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Why Joss Stone deserves to be Billboard Magazine’s ‘Reggae Artist of the Year’

Billboard really stepped ‘pon the bull’s tail yesterday when they announced that soul-fusion songstress Joss Stone has the top-charting reggae album for 2015.  That’s right, the RnB/Soul/Reggae fusion album Water For Your Soul is their top-charting reggae album, which means that it outsold every other reggae album released so far this year. The “bloodclaats” and “wha gwaans” came like rain, mostly from Jamaican reggae fans commenting through online news outlets, forums, and social media sites.

While most expressed utter disbelief, others resorted to downright foolishness and fuckery, one commenter proclaiming, for instance “It’s appropriation of the cultures, they are chipping away at identity a little bit at a time. Pretty soon the history books will have whites as the inventors of all the genres.”

Another commented “Sigh…white people copy from blacks n win accolades which the originators never seem to win….then u have the other side of the coin, whereby blacks r called sell outs fi sounding ‘white’….ah sah….jackass seh di world no level…my girl loves to go barefoot…look out Muta, dem soon crown her Reggae dub poetess….feh.”

There were still others who have a much deeper understanding of what a really a gwaan, as one particularly astute observer commented “Did you all buy some of the Reggae music for the Jamaican artists? Joss Stone’s fans bought her music…this is what happened.”

The reasons behind the firestorm are many, however lets put a few things in perspective. First, Billboard did not name Joss Stone 2015 Reggae Artist of the Year (which is what many reggae news outlets suggested, including Jamaica’s top newspaper The Observer). The magazine simply stated a fact: Joss Stone’s album Water for Your Soul was Billboard’s top-charting reggae album for 2015 based on total sales. Never mind the fact that the album is NOT a reggae album, rather it is an album of disjointed tracks from a variety of genres (RnB, Soul, Urban, Contemporary Pop, and yes, Reggae).  She openly admits onstage that she doesn’t know a fucking thing about reggae, its magnificent artists, or its rich history.



And while I give her an “‘atta girl” for effort (she performed a decent cover of Midnite’s timeless “Love The Life You Live” recently), it is insulting to see an artist so ignorant of the King’s music have the top-selling album for the genre.  But holy shit she looks good doing it nonetheless.  I suppose that since Damian Marley helped produce the album, even guesting on a track, that industry know-nothings billed it as a reggae album.  However, a Gong Zilla guest appearance doesn’t a reggae album make.  It is no more a reggae album than Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience or Pharrell Williams’ G I R L…but I digress. So shame on the Jamaica Observer for misleading its readers. However, the headline, though factually wrong, brings about a conversation well worth having:

Why are talented Jamaican reggae artists like Chronixx, Jah Cure, or Protoje (who truly had the best reggae album this year with Ancient Future) not garnering support from reggae fans within their home country of Jamaica?

The fact that Joss Stone had the best-selling reggae album of 2015 is something that should bother every serious fan of reggae. Did we really allow a genre-hopping pop singer (albeit a supremely talented one!) to outsell Bob Marley, whose Easy Skanking In Boston ’78 is his best live reggae album since 1975? Did we really allow that to happen in 2015?

Yes…we…did…

And while I’m not hating on Stone for the success of her album, I’m troubled by the fact that reggae is a genre with fans who refuse to support their most beloved artists. You don’t support Chronixx by bumping up the radio in your car when they spin his tune, or by taking to You Tube or Facebook to defend him in the face of criticism. You don’t support Protojé by uploading his new single to SoundCloud or clicking “Like” on his Vemo video post. You support your favorite artists by purchasing their albums and by attending their shows. Joss Stone didn’t have the top-charting “reggae” album because she came with a better album than Jah Cure or Morgan Heritage. She had the top-charting “reggae” album because her fans bought her records and Jah Cure’s fans didn’t buy his.

The facts are distressing to say the least. Stone’s Water For Your Soul sold 27,500 copies so far in 2015, nearly doubling the total sales for Marley’s Easy Skanking In Boston ’78. Jah Cure’s album The Cure has sold just shy of 10,500 copies since its release in July 2015. Morgan Heritage’s Strictly Roots, which made my Best 15 of 2015 and is also nominated for the Grammy, has sold just under 5,000 copies in its 31 weeks on the Billboard chart. Luciano’s Zion Awake, which is also nominated for the Grammy, has sold just 1,100 copies. Kranium’s uber-unimpressive debut album for Atlantic, Rumours, has sold less than 1,000 copies. Iba Mahr’s debut album, Diamond Sox, has sold less than 200 copies, however, it was only recently released on November 20, 2015.

So does Joss Stone deserve to have the top-charting “reggae” album of 2015?

Absolutely she does.

