10 great reggae albums & songs from 2022
For decades, reggae and other styles of Jamaican music have infiltrated popular music worldwide. It's in the DNA of everything from hip hop to punk to electronic music to reggaeton to Afrobeats and beyond, and this year you could hear it anywhere from the trend of indie bands releasing dub albums to the new Bad Bunny and Beyoncé records. And reggae itself is in a great place right now, with a whole new generation of artists leading the genre's latest wave and some veterans who are still churning out high quality stuff. If you're looking to catch up on all the great reggae that came out this year, we've put together a list of 10 albums and singles that we love. The music on this list ranges from vintage '70s-style revival to modern dancehall to plenty of other stuff in between. Read on for the list, in alphabetical order.
Chronixx - "Never Give Up"
Forever Living Originals
As we continue to patiently await Chronixx's highly-anticipated, long-in-the-works sophomore album, he dropped another stunning single in 2022, "Never Give Up," which was produced by Inflo, who also featured Chronixx on some of the multiple albums by his mysterious collective SAULT this year. Even without the lyrical similarities to the Bob Marley and the Wailers classic "Get Up Stand Up," the laid-back riddims, vintage-style production, and soulful backing harmonies would take you right back to the early '70s, and Chronixx revives that era with all the spirit and authenticity in the world.
Hollie Cook - Happy Hour
Hollie Cook's fourth album strikes a happy medium between the string-laden allure of her first two albums with the horn-heavy style of 2018's Vessel of Love, while adding new sounds to the mix. This is also marks the first time she's written and recorded with her band, and the sense of ease and trust can be felt in some of her most effortless, enjoyable songs yet, including "Full Moon Baby," "Unkind Love" and the title track. Among the new moves Hollie brings here to her signature breezy brand of Lovers Rock: "Move My Way" incorporates Soca rhythms to the mix; the steel drum-inflected "Kush Kween" features vocals from Jah9; and "Gold Girl" feels like her bid to do the next Bond Theme. The arrangements are distinctly 2022 but it's clear Hollie's a fan of the classics, and that combination, along with the album's soaring melodies, lead to some transcendent moments like the cosmic, dubby romance of "Love in the Dark." It's hard to go wrong with any record that has Hollie's honeyed harmonies at the center but Happy Hour is the sound of Cook truly finding her own voice, and cheers to that.
Horace Andy - Midnight Rockers / Midnight Scorchers
Horace Andy has one of the great voices in roots, with his high tenor cutting through the haze of even the heaviest of dub plates. He's worked with Lee "Scratch" Perry, Massive Attack, and more, and his catalog includes such iconic tracks as "Skylarking," "Just Say Who" and "Money Money." And at 71 he made one of his best-ever albums with Midnight Rockers. A full-on collaboration with another legend, masterful dub producer Adrian Sherwood, the album is a mix of new songs and reworked classics where Horace is backed by more legends including Dr. Pablo, Skip MacDonald, George Oban, and Gaudi. The vocal performances are across-the-board fantastic, pure honey and velvet, and Sherwood's production–sounding classic but modern–lifts them into the spotlight. The reworks, like "This Must Be Hell" and "Materialist," offer sublime new arrangements, and among the new tracks is a cover of Massive Attack's "Safe From Harm," the opening line from which gives the album its title. Just as good is Midnight Scorchers, a "Sound System" companion piece featuring dub and dancehall reworks of the songs. Sherwood brought in DJs Lone Ranger and Daddy Freddy to toast over a few of the tracks, some of which have gone under such radical transformations they're basically new songs. May we all do something so crucial in our seventh decade.
Kabaka Pyramid - The Kalling
Ghetto Youths International/Bebble Rock
On his latest album, Kabaka Pyramid pulls off a masterful fusion of '70s-style reggae revival and modern sounds. He's not only a great reggae singer, he's also a great rapper, and more often than not he blurs the lines between the two. The instrumentation follows suit, finding time for both classic reggae rhythms and modern trap beats. And in classic reggae fashion, Kabaka's lyricism tackles both personal introspection and sociopolitical protest anthems. His messages hit as hard as his grooves.
Koffee - Gifted
Over the course of an EP and various singles dating back to 2018, Koffee established herself as one of the most forward-thinking new voices in Jamaican music, with songs that pulled from reggae, dancehall, and hip hop but could never be tied down to any of those worlds. Now she finally releases her debut album Gifted, which features a couple of the singles she had been rolling out over the years, along with eight other songs. The album feels split into two halves, with her American pop crossover side represented on the second half (early singles "West Indies," "Pull Up," and "Lockdown" close out the album), and a much more traditional reggae vibe in the first half. The second half achieves more crossover bliss with the electro-reggae-funk of "Run Away" and the skittering, hip hop-leaning "Where I'm From," while the first half favors bright, uplifting, major-key melodies, acoustic guitars and pianos, and sunny throwback vibes. She usually retains enough modern elements to keep from going full retro, like with the slight hip hop cadences on the "Redemotion Song"-referencing opener "x10" and the trap-inspired drums on the otherwise trad-style "Shine," but when she does fully commit to the vintage bit, she knows exactly how to do it; "Lonely" feels like a lost '70s reggae gem. The first half also feels happier, but as with a lot of great reggae, the lyrics don't always match the tone of the music. "Shine" sounds bright and uplifting, but it's actually about crime and violence in Jamaica. "I love reggae because of its messages," she recently told NPR. "Bob Marley sings so many positive, impactful songs, he raises people's consciousness. Artists like Chronixx, Protoje and Jesse Royal can teach you important things that you may not know about otherwise. So, I feel like I should keep the messages with a certain potency so that people will know, yeah, this is reggae, we nah join nuh folly, and we still looking out for our youth, for ourselves."
