After hearing Gyptian's "Hold Yuh" (alternately spelled "Hold You") for the millionth time it made me think about all the other great songs in 2010 that received 1/10th the attention. Gyptian was recently nominated for both Soul Train and British MOBO Best Artist awards (update: he won the MOBO) in addition to ruling worldwide reggae and Billboard urban charts for the entire summer.
I'm always proud to see a Jamaican crossover into the pop mainstream, but this song? If you haven't heard it yet, it's anchored by a cheap and repetitive synth piano riff that a four year-old could have played. The Village Voice blog reported that the song was actually based on an unfinished production.
But like most effective pop songs simplicity was the key to "Hold Yuh"'s ubiquitous popularity. It certainly wasn't the song's thinly veiled raunchy lyrics. So while global dancers were preoccupied with a mediocre tune, a dozen creatively produced and technically excellent reggae songs went virtually unheard.
Don't get me wrong: Gyptian is a gifted singer with many brilliant songs but here are ten songs that were light-years better than Gyptian's fluke hit.
1. Mr. Vegas, Shaggy & Josie Wales "Sweet Jamaica"
This big artist combination sees each individual shine in their own light. Wales represents the rub-a-dub '80s, Shaggy the ragga '90s and Vegas the pop-dancehall '00s but the three sound unified in bigging up their home island and refuting the gloom during and after the Dudas extradition. Riding a similar version of the Lecturer riddim as Sizzla's "Ride Fi The Money," this track is a catchy track that should have staying power through the years.
2. Duane Stephenson "Rescue Me ft. Gramps Morgan" (watch video)
A highlight track from Stephenson's Black Gold album on VP Records in which Stephenson and Gramps from Morgan Heritage argue about which of them a mutually fancied gyal likes more. This song has everything: Heartfelt sentiment, fantastic duet singing, sweet background vocals and a soaring chorus -- "She is a good girl, and I never want to see her cry, her heart and mind and soul belongs to me..." Watch out 'cause you might find yourself inadvertently singing along with this one on the bus.
3. Spragga Benz "Protect Your Culture"
This track is a centerpiece of Spragga's Shotta Culture album. The bass line on this hybrid hip-hop reggae tune is brilliant remake of Redd Holt Unlimitted's cover of The Miracles "Do It Baby," which was sampled by Boogie Down Productions on "Why Is That?" (among other hip-hop tracks)! Shotta Culture is chock full of burners but this one is the most immediate, the cut to get the club poppin'
4. Gappy Ranks "Put The Stereo On"
Gappy Ranks is hands-down the Best New Artist of 2010. He came outta' Harlesdon, London, UK and just killed it all year with sweet Peckings-produced, rocksteady-based tracks like this one, which rides on top of the original Studio One's Hot Milk version.
5. Protoje "J.A."
This Don Corleon-produced artist lives up to his name -- he's a scion for the new-school of pop-conscious reggae artists. Like Vegas's "Sweet Jamaica" this tune is a proud Yardie's ode to the island he loves. The riddim could easily be a radio crossover hit propped up by Pro's slick, staccato Bone-Thugs style flow. An artist to watch in 2011.
6. Taddy P & Mackie Conscious "Leave The Crumbs"
Bassman come forward! In a year that saw bass legend Lloyd Parkes jump back into recording thanks to his son Craig "Leftside/Dr. Evil" Parkes, bass player Taddy P issued a string of scorching tunes featuring guest vocals from Maxi Priest, Bunny Rugs and Mackie Conscious. Check his timely bass soloing on this track. Another new artist who is improving and expanding reggae's repertoire.
7. Queen Ifrica "Times Like These"
Queen Ifrica has the ability to take a song and turn it into a parable, which is her approach on this Jeremy Harding-produced City Life riddim track. Ifrica is getting more comfortable with her singing voice as opposed to her already established sing-jay flow. This tune is a perfect example of a powerful artist delivering the truth as Ifrica invokes Jamaica heroes Ms. Lou, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley; we really couldn't really ask for more in a reggae song.
8. Taj Weekes & Adowa "Rain Rain"
Taj's 2008 album Deidem came as a complete surprise and established the conscious one-drop singer as a leading candidate to follow in Marley's footsteps. His new album A Waterlogged Soul Kitchen continues to trod a humanitarian "afro-acoustic" reggae path. Like a more authentically rootsy than Michael Franti with better song writing than Ziggy Marley, don't sleep on Weekes.
9. Toussaint "Roots In A Modern Time"
Toussaint may be a new name, but earned his stripes as innovative front man for Soulive. His debut Black Gold (not to be confused with Duane Stephenson's album of the same name) indeed sparkles with spectacular compositions and a thoroughly consistent vocal effort. Toussaint is going to be nicing up the reggae scene for some time to come.
10. Mary J. Blige & Jah Cure "Each Tear - Supa Dups Remix"
Ah Mary, Queen of Hearts and Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, and now, apparently, totally loving reggae remixes. Her last two or three hits have been remixed or covered inna reggae style and fashion to much acclaim. This duo with Jah Cure really brings the best out of her tune "Each Tear." Cure adds a conscious, raspy Rasta edge to Blige's ballad like a sweet combination of savory and sweet musical foods. Can't say much more than 'play it loud'.
These songs are all better than...