Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The 25 Best Reggae Albums of 2012

It was spectacular! If you enjoy Reggae music of the modern era, you really had very little, if anything at all, to complain about in 2012. In every aspect of the music, as a fan, it was an impressive calendar year and, perhaps, the most so in recent times. This was particularly accurate when it came to albums as several long rumoured projects finally came to be and we saw excellence from long great elders, superstars in their respective primes as well as up and comers seemingly destined to enter both former categories at some point in their careers. We also saw a mighty impact from the not so typical sources, as many well talented un[der]knowns made fans aware of exactly what they were capable of and in the processes, likely secured many of them for the future. So, today we do the ridiculous and attempt to cover the best of the best. The 25 Best Reggae Albums of 2012. 

{Note: Dancehall - yes. Soca - no}
{Note 2: No compilations}
{Note 3: I forgot what was going to be note 3, please continue}
{Note 4: Honourable Mentions: Many}
{Note 5: Madness!}

#25. "Children Of Jah" by Midnite [Rastar Records]

Supply & demand. Following what would prove to be an excellent year 2011 for Midnite, things didn't at all slow down in terms of quality in 2012 as Vaughn Benjamin and company continued their prolific ways with yet another pair of albums. In terms of publicity, and in the minds of most fans I believe, their most noteworthy set of the year was definitely "Children Of Jah" which once again the saw the genius of Benjamin on full display via his most consistent stop in recent years, Rastar Records. The results, as is almost always the case, was an unquestionable lyrical genius and while it didn’t seem to be the most musically accessible in my opinion, the album would go on to find an audience in both new and old fans alike, as well as everyone in between also - it was a very popular album. Starring were tunes like 'I Must Say', the title track, the very well regarded 'Carboniferous Land' and my personal favourite, 'Supply and Demand'. 

See Review 
 #24."TIME" by Bunny Rugs [Raw Edge Productions]

Just can't deny. The legendary voice of Bunny Rugs well provided 2012 with one of its truly most memorable moments in the form of his wonderful first solo project in several millennia, "TIME". The long rumoured and even longer anticipated set more than lived up to what were ample anticipations and, now looking back, in terms of pure SOUND, the frontman of Third World would produce an absolute masterpiece of an album and maybe the single most sonically pleasing piece of the year. It was also not without actual substance which flowed liberally throughout tunes such as 'Kurfew', 'It's Time', 'Land We Love' and almost every song on the album (many of which were co-written by Richard 'Bello' Bell).

See Review
#23. "Change The World" by Macka B [Chinelo Records]

Somethings never change. Delightful UK veteran of veterans, Macka B, returned to the masses in 2012 with yet another mighty addition to his catalog, the seriously impressive "Change The World" album. A signature of Macka's music has always been his lyrics which come in through this crawlingly straight-forward delivery, but are almost always full-on brilliant. This album featured the artist near his imaginative best with songs like 'Never Played A 45', 'Still A Seh Rasta', 'Medical Marijuana', 'I Return', 'Reggae Daddy' and definitely 'Make A Claim'. Taking a look back now, it was also one of Macka B's more sonically pleasing sets and that surely added a bit to an album which didn't need much help. Further hands came from the royal lineup of guests who featured on “Change The World” as well in David Hinds, Luciano, Lloyd Brown and Earl 16.

#22. "The Laboratory" by Da Professor [Don Corleon Productions]

Good times. Released wayyyyyyy back in just the second week of the year, the Don Corleon helmed "The Laboratory" by the latest find of the super producer, Da Professor, is probably likely to miss out on a great deal of lists like this and while it definitely had a run of finding its way off of my players, anytime I come back to it, it once again becomes a favourite of mine, like hearing it for the very first time. Why exactly?! Soca not including (like the not says), I cannot confidently say that I heard a more EXCITING album and colourful album than "The Laboratory" this year. It was just a great time to listen to and that isn't to say that it was just a fire show, it was not at all devoid of actual quality and material, but in tunes such as 'Peace & Unity', 'Fi Her Type', 'Touch You' and a whole heap of others, Da Professor would make an album the promised excitement and delivered far more than enough to qualify for a list like this coming from us.

