…Joss Stone. Wait, what? Is this a “Steve Harvey Miss Universe” joke? No, it is not. You may be just as surprised as us but this news even floated under The Pier radar. This brings up a lot of concerns and mixed emotions with reggae fans ranging from genre-hopping to politics and even race. So of course, The Pier decided to dig in on some of these touchy topics to see what we could find.
Joss Stone – Water For Your Soul
Joss Stone, the soulful English singer-songwriter, released her seventh studio album earlier this year in July, Water For Your Soul, under her own Stone’d Records. The album is her first dabble in reggae and features well-known artist Damian “Jr Gong” Marley as co-producer and in collaboration on two of the tracks. Stone is a well-known genre-hopper who has tried the likes of soul, R&B, folk, pop, and more. Stone claims this album was inspired and encouraged by Marley after previous work in “supergroup” SuperHeavy which included Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, and A.R. Rahman in addition to Marley and Stone. Stone used these various connections to bring a number of other artist collaborations to enhance the reggae sound of her album including Barrington Levy, Cocoa Tea (Calvin George Scott), Dennis Bovell, and Marlon “Ganja Farmer” Asher.
The fact that a first-timer taking a try at reggae took Artist of the Year caused quite a stir in the reggae community and in social media. Fusion of genres in music is one thing; taking bits and pieces of different genres as influence and making it your own is one thing but this album seems to be a significant overstep in the eyes of many. Most of us are asking “how does a non-reggae artist top the reggae charts?” Well, that probably started back in October 2012 when the editors of Billboard decided to change things up a bit. In 2012, Billboard made a drastic change to count more than just radio airplay; it decided to start counting digital sales and online streams in its tallies for many formats. This was also the time that R&B and rap saw their first breakout into separate genres (see full article HERE) and the blending of genres truly began. Since then, fans and artists from numerous other genres have expressed their dislike over this new algorithm. These new calculations encourage artists to cross-over genres in order to achieve greater results in genres they may not fit in (just take Taylor Swift as an unfortunate example who has over saturated the market with her sound and can be found in pop charts, country charts, and who knows what else). Country and rap have long been fighting this battle and now it has overflowed into reggae.
But there have been some larger concerns expressed over this latest “Reggae Artist of the Year” determination. Jamaican reggae deejay, Bounty Killer, seemed outraged by the situation. Bounty took to Instagram after hearing the news and called out the Jamaican government for not doing what’s necessary to help preserve the reggae culture in Jamaica.
“What measures are implemented for a genre birthed on the island which is widely celebrated elsewhere, giving others the chance to benefit more than us? How many more Matisyahus, Eddie Murphys and Joss Stones will there be to benefit more than our people who do not fall short on talent?“
-Bounty Killer (from the Jamaican Observer)
Meanwhile, others feel it to be yet another example of the tensing race issues currently present in America.
“In a year when race, appropriation, and white privilege have been constant points of national conversation, one of the country’s biggest music media platforms continues to rub salt in the proverbial wound of the Black music-buying public.”
– Stereo Williams, The Daily Beast (full article here)
But those are some very polarizing topics that we will leave at that. Should the music or achievements be determined or judged by race, wealth, or anything else besides the music itself? Let the music be music and ignore everything else…is it good? Do you like it? Then does anything else really matter?
As a reggae fan, keep in mind a few things when looking at these types of charts, rankings and awards. Who is making the decisions and what criteria are they using? In this case, Billboard has assigned a “case manager” to each genre who determines inclusion in each chart, and then each chart is ranked based on album sales throughout the year calculated by Billboard using numbers from Nielsen Music; it shows NO reflection of quality. They do not reflect who is actually listening to these albums (i.e. whether it’s a seasoned reggae fan or an existing fan of the artist from another genre who may not even like reggae) or anything else of merit besides Billboard’s numbers.
So how much do the Billboard Charts really matter? When looking closer, Water For Your Soul sold just 29,000 albums and was second overall of all reggae albums to Bob Marley and The Wailers greatest hits album, Legend, which sold over 191,000 in 2015 (but is considered a non-current cataloged title and therefore not part of the “current” charts). Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Easy Skankin in Boston ’78 was determined to be the #2 reggae album of 2015 resulting in the group also taking silver for Reggae Artist of the Year. Rebelution takes #3 for 2015 and Iration was bumped down to #5 by Gov’t Mule who took the #4 spot.
You, as a fan, should make your own determinations into what music is “best” or which album is “good” no matter the rankings. Besides, what other awards or recognition really matters besides The Annual Pier Awards?!
So what do you think? Who is your “Reggae Artist of the Year?” Make sure to comment below!