Best of 2016: Top 20 Songs
Every year the quality of music from artists outside of soca keeps rising. Across all genres, having to pick 20 songs for this list was extremely hard for me as they were a lot of viable candidates to choose from. Nevertheless, below are cuts you may or may not have heard from Barbadian artists you may or may not know, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER. Enjoy.
1. Mole x Lady Essence – “Ish (Bubble Pon Me)”
“Ish” was initially released in early November 2015, but it really took off during 2016’s first quarter, causing a huge impact and cultural shift in the process. The freestyle over Lethal Bizzle’s throbbing “Fester Skank” had the attention of every Bajan – young & old, “hindu or islamic” – not just because of its salacious lyrics and equally raunchy video set in Queens Park, but the silly dance that accompanied and inspired it. Soon, everyone who could “ish”, “ished” (those who couldn’t, tried), every artist had to have a “Fester Skank” freestyle, more “ish”- inspired songs came to the fore (there was even a beef surrounding it), and Lady Essence and Mole were launched into the “mainstream” – having a steady output of songs and collaborations during Crop Over 2016, and both making it to the finals of the inaugural Bashment Soca competition (albeit separately). There also might’ve been a surge in the stock price for pie and chicken, but those reports are yet to be confirmed.
2. Teff Hinkson – “WDWFTS (We Don’t Wait For The Summer)”
With “WDWFTS” Teff rips the traditional sun, sea, and sand brochure into confetti and spits about the real Barbados. Over Mohamed and Eliseus’s “plush with a punch” production, Hinkson weaves a night of good times and debauchery (“Where the drinks stay cold and the music flows and the vibes stay nice”), into a two-footed tackle on corruption (“Here’s $300 if you vote me in / But next year dodge me quicker than a Kobe spin”) and Bajans watching face (“‘Round here how it looks means more than it actually is / Thousand dollar outfit, couple bottles in the club, int leff’ jack shit fuh ya kids”). Despite its early release, “WDWFTS” stands head and shoulders over “So Insecure” and “Headshot” with its blunt honesty and slick sound seeing Hinkson going in a different direction sonically, and creating one of his best records to date.
3. Prince of Pluto – Energy+
Every once in awhile you come across a gem on Soundcloud, and discovering Prince of Pluto’s “Energy Plus” was one of those rare occurrences. Stretch StrongArm’s haunting boom-bap is the perfect setting for Prince’s self-aggrandizing, self-fulfilling prophesying screed. You could hear the hunger in his voice as he growls bars like “The perception of a giant, so these taller trees they look like broccoli to me, they crop and greenery / Opps int seeing me, at the top I seem to be / Fam I got the means to leave ya team deceased ”; the 808 rattling beneath like a thundering chest-thump. “Energy+” is a strong introduction to a young emcee who is still trying to find his footing. Sidebar: After hearing this, every mention of the word “energy” will be followed by a subconscious blurting of “knowing it’ll come back ten fold.” You’ve been warned.
4. Rubytech – “Reign (The Prayer) (Feat. Beverley Jones-Forde)”
I strongly believe that if “Reign” was created by someone other than a Barbadian (let’s say, Ace Hood), Barbadian deejays would be forcing this song down your earhole so much that you would have to beg them to stop. But, you know how that goes. Anyways. Rubytech’s inspirational “Reign (The prayer)” dropped at the top of the year, and, after a few of hits and misses, signalled something fresh and new was coming. Trap drums crash under light keys while Tech goes berserk with a gatling-gun flow, asking the Lord for prosperity while continuing to grind and knock against the proverbial wall. The hook isn’t too shabby, either.
5. Adaeze – “3x A Dae”
Adaeze broke out the vocoder and took a complete left-turn from the usual with “3x A Dae.” The sinister beat, driven by a giddy string arrangement, sounds like dark matter continuously trying to blanket Adaeze’s cries for “more” of God’s love, but she presses on with worship despite the fact she is being shrouded. “I need more of you, what I got is not enough / If power is the currency, I need you flowing steadily,” she sings. “3x A Dae” is man’s everyday request to persevere – daily bread, even – gift-wrapped in a heartfelt, auto-tuned outpouring of honest that is so damn good to listen to. More!
6. Giovanni Odtriiill – “Mission”
Another Soundcloud gem. Giovanni Odtriiill’s “Mission” holds you by the head and forces you to pay attention until he’s finished. There is no hook to distract you. Just his “listen to rasshole me” delivery going through lyrical calisthenics. Rhyme patterns like “Running rap but you never heard of him / the victor ludorum / I stand on the podium, serving freebase just like an emporium,” does mek ya skin up ya face and mutter the tired old cliche “Barbados got real talent yuh,” then you go to press replay because you just gotta hear it again. What a debut. Visine to a vision.