#21. "Mental Maintenance" by Konshens [VP Records]

The beginning. Near the onset of what would prove to be an excellent year for the artist (in which he would also show himself to be, in my opinion, one of just of few genuine contenders for Artist of The Year), Konshens would also jump in with a fully powered and highly anticipated solo album which would not disappoint in the slightest arena. "Mental Maintenance" was one of the first truly big named and big vibed albums of 2012 and while it may have faded from memory just a bit (and I actually think that is at least partially due to Konshens' later successes), you don't get very deep into this album today without remembering just sublime it was. Konshens is so interesting for so many different reasons and an album like this, although surely wicked, just figures to be a start of someone who I feel is capable of (and WILL be) delivering that type of landmark project which really just changes everything. Not that he needed it (he didn't), but Konshens would tap superstars such as Sizzla Kalonji, Bounty Killer and Tarrus Riley who all joined "Mental Maintenance", as did, unsurprisingly, his ultra talented brother, Delus and others.

#20. "On My Way" by Harry Mo [Yellow Hill Music]

Something good. Harry Mo had, perhaps, a 'good problem' on his hands with what whatever was to be his next (and third) studio album. What he had to do was to come up with a project which was fitting to follow what was, in my opinion, one of the greatest albums of all time, "Back To Africa". On one hand I suppose it's a good thing, because… you've made one of the greatest albums of all time, regardless of what happens next, but I and I'm sure I wasn't the only one (even though I was surely the most vocal), was expecting a great deal with the next project. That set would become "On My Way" back in May of 2012 and it would work fine! It helps when you didn't kind of stumble into a great record to follow it up and that wasn't Mo's case. He has an incredible talent which he reintroduced to the masses in a major way on his new album. "On My Way" was a very expressive, passionate and subtly colourful release which well managed to feel such immeasurably large shoes molded by its predecessor.

#19. "Masterpiece" by Glen Washington [Zion High Productions]

Nomen est omen. Glen Washington's career seems to get stronger and stronger the further he goes along and all eyes were on the long standing SWEET vocalist in 2012 when he delivered his much anticipated latest album release, "Masterpiece". The project came via Zion High Productions (who also gave the year its finest Reggae compilation in "Jah Golden Throne") and featured material from the flaming Zion I Kings collective of labels (which you'll hear from again before this list is done). The group figures to have a great deal of success with whomever they choose to record (and have to date), but what happened on the "Masterpiece" album was every bit as masterful as its title suggests. The record was a completely sterling mix of love songs and more spiritually guided vibes which made for, easily, one of the most powerfully MATURE moments of 2012 which, as we'll see, is saying a great deal. Washington's calming but mighty tones took some of the music here to the edge of perfection and even when it fell short (and it rarely did, if ever), the music was still outstanding and a JOY. A JOY!

#18. "The Next Chapter" by Delly Ranx [Pure Music Productions]

Elevated. I don't imagine that you'll be seeing Delly Ranx' latest album, the wonderful "The Next Chapter", on too many AoTY lists for 2012 and that's unfortunate because to my ears it was one of the most undeniably good sets of the year. There are albums on this list (probably a few of them) which while I rate them higher, I can well see as being much more polarizing than this album which did everything right for its star. Besides the star, the real attraction here was the amazing writing. Delly hit new heights on MASSIVE and SMART shots such as 'Africa Here I Come', 'If I Knew', 'Brave & Bold', 'Keep Me Elevated' and definitely 'Money Haffi Make' (and others as well). And it wasn't this kind of 'rigid' set either. The album well displayed all of Delly Ranx' qualities, including a great sense of humour and, full on, was thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end and not at all to be missed - again, not even in favour of some of the higher ranked albums here.

