donderdag 3 januari 2013

Differing paths, similar destinations : debut recordings/songs of Jamaican artists

(This blog post/essay goes combined with a YouTube playlist, serving as a catalogue of debut recordings/songs of Jamaican reggae artists, as long as to be found on YouTube - which is often the case. See the end of this post, or the link (
I hope that you will take time to read this somewhat long post, though, as I think it is an informative and contextualizing elaboration on that playlist on YouTube. There is - because of the theme - unavoidably a lot of "name-dropping" hereunder. I hoped that putting artist names in bold typography helped.)

The interesting thing about recording musical artists is their traceability. This is precisely because they are recording: “fixing” their expressions physically. These then don’t just evaporate, so to speak. Their creative expressions are furthermore recorded on a given moment in time: on a particular point in their life. This personal life can of course change, the social context they live in changes, priorities can change, musical influences as well, new possibilities, new encounters, and even the personality and worldview of the artist can change over time.

The artists’ songs thus are a creative “summarizing” diary of the artists’ life. When an artist records for decades this can even be more interesting. Do the lyrics and style show consistency over the years, or does the person seem changed in outlook, when studying the recordings? What happened to him or her in his/her life, causing such a change? Psychologically intriguing..

I think in the genre of reggae music this is specifically interesting due to certain historically shaped characteristics and contradictions of the reggae music’s content and scene, as well as in Jamaica’s history. Jamaica is now a poor, developing country with large inequalities between poor and rich, and it had/has a history of slavery and race- and class-related oppression, still largely persisting. The Rastafari movement – essentially “a Black Power movement with a theological nucleus” (dixit Mutabaruka) - arose in Jamaica in the 1930s as a response to these injustices.

The connection of Rastafari to reggae is known and evident. Rastafari and reggae are separate domains, yet strongly connected, especially during the Roots Reggae era (1970s and around), but still today with the New Roots movement. Many reggae artists and to a lesser degree dancehall artists are Rastafari-adherents. Others at least sympathize with the movement.

Others of a similar low social position choose a quite distinct path of “slackness”: boasting lyrics on violence and sex, in an edgy manner. This is sadly reflective of another aspect of Jamaican society, especially problematic since the 1980s: gun violence and gang criminality making that some of the Jamaican ghettos have among the highest homicide rates in the world, as well as quite high rates of other types of crime.

These differing – contrasting - worldviews can both be found at the central place/space of reggae music’s public life: the dancehall. The place where new songs are played traditionally in Jamaica. Roots and “conscious” (which means more or less “socially critical”), and/or spiritual lyrics and worldviews, and on the other hand slackness lyrics are separate domains, but at the same time in practice not so separate as many think, and in a sense also intertwined. Or better said: side by side: in the dancehalls, in clubs/bars, in the ghetto, and other places. Just as good and bad can exist side by side in certain places. And of course within individuals..

From this perspective, I will in this post analyze the starting points for artists, at least regarding “recordings”: debut singles/songs. Equivalent in this case to their recorded entry in the music business. Many of course performed (dee-jaying/toasting or singing) before actually recording in studios, but still.. Artists’ first “fixed” or documented presentations as “new names” in reggae/ Jamaican music were still in the form of Debut Singles, or at least recordings (not all first recordings were immediately released as single BTW). Some artists also started recording at a very young age , i.e. in their teens (e.g. Dennis Brown, Jacob Miller, Hugh Mundell, Junior Reid, Beenie Man a.o).

Such records of artists soon will inevitably combine with an image building of these artists in some way (spiritual or militant Rastaman, “bad man/gangster”, rough, oversexed man or “sensitive lover”, smooth and sensual, humorous and carnival-like?). Such basic imagery associated with artists can be simplistic, but seems almost unavoidable, and even necessary to get audience attention in the full, vibrant reggae scene. People often want to categorize people/phenomena easily and simplifying. Sad but true. The superficiality of this may have even increased in the digital age.