7. Simon Pipe – “Not Comfortable”
For me, enjoying this song is a conflicted experience. Simon’s misery is set in a delicious, foot-stomping groove, with a catchy chorus that distracts you from his cries for help because you’re caught in the melodic bliss of the guitar strums. Lyrics like “Living like a man without skin / Everything he touches just hurts him / Everything he knows is uncertain / Under a guilty burden,” vividly paint the anguish of being in limbo after giving up a vice and having to face life head-on. Should I turn back and give up on all of the progress I made so far? Maybe I should do it just one more time…fuh de last. Is this daily suffering even worth it? “Is it living if it feels so lifeless?” he asks. The Tropical Depression stand-out is the real story of what happens when someone overcomes their past transgressions and tries to stay on the straight and narrow. It’s a gospel song. But instead of the “everything is now okay” message of most traditional songs of praise, Simon wails about enduring the uncomfortable while on the road to redemption.
8. Haleek Maul – “My Plane”
“My Plane” wasn’t a initially a stand out for me from the excellent Prince Midas, (that honor goes to “Dreamin'” with Jah Koda), but each time I listened to the tape my likening towards it grew. Then the video dropped and, well, here we are. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Driven by Last Japan and SHY GUY’s lush arrangement, Haleek starts of with a sombre reflection of aimlessly maneuvering through the “controlled” chaos of life, but as the song develops, the madness gets to him and he erupts like a shake up drink in the second verse: “Tryna hold tight but that peace don’t pay / Wanna find life but there is no way out / Fuck that, I’m tryna bail out.” From happiness to havoc. If this isn’t song isn’t a representation of life, then I don’t know what is.
9. John Yarde – “None Like You”
In a year that saw dancehall make a resurgence, albeit lavishly, in the North American mainstream and Barbadian gospel artistes continuing to break from the pentecostal, tuk-arranged mould to profess their love of Jesus, John Yarde’s “None Like You” was a successful marriage of the two. “And I don’t always understand your will, but still I’m gonna trust you still / And ‘cause I know your word is true and that you will do everything that you will, “ he sings in in a light Jamaican lilt he adopted for the track. A pledge of allegiance to the Almighty that picks you up in its groove and whisks you away to the land of body rocking where everyone is invited. I’m surprised this song hasn’t crossed over to the “secular” like Issac Blackman’s “To the Ceiling” or Positive’s “I’ll Never Let Go.”
10. Crab Soldier – “Everyday Life (Part 1)”
Crab Soldier collectively caught everyone’s attention for a brief moment with “Everyday Life (part 1)” – a short tale of an eventful day, going from beefing with his girl who is accusing him of cheating, to getting his gun to defend his cousin. It was a refreshing re-entry for the dormant dancehall lyricist, reminding us of what he does best. He paints a picture so vivid over Ancient Record’s haunting Hot Air Riddin, that you could see the blood leaking from his hand and sense the rage in his eyes as he stormed home for his glock. It’s like a “Trapped in the Closet” for the Bajan ghetto. Let’s hope for 2017 we get some sort of closure due to the cliffhanger he left us on.
11. Kristen Walker – “All of My Lovin'”
It was a toss up between “All of My Lovin’” and the more popular “Confused” for my favorite Kristen contribution for this year, but “AoML” won because, well… I from de Caribbean. And “AoML” is we flavor. Another offshoot of the year’s dancehall-lite contributions, the airy keys of Walker’s lovelorn earworm project refreshing island breeze, as the start-stop dem bow drums inject adrenaline to the waistline whenever they hit. It sounds like being at a beach fete and watching a hapless girl pour her heart out to a clearly disinterested partner; the bassline from the music throbbing in the night air as you stare, confused, witnessing this sad scene unfold (“I don’t wanna throwwwww it all away”). Cuhdear. The remix isn’t half-bad, either.
12. Vanessa Bongo x Notis – Sensimillia State Of Mind
Honing her talent in the birthplace of Reggae is doing wonders for Vanessa Bongo. Listening to “Sensimillia State of Mind,” a rocking call to “legalize it,” you can imagine if the song had ever passed under the nose of any female pioneer of the genre (Rita, Nancy, Dawn etc.), they would’ve jumped at the chance of recording it. And Lee took her chance and ran with it. Her smooth vocals, always sounding like she’s singing with a smile, mesh well with Notis’s bare-bones, revivalist arrangement, as she preaches her message of positivity, the benefits of stillness, and calling to “free up mankind” with the healing of the nation. Somebody pass me a light.
13. Malik Rogers – “BIGMAN PLAY MY TUNES!”
Malik’s “BIGMAN PLAY MY TUNES!” is not a request, it’s a demand. Straight and raw. And also unintentionally funny. Representing the frustration of every artist from ‘bout hay who feels slighted by their local, cd-spinning “fam,” Rogers delivers a stern warning shot in pure dialect and bajan parlance. Seemingly for effect, but also to make sure they understand that this song is fuh dem. Who else it could be fuh anyways? This song NEEDS a video.