See Review
#17. "Journey Of 1,000 Miles" by Perfect Giddimani [Dynasty Records]

What come good. 2012 was another in recent times which saw Mr. Perfect Giddimani perform to a level which has apparently seen the most eccentric chanter of the era hit a level where you feel that he is as capable as anyone in the genre. The main attraction of his year, which was fine in many respects, was definitely what turned out to be one of the finest album releases to date, the retrospectively EXTREMELY colourful, "Journey Of 1,000 Miles". The album would find Perfect linking with the very active and also impressive Dynasty Records, who would provide the artist with a wide variety of vibes over which to display his curious gifts and Perfect would not disappoint. Along with carrying unforgettable moments from 2012 such as the title track, 'Roots For Me', 'Mama Africa' and the devastatingly infectious 'Happy', this "Journey" would also include one of my own favourite songs from the entire year and now Perfect's entire career to date, my choice as his greatest ganja tune thus far (and if you know his music, you know exactly how lofty a claim that is), 'My Chronic'.

#16. "Love Govern Us All" by Qshan Deya [Diamond Rush Productions]

Long time indeed. When powerful singer Qshan Deya, from out of St. Vincy, released his first album, "Journey", I was nearing my twentieth birthday. When he released his second, "Love Govern Us All" last year, I was approaching my THIRTY-FIRST (and had made trillions and trillions and trillions more mistakes in the interim). Surely the 'journey' in between was one full of ups and downs for the vocalist, but it pinnacled when he got his career back in the highest gear in linking with Diamond Rush Productions who would go on to re-raise a profile and eventually develop and produce a that second album, which was golden from front to back. Although one of a few albums on this list, unfortunately, which didn't get the attention, even from the more attentive of Reggae heads, which I think it deserved, "Love Govern Us All" was an album which I felt could not fail to be appreciated by fans of Roots Reggae music even if it tried if it got the opportunity. It could have been significantly worse than it was and still have been excellent. Almost every tune here was a winner (particularly the opener, 'Long Time') and it didn't hurt that joining Deya were the likes of Lady G, Tony Rebel and Half Pint either. A very strong release.

#15. "The System" by Romain Virgo [VP Records]

The present. There comes a point in the career of every skilled and talented 'up and comer' where they either plateau and become an artist of a certain quality and standing, but perhaps not one of the greatest around, OR they take the next step and truly assert themselves as having now begun the process which will see them, without question, become one of the greatest stars of the genre. To my opinion, the sensational Romain Virgo has been in the midst of doing the latter for the past few years and 2012 was definitely one of his finest. The centerpiece of it was a BIG sophomore set, "The System". Despite being released in the first half of the year, this album was one which never strayed very far from my attention as listening to Virgo has become an utter JOY (biggup Mr. Washington) and when I listen to this album and hear a tune which has become a favourite of mine and one of the best 3-4 songs that I heard in the year, "Dem A Coward", I hear a great deal of versatility in someone who probably shouldn't be as talented he is at this point. That tune wasn't alone (not even on that riddim) and was surrounded with golden output from someone who figures to rank on and top lists like these maybe for the next three decades! WHAT!

#14. "Crying To The Nation" by I-Octane [VP Records]

Awaiting. The phrase "most anticipated" is definitely one well overused by people who… like to talk about music, myself definitely included, but I think that in 2012 that distinction, as far as albums was actually commanded by I-Octane who would deliver a debut in "Crying For The Nation", which was not only designated for the previous year, but really could have existed, with demand, over either of the previous two. Not too surprisingly, Octane's popularity had grown to the point where VP Records eventually came into the picture as, just like the aforementioned Romain Virgo, he had well demonstrated himself to be amongst the absolute biggest names in the genre and, in his case, a very curious talent as well in being able to walk, run, skip, hop and dance firmly between modern Roots Reggae and Dancehall. "Crying To The Nation" was outstanding and easily worth the wait for its delayed release date in assembling some of Octane's more well known hits with newer material. Interestingly, however, I think that, on a large scale, I-Octane's subsequent work in the year somewhat overshadowed this album. This blog has now declared him Artist of The Year for two consecutive years (and he figures to be the favourite for a third as well), on the strength of having the most consistently SPECTACULAR string of output in Reggae music in my opinion. All of the work he did this year may have taken a bit of the shine from the album, but "Crying For The Nation" hasn't suffered for it in its quality. It was excellent and a fabulous display of the talents of one of the future pillars of modern Reggae in I-Octane.