You might say: good songs/music speak for themselves. Even then an image arises out of these songs (e.g. is the style of an artist “meditative”, “militant”, rebellious, sensuous, smooth, rough ETC). Is this image, this vibe maintained throughout an artist’s career? Does he/she still have the same kind of songs, public image, vibe, and lyrics, say, 20 years later? If not: what caused this change? I am going to analyze this through some representative reggae (and dancehall) artists already longer in the business: how do their debut single as still aspiring/beginning artist relate to their later work? Did they ever reinvent themselves, partly or entirely, along the line, or not? If so, why? If not: what kept them consistent?


A main life choice characteristic of Jamaica, especially in poorer parts, is between crime and righteousness. Among the latter Rastafari is an important spiritual, righteous (counter)force against Babylon wickedness and crime.. This is interesting in and by itself. It is said often that in the ghetto to survive many find it hard to avoid turning to crime. The temptations are too big, as also discussed in several reggae lyrics (and in another way also in later hip-hop lyrics of course). Being successful with music at least provides a way to make money for poor people, besides crime.

When dealing with musical artists, besides such social/lifestyle choices, also cultural/musical or commercial choices are interesting. This can show in lyrical themes or in musical genre and accents. Like personal choices these can also change. Several artists go along with the music  genres over time: depending on the times they began recording, e.g.  those who started recording  in the early 1960s start in the ska genre. Many then go with the flow of Jamaican musical changes: through rocksteady, reggae and finally dancehall (e.g. Ethiopians, the Wailers, Max Romeo, Bob Andy, John Holt, Sugar Minott, the Wailing Souls and others).  The Twinkle Brothers  -  later more known for their rootsy songs - started also in the ska era, in 1964, with the love song ‘Somebody Please Help Me’. Like Bob Marley’s debut (also ska) song also for producer Leslie Kong.

Interestingly, relatively many artists of the second tier after this started recording in/around 1967, and thus had their debut singles in the rocksteady genre: another precursor to reggae (e.g. the debut songs of Horace Andy, the Gladiators, the Viceroys and others).

Some start singing but later “toast/chat” (or something similar), or even rap  (in the US mode) at times. Junior Reid is an example, Michael Rose too. Junior Reid’s debut single ‘Speak The Truth’ (late 1970s) at the young age of 13 (!) is evidently a (vocally “sung”) Roots song. Not a bad one, actually, with also good lyrics, especially considering his young age and his just starting. Even Roots veterans like Bunny Wailer or the Wailing Souls turned to toasting/chatting later in their careers. Some start out toasting/chatting and later turn to singing (Buju Banton). So, the other way around.  Similarly: some recent Jamaican artists start in dancehall, but later make roots-like songs (e.g. Busy Signal with his recent “reggae revival” album), also mostly meaning vocal changes (from toasting to singing)

Of early generations of Jamaican artists some are/were influenced by US Black genres (e.g. soul) and had songs in Black US genres in the beginning, but over time Jamaicanized their genre they wrote songs in, i.e. in ska, rocksteady, and reggae. An example is Alton Ellis, whose first recorded song was R&B-like. Beres Hammond also started as a soul singer. John Holt’s debut song ‘I Cried A Tear’ (1962) similarly was R&B/soul-like. Also Cornell Campbell recorded his first song – at the age of 11! – in as early as 1956 in a R&B mode. Even before ska..


Peter Tosh stated at a certain point that he would never make love songs again, seeing the world problems, inequalities, an oppression of the massive poor people. Others also seldom write love songs – from the beginning as it were -, while others interchange love and “conscious”, Rastafari lyrics. Maybe they grew into Rastafari later in life and turned the balance more to conscious lyrics. Others even more radically changed not from “softer” love songs, but even from slackness/violent/sexual/boastful lyrics to more conscious lyrics, often also after growing into Rastafari. The latter, extreme “from slackness to consciousness”-route reminds somewhat of born-again Christians professing that after a life of whoring, gambling, crime and sin, they were saved and came “into God”.

