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The finalist for the Best Reggae Album were recently released, cut down from the 65 albums that were accepted as valid entries, Burning Spear’s No Destroyer, Julian Marley & Antaeus’s Colors of Royal, Beenie Man’s Simma, Collie Buddz’s Cali Roots Riddim 2023, and Buju Banton’s Born For Greatness.  There were some surprise omissions with the initial 65 that were not only worthy of the nomination but also could have been considered as a finalist; Popcaan’s Great Is He might be the biggest surprise, this was a very solid dancehall album, showing Popcaan’s continuing growth.  It turns out this was not even submitted. Other surprise omissions were Stonebwoy, Micah Sheraiah and Aiesha, but Micah Sheraiah was nominated for Album of the Year. Stonebwoy’s 5th Dimension should have been in consideration, such a great album, while maybe not reggae per say, he takes the Afro Beats and fuses it so well with reggae.  Three other notable albums not listed were all nominated for Best Global Album; Stephen Marley’s Old Soul (my absolute favorite album released this year in any genre – see my review HERE), Shaggy’s In The Mood and Morgan Heritage’s The Homeland.

Before my thoughts on the finalist and which album I feel is the best and should win and which one I think will win, I want to mention a few that a believe could have or should have been in the final five. Anthony B’s Bread & Butter is a great album, musically strong and vocally and lyrically he is as strong as ever. He was more adventurous with this album blending different genres and making it work so well. Ballyhoo's Shellshock is an excellent album, see my review HERE.  They do a wonderful job of fusing reggae, punk, ska, alt-rock and pop on this album. Common Kings Celebration shows their growth of a group, see my review HERE. I especially loved Earthkry’s Dandy Shady, such an amazing truly roots reggae album with sounds of the 70’s and 80’s.  This is one that really deserved to be a finalist for sure.  See my review HEREJah Cure’s Undeniable is another favorite that easily could have been nominated, it is Cure doing what he does best, his soulful longing of sweet lovers rock, see my review HERE. And last is Marcia Griffith's Golden. She shows why she has been referred to as the Queen of Reggae and why she is still the undisputed Queen.  This album shows the glorious celebration of the woman who has been on the forefront of reggae music for nearly 60 years. Her voice is so amazing and sweet and strong. And last Sizzla’s The I-Grade, a great album where Sizzla keeps up his exploration mixing reggae, dancehall and hip-hop.  See my review HERE.

As I move onto the finalist I look back on this past year and am amazed at how many great albums came out, whether you lean towards roots reggae, dancehall, Afro Beats, American reggae and every other style out there it was truly a great year for Reggae music. We will start off with the album that I cannot understand why it is a finalist, Cali Roots Riddim 2023 by Collie Buddz. This by no means has anything to do with or is a knock on Collie or the Riddim itself, but I cannot understand how an album of one riddim, yes each song features a different artist/band, can be up for album of the year.  Even if this riddim was the best of the year.  It is a nice chill rhythm, makes you want to sit on a beach with a drink and your feet in the sand, but I cannot get behind this being a finalist, let alone winner.  Next up is Julian Marley & Antaeus’s Colors Of Royal. This is an exciting departure from Julian’s roots reggae style and shows his versatility as an artist. His blend with Antacus has a nice unique sound blending many different styles. A very positive upbeat album, but I feel this would be better off in the World Music category. While it is a good album, it just does not get my vote.

Simma by Beenie Man is next up, I wish I had done an album review for this because it is a great album, one of my favorites of the year.  It is his first full album release in seven years, and it was well worth the wait. What a ride! It is not just a dancehall album, Beenie really re-invented himself on this album.  We get dancehall, reggae, Afro Beats, hip-hop, a little bit of everything. He is not only the king of dancehall, he’s the king of Jamaica.  If you were expecting his typical 90’s dancehall you may be disappointed.  There are a few to fit the bill, but this is such a great album from an icon.  Burning Spears No Destroyer is next up, and what an amazing album it is from an absolute legend.  This is classic Burning Spear, from the beautiful vocals, strong lyrics and amazing arranged music.  He has been one of reggae music’s most consistent and enduring forces, even though we haven’t had a new album in 15 years. Singing in his soulful growl, the beloved Spear is known for his commitment to the African chant style, as well as his potently heavy, penetrating sound of wisdom and emotion. This is another one of my favorite albums of the year, an album that can fit 30 years ago, but also in today’s reggae music vibe. See my review HERE.

As you can probably tell, I’ve put these in the order I like them, so of course I believe Born For Greatness by Buju Banton is my top album, my favorite of the year, and one of my favorite albums over the past few years (see my review HERE). I have been a huge fan of Buju since I first heard him on my honeymoon in Jamaica back in 1996. He has put out so many great, strong albums throughout his career, and even with his hiatus while he was wrongfully incarcerated, this may be his best album.  He just gets better with age.  One thing that has never changed is his poetic ability, his amazing lyrics and story-telling.  He is such a strong song-writer and in this day and age when new music coming out of Jamaica is being criticized for being insulting, misogynistic and superficial, Buju does the complete opposite with great lyrics, great producing and such a beautiful feel throughout the album.  This is a mellow blend of reggae, dancehall fused with a little R&B and a little bit of hip-hop. You get a light, Tranquil, pensive mood but at times powerful beats, with live instruments like electric and acoustic guitar, sax, mixed with programmed synth sounds and beats, great vocal samples with Buju’s amazing lyrics taking total control every step of the way. 

So yes, my pick for Reggae Album of the year, by a fairly large amount, is Buju Banton’s Born For Greatness.  I really cannot pick out many flaws at all, if any. Every track, every verse, just so strong. But I believe the winner will be No Destroyer by Burning Spear, he has been doing this for such a long time, I think the committee and voters will lean a little more towards Burning Spear for the longevity and his legendary status.  It won’t be a wrong selection, it is a really great album, but I do believe Buju should walk away with the trophy.


One Love- Todd


Todd Judd

Photojournalist - Pennsylvania

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