamous love. Their vocal chemistry is strong, with Anika’s vibrato anchoring her “You safe with me / Youn in good hands, you in proper hands” refrain. Their call-and-response structure also helps play up their complementary tones while remaining true to the anthemic nature of power soca.

Subatomic Sound System, Mykal Rose & Hollie Cook, “Get High”

For the first taste of their forthcoming collaborative album, Subatomic Sound System, Mykal Rose and Hollie Cook have teamed up to deliver a new 4/20 anthem. Although the brooding bass signals a more forward-looking sound, classic reggae production — including ominous conga percussion courtesy of Larry McDonald and sultry brass from Troy Simms — is ultimately the name of game in “Get High.” Most impressive is the track’s mixing, the way Hollie’s upper harmonies are layered evoke the ever-unfurling clouds of marijuana smoke. Mary Jane enthusiasts, your time is now.

Mr. Vegas, “Dancing Grung”

On this sweet ode to the eternal life of dancehall, Mr. Vegas pays tribute to both the physical and creative spaces that comprise the sound and culture. His flow is catchy and the breakdown at the end is fun, if not a bit on-the-nose. Nonetheless, what’s interesting about “Dancing Grung” isn’t how easy it is to start bussing a wine to — Mr. Vegas has plenty of those — it’s the way he subtly flips the notion of “exerting dominance.” Instead of crowning himself king, he casts himself as Lord of the Vibes on “Dancing Grung.” “Dancehall will never die,” he proclaims at the song’s start, and with a deejay as infectious as him on the helm, he’s absolutley right.

Marcia Griffiths, “Looking Up”

Reggae legend Marcia Griffiths has still got it. With “Looking Up,” the former I-Threes member offers a slice of sanctified reggae. At 74 years old, not only does her voice still sound like it’s in pristine condition, she also remains a gifted and intelligent vocal performer. Between her pitch-perfect diction and her introspective delivery, her storied life clearly informs every last phrase that she sings. Her conviction is the song’s ultimate anchor. When she sings, “It’s the only life that’s worth living” with that slight tinge of darkness before the light comes in by way of her exclamatory “Looking up!” quip — that’s magic.

Shenseea, “Neva Neva”

After delighting dancehall fans with Di Genius and Masicka-assisted “Hit & Run” earlier this year, Shenseea introduces a more pop-forward sound with “Neva Neva,” the new single from her forthcoming Never Gets Late Here LP. The song oscillates between straightforward pop and dancehall with more finesse than anything on Alpha, Shensea’s debut album. She remains deep in her dancehall cadence and attitude during the verses, but the hooky chorus pushes her into a space that essential U.S. top 40 radio — and she sounds great. Moreover, “Neva Neva” — with its rumination on the endlessness of a good relationship — offers a smart contrast to the hit-it-and-quit-it energy of “Hit & Run.”

Chippa Don, “Clubscout”

From the tinny background synths to the breakneck flow switches, Chippa Don flexes his chops as both an emcee and a sonic world-builder on “Clubscout.” Firmly entrenched in the modern dancehall take on gun chunes, “Clubscout” is inherently sinister; “Gwan f–k around around/ Whole place haffi move/ Di glock, di clip long / But di K me a use,” he spits. It’s Chippa’s delivery, however, that makes this song stick. He’s playful, but there’s some bite and snarl to his voice that subtly reiterates that he’s calling his opps out because he knows he can handle them.

Masicka, “Forever”

Kicking off with contemplative country-adjacent guitar strums, “Forever” is a stunning ballad from Masicka, who released his latest album, Generation of Kings, last year (Dec. 1, 2023). “Forever brave, forever strong / Forever me, that’s who I am,” he croons, making for a ballad that makes the evergreen question of authenticity an introspective one while also showcasing yet another side of Masicka’s sprawling artistic profile. There’s a reason Sean Paul named him dancehall’s current leader.

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