14. Blo Smallz – “Dopeman”
“Tell ‘em Blo kick raps ‘til he take a dirt nap,” the emcee spits on Fishscale stand-out “Dopeman,” seemingly insulted by the allegation that he gave up music. Never that! And to prove that he hasn’t lost a step, he takes the cool instrumental for a short ride joyride, making a quick sex joke (“I scream like Michael”) and lambasting the materialistic (“And wan’ punch a nigga in the muthafucking face / And for what? Scuff Jays?! / Get your shit straight, Fuckface”), among other things. Light and fun. Short and sweet. Rest assured, Blo hasn’t given up on this rap thing just yet.
15. Fantom Dundeal – “Tek Care”
Love him or hate him, if there is one Barbadian artist who personifies persistence, it would be Fantom Dundeal. So it would be a no-brainer for the crooner to record a song like “Tek Care” – dishing out advice on how to keep the grind going, appreciating the small things in life and ignoring frivolous distractions like fame. “Before ya profit comes a loss / If ya can’t tek one ya can’t be a boss,” he sings over the smooth Coco Tree riddim. My favorite bar encapsulates the whole mood of the song: “CR7 in the box/Ya might save some/But eventually, I gine score one.” Never give up!
16. Raphael Saul – “Inseparable”
Another gospel tune that could slid right into any club mix and get people rocking like they’re at church on Sunday morning. Raphael Saul’s “Inseparable” is a declaration of agape love delivered over a beat that rattles so hard it would knock off Sister Johnson’s lace hat. When it comes to gospel, sometimes futuristic production like this can be doused in cheesy lyrics delivered by an artist who clearly can’t keep up. But Saul overcomes this with clear writing and strong vocals that ride the beat straight into “I gotta hear this again” land.
17. Rihanna – “Work (Feat. Drake)”
I tried HARD to make this list as Rihanna-less as possible. I really did. And it’s not because I don’t like Rihanna. I mean, c’mon, have you ever read this site before? It’s just that I wanted the list to honor the songs from indie acts I truly enjoyed this year. And majority of the list is. But Rihanna coasts in on a technicality: she is now an independent artiste… and from ‘bout hay. So with that, I chose “Work” over “Needed Me” and “Love on the Brain” (I wrote about my love for “”LoTB” already). The chart-topping lead single, from the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Anti, snatched dancehall back from the white boys who were calling it tropical house. “Work” had every hip across the equator swaying from the time it dropped til’ now. It seems to never age and I can’t get tired of listening to it. “Work” sounds just as fresh as it did in January when I had it on repeat ‘til she got hoarse. And outside of being a good song, “Work,” and it’s subsequent video, sparked conversation about West Indian, female, and black identity and expression wherever think pieces were thunk (?), and opened up North American appetites to digesting more music from the Caribbean – even if they claim to not understand what we’re saying.
18. 2 Mile Hill – “Set You Free”
2 Mile Hill opened up the new year with a new name, a new look, and promises of new original music with a new project. That compilation, Uncovered, heavily featured the group’s rock-fusion sound, but tucked in between pop numbers was the delicate number “Set You Free” – the best Barbadian R&B song of the year from someone other than Fenty, which was surprisingly ignored. Mahalia’s voice oozes pain in this letter to a former lover that won’t be sent. “Did I outgrow you? Did you outgrow me?” she asks, before resigning “We tried, now I’ma set you free.” Russell’s screeching licks throughout, and bitchin solo at the bridge, contributes to the song’s throbbing heartache. If I don’t hear this in a radio station’s mellow mood mix in 2017, I just might start believing Ras Iley’s “mafia” theory.
19. Penthouse Penthouse x Bobby Saint – “Upload”
Hal’s resurgence as Bobby Saint delivered some great tunes this year. But none can match the silky smooth “Upload.” The song (from the EP of the same name with Penthouse Penthouse) about recording “end of the night” activities has all the gloss of sexiness of what one imagines making love on a Hollywood set to be like: slow camera pans of your lover’s body, close-ups of beads of sweat, a bed that is actually made up (with silk sheets, no less). No hot lights, or awkward presence of production staff. Not to mention no one to remind you to delete the video incase of an accidental upload on social media.
20. Rupee x Black Shadow – “Tipsy”
After leaving his lair to contribute to the 50th Anniversary music video and give us the excellent “I’ll Be OK”, Rupee whispered another hit to the masses with “Tipsy” – his collaboration with Troyton Rami of Black Shadow Music . This thing slaps, hard! As soon as the drums hit your shoulders start to shake like Gator in Jungle Fever. The waistline follows soon after. Expect to hear this everywhere in 2017 when Rupee goes back into hibernation.
NEXT: The Top 25 Songs of Crop Over 2016
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder & Editor of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.
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