Lila Iké - "Wanted"
Lila Iké continues to gear up for her anticipated debut album, and she released a few new singles this year, including the especially great "Wanted," which was produced by Jason “J-Vibe” Farmer and Protoje. In classic reggae fashion, it may sound blissful and uplifting, but it's about a much more serious topic than the tone of the music suggests. "'Wanted' is a song which highlights how rough the life of a criminal actually is. I hope it will inspire youths to go in a more positive direction. It’s also my intention that this song reaches parents or onlookers, who may have someone close to them headed down a dark path, and instead of turning a blind eye, encourage them to do otherwise," Lila says.
Naomi Cowan - "Kingston Traffic"
Naomi Cowan's standout 2022 single "Kingston Traffic" takes a reference to bottlenecks in her Jamaican hometown and turns it into a analogy for life itself. It was written and produced by her father, reggae veteran Tommy Cowan, who gives it a hard-edged, early '80s-style groove that you feel in your bones, and Naomi glides over the track with a bold, soaring delivery. "The message behind the song is to strive for a preferred lifestyle, one which is void of confusion, likened onto Kingston traffic which is full of delays, confusion, intimidation, disrespect for the law and our fellowman," Tommy said. "The song is also about finding your purpose, identity, potential and source, which can also determine your destiny."
Protoje - Third Time's The Charm
There might not be anybody doing more for the development of reggae on a broad, international scale in the past 10 years than Protoje. As a label owner, curator, and tastemaker, he's constantly shining a light on new cutting edge artists, his own music remains some of the best in current reggae, and he's got an answer for everything. If you think reggae has turned into a retro genre where everything sounds like an imitation of the '70s, Protoje's music challenges that. If you think reggae has gone too far in the direction of embracing modern pop music, Protoje's music challenges that too. His sixth album Third Time's The Charm -- the conclusion to his recent Time trilogy -- arrives with a lot of anticipation, and it meets and exceeds expectations in a way that sounds almost effortless. Its locked-in grooves and super tight musicianship frequently rival the greats of the '70s, and Protoje seamlessly weaves in elements of hip hop and electronic music that propel these songs into the future. Protoje also brings his gift for curation to the album, tapping likeminded reggae singers (Lila Iké, Jesse Royal, and Samory I), some of the best producers in current reggae (Iotosh, Ziah .Push and Zion I Kings), and UK soul singer Jorja Smith to help him achieve his vision. And all of the ingredients of this album come together to create some of the finest modern reggae around.
Ras-I - Kingman
Ras-I's sophomore album Kingman marks a noticeable evolution from his 2019 debut LP Tsojourna. Compared to the more traditional/roots sound of his debut, this one touches on a lot of different stuff, from the darker side of '70s reggae to modern hip hop to soulful balladry to hints of jazz, from socially/politically conscious songs to love songs. It's Ras-I's sophomore album, but it feels like a reintroduction, and it proves that he knows how to push reggae into the future, not just mine its past.
Shenseea - Alpha
Shenseea has become one of dancehall's biggest new crossover stars since releasing her US breakthrough single (and Interscope debut) "Blessed" (ft. Tyga) in 2019, and now -- after putting out several more singles and appearing on Kanye West's Donda -- she finally releases her debut album Alpha. The album features "Blessed" and a few other recent singles, though most of the music she put out over the past few years turned out to be non-album singles. So, much of Alpha is entirely new, and it very much makes good on the promise of "Blessed." Shenseea reunites with "Blessed" guest Tyga on opening track "Target," and she also brings in US rappers Megan Thee Stallion, 21 Savage, and Offset, alongside two of the biggest Jamaican crossover stars of all time (Sean Paul and Beenie Man), and those guests add a lot to the album's crossover appeal. Production-wise, Shenseea follows suit, roping in staples of both Jamaican music (Rvssian, Chimney Records) and American hip hop (London On Da Track, Murda Beatz), and coming out with a musical backdrop that bridges the gap between both worlds. And guests aside, Shenseea herself has mastered American rap ("R U That") and R&B ("Deserve It") just as much as she's mastered Jamaican dancehall. A handful of songs sound like hits (some already are), the deeper cuts are just as thrilling, and Shenseea already sounds like a seasoned pro with a sound she can call her own.