Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks of the Month: Sevana, Skillibeng, KES, Romain Virgo, Popcaan & More

Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks of the Month: Sevana, Skillibeng, KES, Romain Virgo, Popcaan & More

As Jamaica prepares for Carnival (April 7), Road March-ers have heaps of new music to celebrate and dance to, including some enjoyable selections from the month of March across reggae, dancehall, soca, calypso and more.

While clashes and the Bob Marley: One Love biopic dominated January and February, respectively, March was all Vybz Kartel‘s. On March 14, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) overturned the dancehall king’s murder conviction. Having already served 12 years in prison — alongside three other alleged co-conspirators — after being found guilty in 2014 for the 2011 murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams, the dancehall king’s future is now in the hands of Jamaica’s Court of Appeal, as the body decides whether to release him or order a retiral. Fans around the world have taken the JCPC’s decision as a good omen for Kartel’s freedom, including Drake, who shared a picture of a “Free Kartel” t-shirt to his official Instagram story on Tuesday (April 2).

Outside of Kartel, Bob Marley: One Love continues to bless people around the world. On Tuesday (April 2), One Love co-producer Cedella Marley announced a call for U.S. applications for 10 Bob Marley: One Love social impact scholarships. In her announcement — which she made via her official Instagram page — she detailed the scholarships as a partnership between the box office-topping film and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

The 10 scholarships will be granted to undergraduate students “pursuing social justice-related degrees” at HBCUs, including Bowie State University, Clark Atlanta University, Dillard University, Florida A&M University, Hampton University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, Spelman College, Texas Southern University and the Xavier University of Louisiana.

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: KES feat. Queen Omega, “Rise Up”

In a recent interview with Billboard, soca superstar Kes detailed his five favorite tracks from Man With No Door — the band’s first album in a decade. One of those tracks, the Queen Omega-assisted “Rise Up,” is also one of the album’s most impressive offerings. Drawing inspiration from social justice-minded roots reggae tracks from acts like Capleton and Richie Spice, “Rise Up” is a brassy, militant ode to that era. Both Kes and Queen Omega deliver impassioned vocal performances that anchor their pleas for “humanity [to] rise up.”

As Kes pointed out in his Billboard interview, this track had to be shared with somebody, particularly Queen Omega who spits a blazing verse that drips with grit and hope. “I have deep love for humanity and sometimes deep concern too of where things are going,” Kes said. “I really wanted to write a song to capture that part of me.”

Skillibeng, “Missbnasty”

Skillibeng has been a leader of dancehall’s new class for some years now, and he shows no signs of slowing down with his new single, “Missbnasty.” Inspired by a famed adult content creator, Skillibeng gets predictably nasty on this slinky bass-heavy Afrobeats-inflected beat courtesy of P2J. “Lovе when yuh bounce pon my d–k/ Cau yuh sweet like a pornstar b—h/ She’ll steal your interest/ Make a whole profit,” he croons in a voice that’s caught somewhere between a breathless whisper and raspy chant.

Sevana, “Keep Going (Chosen)”

Fresh off her feature film debut in Bob Marley: One Love, Jamaican singer-songwriter Sevana is back with a brand new single. Titled “Keep Going,” a sultry slice of meditative reggae, the new track finds her crooning, “God know mi special, mi naw fi listen/ Know that I’m a king/ In this wicked jungle and that’s why I sing/ Blessed to be so gifted, so mi caan waste it.” A reminder of your purpose, greatness and claim to a life well-lived is always a welcome reminder, and Sevana delivers one by way of a vocal performance that exudes the warmth and sternness of a beloved mentor.

Romain Virgo, “Red Dress”

For the midpoint of his The Gentle Man album — which arrived on March 1 — Romain Virgo delivers the thesis of his latest record. On “Red Dress,” Virgo effortlessly morphs into a bachelor, albeit a tasteful one that prioritizes mature, if not wistful, seduction over straightforward sleaze. He employs a strikingly reflective tone as he sings, “Please wear that red dress again/ Take me back to the beginning/ Love to watch you in it/ And I′ll cherish every minute.” The entire album is an exploration of what it means to reflect on different stages of your life, and “Red Dress” presents a Virgo who is ready to be an example of the premiere “gentle man” for the next generation.

