The New York Times has compiled another list. This time it is of the ’25 Songs that Tell Us Where the Music is Going’ and by the looks of it, dancehall is playing a major role.
The list starts with Justin Bieber’s dancehall flavoured hit, Sorry and ends with Habibi by Azis. At number 12 is Kendrick Lamar with The Blacker the Berry – which incidentally features Jamaican deejay Assassin aka Agent Sasco; sitting at number 20 is Pitbull’s reggaeton single El Taxi, which samples Chakademus and Pliers 1993 classic dancehall riddim for Murder She Wrote and coming in at number 22 is jailed entertainer, Vybz Kartel, known to his followers as the”Worl’ Boss” with the song Weh Dem Feel Like.
You may well ask exactly how did the NY Times come up with this list. Well, here’s what Nitsuh Abebe said in her introduction, which, incidentally went on and on about Beyonce and her single, Formation . (However,interestingly, neither Formation, nor any other song from the Queen B made the list of 25.)
This is what Abebe had to say in her intro: “One of the great tricks of pop music is that no matter how much we like to imagine it’s about musicians expressing themselves, it tends to be more useful as a way for listeners to figure out their own identities: Each song lets us try on a new way of being in the world. For a long while, the idea was that young people could use music to shape their style — their clothes, their haircuts, their sense of cool. Then came high-speed Internet and a touching enthusiasm for the idea of playlists: With so much of the world’s music at our fingertips, we’d express our intelligence and taste by playing D.J. and curator, sorting through songs to assemble our own reflections. That didn’t last, either. Showing off your eclectic, handpicked treasures? This has become such a common online performance that there’s no one left in the audience.”(Nitsuh Abebe, story editor for the magazine and a former music critic for New York magazine and Pitchfork)
With that said, it is noteworthy that Bieber’s song is in pole position that even the writers acknowledge that dancehall elements of the song. According to writer Mary H. K. Choi, “Sorry” is unlike anything Bieber has made in the past. It has been classified as “tropical house” and “dancehall,” but everyone seems to agree on one thing: It’s a banger.”
Dancehall and Jamaica come in for more attention from writer Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, who does the piece on the Pitbull song, El Taxi. According to her, “Jamaica and Cuba have enjoyed a friendly relationship since the early 1970s, when the former lobbied the Organization of American States in support of the latter. More important, though, there’s Miami, the spiritual home of the “El Taxi” sensibilities — where Caribbean immigrants have for decades melded and commingled culture and influence, with itinerant communities cross-pollinating and building off one another. Chaka Demus certainly approved of “El Taxi” building on his original, “the biggest dancehall song of all time,” as he told The Jamaica Star. (Besides, he said, “I have lost track of the amount of persons who have copied the song already.”)
Then comes number 22 and Kartel gets a vigorous nod; with the writer/music critic, Amanda Petrusich acknowledging the powerful influence of dancehall. “But dancehall’s influence is even more profound, having grown from an indigenous genre into the ghost in the pop-music machine. It seeded the evolution of rap, drum and bass and electronic dance music, and has infiltrated American pop from Justin Bieber to Beyoncé. “Work,” the newest single from the Barbadian superstar Rihanna, is effectively dancehall, as was her first hit, “Pon de Replay” in 2005.”
Here’s an extract from of what Petrusich says of Vybz: “Jailed on suspicion of murder in 2011 and convicted in 2014, Kartel is Jamaica’s pre-eminent entertainer and a quandary for the political class, which has long defined itself in opposition to the nation’s popular music — first reggae and now dancehall, its rude, raucous up-tempo successor. Jamaican artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man popularized dancehall abroad in the ’90s, and later crossover stars like Sean Paul and Shaggy scored stateside hits with “Gimme the Light” and “Boombastic.”
She continues: “First released in 2007, “Weh Dem Feel Like” is among Kartel’s enduring hits — seemingly every man, woman and child in Jamaica can recite its lyrics by heart, even if they disapprove of its message. Each note is its own spore, like dancehall itself, which in the words of Kartel “cyaa stall” — “can’t stop” — “forever and ever.” Dancehall can’t stop, and neither can “Weh Dem Feel Like”; it is a martial force stomping its way to battle, with Kartel as commander in chief. “We step like a centipede,” Kartel chants, “and tek the lead inna war.”