Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks of the Month: Popcaan, Lila Iké, Nessa Preppy, Nicki Minaj & More

Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks of the Month: Popcaan, Lila Iké, Nessa Preppy, Nicki Minaj & More

We finally made it, folks! 2024 is here. To kick off the new year, Billboard’s monthly Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks column is back with the best selections from December 2023.

As the world celebrated the various December holidays, the biggest names in reggae and dancehall convened in Portmore, Jamaica, for the 40th edition of Sting — the iconic music festival that served as both a debut stage for future reggae superstars and a host site for legendary clashes. The 2023 edition of the festival featured headliners such as Bounty Killer and Capleton, although severe delays prevented several headliners from performing, drawing heated responses from musicians such as Tanya Stephens.

Elsewhere in the reggae and dancehall worlds, Masicka notched a second consecutive No. 2 peak on the Reggae Albums ranking thanks to his new 17-track Generation of Kings album. Teejay, Shenseea, Bunji Garlin, Rupee and Ding Dong all lit up the Hot 97 Winter Jam stage on Dec. 30.

Naturally, Billboard’s monthly Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks column will not cover every last track, but our Spotify playlist — which is linked below — will expand on the 10 highlighted songs. So, without any further ado:

Freshest Find: Lila Iké, “Good & Great”

Jamaican reggae star Lila Iké has been performing “Good & Great” in live settings for most of last year, but she finally gifted fans with an official streaming release at the tail end of 2023. Equal parts reggae and gospel, “Good & Great” finds Iké singing her praises to Jah and thanking him for keeping her and blessing her. The lyrics read as confessionals, dripping with vulnerability that’s accentuated by the string arrangements in the background. “Sometimes I fail, oh gosh/ Sometimes I falter/ And feel as though you’ve left me in a corner/ But here you are the light upon my tunnel,” she croons with her irresistably buttery tone.

DEV & Millbeatz, “Rum Hit Meh”

It is truly a testament to how strong the “Jouvert Jam” riddim is that every song on the five-track compilation is a banger. For his take on the riddim, Trinidadian soca artist DEV shifts his focus to the intricacies of his vocal performance. “Di rum hit meh bahhhhd,” he chants and the chorus, doubling down on the airy qualities of the vowel in the word “bad,” and delivering a level of animation that embodies the balls-to-the-wall energy of J’ouvert festivities.

Dan Evans & Nessa Preppy, “By Mehself”

Wining is synonymous with much of dancehall and soca, but contemporary cultural conversations concerning consent have sparked some reevaluations of the social cues that are integral to the dance style. For her take on Dan Evans’ “90 Degree” riddim, Nessa Preppy delivers an ode to wining for yourself, not for a man or any other dance partner. The brightness of her tone pairs well with the fairly sparse instrumentation in the beginning of the song, but it’s the giddy glee in her vocal performance that truly conveys the feeling of liberation that comes from dancing for, with and by yourself.

Bunji Garlin, “Forward”

Three days before he graced the Hot 97 Winter Jam stage, Bunji Garlin provided the opening track to his collaborative “Smoke Riddim” double single with Shurwayne Winchester. On “Forward,” Garlin rides on high-octane soca percussion to deliver a track that doubles as both an anthem of West Indian pride and a party track that is sure to rule the coming year. “Rags in the air is the forward!” he proclaims.

Nicki Minaj, Skeng and Skillibeng, “Forward From Trini”

Tucked away in the middle of her sprawling, Billboard 200-topping Pink Friday 2 album, “Forward From Trini” stands as the latest in a string of Nicki Minaj’s musical odes to her home country of Trinidad & Tobago. Minaj has collaborated with both Skeng (“Likkle Miss”) and Skillibeng (“Crocodile Teeth”) in the past, but this is the first time all three artists have appeared on the same track. A loving mixture of hip-hop, dancehall and soca (with notes of calypso), “Forward from Trini” serves as a reminder of both the interconnected lineage of those styles and Minaj’s boundless versatility.

Tech Sounds & Millbeatz, “Doh Run”

As the opening track on Millbeatz’s Jouvert Jam Riddim compilation, “Doh Run” needed to feel massive. With his booming “Doh run!” chants juxtaposed against ever-so-slightly hollow percussion, Tech Sounds delivers a worthy kick-off to the J’ouvert tape. The funky riddim isn’t just infectious, it almost demands listeners to get up and wine their waists.

Fay-Ann Lyons, “Miss B-tch”

There’s already a litany of songs reclaiming the word “b-tch,” and Fay-Ann Lyons is seeking to add to that legacy with “Miss B-tch.” For her contribution to DJ Avalanche’s “Do You” riddim, Lyons coasts over the electro-soca beat with a tone that can only be described as “gangsta.” There’s a certain bite and assertiveness in her tone that balances out the inherent humor in the drawn-out “This biiiiiitch” chant that punctuates the chorus. While, lyrically, she doesn’t offer any new spins on the word “b-tch,” Lyons’ conviction is far more than enough.

Nailah Blackman & Pumpa, “Born to Fly”

Just as the Jouvert Jam Riddim compilation captured the rambunctious celebratory energy of J’ouvert festivities, so does “Born to Fly” for the Carnival season in general. Blackman’s piercing, saccharin upper harmony pairs well with Pumpa’s gruff tone as the two recount the feeling of freedom and catharsis that characterize partying during Carnival. The duality of their respective voices — a siren-esque timbre and a rousing roar of rasp — cover the wide expanse of Carnival energies. As they croon in the song and display through their collaboration, the true essence of the season is coming together as one to celebrate.

Masicka & Spice, “WOW”

At the top of last December, Masicka dropped off his Generation of Kings album, which featured collaborations with a wide range of artists, including the likes of Dexta Daps, Fridayy and Chronic Law. On “WOW,” Masicka teams up with dancehall queen Spice for a no-holds-barred ode to tantalizing sexual chemistry. In a typical fashion, Spice is just as brash and forward as Masicka with her demands for sexual gratification, and the pair’s rhythmic flows recall dancehall’s influence on hip-hop.

Popcaan, “Life Is Real”

On Christmas (Dec. 25, 2023), Popcaan gifted fans a surprise mixtape titled Best Mood. The project’s closing track, “Life Is Real,” is both an easy standout and a clear continuation of the crossover star’s penchant for somber evaluations of life, with all of the violence and riches that complicate it. “People you show your love and give your things often/ Same one will pop your neck just like a guitar string,” he warns, before proclaiming that no one can ever take his life from him — either literally or metaphorically. There’s a current of hope that courses from the song’s opening notes to those closing piano keys, but it’s Popcaan’s interpolations of family lessons and conversation that truly show just how much he has matured and grown over the past decade.

The article “Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks of the Month: Popcaan, Lila Iké, Nessa Preppy, Nicki Minaj & More” by Kyle-Brandon Denis was published on 03/01/2024 by