Stalk Ashley & Skillibeng, “Really Like U”

Cash Cobain and Bay Swag’s “Fisherrr” may be signaling a shift in the dominant sound of New York’s music scene, but that doesn’t mean drill is completely out the door. On “Really Like You,” a low-key sexed-up duet between Jamaican singer and internet personality Stalk Ashley and Skillibeng, the skittering snares of New York drill provide an urgent energy to the bare-bones dancehall beat. “One life weh me know bout/ So mi a do whatever I want/ F–k whoever I want, yeah/ And mi really like you baby,” she croons. The song is pretty much as far away from dancehall as you can get, but it is a winning showcase of the versatility of both drill motifs and the artists involved.

Shaneil Muir, “Protected”

Jamaican singer Shaneil Muir places her focus on the Most High with her new “Protected” single. Soundtracked by raw acoustic guitar, plaintive piano keys and tender finger-snaps, she croons, “Yow damage, mi pray for miself/ Stop worry bout people and mi better miself.” Shaneil’s vocal performance on the song’s verses is the best part of the song, she expertly manipulates her tone to exude the alluring, comforting energy of a storybook reciter. A solemn reprieve from the high-octane tunes of Carnival season, “Protected” finds Shaneil surrendering herself to Jah and trusting that he will stand alongside and behind her as she fights the various battles life sends her way.

D-Major, “Alpha and Omega”

On his new Morning Prayer EP, Jamaican singer D-Major is in his praise and worship bag. Consisting of six tracks, the project is quite succinct, but standout track “Alpha and Omega” dramatically boosts the EP’s replay value. “With God as your firm foundation, foundation of our lives now/ If you’re in a bad situation, he’ll provide a way for you to get out,” he proclaims over the highly percussive, calypso-inflected production. With a soaring vocal performance that finds assistance with rousing choir-esque background harmonies, “Alpha and Omega” is a delightful slice of gospel-reggae.

Khalia, “Taboo”

Effortlessly exuding the sensuality of smooth reggae bass, Khalia’s seductive, siren-esque tone lifts “Taboo” to towering heights. “Selective with my time, my dear/ But I give to you/ The sweetest love from January/ Straight back to June,” she croons. Almost Tyla-esque in the way that she forgoes expletives and still finds a way to express the sultry come-hither bent of her lyrics, Khalia makes quite the impression on “Taboo.” Especially when she lifts her voice into a few belts over the song’s final chorus. Unfussy both lyrically and production-wise, Khalia’s “Taboo” understands that, sometimes, simplicity truly is key.

Upsetta, Loud City & Popcaan, “Devil Works (Never Work)”

For his take on Upsetta and Loud City’s new “Devil Works” riddim, Popcaan rides the buoyant beat with a proclamation that he’s “nuh ‘fraid of nuh devil works.” His cadence here is a bit brighter than the ones he cycled through on last year’s Best Mood mixtape, but it’s the perfect complement to a song that doesn’t exactly try to hide its sanctified roots. Upsetta and Loud City’s riddim infuses electronic elements into their dancehall bass, but those pounding drums and sparkling synths ensure a sense of levity to go with Popcaan’s heady declarations.

Kabaka Pyramid, Sean Paul & Jemere Morgan, “Energy (Remix)”

Kabaka Pyrmaid’s Grammy-winning The Kalling LP may have dropped in 2022, but the renowned reggae star is still working the record. Produced by Damian “Jr Gong” Marley, this new Sean Paul-assisted “Energy” remix is set to appear on the forthcoming deluxe edition of The Kalling. Already a funky track bursting with dynamism — from the rollicking guitar riffs to Kabaka’s playful vocal delivery — Sean Paul injects some fiery dancehall flavor with his new verse. “Busy with my own focus mi deh on the grind/ Gotta get my own, gotta set my home in tact/ Can’t waste time cause you will never get that back/ Haffi reach fa di bag, so I get that stack,” he spits. The word “energy” can feel particularly banal nowadays, but this track couldn’t have been titled anything else — it’s literally vibrating with an unbreakable approach to all life has to offer.

The post “Reggae/Dancehall Fresh Picks of the Month: Sevana, Skillibeng, KES, Romain Virgo, Popcaan & More” by Kyle-Brandon Denis was published on 04/05/2024 by