Such a route – though speaking of lyrics not actual deeds - is actually not uncommon in reggae. Buju Banton begun with his first song ‘The Ruler’ (1987) – at the age of only 14 – with slackness/boastful lyrics, as was the case with the follow-up ‘Boom Bye Bye’ (1988), the lyrics of which many consider homophobic and violent,  but later in his career and life Buju made different, deeper Rastafari-inspired roots songs (also singing). Capleton likewise started with  - violent and homophobic – slackness lyrics in his first song ‘Bumbo Red’ (also recorded in the late 1980s), but later grew into Rastafari and made primarily Rastafari-lyrics, though vocally and musically staying quite consistent (chatting/singjaying still).  He later would say that his violent homophobic lyrics were meant metaphorical.

Sizzla’s debut single was Rastafari-inspired already (‘True God’ a.k.a. ‘No White God’ – recorded in 1995) and he more or less remained in that path (though more risqué lyrics can be found on some of his later albums). Interesting differences in paths. Likewise consistent is Jah Mason, maintaining  a Rastafari message from his debut single praising Selassie I in 1995 - under the name Perry Mason (?) - to the present. Likewise Natty King, Turbulence, I-Wayne, and others started with conscious lyrics, such as against gun violence on Natty King’s ‘No Guns To Town’ from 2003: his debut single and also – rather untypical for debut singles! - soon a big hit for him in Jamaica and beyond. I-Wayne’s single condemning prostitution ‘Can’t Satisfy Her’, was also a debut that soon became a hit.

Another newer artist - of this so-called ‘New Roots movement' - started out with conscious lyrics in their first recording in the mid-1990s: Bushman with ‘Grow Yuh Natty’ (though not the first released as single, I think). Also Anthony B’s debut single (with Little Devon), called ‘The Living is Hard’ (1993), was conscious. Richie Spice’s debut song was about, well, music itself you might say, but he later had mostly conscious, Rastafari lyrics. Differing paths, similar destinations..

Are there examples of the other way around?  Artists starting with conscious, Rastafari lyrics, such as in their debut singles, that would later radically shift to joking or slackness lyrics? I would say: yes and no. Eek-A-Mouse recorded his first singles under his own name Ripton Hylton: roots reggae with Rastafari lyrics, influenced by the meditative style of Pablo Moses. These included the strong composition ‘My Father’s Land’  (which he later re-recorded).
Later he turned to other lyrics: not very much Rastafari-inspired (though Jah was mentioned at times), but neither overly focussed on “slackness” (though it was not absent). Joking, satirical, carnivalesque, are his later lyrics under the moniker ‘Eek-A-Mouse’ mostly, sometimes with a bit of social commentary, but mostly descriptive/satirical. Yet it was not really slackness in the sense of graphic sexuality or glorifying gun violence. Not in the direct sense, anyway. There was a clear lyrical shift, however. Maybe, he genuinely was inspired by Rastafari in the beginning, but that inspiration turned more to the background later in his life or he found it maybe too heavy a burden. Maybe it was partly for commercial reasons. That artists shift their focus to love songs for commercial reasons is not too rare or unimaginable (to mind come e.g. British-based reggae group Aswad, but also some Jamaican artists like Gyptian).

Ini Kamoze began with socially conscious Rastafari-inspired lyrics with his debut single ‘World Affairs’ (1981), and about 13 years later, in 1994, he had a crossover-hit of sorts in a distinct, satirical “gangsta rapper” role, with his song ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’. I don’t think however that this represents truly a deep shift within Ini Kamoze, who remained Rastafari-inspired. The 1994 'Hotstepper' rap-like song was a carnivalesque, satirical interlude or break from Ini’s general (Rastafari/conscious) thread, being a difference with Eek-A-Mouse. Ini Kamoze remained playful and very poetic with in his lyrics throughout, though, making them literary in some sense. Yet overall they remained Rastafari-inspired.