#13. "In Awe" by Midnite [Fifth Son Records]

Open the door and enter. I've been making a case for this album from since the very first time I heard it and, it's just been growing from ever since because, despite its brevity --at just ten tracks-- each and every time I pick up Midnite's "In Awe", I find something else to like from it. Coming from Fifth Son Records, this album is another which went somewhat overlooked because some of the other work from the brilliant Vaughn Benjamin in 2012 and, to some extent, the year before as well. Back in 2011, Midnite would drop "Kings Bell" which was definitely one of their most accessible, well regarded to date and maybe their strongest promoted EVER (biggup I Grade Records) (more on them later) (two times). That album would come just a couple of months ahead of "In Awe" and the very large shadow which it cast had no shrank. And then there was #24 on this list, "Children Of Jah", which was also very popular and remains so now, more than six months following its release date. In the middle of all of that was "In Awe" which lacked a fraction of the attention of either of the two albums surrounding it, but to my opinion was just as strong as both and a MIGHTY addition to Midnite's catalog. Why? Songs such as the title track, 'Psych Ops', the unnecessarily genius '360', 'Music To Honour I King' and really every tune here just resonated and still do. There're more appropriate albums for this, certainly, but I've found myself especially in the last six months just wholly recommending "In Awe" as a spot to start for people looking to listen to more music from Midnite and this isn't coming from someone who is even close to being their biggest fan. Still - I LOVE THIS ALBUM!

#12. "Check Your Words" by Reemah [Feel Line Records]

Hypnotized??? I had to go back and really pay a great deal of attention to this album (and had I not written for it about a month ago, you would have certainly gotten a "REWIND!" for it) because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't so drastically overrating it. "Check Your Words" from little known VI Reggae princess, Reemah, was DOMINANT. It was a dominant and dominating album from an artist in Reemah who, although her name had yet to grow as greatly as her undeniable talents (the names of many people on this list have yet to grow as greatly as her skills), put on an full-on master class in these thirteen tracks. Reemah's prevalent quality is her lyrical ability and with this album, alone, she joined a very prestigious order of mighty female Reggae artists from out of the Virgin Islands (which also, apparently, recently got another entrant as Empress Ima has released her own debut album, "Ah We Deh Ya"). Also, it should be said that, at least in terms of albums, 2012 wasn't the most active for females in Reggae music and, to my opinion, "Check Your Words" was THE best Reggae album a woman made in 2012, which is a fantastic designation. The album was highlighted by tunes such as 'Due Time', 'War', 'Dominion & Control', 'Wanderaz', 'In Dem Purse'… pretty much everything here was a winner as Reemah more than made her presence known with the second greatest debut album of 2012. 

#11. "Mecoustic" by Tarrus Riley [Soulbeats Records]

Larger. In what seemed like a perfect year for one of Reggae music's greatest stars, Tarrus Riley, to release a new studio album (he'll do it this year now), he changed things up on everyone just a bit by stepping forth with one of the greatest 'side projects' in the recent history of the music. "Mecoustic" wasn't the big and blaring dynamic Roots Reggae album that you were expecting to next hear from out of Riley. It wasn't even something which VP Records, who usually does Riley's albums, thought to release (which, in retrospect, is very, very strange because they even re-released an old album of the artist's). But despite what we were waiting for and despite the album not leaping out at you, "Mecoustic", which was a showcase of Riley and musical genius, Dean Fraser, who re-presented some of his now classic (and I do not think that it is too early to use such a descriptor for some of these songs) tunes in a stripped-down and stunningly streamlined acoustic style. TEARS! 'She's Royal', 'Love Created I' (now called 'Marcus Garvey'), 'Africa Awaits' and others all received new lives which weren't very necessary in many of their cases, respectively, but I wasn't complaining at all. The very fact that "Mecoustic" came to fruition and was popular, at least to me, was a very significant occurrence in Reggae music in 2012. Riley is very much seen as someone who is exceedingly and infallibly popular in Reggae (because he is), but projects like these kind of step outside of the genre and not into a different one. They're a general step up and, if it was even possible, Tarrus Riley took a next LARGE step in 2012 with another forthcoming this year. BEAUTIFUL!

