Because we see no reason at all to stop celebrating (because there exists no such reason), today we go in the direction of albums and put together the finest of what turned out to be a very strong year, 2013. Though its predecessor was amazing and the new year, ultimately, didn't materialize some of the big named rumoured projects which were expected form the likes of Tarrus Riley and Queen Ifrica, in retrospect, it did offer many BRILLIANT 'unexpectations' from loooooong time veterans and installed superstars alike. Still, it was a newcomer who shone the brightest and gave the year its signature moment, but the journey there was a beautiful one. Take it with us! It's the best of the best: The Best Reggae Albums of 2013!
#20 "New Scroll" by Cornel Campbell [Zion High Productions]
Sing on. L-E-G-E-N-D, Cornel Campbell, had an outstanding year in 2013, once again demonstrating that a voice and a style that he had been developing for nearly SIXTY years had yet to reach a time zone in which it could not thrive. The biggest of his highlights in my opinion was this gorgeous release via Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings collective, "New Scroll". While the "scroll" may have been new, what remained familiar and wonderfully so was one of the genre's most legendary voices which was giving a sublimely old school vibed mix by ZHP and the ZIK. They, too, had a great campaign this past year, and you'll hear from them again before the end of this list, but "New Scroll" still holds a very special place as being, truly, one of the best arranged and most fulfilling albums of 2013.
#19 "The 8 Year Affair" by Protoje [Don Corleon Records]
No one like you. One of Reggae music's most addictively unique figures, Protoje, returned in 2013 with his sophomore set, "The 8 Year Affair". Like its predecessor (and probably most of its successors) the album was helmed by Protoje's esteemed kin, Don Corleon and, again, the two pushed a set with eyes directed towards the old school arena where at least a part of Protoje's sizable unusual talents dwell most comfortably. Watching Protoje go about his career is most interesting because it almost unfolds like a movie: You kind of get the feeling the feeling that it has all been laid out and you just have to watch the rest of it. I don't know how it ends, but I do know that the second 'scene' was fantastic and I cannot wait for the next. Romain Virgo and even Tessanne Chin guest.
#18 "Freedom Fighters" by Chezidek [One Drop Records]
Bonus. Chezidek offered one MAMMOTH moment of an album for 2013 which you'll find bubbling somewhere near the head of this list and deservedly so, but he also, very quietly, did something else. Unfortunately (and yet, somewhat coolly), the biggest story around his other offering from the year, "Freedom Fighters" was and remains just how few people actually knew it existed. Released by the US based One Drop Productions and produced by Andrew 'Bassie' Campbell like their previous two albums (one of which, Lutan Fyah's "Truly" made last year's edition of this list), this set went well under the radar and although it did so likely attracting only the attentions of people like You and I, ultimately you do hope that more of the singer's fans get to hear this album. While it wasn't the other album here, "Freedom Fighters" was good Chezidek and as someone who has stringed together more than a couple of solid years recently, that's saying something very substantial. Songs such as 'Dem A Dweet', the title track, 'Mr. President', 'Jah Jah Tabernacle' and several others anchored an album which didn't make much noise, but clearly not for a lack of quality.
#17 "Much More To Life" by Norris Man [Tiger Records]
Rolling. Following a RIDICULOUS 2012, veteran chanter Norris Man kept things going in the year by continuing with his most fascinating run of album releases. Offering what would turn out to be two solid sets, he would, again, impress in a way which has come as a very sudden and unlikely surprise. The best of his contributions came courtesy of a very familiar source, Sherkhan and company at Tiger Records who (would give it away for free later in the year) had, for years, made Norris Man a staple and struck a good idea in deciding to do a full album with him. The results were "Much More To Life", and album which persists in delivering more and more material to the listener through every subsequent spin. Though it would not receive a great deal of attention either, "Much More To Life" was one of Norris Man's best albums ever. Perhaps what was most interesting here was how the album was presented. It carried on like an evolving story, with the artist chiming in through six skits, helping things along, like a narrator. One thing really sticks out, in retrospect, for this album - Two songs 'All Day Long' and 'Dreaming' which utilized the same riddim, with the latter seeming to be this spontaneously vibed track. Norris Man later confirms this on a skit and I just really enjoy how that played out from the standpoint of a listener. Also quite difficult to forget were big tunes such as 'Murdera', 'Jah Rule Always' and 'The Soul'.
