1. Sizzla Kalonji "What's wrong with the picture?" (Xterminator) It's fitting that we'd choose one of extraordinary producer Philip "Fatis" Burrell's last creations as this year's top reggae song. Burell passed unexpectedly this month leaving a void in the conscious roots reggae community. One of Burrell's final productions, the Danger In Your Face riddim, features Sizzla is at his very best. Kolonji exhibits fearless singjay lyrics, hitting every vocal octave and decalring, "What's wrong with the picture? They only paint it to trick ya..." Burrell conjured inspired musicianship for this production -- bubbling organs, crisp, bluesy guitar riffs and soaring backing vocals. It stands as proof that the Fatis/Sizzla combination was one that couldn't be beat. We're going to miss him. But Sizzla's tune stands as a testament to his powers.
2. Kabaka Pyramid "Free From Chains" ForwardEver recently profiled Kabaka Pyramid, one of the most promising and versatile DJs to enter the scene this in 2011. His Rebel Music EP effortlessly blends modern one-drop reggae and hip-hop vibes. Definitely a talent to watch out for in 2012.
3. Daweh Congo "In This World" (JahYouth) Certain producers have the ability to get the most out of Daweh Congo's uniquely eerie and mystic vocal style. Jah Youth Productions does just that on a track that features an extended mix, drifting dub echo effects and a full-band instrumentation. Congo's lyrics examine the "atomic elements" that allow life to continue while contrasting it with historical events. Intellectual roots, indeed.
4. Anthony B "Sing To Me" (SSI Media) Anthony B plaintively sings "This one's for you my empress, so royal, so loyal..." before lamenting that he didn't realize that the woman he was with was really was the one, the one that sings to his heart. Although Anthony B's socially and politically potent music are his best know numbers, he's also the master of the romantic tune as well.
5. Pressure "Jah Love" (Don Corleon) 2011 was a big year for the Don. Pressure's track on Corleon's The Message riddim was just one reason. Million Stylez "Brighter Day," Cecile's "Rise Up" and Vybz "Poor People Land" were also top tracks from this riddim set. But Virgin Islands-born Pressure Bus Pipe is a force to be reckoned with. He always drops four or five memorable and lyrically conscious tracks each year and "Jah Love" was his best in 2011.
6. Alborosie "Jahnhoy" and Tarrus Riley "Rebel" (Maximum Sound) Producer Frenchie lends a new school reggae production approach to his 80s rub-a-dub sounding Skateland Killer riddim, featuring Dean Fraser's live saxophone melodies. Sicilian-born Alborosie sings out for "holy I-thiopia," while Tarrus Riley calls on listeners to rebel against wickedness.
7. Stephen Marley "Jah Army" (Tuff Gong/ Universal) This song actually dropped late December 2010, but remained hot all throughout 2011 thanks to combination re-licks featuring Buju Banton and Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley. Stephen’s album, Revelation: TheRoot of Life, on which "Jah Army" also appears, proved to be one of his strongest yet, and the Jah Army riddim set, featuring cuts from Spragga Benz, Jah Cure kept interest strong in this heavy riddim.
8. Chukki Starr "Locked Down” (Necessary Mayhem) Producer Curtis "Necessary Mayhem" Lynch is quickly making a name for himself with hi-tech roots rhythms like the Gorilla Riddim. Watch Lynch at work making the riddim. ForwardEver favored Chukki Starr's ode to brothers in prison, but also check for Cali P's "Herbalist" and Mr. Williamz
9. Louie Culture "Judgement Fi Babylon" (True Sounds) Like Kabaka Pyramid's "Free From Chains" and hip-hop remixes of the Billie Jean riddim, True Sounds came out of the gate with this nice 90 bpm uptempo roots-hip-hop number.
10. Courtney John "Never Keep You Waiting" (Itation Records) Great production from the Itation crew outta California, and Jamaica's Courtney John (formerly Yogie) goes from strength-to-strength on this romantic reggae track, perfect for Valentine's Day (when it was originally released) or any time you want to get close to your beloved.
11. Lutan Fyah "Burn This AFire" (In The Streets) Produced by Byron Murray and released in July on the Hold U Medz riddim set, conscious roots singjay Lutan Fyah sounds as confident and powerful as always atop this uptempo melody.
12. G Whizz "Boom Skeng" (Fiwi Music) A nice rub-a-dub revival-type riddim and a young talent making the most of it. G Whizz burst on the scene in 2008 back with the hit "Life," and recreates some of that magic on this positive, danceable reggae track.
13. Peter Spence "Lovely Here" (Smart Move Records) Lee Francis, owner and producer of Smart Move Records, and son of Studio One great Winston Francis has been on the rise for the past several years with crisp, melody-drenched singles like Peter Spence's "Lovely Here" on the Second Chance riddim (released in 2010, but still lively in 2011). Rumor has it the song may be tapped for use by the Jamaican tourist board, and you can hear why -- the song speaks of the islands pleasures over a relaxed beat. You can feel the tension melt away. Here's to a big year for the Smart Move crew in 2012.
14. Singing Melody "Collide" (VP) Singing Melody is a proficient romantic reggae singer in his own right as well as being one-fourth of the super group L.U.S.T. (comprised of Lukie D, Thriller U, Singing Melody and Tony Curtis). Melody has often taken on R&B and pop covers and continues that trend with this excellent rendition of Howie Day's 2003 top-40 track "Collide." Watch the poignant full length video below.
15. Ziggy Marley "Foward To Love" Ziggy is the only Marley child to have officially performed at the US White House (in 2009). He's also perennially nominated for the reggae Grammy award, including in 2012 for his most recent album Wild and Free. "Forward To Love" is a folksy four-four rockers reggae tune with a exceedingly catchy chorus. Not the most challenging reggae, but good soup for the soul nonetheless.