#10. "Meditation" by The Nazarenes [I Grade Records]

The bridge. Ethiopian brothers, NoahMedhane Tewolde, The Nazarenes, bridged a major gap in 2012 with their fantastic new album, the hard-hitting spiritually guided "Meditation". The album, their fourth to date, would find the Swedish based duo linking with none other than the Virgin Islands' top Reggae imprint, I Grade Records as, once again, Reggae music would serve as the driving force for an unlikely, but PERFECT union. The project would also serve as a bridge of another kind - in being their most high profile release to date, "Meditation" brought many new fans to the Nazarenes and what they (we) found was a gorgeous release which, like #13 on this list, simply gets better and better on every spin through. This record was also a product of the Zion I Kings (three albums on the AoTY list and the best compilation - they're doing something really right) and the Nazarenes had previously appeared on the "Joyful Noise", which was… one of the best compilations of all time and had shown that significant musical chemistry existed there, but I don't think I was expecting this much. Vaughn Benjamin and Lutan Fyah (more on him later) joined in on an album which may still have a quality range which would see it ranking even closer to the top of a list like this one. AMAZING!

#9. "One Love, One Life" by Beres Hammond [VP Records]

One king. In typically cool and straight-forward fashion, the reigning world's coolest man, Beres Hammond, didn't quite set up 2012 to be what it would eventually become for him, he just kind of did it. Checking in at twenty tracks across two discs, "One Love, One Life" was definitely something different in terms of the set-up and the 'concept', but fans of the legendary singer, new and old, ultimately got every bit of what was expected. As its title would imply, the album was broken up into two halves, with one representing the love song which Hammond may just be the greatest practitioner of EVER in Reggae music and the other dealing more socially conscious material and LIFE in general. The first would produce pieces such as the divine 'No Candle Light', 'Keep Me Warm' (later this year, surely, the world will be welcoming the first batch of more than a few people who were conceived for no other reason than that song being SO good) and 'In My Arms', while the title track and the terrific pair of songs, 'You Stand Alone' and the MASSIVE 'Not Made Of Steel' (TEARS!) would lead the way on "One Life". I can't say this about every Beres Hammond albums, even the one or two which I hold in higher esteem, but "One Love, One Life", if it's possible, well added to his legend as this man, somehow, continues to find a way to thrill.

#8. "Truly" by Lutan Fyah [OneDrop Productions]

Phantom. I can almost guarantee you that this album won't make any other list of this kind for last year and I'm almost sure that even most people who might be interested in it do not actually know that it exists. "Truly", very quietly, rolled out as the new Lutan Fyah album for 2012 and did so, most interestingly, alongside "Hold The Vibes", a brand new album from Ras Attitude. Both came from a OneDrop Productions and both have yet to receive even a slight bit of promotion to my knowledge and that's really unfortunate. On this list we have labels such as I Grade Records and VP Records who are the very best of the best when it comes to promoting Reggae albums these days, but even imprints such as Dynasty Records and Don Corleon Records make a wonderful effort consistently without seeming to stretch themselves too far. ODP certainly didn't strain too much either and because of that, the future of "Truly" doesn't seem too bright, but its present and now past was nearly flawless. I'll still maintain that, when anywhere near his best, Lutan Fyah is about as powerful of a lyrical force that Reggae music has seen in a very long time and this album featured him in a very fine form as he attacked his way through much of the duration. So, while they may not have the business portion of things moving smoothly just yet (but then again, they may), OneDrop obviously knows a good thing when they hear it. Attitude guested as did NiyoRah for an unforgettable link, 'Ghetto Sweet'. Other songs such as 'Rasta Is My Purpose', 'Doubtful Thomas', 'No Long Argument' and particularly both 'Selassie I No Partial' and the brilliant 'Nah Trim' also topped another fantastic lyrical display by one of the greatest writers the genre has ever seen. 