Burning Spear and Joseph Hill (of Culture) remained consistent within the roots genre: lyrically and largely musically. Joseph Hill/Culture did record some dancehall-like songs, later in his career, so he also went with the flow of changing genres in Jamaican music. Burning Spear stayed even more in the classic roots genre, but of course of a high quality. Also Israel Vibration seemed not so much to be influenced by later dancehall. Pablo Moses also remained quite consistently within his specific  “meditative” roots vein since his good debut single ‘I Man A Grashopper’ recorded  in 1975 at Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark studio. There were and are, however, several roots veterans making dancehall-like songs later in their career, including Horace Andy, Winston Jarrett, the Wailing Souls, Bunny Wailer and others, though mostly more musically than lyrically. Thus partly going with the flow of musical changes.
Don Carlos started with Black Uhuru in a conscious mode with the strong tune ‘Genocide (on the poor)’, in the late 1970s. Don Carlos largely stayed in a conscious, Rastafari mode during his career – with some dancehall influences -, but did not eschew occasional love or festive songs in the course of his career.

Some artist begun already more or less during a transition period between roots reggae and early dancehall, and stayed in the latter. Sugar Minott, Half Pint, Cocoa Tea (first recording under the name Calvin Scott), Michael Prophet, Frankie Paul, and Barrington Levy for instance. Their style eventually stayed in a roots-influenced early dancehall mode, though. Barrington Levy’s debut single as part of the Mighty Multitudes, called ‘My Black Girl’ (1978), can still be called roots reggae (with also a “lover’s vibe”), however, as were Sugar Minott’s early songs as part of the African Brothers, in the in the roots reggae heyday of the 1970s. Love songs were not uncommon for some of these artists (e.g. Sugar Minott), making them partly relate to what can is called the 'Lovers Rock' sub-genre (Gregory Isaacs would later be called the “King of Lovers Rock” by some).

Third World also showed a mainstream (pop/soul) feel in their type of reggae in their first recording, a feel that they would maintain throughout. In that sense they also were consistent, just like Burning Spear, Culture, Israel Vibration and others remained, by contrast, consistent in a less-mainstream/poppy, rootsier type of reggae.

There is quite some variation among artists, one can conclude from the above. Some remained (largely) consistent lyrically/thematically as well as musically (Burning Spear, Israel Vibration, Culture, Congos, Mighty Diamonds, or – on the slacker side - Mavado, Bounty Killer, Ward 21 a.o.). Others stayed lyrically consistent but less musically: lending their usual thematic focus to other, more modern music forms/genres evolving within reggae over time, thus adapting to musical changes. Some changed their lyrics, but less their musical genre, and some both ETCETERA. Many are somewhere in between.

Interestingly, Gregory Isaacs first recorded single, ‘Another Heartache’ (1968),  was "early" reggae (differing musically from his later songs), but its lyrics were consistent with his lyrics later in his career: “the hurt, lonely lover” theme. It had the strong, evoking lines “Hoping and pretending is all that I could do..”: that’s beautifully formulated the essence of desperation...  Later Isaacs would maintain such a (‘lovers rock’?) lyrical focus, interchanged with Rastafari/social lyrics. Also the Mighty Diamonds started with a love song and later had more conscious lyrics, as did Max Romeo, the Wailing Souls, Dennis Brown and others.

Starting out with love songs can be sincere expressions of the heart and mind of course, but it is not unthinkable that commercial/marketing reasons influenced this in some cases: love songs prove more easily popular with a large segment of the public, as do “festive” songs. This is/was as true of worldwide pop culture as the Jamaican one. The later increase of Rastafari lyrics may, on the other hand, also shows the rising influence of the Rastafari movement among parts of the Jamaican population.