Why?

Because her fans bought 27,500 of her albums, which is more than your favorite reggae artists sold for the year combined.

It was the late, great Bush Doctor himself who sang “If you live in a glass house, Don’t throw stones, And if you can’t take blows, Brother, don’t throw blows.”  So before you go online and rant about how “they stole our music” or how “whites are rewriting reggae history” or “diluting our reggae music” or “stealing our culture,” please make sure you have done your part to support the very music and culture you are accusing the world of stealing. I’m sure you’ll never find Tarrus Riley, or Iba Mahr, or Jesse Royal, or Chronixx waging this war against reggae’s worldwide fan base. They’re still trying to convince their fans to drop $9.99 on an album.

Stone performs in Cheshire, 2015

Stone performs in Cheshire, 2015

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Comments

  1. Peter says:

    from what i can hear she cant skank and that aint even reggae.

  2. Marie says:

    Not in my book

  3. tom 'papa' ray says:

    Doug, you hit the nail squarely on the head. I’ve read such lame whining on this subject the past few days—-and mostly from Americans speaking from mostly uninformed/flat out LAME viewpoints. If anyone wishes to be outraged, do so (as you pointed out) because this singer only had to sell 29,000 copies to far out-strip the rest of the field. As an independent urban record store owner in St. Louis(as well as operating a small roots reggae label), I see how sales of Jamaican music is at an all-time low. Our space for reggae has shrank 70% from it’s hey-day in the 80s-90s. And I find it particularly delusional hearing people blame this on ‘Babylon System’, etc etc. It reminds me of those claiming Buju Banton got busted by a ‘batty-man conspiracy’—-not because Buju tried buying pounds of weasel dust from a DEA agent in Florida. Like The Upsetter say–PEOPLE FUNNY BOY.

  4. Dennis Bovell also produced many songs on the album … The author totally missed that.

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      That’s because he didn’t. Bovell is credited as co-writer for “The Answer.” He produced the six tracks on the separate 10″ dub companion. So he actually had very little to do with the recording.

  5. I find this interesting… has anyone listened to Reggae? anyone been to or lived in Jamaica ? the place where these artists live, to see the status of the economy? someone please tell me how a nation of people who are under financial stress since the beginning of the genre can afford to get visa’s and plane tickets to support their artists in a foreign land and have enough money left over to buy an album…? Live reggae has just started to play again in the last few years in JA and many of the quoted now top reggae artists play regularly in JA but many do not even focus on the US at all! Europe/UK is the focus! Reggae has been a sufferers music and lets be honest… even when a famous artist that used to sell out millions of albums tries a reggae album (even one that is reincarnated…. jus sayin) it sells less than this Joss album! Reggae is not a genre of music that is even to be looked at on a “sales” basis! think about it! How many studio one musicians played music for hire and to this day don’t get royalties for great music playing for decades? How many times have we heard the atrocities of the Marley / Aston Barrett / Wailer discussions… who wins? Reggae has actually fought against the “sales” basis on many levels! I find it hard to put Reggae on the same playing field as say Rock and Roll as the media in which it plays and how it goes to the public has historically been different – sound systems, radio etc… and NOT sales! so when Billboard releases that it has a Best Reggae based off of sales… I cringe. I have been involved in some of the production of some of the top reggae acts, singers, and productions for over 15 years now and as a business manager who sees the books… I can tell you factually… this music is NOT based in sales. As Protoje put it!… reggae music now is based on views and likes! and I expand on that to say … in my view, it is based on how many lives it touches and affects and how many sight up to do the right things in the world. Rastafari. ~ quashi

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      Quashi – Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Valid points, all of them. The discussion revolves around sales because total sales is how Billboard charts albums. So there is a top-charting reggae album every year based on total sales. I whole-heartedly agree with you that “Reggae is not a genre of music that is even to be looked at on a “sales” basis.” However, for the purpose of this discussion we must discuss sales because this is how Billboard carts the albums – right or wrong.

      Ask around…I know nothing but reggae. I’ve gotten nothing but love for writing this from many of the artists discussed in my articles. I’ve been to Jamaica. I’ve been a hardcore fan of reggae since I’m 13 years old. I’m now 42. I’ve spent hours in Jamaican recording studios reasoning with musicians and bredren of all kinds. I’ve been down Halfway Tree, watched an overnight video shoot in Waterhouse, and picked up bredren in Rema, Federal Gardens, Buckers, Arnette Gardens. I spent a night in Washington Gardens watching Jah B smoke herb from a carrot. I’ve attended concerts in Bull Bay. I bought fish from the fishermen in Port Antonio. I’ve raised money and donated it to musicians in Jamaica who could not come up with the funds to replace instruments damaged in a fire. I’m well aware of the extreme poverty in Jamaica. I am speaking to all fans of reggae wherever they are, most of whom are white, middle-class, Europeans and Americans. However, there are a lot of Jamaicans taking to the web to smite Billboard, and smite Joss Stone, and smite whites and Europeans for stealing Jamaica’s music. My reply to this sort of ignorant talk is buy an album, attend a show, quit pirating the music. Respect…Mike

  6. “So does Joss Stone deserve to have the top-charting “reggae” album of 2015? Absolutely she does. Why? Because her fans bought 27,500 of her albums, which is more than your favorite reggae artists sold for the year combined.”