#7. "A New Day" by Jah Marnyah [Faya Wurks Records]

Powers manifest. As it was in almost every other subcategory , 2012 was also a big year for debut albums in Reggae music. Along with being the year which would finally produce the debut outing of I-Octane, it would also bring us long-playing intros to the likes of Da Professor and Reemah. To my opinion, however, the best of  them all came from an artist who, like Octane, was someone who very much should have already made his debut (and maybe two or three years ago in his case), the WICKED chanter from out of Montserrat, Jah Marnyah who made the long wait well worth it when he finally reached with "A New Day" alongside longtime homebase label, Faya Wurks. In this case, everything lined up perfectly and while there were solid singles beforehand, not too much of the album had been ran and Marnyah hadn't been overly prolific, in general, so listening to the record was still very much a journey. As you can see, I WELL enjoyed the journey. Looking back now, I think the lasting impression of "A New Day" was that it would contain a song which was the single finest I heard from anyone in 2012, the monstrous 'Dem Vex', a song which I've probably heard over two-hundred times now. That song surrounded by complete nonsense would probably force me to make room on the lower portions of a list like this for your work, but it was bordered by music of such a high level that it started as and grew even further as becoming one of the best albums of the year for me and one which has really played a perfect backdrop in my life over the past six months or so. 'All Is Not Lost', 'Keep Trying', 'Rasta Is Love' (BOOM!), 'Peace & Harmony' ["press along, my people press along"], 'I Can See' w/Anthony John all impressed as well and there were more. Something else about this album and Jah Marnyah has also really jumped in my mind lately: There's just something REALLY gripping about this project. I'm calling it 'star quality' these days and for someone who isn't a 'household name' in Reggae circles, that's very unique. It isn't what you'd hear from the likes of Tarrus Riley or Octane and definitely not Romain Virgo (who could lose half of his appeal and still have about as much as anyone in the genre), but in its own way, "A New Day" was a sublimely displayed set. 

#6. "Children of Exodus" by Bambú Station [GriotLife Recordings]

See me love. I suppose there is no guaranteed successful method to make such things run nicely, but I guess if  you have to take six years in between album releases, then this would be the way to do it. The venerable Bambú Station made their long awaited album return in 2012 with the STERLING "Children Of Exodus" and it seemed as if they had been releasing music all along the way as, in one beautiful motion, they reassumed their rightful place as one of the leading figures from the VI Reggae scene. With the exception of #11 on this list, "Children Of Exodus" was an experience of a project. It was a very 'visual' album and nearly every track , tune and others (listen to 'Bambu Elektricity' and you not only hear all of these different people, but you start to picture in your head how they look) (and they all look different every time!) (that was just a wonderful idea to include here), carried that experience further. By its end what you had was something which cut a bit of the wait to comprehension and if you hadn't been a large fan of the band's, this album gave you a reason to become one or maybe even become one again. 'Bonded Together', 'Warnin' (which I LOVE these days), 'Wanna C U Love', 'Leaning On Afreeka' and the album's magnificent opener, 'Walk UR Mile' all shone brightly on an album which figures to retain all of its lustre for years and decades to come. 

#5. "Meditation Time" by Anthony Que [149 Records]

The chosen one? Anthony Que just… changed my entire outlook on him in 2012 in dropping two big albums, one of which was the last album to not make this list [#26], the outstanding "No Fear No Man" from ReggaeLand Productions, with the other being something that would, at least in my eyes, take him the ridiculous and oft-mentioned mythical 'next level'. Here it is! "Meditation Time" would come to the world via 149 Records and the Babyclone Band and wouldn't at all show me the same 'good' singer that I had thought Que to be. He was vibrant. He was lyrically impressive. He was confident (and with great reason). He was a full on master throughout the album. And that's not to say that he was below average before in my opinion, because he certainly was not, but the artist found on this album was several steps ahead of being called "good" and is probably destined to remain so for the rest of his career. So what was so impressive about this album? In all of the noticeable and appreciable ways in which I determine the quality of an album "Meditation Time" not only registered, it almost overwhelmed! The prevailing vibe on the album was strong. The messages were clear and very accessible. The vocals were perfect for it. The MOOD of the album was even big (meaning that what was being said matches precisely with how it is being delivered). Everything! All of that was fantastic and, just because, it also included one of my favourite artists today (or any other day), Queen Omega, one on of its standout moments Queen Omega. Want more? Looking back now, the album was heavy, but melodically gifted and joyous to listen to as well. The title track, 'Ghetto Youth', the single best love song I heard in 2012, 'Come Come' and I'll stop there. There is not a single song on this album, NOT ONE [!], which isn't GREAT or in the general neighbourhood of the term. Anthony Que made a big fan out of me in 2012 and he pushed a future potential classic simultaneously. 

