Last week marked the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. In celebration of Jamaica’s vast musical history, we picked a track from every year of independence. Some of the tracks are personal favorites while others are internationally-known.
Clearly, this list should not be viewed as an exhaustive collection of Jamaican music. Instead approach these selections as just a glimpse of the country’s rich music legacy. And by all means, please include your favorites in the comment section.
Last week we covered the years 1962 to 1979. Now we are covering 1980-1995. Stay tuned for 1996-2012 next week!
Also, if you subscribe to Spotify, feel free to subscribe to a playlist we put together of this installment here!
1980 – Sugar Minott – “Hard Time Pressure”
By 1980, the UK had become a major listener of Jamaican music as well as producing some of their own solid reggae. Jamaican-born Sugar Minott’s excellent “Hard Time Pressure” became such a major hit in the UK that the singer chose to relocate there.
1981 – Sister Nancy- “Bam Bam”
Notable for opening the door for female deejays, “Bam Bam” was one of Sister Nancy’s slew of hits that were eventually compiled and included on her debut LP, One, Two. The song’s riddim of the same name also became extremely popular.
1982 – Yellowman – “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng”
From 1981 to 1984, albino deejay Yellowman was arguably the figurehead of reggae in Jamaica with his unique style and humor both which are excellently displayed on this massive hit. Toasting over the “Diseases” riddim by Henry “Junjo” Lawes, the melody has been used, covered and remixed by numerous Jamaican artists in addition to having been used by musicians outside Jamaica from Sublime to 2pac.
1983– Barrington Levy – “Murderer”
Already a major success from his work with Henry “Junjo” Lawes and backing from the Roots Radics, “Murderer” was yet another massive hit for Levy that is still often sampled and referenced in dancehall.
1984 – Barry Brown – “Make It with You”
Produced by King Tubby and backed by the Roots Radics, Brown couldn’t lose with this single. Let’s give Brown some credit though, he took lead vocals with conviction on a number of excellent singles before the dawn of “ragga” and is probably one of the more underrated singers to come out of Jamaica in the late 70s/early 80s.
1985 – Wayne Smith – “Under Me Sleng Teng”
Cut at Prince Jammy’s studio, “Under Me Sleng Teng” is the first fully digital reggae recording and paved the way for a new style of reggae called “ragga” which would be later become the norm for “dancehall.”
1986 – Half Pint – “Victory”
In the mid ‘80’s, Half Pint rocked Jamaica’s singles charts with a handful of successful singles (including “Winsome” which was later covered by The Rolling Stones). This cut “Victory” was also a chart-topper in Jamaica.
1987 – Admiral Bailey – “Punanny”
A deejay who was apart of Prince Jammy’s Super Power Sound, Bailey was notable for his sense of humor over Jammy’s riddims including this ode to sex.
1988 – Ninjaman – “Hortical Don”
The same year that Gussie Clarke married digital riddims with “steppers”-style rhythms, Ninjaman was beginning to make a name for himself with a number of popular singles with singers before his career would eventually really take off in the 1990s. “Hortical Don” showcases Ninjaman working on his own, the beginnings of what would become a major player in the ragga/dancehall scene.
1989 – Shabba Ranks – “Peanie Peanie”
This single on King Jammy’s label was one of Ranks’ first big hits. Two years later, Ranks would become the first dancehall artist to win a Grammy.
1990 – Cutty Ranks – “Retreat”
Cutty Ranks saw massive success in the ‘90s in Jamaica and beyond. His style of delivery made him a popular choice for sampling in the electronic styles drum n bass and jungle music as well.
1991 – Buju Banton – “Stamina Daddy”
Before his substance abuse problems and run-ins with the law, Banton was arguably one of the most popular figures in Jamaican music with his instantly recognizable rough vocal delivery.
1992 – Chaka Demus and the Pliers – “Murder She Wrote”
Is this one of the most sampled pieces of Jamaican music? Possibly. Chaka Demus and the Pliers scored an international hit “Murder She Wrote” that leads to more crossover ragga/dancehall records.
1993 – Spragga Benz – “Dem Flap”
Popular dancehall deejay from the ‘90s is at the top of his game on “Dem Flap” over the super popular “Poco Man Jam” riddim.
1994 – Garnett Silk –“Splashing Dancing”
Before his untimely death attempting to save his mother from a house fire, Silk was a rising star leading a new group of conscious, roots artists. “Splashing, Dancing” was one of Silk’s bigger hits and showcases the strong spirituality that characterized his music.
1995 – Capleton – “Tour”
The work of Capleton, including this cut showcases a new, more “conscious” approach lyrically to dancehall.