#16 "Shining Hope" by Gappy Ranks [Hot Coffee Music/VP Records]
Nuts & bolts. Though its place on this list was virtually guaranteed, it was probably most difficult in deciding exactly where to land "Shining Hope", the third studio release from burgeoning star, Gappy Ranks. And one of the best things about making a list like this (and making it in a way where you actually place albums in direct comparison to one another) is that you get to go back and listen, in detail, to them and make the choice which was better. I'm starting to think that "Shining Hope" was a bit better than I gave it credit for being (and it was #20 here for a while). Though the sound was definitely varied, what I always enjoy so much about Gappy is his obvious attention to forwarding his skill. This album would contain one of the most devastating exhibitions of his monstrous gifts in the form of one of the year's best tunes, 'Carpenter' and it was not alone with 'Back To Reality' leading a pack of very solid supporting acts.
#15 "Be Strong" by Midnite [Fifth Son Records]
Kinda high. The conversation surrounding "Be Strong" the first of two albums from Vaughn Benjamin and Midnite that you'll find on this list, fittingly, has shifted, at least from me. It has gone from celebrating and admiring that this album was the direct descendant of "In Awe", which marked the last time that Midnite linked with Fifth Son Records (and was SPECTACULAR), to being about just how good "Be Strong" was. Coincidentally, that too is a sign of following "In Awe", as the album would travel a similar path to being regarded as good as it was. Though not quite that good (at least not yet), "Be Strong" finds a place on this list, without question, by virtue of being yet another finely crafted and downright BRILLIANT display by Vaughn Benjamin and Fifth Son. Over the years they've worked magic together and, "Be Strong" was one of the best. 'With Regret', 'Dem Kinda Heights', 'Be Strong', 'Bless The Nest'… pretty much all ten of these songs helped to lead the way on an album which probably finds its way in the top ten of this list if I were to redo it in a few years.
#14 "Urban Jungle" by Brinsley Forde [JahSolidRock]
Lion have mane. The fact that longtime frontman of the great Aswad, Brinsley Forde, finds himself on a list like this comes to the surprise of absolutely no one, but what was remarkable was how he did. Linking with someone who you'll certainly hear from again today, JahSolidRock, Forde delivered his debut solo release, "Urban Jungle", in 2013. Didn't you just assume that he had already had a few of these? The album, much like #20 on this list, was an example of an elder really being pushed in a direction which would, easily, make his music more accessible to another generation of fans, but do so without alienating the multitudes of fans that he's touched throughout his career. "Urban Jungle" was, also, another album which seemed to sprawl further and further on your tastes and, again, now looking back at it, I was damn happy to rediscover just how GOOD this album was.
#13 "Over The Top" by Perfect Giddimani [House of Riddim]
Colours. When you have someone as wholly diverse and unpredictable as Perfect Giddimani, I suppose that you can try a variety of different ways to work, but the one which was chosen by Austrian label, House of Riddim, is probably my personal favourite: Release him! Artist and label linked together on "Over The Top" and album which, as its title would suggest, was without boundary and covered SO much musical ground. As I've said in the recent past, I am of the belief that Perfect has reached his prime. In his recent form, he has shown himself capable of making some of the best music of his entire career and 2013's stop was yet another example of that. "Over The Top' was a blistering mix of straightforward winners with Perfect's typically pausing moments. Guesting roles from the likes of Menny More, Ras Attitude and Pressure Busspipe (on the album's biggest tune, 'I Hail Jah') [FOREVER!] [BOOM!], certainly did not hurt and neither did an album which thoroughly entertaining and compelling from beginning to end.
#12 "Rootical" by Lloyd Brown [Zion High Productions]
Turn it on. Certainly it couldn't be labeled a 'comeback' in the most genuine sense of the term, but that is exactly what "Rootical" was for someone who I regard as one of the greatest GEMS in the current landscape of Reggae music, Mr. Lloyd Brown. Though he had an album just months prior (and if I did an 'honourable mentions' portion for this list, that album, "New Veteran", would be in it), "Rootical" would mark the veteran's return to significance and PROPER form on a very well pushed album which generated all the appropriate buzz, from Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings, as a project from someone of his stature deserves. Fortunately and predictably, the actual album did not disappoint (and it could not disappoint even if it tried). Despite alluding the spotlight for the past couple of years prior to this one, Brown had not seen a drop in form and he's continued to deliver albums of the same level that he established back in the mid 2000's. "Rootical" was a downright elegant and classy set which also brought out the signature cleverness and charm from Lloyd Brown. It also brought out some of the signature tricks from the label as well as ZHP tapped a very impressive group of guests which would include Pressure Busspipe, Jahdan Blakkamoore and Queen Omega.