See Review
See REWIND 
#4. "Sweet Jamaica" by Mr. Vegas [MV Music]

Landmark. 2012 would mark the fiftieth year of life for the best place on the planet and, as you would expect, there were so many people paying so much respect and observance for the occasion and, of course, this would land directly into Reggae music (it would even land into a few other genres as well). Throughout the year there were songs and shows and festivals and programs and pretty much everything (clothes, websites… etc.) and it was all very beautiful and a wonderful celebration and show of respect as well. None of that stuff with even the slightest bit of musical inclination, however, would approach what Dancehall veteran, Mr. Vegas, would do in one shot when he released "Sweet Jamaica". Like Anthony Que, I've never been the biggest fan of Vegas'. Of course I recognized the obvious talent (and would have continued to even if he hadn't made this album) when it caught my attention, but over the past couple of years or so, Vegas had, to my opinion, stepped up everything musically. He was making better songs and he was one of, and maybe the most vocal of, a very small group of individuals who looked at Dancehall music and, without offering this lame and stale opinion of 'it isn't how it used to be', said that the music should be better and it should be more authentic. To ask for something to be what it is isn't much, but Dancehall had unfortunately turned into Hip-Hall and had become, almost wholly, boring as hell! SO! When you release an album which exists to celebrate an amazing and once in a lifetime occasion AND to celebrate the greatest music in the world as well, for being what it is and what it can be, you've made a fan in me and you'll have to fuck up GREATLY to shake me away in the future. "Sweet Jamaica" was thirty-one songs spread across two discs (Vegas and Beres Hammond did double albums this year) (and Machel Montano as well), one Reggae-centric and one from the Dancehall arena. It was a longtime rumoured project which actually materialized and it was amazing! ShaggyJosey Wales, Nadine Sutherland, Luciano, Patrice Roberts and others would all join in on an album which is easily one of the most ambitious of the modern era of Dancehall music and while flawless. People like me throw around words like "landmark" far too much, but in recent times no single album more comfortably wears the title than "Sweet Jamaica". 

See Review
#3. "Working Wonders" by Mark Wonder [Oneness Records]

So amazing. I'd been saying for a couple of years or so up to that point: All signs had pointed to veteran singer, Mark Wonder, being about to do something special, whatever it was going to be and whoever it was going to be with. 2012 would be the year that he would deliver what that "something" was to be, a brand new album for none other than the increasingly flaming Oneness Records from out of Germany (who ruled this list a couple of years with Naptali's "Long Journey") with whom Wonder had consistently worked with for awhile at that point. "Working Wonders" was an album which would do exactly what its title would set forth and it would do it so effortlessly that, despite the fact that I KNEW what was going to happen, I was still very impressed. What I had heard and what I had built my prediction on was this sterling brand of Roots Reggae music which, although it had gone overlooked by many (and still does), seemed to be getting even stronger. That's rare (think back to Perfect on this list, and how primed he has become, and then imagine him taking another step up) and for someone who had already impressed so wonderfully on an album form, I just expected everything to work out nearly perfectly on what was next to come. If I make ten guesses (about ANYTHING!), ten of them will be wrong ninety-nine times out of one-hundred - but I was right this time. "Working Wonders" was a downright majestic Roots Reggae album in every way. It was also a refreshing and detailed display of someone whose proverbial time has come. And I still have a very good feeling about what awaits from Mark Wonder. 