    Your points are all well taken but it’s not only reggae artists who are struggling in this age of music-streaming and file-sharing.

    But what I’m really having trouble wrapping my head around is why Joss Stone was put into the “reggae” category by Billboard at all. She clearly doesn’t claim to be a reggae artist. The mere fact that she has recorded a few reggae tunes doesn’t make her one any more than Marley recording few country tunes would make him a country artist. Hell, Willie Nelson recorded an entire reggae album but no one calls him a reggae singer. I just don’t get what Billboard is thinking here. Who stands to gain? I wouldn’t think even Joss Stone gets any mileage out of this.

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      You are absolutely right and your comment goes straight to the heart of the matter. Why did Billboard review this album as a reggae album when it clearly is not a reggae album. Was Stone’s people marketing it as a reggae album or is this a call made by Billboard? I’m now seeing articles crediting Stone with inventing a new reggae sound – “soul reggae.” Problem is, that sound was created 50 years ago at Studio One. Toots dedicated an entire album to reggae soul. I don’t want this to devolve into a Joss Stone smiting session. She is an uber-talent and we should appreciate her interest in reggae. In fact, there are even several decent reggae tracks on the album (Harry’s Symphony is no joke). I don’t see any of this as her fault.

  7. Aaron says:

    If you think Harry’s Symphony is reggae then you don’t know anything about reggae.. Joss Stone should not be categorized as a reggae artist by Billboard Magazine.. Investigate that blunder and report back…I am offended whenever any singer other than an actual Jamaican sings with a Jamaican accent..

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      Please, I’ve forgotten more reggae than you ever knew. “Joss Stone should not be categorized as a reggae artist by Billboard Magazine.. Investigate that blunder and report back…”. You obviously missed the entire point of the article. Next time you should read what I wrote before commenting.

  8. Patrixx Anthony says:

    The woman sang a good album with reggae musicians and producers on the team.
    I don’t speak the best English most of the time still I understood her even when she sang about GANJA and covered Barrington Levy HERE I COME.
    The way some of us is going on is like no body is to sing reggae unless it sounds like a Jamaican singing it.
    Reggae do not belong to Jamaica and the Jamaican people it belongs to the world and the musicians and producers are very happy when they hear other coultures in the world singing and playing reggae music. I for one has seen and is seeing the progress around the world in places such as Japan playing and preform the music just like it was recorded in
    JA or UK.
    Just giving out food for thought.
    It came out of the poor working people with little or no education to the richest and most educated throughout the world.
    Yes most Jamaicans are poor, yes most Jamaicans are not educated that’s one reason why there is no real selling of recordings on the island. For a population of around
    4.5-5million people (don’t quote me on this) I still wonder what the politicians are pressing the government for in regards to educating the people of Jamaica. It don’t take a life time in my opinion just 20years from birth.
    Out from Jamaica reggae was born. It belongs to God and the Goddess hence the people of the world.

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      Well-said…very good points

  9. Patrixx Anthony says:

    UB40 before three members left is a reggae band. The Jamaican music industry at the time and reggae lovers around the world never accepted them as a reggae outfit.
    Education………

  10. Great discussion on a well thought-out article. I have the same bittersweet feeling sitting here listening to Joss Stone’s album knowing that it has been labeled the ‘best reggae album’ of the year because of its sales. I am in an American reggae fusion group, so I feel intrinsically tied to this debate. I care deeply about understanding the struggle and story of how this powerful music came about and in caring for/protecting its future as a conscious, empowering, funky music. I struggle with the prospect that many reggae music believers see reggae music made outside of Jamaica as ingenuine, simply because of the music’s origins. Any artist who has studied the history knows that music travels like spice, teas, or foods- there is no isolating it from other factors. Just like Mr Robert Nesta Marley wanted to sound like the Doo Wop and Motown greats of the 1950’s and early 1960’s and The Rolling Stones wanted to sound like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy- music will always transcend border/class/race.

    1. midnightraverblog says:

      Large up Feel Free! I saw you guys live a few years back. You guys come correct!

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