#11 "Take Heed" by Nahyubi Joseph [Nahyubi Hodge]
The fittest. It seems like every year that someone jumps up from almost out of nowhere (or at least nowhere, seemingly, positioning themselves to be about to drop a wonderful album) and just brings forth a sizably surprising set and, for 2013, that distinction definitely belongs to St. Thomas native, Nahyubi Joseph, who gave us the DELIGHTFUL "Take Heed". You're almost guaranteed to not find this album on any other list of this kind, but it has well earned its position on my list. Why? In a year headlined and underlined by LYRICS, "Take Heed" was one of the finest lyrical performances on an album of the entire year in my opinion. Joseph showed himself to be a dazzling combination of FIRE and common sense, both of which were to be found in abundance on his debut solo release. Furthermore, there is just a very POWERFUL attraction to his music. He has this interesting way of lyrically 'wrapping' the things that he says which really kind of send them screaming at the listener and places even more emphasis on what he says. This was most evident on pieces like 'Gun Play', 'Fittest', the very clever 'Anywhere Jah Goes', 'Up You Mighty Race' and others. Nahyubi Joseph made a giant introduction of himself on "Take Heed" and, simultaneously, delivered one of the year's strongest albums.
#10 "Life Of A King" by Lutan Fyah [Grillaras Productions]
Kingly character. After having spent awhile and gone through more than a couple of album releases which weren't so well known, Reggae lyrics factory Lutan Fyah came through on his second album of the year with a piece which has to be regarded as one of his more well known drops, "Life Of A King" for Grillaras Productions. The album's title track, easily one of the best songs of the year, would do much of the damage even ahead of the set named after it and when we finally did get a look at the full project, it was damn impressive. Still anchored by that MASSIVE tune, "Life Of A King" did a great deal of work in just forty minutes. Most notably, on paper, was a tune called 'Cyaan Do We Nothing' which featured someone who we, hopefully, get to see on next year's edition of this list, Chronixx, but there were also big tunes such as 'Defend The Throne', 'See To It', 'Justice', 'Economical Crisis' and more. As an album, musically, this release was deserving of this list, but I so enjoyed the response to it and the fact that it received every opportunity to succeed - a set of circumstances which was not wasted on a HUGE album.
#9 "New Day Dawn" by Gentleman [Universal]
Get personal. German star, Gentleman, did his part in making 2013 a big one via the delivery of his latest creation, "New Day Dawn". The initial word from this album was one which pervaded through during most of its time. "New Day Dawn" was an album which was produced by Gentleman, himself. As someone who has spent his time working with so much of the finest maestros in Reggae music, Gentleman put himself in that position and gave us one unforgettable record. This album would go to showcase that big, bright and BRILLIANT style which has aided the artist in his massive rise to prominence and do so in, seemingly, a very personal way. The album was also one of his best and one of the best from a bonafide star in the genre is a big deal. The biggest winner here, in my opinion (and probably only my opinion - but who cares), was 'Humanity's Glory', but the album also dealt with 'In My Arms' (which, in retrospect, can lay claim to being one of the best love songs Gentleman has ever done and has greatly grown on me over time), 'Heart of Rub-A-Dub', 'You Remember', 'Closer To The Light' and definitely 'Another Drama'. It should also be said that despite he didn't get the credit for it (and I didn't think that he would), "New Day Dawn" is a giant lyrical achievement from Gentleman and, in that arena, may only be matched by his earlier classics, "Journey To Jah" and "Confidence". This album wasn't on those levels, but it was probably the closest he's ever come to reaching them again.
#8 "Free Indeed" by Midnite [Higher Bound Productions]
An unconceivable power. The shortsightedness of immediate history may not recognize it as so, but I think that, eventually, we may come to regard 2013 as one of the best in the lifespan of Midnite. Along with providing this list with a pair of entries, they also lent their name to a very solid Dub album as well doing (officially) yet another album, "Lion Out of Zion". At the head of it all, in my opinion, was a piece which I believe I will someday soon come to regard as one of my favourite Midnite albums ever, the scalding "Free Indeed". The album was powered by the US label, Higher Bound Productions, who (we'll hear from again shortly) used 2013 as a grand showcase for their label, particularly in relation to Virgin Island artists and, of course, when you do that, having a Midnite album is a big deal and one of this quality is even bigger. Yes, this album carried my favourite song of the year, 'Hemp Scroll', but there was so much more. 'Healah', 'Don't Be So', 'Perceptual Vortex', 'Mock Off', 'Outcome' and 'Envision' were all standouts from an album which remains an utter JOY to listen to and the best from Midnite in 2013.