Most (aspiring) musical artists in Jamaica were and are from poor backgrounds, and tend to come from poor ghetto areas like the Trench Town or Waterhouse districts in Kingston. Many may already know this. The music industry - e.g. through "hit songs" - thus provides a source of possible income, a way to make money and decrease poverty, different from crime, or being exploited in some companies by volatile bosses paying low wages. It thus relates to economic survival, but on a deeper level I think it also has to do with a search for "dignity". 

Some insightful conclusions can be drawn from all this, I think. Psychologically: seemingly obvious -  that human beings interact with the (changing) social reality surrounding them. Their lyrics are a way to connect themselves socially with life aspects to achieve dignity in their own understanding. Poor black people with a history of at least 400 years of oppression and denial of full humanity, and still being discriminated, need this all the more.

This can take different forms, even in conflict with each other. Some present themselves as conscious Rastas, some (often also Rastas of course) as militant politically or Black Power adherents. Still others as joker/entertainer, others as ladies’ men or sensitive lovers, others as tough gangsters. The mentioned image building relates to this as well. All responding to a basic human need for dignity and self-expression, so much denied for ghetto people. Different from, say, middle-class people whose fathers have a job prepared for them in some firm controlling the fate of other people whilst also securing their elite and influential status in the society and media. Ghetto people are on the other hand the victims, the object of this control, excluded from such power structures in society, and have to find other ways to gain an income, but also to achieve basic, human dignity. Music is an important means for this. “Redemption all I ever had”, as Bob Marley sang.

Debut singles of Jamaican artist thus clearly have a deeper social meaning than merely representing a moment in time for aspiring musicians/singers hanging around music studios.


These were the psychological, sociological and lyrical perspectives. But music is of course also an art form, aimed at a public. Therefore it is of course also interesting to evaluate the quality of these first songs of artists who would in time become often settled reggae artists.

This is a subjective matter, of course: opinions on a single song can differ from person to person, depending on their tastes. For the same reason mere commercial success does not say too much. It says something about what was popular in the Jamaican dancehalls at the time of release, but the song can be good apart from this. A crappy song that gets recorded anyway is not uncommon, but not very probable. Even a single recording costs money for the producer and artist and others involved (studio time, musicians): so some people should believe in it before starting the process of recording and marketing them. Many studios/producers in fact held regular auditions to select among artists or groups those of relatively good quality to record.

Many artist who started recording in the 1960s and 1970s started at the “Motown of Jamaica”: Studio One. Not all though: there were several other studios around, owned e.g. by Duke Reid, Joe Gibbs, Leslie Kong and others. In time other studios like Channel One, Black Ark, and Harry J’s also became important. Still later (since the 1990s) other studios, often aimed more at dancehall, would appear. Lutan Fyah’s first singles were for example recorded at Buju Banton’s Gargamel Studio, while Buju Banton had started not too long before this…

The quality standards at Studio One were high, as were those of studios like Channel One,  and I think this is notable on the debut singles from the 1960s/70s/early 80s, that were mostly of an acceptable or good quality. Besides this the songwriting and vocal talents of the respective artists were in most cases evident from the beginning, especially considering the often young age of artists when they started recording.

The catchy debut – rocksteady - song of the Wailing Souls, called ‘You’ve Lost The Love’ (196Xs) - under the name the Renegades - also showed their talent from the start, as did the Mighty Diamonds’ debut song. In my opinion from a songwriting/musical perspective the Wailing Souls’ (or Renegades’) debut song is one of the better debuts I know, along with Burning Spear’s simply classic, early roots of ‘Door Peep’ (1969). Those are in my opinion the two best reggae Debut songs I know, but that is my opinion. Wailing Souls and Burning Spear had proved their talent more than sufficiently after their debuts, of course.. Bob Marley’s first recording, 'Judge Not', was also a strong, catchy ska song - with good lyrics as well - showing the songwriting talents he undeniably had.

