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?
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.
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.