#7 "The Race" by Malika Madremana [Big Cup Music]
Checkpoint. The DELIGHTFUL Malika Madremana surprisingly jumped back into the ring with her third album and first in more than half a decade, "The Race". What was shocking was the fact that I did not expect to be talking about a new album from Madremana in 2013. What was not at all unexpected, however, was the fact that it was a GREAT release. The somewhat brief set was one which was highlighted by a grand amount of superior writing and in a year where, again, lyrics lead the way (and lyrics from females in particular), Madremana more than did her part. Produced by Big Cup Music, the album would mark the very first time the singer would deviate from her long time musical partner, Blaak Lung (who we also heard from in 2013), and obviously sometimes change can be good. While not taking to a terrain which would forbid longer standing fans (like myself) from following, "The Race" was a wonderfully FRESH vibe and one which, hopefully, lays a great foundation for the future works of Malika Madremana. The album's eponymous effort was surrounded with gems such as 'Mi Deyah', the damn difficult to forget 'Someone To Dance Wit', the first single 'Good People', 'Let Mi Lion Roam', 'Invisible Beauty', 'Tradition', 'Miles and Miles', 'Love Is Easy', 'Jah Is Wit Me' and… I just named every song on the album.
#6 "The Messiah" by Sizzla Kalonji [VP Records]
What a joy! Similar to the case of the artist from #17 on this list (only FAR more dramatic and immediate), whenever we get an album from Sizzla Kalonji which finds him in a good form, it is going to take my attention (and virtually LOCK itself a place within the top half of a list such as this one) to an entirely different level. On top of that, when he is not only featured in a good form, but is so with such an intense buzz behind him, I fall in line like most people and begin to think that another PERFECT album is on its way. "The Messiah" was not without flaw, but it was a powerhouse of an album from the greatest to ever do it. Produced by longtime Kalonji collaborator, Richard Bramwell and Breadback Productions, the album was absolutely saturated in vintage Sizzla sound and, perhaps even more important than being what it was, it allowed people like me to continue to push that idea that the next life-changing, landmark release from the chanter was inevitable. For what it was, "The Messiah" was close enough - to be one of the largest highlights of the year as well as being one of its most discussed and well-regarded sets as well.
#5 "Dredlocks Time" by Army [Higher Bound Productions]
Pausing. When it comes to albums, 2013 was a particularly impressive one for music from out of the Virgin Islands. There was, of course, Midnite in all its typical glory and a very nice debut from the soon to be great Nahyubi Joseph and that wasn't all. Veteran chanters Ras Abja and Ancient King also chimed in, as did Danny I with his much talked about debut Spanish album and I Grade Records supplied us with the Songbird Riddim, which would subsequently be the subject of the single best compilation album that I heard, from anyone, in the year. It was very, very good! Playing a large hand in that was the aforementioned Higher Bound Productions who not only dealt with Midnite, but also Ancient King, Abja and played a hand in Danny I's "Tribu Especial". The label was also on board the VI's greatest release of the year, for me, the MAMMOTH "Dredlocks Time" from the brilliantly serene Army. I go back now and, as is the case with all of the albums this high on the list, I'm looking for reasons NOT to place them here, but there're albums ranked higher than this one which have more questionable moments. "Dredlocks Time" was as good as it possibly could have been. There is not a single even remotely reasonable thing that I think could have been done to make it a finer record. Here, Army rose with an album which just made me feel really good and hasn't stopped. I hope it never does and I'm sure it never will. 'Modern World', 'Jah Will Guide', 'Push De Limit' and many of the other fifteen selections (like 'Bid Dem Goodbye') were the biggest winners on what may someday be one of the best albums I've ever heard. It was THAT good.
#4 "Bring Back The Vibes" by Lion D [Bizzarri Records]
Thanx again. Don't you just hate it when you have a person who is generally wrong in their predictions, but on the most odd occasion when they actually get it right, they make sure they make you know that they were - saying stuff like "I TOLD YOU SO"!
Ehh-ehmm! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO!
I knew it back it 2009 when Lion D headed that year's edition of this list with "The Burning Melody", that we had someone who was full of potential and could, potentially, serve up top notch albums for a couple of decades and in 2013, vindication came through in the form of "Bring Back The Vibes". Once again linking with the masterminds at Bizzarri Records, the chanter turned in another sterling, free-flowing and full on boundless display of his gifts and do so throughout another big album. And it hasn't ended at all! I'm still on board in telling everyone who will listen just how good I think he'll be someday and he gave me what I needed to I hear as the Lion came back roaring in 2013 for album #2.