The Abyssinians as a vocal trio had the also classic ‘Satta Massagana’ (1968) as their debut. This song is a bit less of a debut, since two of the three members (Donald and Linford Manning) recorded partly as part of Carlton and the Shoes before this, plus lyrically the song is – in part –based on this earlier group’s  earlier recorded song ‘Happy Land’ as well. Still, the Abyssinians as a roots group had an impressive debut song nonetheless with ‘Satta Massagana’. It even became a sort of Rasta anthem.

Also the already mentioned Isaacs debut recording 'Another Heartache' was in my opinion a good song, though it “went nowhere” (i.e. was not successful commercially). Also Junior Reid’s first song recorded at the age of only 13 was good and catchy. Similarly Jacob Miller’s debut song ‘Love Is A Message’ with an audibly younger voice showed already his talent, as did Horace Hinds (=Horace Andy) good debut song, recorded in the rocksteady era, with a conscious, Black Power message, called ‘This Is A Black Man’s Country’ (1967). This song failed to have too much commercial success at the time, but it’s a good song, considering also he was 16 years of age at the time, and the conscious lyrics were not too common then, rendering it original.

I can appreciate some modern dancehall – even digital - as long as it’s groovy/danceable, but not all. I am more a roots fan. I find it thus more difficult to judge the quality of debut songs by Bounty Killer, Mavado, Sean Paul, Ward 21 and others. Though I note they have catchy elements. The lyrics of both Capleton’s debut song (homophobic/violent) and Buju Banton’s (machismo) were in a way, well, stupid and nonsensical, but from a musical perspective, admittedly: the vocal flow on these debut songs already showed their unique vocal (and rhythmic) talents. Luckily their lyrics  improved over time.

Especially since around 1980 the custom of using the same Riddims (instrumentals) for different vocalists became more common in part of the Jamaican music industry, even at Studio One. Some artists starting after this started to record on existing riddims, but the vocal additions by artists can of course still be evaluated. I think strictly regarding vocal flow (apart from the lyrics) – the capacity to skilfully “ride a riddim” and add to it - Capleton and Buju Banton showed their deejay-ing talents from early on in their early recordings, as did Jah Mason. Sizzla’s debut song ‘True God’ also showed his strong, own, unique style, at least partly, as he would test his vocal dexterity more in later songs. Interesting is also the case of Beenie Man who even started recording in 1981 (the song ‘Too Fancy’) at the age of 9 (that is: n-i-n-e)! Even as a child he had a nice rhythmic flow..

From an earlier generation, dee-jays/toasters like U Roy, Big Youth, I-Roy, Prince Fari, and Price Jazzbo - all actually dee-jaying/toasting at sound systems long before actually recording - also gave a hint of their appeal and talent as sound system toasters on their first recordings. As did a later tier (starting to record  in the early 1980s) of dee-jay’s like Josey Wales, Brigadier Jerry and others, who had mostly catchy debuts..

I think much of the songwriting and vocal/singing talents of the earlier iconic roots and reggae groups were (in most cases) already – at least partly - evident in their debut recordings, not only of Burning Spear, the Wailing Souls, the Mighty Diamonds,  Israel Vibration, the Itals (debut song: ‘In A Dis A Time’), Junior Byles (first solo single: ‘Demonstration’, 1970), Hugh Mundell (his first released – though not first recorded - single was the strong ‘Africa Must Be Free By 1983’, in 1975), Junior Reid, Horace Andy, and Culture/Joseph Hill, some of whom I already mentioned, but also e.g. the Gladiators, Johnny Osbourne, Jacob Miller, and Marcia Griffiths…they all  started with good or even strong songs. Also, the early recording of the Tartans (who included Cedric Myton of Congos’ fame, as well as Prince Lincoln Thompson), called  ‘Far Beyond The Sun’, a rocksteady song from 1967, was good. Half Pint’s debut song ‘Sally’ (1983) was merely okay, to my taste, and I personally like better the groovy songs he would come up not long after (e.g. ‘Mr Landlord’, ‘Substitute Lover’).

