Sunday, July 14, 2024

Govana, Spice & Marion Hall

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Although June ended with Hurricane Beryl pummeling the Caribbean — St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, in particular — it was still a glowing month for music and culture from the region.

Skillibeng performed at the BET Awards for the second time in as many years, joining Gunna and Tyla — who took home two awards at the ceremony, including best new artist — for a performance of the latter’s latest global hit “Jump,” which combines dancehall, hip-hop and Afrobeats. The Marley Family also made their presence known at the telecast, with YG Marley, Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean closing out the show with a bombastic medley of “Lost Ones,” “Survival,” “Praise Jah in the Moonlight” and “Fu-Gee-La.” Meanwhile, Bob Marley: One Love took home best movie, the first musician biopic to do so since Straight Outta Compton in 2016.

Just one week after the BET Awards, Caribbean Elite Group announced the recipients of the highest honors at the upcoming Caribbean Music Awards on Aug. 29. A trio of powerful West Indian women are set to be honored: Jamaica’s Marcia Griffiths (lifetime achievement award), Barbados’ Alison Hinds (elite icon award) and JA’s Cedella Marley (legacy award).

Naturally, Billboard’s monthly Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks column will not cover every last track, but our Spotify playlist — which is linked below — will expand on the 10 highlighted songs. So, without any further ado:

Freshest Find: Govana & Popcaan, “Saved by a Psalm”

Govana brought June to a close with his Legacy album, and his reflection and vulnerability across the LP helped make it one of the year’s best releases so far. One of the crown jewels of Legacy is “Saved by a Psalm,” a tear-jerking collaboration with Popcaan. “Ghetto youth haffi rich and wealthy/ Haffi make it, beg you please, Jah, help me/ Beg you guide me from the greed and envy/ Rev me ‘matic ’til it breeze and empty,” Govana spits over the pensive, understated dancehall production. Across the track, he and Popcaan reflect on the merits of faith, calling on Psalm 71 to emphasize how vital their respective relationships with God are — particularly when it comes to navigating life’s most consequential pitfalls.

Spice & Busta Rhymes, “Round Round”

The reigning Queen of Dancehall is gearing up for the release of her upcoming third studio album, and she’s introducing it was a fiery new banger. “Round Round,” a collaboration with Busta Rhymes — who Skillibeng helped pay tribute to at the 2023 BET Awards — finds the two artists forging a common ground between their dancehall and hip-hop styles with a sparse soundscape crafted by YowLevite. “Busta, mi waan give yuh di hanky pollie/ Mek mi whine pon yuh buddy fast den slowly,” Spice spits as she flirtatiously trades bars with the hip-hop icon. The drum-heavy beat helps emphasize the percussiveness of both of their voices, but it’s their nimble flow switches that truly reveal the depths of their artistic chemistry.

Dean Fraser, “Belafonte Ghost”

With his new Sax in Dub album, Musgrave Medal recipient Dean Fraser exalts the artform — a electronic subgenre of reggae that has grown into its own beast over the past few decades. “Belafonte Ghost” is the instant standout on the LP, with the saxophonist riffing on the melody of Harry Belafonte‘s timeless “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” in tribute of the legendary artist and activist, who passed away last year. The only discernible vocals on the track are a collection of voices buried just under the mix’s surfaces, allowing for Fraser’s saxophone to take center stage across the calypso-inflected arrangement.

Bayka feat. Najeeriii, “1086”

On this salsa-nodding jam from his new Mob Ties mixtape, Bayka joins forces with fellow Jamaican star Najeeriii to craft a song that offers some effervescent energy to the often brooding nature of trap dancehall. Between the dancehall drums accenting the funky piano line and Bayka and Najeeriii effortlessly playing off each other’s suave, laid-back energies, “1086” stands as one of the best representations of Bayka’s specific pocket of new age dancehall.

Pablo YG & Lanae, “Birds & Bees”

With Lanae’s seductive tone paired with a sultry saxophone riff in the background, “Birds & Bee” immediately establishes itself as the latest candidate for your slow wine soundtrack. Given the title, it isn’t difficult to decode what Pablo and Lanae are singing about, especially since it’s one of the dominant themes in the dancehall genre. Nonetheless, their take on the subject is framed by their vocal chemistry; Pablo’s Auto-Tuned warbles cradle Lanae’s sensual purrs, resulting in one steamer of a not-so-slow jam.

Nuttea feat. Kabaka Pyramid, “Egaux”

French ragga artist Nuttea has been instrumental in ushering in the country’s own take on reggae music, and his new collaboration with Grammy winners Kabaka Pyramid is the latest step of that journey. Titled “Égaux” — which translates to “Equals” — the new track finds the two acts reflecting on their respective artistic and emotional journeys, highlighting humanity’s sameness when all is said and done. It’s a multilingual affair, with Nuttea delivering his lines entirely in French, underscoring the global impact of reggae. The instrumentation is fairly traditional, but it’s their respective hip-hop-infused deliveries that keeps things exciting.

Minister Marion Hall, “Step”

From her Lady Saw days to her current moniker of Minister Marion Hall, the Jamaican artist has been an icon for decades. For her new single and first musical release of the year, Ms. Hall steps in the energy of spiritual warfare, opting for a militant gospel-tinged anthem of standing steadfast in your faith. “It’s a spiritual war/ Put on ya war clothes,” she snarls over histrionic drums and guitar. Minister Hall’s vocal is the star of the show here, she’s gasping for air and delivering her lines with equal parts reverence, desperation and grit. Considering her journey from dancehall queen to a unfiltered Christian who regularly speaks about her struggles with her faith, “Step” is appropriately aggressive. Somewhere between Richie Spice’s “Gideon Boot” and Kirk Franklin’s “Stomp,” “Step” is a stellar, if not unexpected, addition to the catalog of wartime gospel anthems.

$teevoo, “Slow Wine”

With “Slow Wine,” Rising Trinbagonian artist $teevoo previews a potentially minimalist future for dancehall. His voice barely rises above whisper, and the synths and drums that are normally quite pronounced in a traditional dancehall track feel notably muted. Ultimately, “Slow Wine” offers a chilly, electronic version of a dancehall riddim, courtesy of Brooklyn Decent. Following the path he laid out with Eros EP earlier this year, $teevoo strips soca, dancehall and calypso down to its most elementary parts and builds something distinctly fresh out of those components. Everything — from his cadence to the drum patterns — feels strikingly familiar, but his unfussy vocal delivery immediately sets his sound apart from previous decades of West Indian music.

Jah Lil, “Weak Men”

Jah Lil’s Can A Man Cry is a true gem of an album. Released at the tail end of last month (June 26), the LP is a tender-yet-unflinching look at the intersection of faith, masculinity and morality — all set to some of the most evocative, multi-layered reggae arrangements of the year. “Weak Men,” in which Jah Lil posits that true male weakness is the inability to properly express your emotions and defy temptation, is relentlessly engaging, folding in funky horns, steady guitars and earth percussion to craft a soundscape for his alluring voice to coast across.

Alison Hinds, “Slow It Down”

Alison Hinds’ sweet timbre has soundtracked soca music for over two decades and “Slow It Down” proves the Queen of Soca has no plans to, well, slow down. She paints across Elmo Norville’s breezy Sweet Water Project riddim with that trademark honeyed tone, crooning, “Baby I wan ya slow it down/ Take your time now darling, we really don’t need to rush it.” In a genre that has its fair share of high-octane moments by way of power soca, “Slow It Down” offers road marchers a chance to catch their breath — and catch the meanest slow wine.

Click here to donate to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency’s special bank account in aid of its Participating States impacted by Hurricane Beryl.

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