#3 "The Order of Melchezedik" by Chezidek [JahSolidRock]
Searching and finding. Isn't it always nice to find someone with whom you have absolute chemistry? Particularly concerning something as strange and fleeting as making music - the history of Reggae music is brimming with legendary artist/producer combinations which have thrilled fans throughout the years. Well, as for Chezidek and the always active JahSolidRock, whatever it was that they were searching for, they found it in one another. Chezidek has made albums for so many different producers and labels and JSR hasn't been shy in making albums for a variety of different vocalists either, but neither of them have demonstrated the consistent level of GENIUS they do when they work together. If you needed more proof than what was to be found on 2010's MASSIVE "Judgement Time" album, it came blaring through in 2013 with the duo's followup, "The Order of Melchezedik". Just like its predecessor, this album was seamless and it bathed in some of the finest sonic appeal of any album in the genre, despite not even slightly dipping outside of its concept. You could close your eyes a find a winner on this tracklist. Though my personal favourite is still 'Search and You Will Find', 'All My Life', 'Faya Pon Dem', 'Praises To Jah', 'Jah In Our Heart' and even others were in the discussion. It cannot possibly stop at a pair and though we may have to wait another three years to get it, the inexorability of a third album from Chezidek and JahSolidRock already has me excited.
#2 "Better Tomorrow" by Etana [VP Records]
A guarantee. In music, very few things are ultimately reliable. Things change as often as people do and, even if they don't, your tastes change and what you liked today may not sound so good tomorrow. So while I cannot be assured that I will enjoy the next albums from Sizzla Kalonji or Norris Man; or that Lloyd Brown won't find himself back on digital-only shelves for his next album; or that I won't have to wait until I'm almost forty (which is only a very short and an even more ridiculous eight years away) (or seven and a half now) for the next time Malika Madremana to do another album or for the next time for everyone to, collectively, decide to pay attention to a new Lutan Fyah album - I can tell you RIGHT NOW that whether we get it in 2014, 2015 or 2016 or 2116, THE NEXT ALBUM FROM ETANA WILL BE GREAT! It has no choice. The woman makes great music as evidenced by now three GOLDEN projects. Her latest one is the first of its brood not to take top honours (and only because it ran into a new name), but one could make the case that "Better Tomorrow" was her greatest piece of work to date. We've all had the opportunity to watch Etana grow and grow as an artist and today she exists as one of a TINY group of names in Reggae music who you expect to make great albums and anything less will be a major disappointment. Fortunately, she'll never let you down. You'll lose your taste for the entire genre before Etana looses a step. Her offering this year, again, was a bright and beautiful set from 'The Strong One'. And, whenever it gets here, we'll be saying the same thing about album #4
#1 "New Name" by Jah9 [RoryStoneLove]
TREMBLE. Wayyyyyyyy back in February Jah9 sewed, signed, sealed and delivered the single best album of 2013 and though we'd get great albums after that (like nearly every other album on this list), it was never a real question as to which direction to go here and I was so firm on that position because of the way this woman… made a game with only one player (named Jah9) - out of the art of the spoken word.
Unless I am REALLY forgetting someone, I cannot remember a debut album which was as lyrically strong as "New Name" and the ranks of its equals are filled by bonafide stars and legends in the prime of her career - a lot further along than debut albums. The poet applied a poetic-like form and sensibility to writing songs where each and every tune had a subject from which it did not deviate (and I know that sounds simple, but if you listen to enough music, you know exactly how rare of a quality that is). Jah9 also has an amazing ability to write, simultaneously, from both her heart and head. When she does that, she makes songs such as 'Preacher Man' which are imbued with as much passion (and wholehearted disgust in that particular instance) as it is with common sense. You also, BRILLIANTLY, get pieces such as 'Avocado' which finds Jah9 fully attracted to someone who satisfies both body and mind. The fact that she even does a tune like 'Avocado' makes my point. That type of song does not exist from someone who has NOT thrown themselves in the moment in every way (instead it would have been some awful love song). We also got to enjoy songs like 'Jungle' and 'Imagine', 'Legitimate' with Protoje, 'Inner Voice', 'Intention' and, of course the pillaring title song which, again, gave a passionately intelligent praise to His Imperial Majesty.
Jah9 made a fan out of me and many, many more. And in 2013, she also made "New Name", THE BEST REGGAE ALBUM OF THE YEAR!