Little Roy had his debut single under his own name Earl Lowe, called ‘I am Gonna Cool It’, recorded around 1965 at Studio One. A nice debut I think, with a younger version of his characteristic, soulful, aching voice. Little Roy/Earl Lowe was about 12 years of age at the time (he was born in 1953) he recorded his debut song. The young age many artists began recording must mean something sociologically as well.

An interesting fact I have not really mentioned yet: most artists debuting wrote their debut songs themselves, at least partly (sometimes just the vocal part and/or basic chord structure), although some started with a cover. A significant fact, I think, when added to their vocal or musical skills.


Of most debuts I encountered I can understand why they decided to record it. The debut songs were mostly good, albeit to differing degrees. Some were just “nice” or quite catchy, others were good, and quite a few even great or strong. A few of the debut songs can be called classics: I think Burning Spear’s ‘Door Peep’, the Itals’ ‘In A Dis A Time’, Hugh Mundell’s ‘Africa Must Be Free By 1983’, the Abyssinians' ‘Satta Massagana’, and Lee Perry’s ‘People Funny Boy’ (one of the earliest reggae songs!),  and from earlier times the Sensations’ timeless ‘Everyday Is Like A Holiday’. I think these songs have those timeless qualities that make them classics in Jamaican music. Also Junior Reid’s debut is above average I think, as was the Wailing Souls’ strong debut song (topping it later with even stronger songs). Also Johnny Osbourne’s debut recording was very strong (and later covered by other artists like the Mighty Diamonds, which gives an indication). Time will tell whether “classic” will apply as well to more recent debuts, e.g. of I-Wayne, that became instant hits.

In other cases debut songs were still good, but the artists would have better songs later in their career, often not too long after debuting. In those cases the best was still to come. The potential, the artists’ talent showed already – even if they were sometimes very young - but was not yet fulfilled, needed  perhaps a bit to fully develop. I think this is the case with Alton Ellis, Israel Vibration, Culture, Bob Marley, Little Roy, the Wailing Souls, Mighty Diamonds, Twinkle Brothers, Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, Tenor Saw, Half Pint, Ini Kamoze, Capleton, Jah Mason, Bushman, Busy Signal, Queen Ifrica (and others)…also all great artists with unique talents and great songs during their career..I think they just did not “peak” yet, so to speak, at the very start of it. Their debuts were not bad, but their best songs came, in my opinion, later in their career.


I’ve searched the remarkably great database of YouTube for debut songs of Jamaican artists. I found a lot – in fact most mentioned above - , though not every single one. I also found in some cases only later versions of the original debut recordings (modern versions/live).

All in all, I combined what I could find in a Playlist (or sub-catalogue if you will) on YouTube of Debut songs/recordings of Jamaican artists. Tips for songs to be added are of course welcome (even if not mentioned in the text above).The Jamaican music scene is so extensive, that I still can forget or leave out some names unintentionally. I’m only human and can also make mistakes, so proper corrections, if necessary, are also welcome. E-mail me through Blogspot or YouTube in that case.

A fully comprehensive overview of debut singles is perhaps an illusion, considering the extensive Jamaican music industry since the 1960s, with so many artists recording. Even then…there might be a lot, but not “everything” is on YouTube.  Let’s just say the goal is somewhere between a representative and a comprehensive overview. The result is I think still very insightful for many reggae lovers.  At least most artist mentioned in the above text are to be found in the playlist, including influential and well-known artists, and representative artists of the distinct sub-genres. Luckily, there were and are also quite some original versions to be found on YouTube: interesting for historical reasons.

Check the playlist at:

Note: for this text AND for the YouTube playlist I limited my scope to Jamaican artists, so reggae artists from outside of Jamaica (e.g. Aswad, Steel Pulse, Midnite, Groundation, Gentleman, Shaggy, Maxi Priest or others) are not included. Not that that cannot be interesting as well..