#2. "Know Thyself" by Ras Batch [I Grade Records] 

Graduation. The first thing you need to know about Ras Batch and his music is really very simple. Ras Batch is a musical genius. He's spent his career producing music for himself and others and playing instruments and actually releasing albums and - really just proving the fact that his is an absolutely overwhelmingly brilliant musical mind. That mind was on showcase like never before in 2012 when Batch linked for the first time with I Grade Records and the Zion I Kings for what was easily his most high profile release to date, the INTELLIGENT [!] "Know Thyself". Listening to this album makes you feel like you need textbooks. You need to pay special attention and possibly even take notes for the duration. That's very interesting coming in the [very] spiritual context in which much of the album, and much of Batch's music in general, is delivered through. He gave a spiritual lesson, but one which very much resonated in the tangible world on what is likely his greatest lyrical achievement to date. I also really enjoyed the response this album generated. It's been a few years now from the time when I came to believe that Batch's music is, despite its ostensibly straight-forward style somewhat ahead of its time, but it seemed like most people fortunate enough to vibe "Know Thyself" was greatly impressed. They had more than proper reason as Ras Batch came to teach a lesson that went unrivaled in 2012 with the SMARTEST album of the year. 

#1. "Reggae Music Again" by Busy Signal [VP Records]

A fireball. Busy Signal spent 2012 making news for a variety of different reasons, some of which (one in particular) took away from what was really a special year for the DJ, which would have likely seen him reach even higher heights than he did if not for an 'interruption'. The controversies only took slightly away from what was a magical musical year for Busy, however, which peaked in April with the release of his new studio album for VP Records, the MAMMOTH "Reggae Music Again". Busy had spent most of his musical time over the past two years or so demonstrated that he really knew no bounds. He would do anything at all and had subsequently shown himself to be one of the most adventurous products of the Dancehall we'd ever seen. That remained so, in a way, on the new album where, after doing everything he had done, it became an adventure to just be normal, which was the direction of  "Reggae Music Again", a vivid celebration of the music, but besides its course, there was nothing at all normal about this album.


"Reggae Music Again"

"Reggae Music Again" was dazzling. It was thrilling. It was like watching an action film (in 3d) (WHAT!). It was a hard-hitting drama. It was a romantic comedy. It was all of that in one feature (directed by Shane Brown). And it was nothing like anything I heard over the rest of the year or prior to it from Busy, but it was expected. If you've followed his career over the time and particularly its latest state, you knew that besides pretty much taking on any style, what had become most noteworthy of Busy's music was its quality. He had gotten better and had gotten better, in terms of PURE skill than almost all of his peers so the fact he could work through such a project wasn't at all a surprise. Still, much like Mark Wonder, I don't think I expected it to be this good! DAMN! Maybe he'll do even better someday, but there was no need last year. Busy Signal's "Reggae Music Again" may be the single best album I've heard in five years (and IMMEDIATE "Modern Classic") and despite it being such a powerful year and full of so much competition, it was also THE BEST REGGAE ALBUM OF 2012!

9 comments:

  1. Finally, Give Thanks!

    Alright, which album from five years ago?

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  2. freedom fighter
    bribery and corruption
    uwe banton-mental war

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  3. Achis brother, there are some you must check:

    1. Danakil - Echos Du Dub. Manjul's dub version of the album Echos Du Temps.

    2. Takana Zion - Kakilambe.

    3. Stand High Patrol - Midnight Walkers. Pupajim project.

    4. Jah Cure - World Cry

    No Sizzla? And yes the best Reggae Albums in 2012 were from Anthony Que & Busy Signal...no contest. Meditation Time.

    - Subp

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  4. Busy is a good #1 choice.

    Surprised by the lack of Anthony B! I really liked "Freedom Fighter."

    Not so surprised by the lack of Sizzla unfortunately. "The Chant" was decent but not up to his best work, not even recently. "In Gambia" was kind of a strange release with some good tunes.

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  5. It is a good choice for number1 indeed! I had a great time reading your blog... And i kept on agreeing to what you had written. Lj Photos

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  6. 26-30 would have been Anthony B, Anthony Que's other album, Uwe Banton, Rebellion The Recaller and Mikey General.

    And I agree with you DC, Sizzla's albums just weren't good enough to make it. I didn't like Jah Cure's album Sub and I did hear Takana Zion, but I'll check the other two yeah.

    It would have been "I-Space" by Sizzla, Cassa and thanks for reading Monica.

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  7. I am glad to see reggae music produced in the Virgin Islands well represented on this list. Nuff Raspect Achis. Jah guide de I.

    VI artist.

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  9. thanks for helping me discover Reemah!

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