The year 2023 was a variegated scrapbook of beautiful, bittersweet and bad news emanating from Jamaica’s music culture, and DancehallMag captured it all.
Some of the shining moments included Shenseea and Beenie Man both earning their first Gold Certifications in the US. On another good note, the year also saw veteran acts standing up for their creations, as was the case for dancehall producers Steely and Clevie, who sought reparations from reggaeton hitmakers for exploiting their 1989 Fish Market riddim which grounds the genre. Max Romeo also filed a US$15 million lawsuit against Universal Music over years of alleged unpaid royalties.
In grimmer legal matters, dancehall artist Mad Cobra is facing 30 years in prison after being released on a US$125,000 bond following drug and gun possession charges in The States. Meanwhile, trap dancehaller Squash was detained for a few months by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Florida.
Queen Ifrica was also in the news a lot, notably being sued by her father, ska veteran Derrick Morgan, over her sexual abuse claims. In bittersweet news, the former revealed her split from singer Tony Rebel after 23 years.
Speaking of separations, singjay Blak Ryno said he would have chosen college over joining Vybz Kartel’s camp due to the unpleasant experiences he faced after leaving. The year also saw the transitions of music greats like former Inner Circle lead singer Calton Coffie, who transitioned in May.
Here are our top 10 most-read stories of 2023.
10. Vybz Kartel Has Life-Threatening Graves’ Disease And Two Heart Conditions, Lawyer Says
In May, Vybz’s Kartel’s lawyer Isat Buchanan revealed that the deejay was suffering from Graves’ disease, which, coupled with two heart conditions, is “life-threatening”. The autoimmune disorder causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland, which can become fatal if untreated.
The 47-year-old was under a daily 23-hour lockdown over an alleged cellphone infraction, which Buchanan said exacerbated his state.
“We do not want to get a phone call to say because he was under this 24, this 23-hour lockdown and unable to breathe, that he succumbed to his illness,” he told FOX5 New York. “He is in a cell, and if you can picture a brick oven – because that’s how those cells are built – the ventilation is next to none.”
The ‘Worl Boss’ has had multiple health scares since being incarcerated for the murder of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams in 2011. He was convicted and handed down a life sentence in 2014, and is appealing the ruling before England’s Privy Council, Jamaica’s final court.
9. Horace Andy Slams Late Producer, Trojan Records For “40 Years Of Unpaid Royalties”
Veteran singer Horace Andy has had an integrity bone to pick with late producer Edward ‘Bunny Striker’ Lee and Trojan Records, and he aired it again during the JaRIA Awards in April. While accepting the Icon Award, the Skylarking artist reflected on his career, saluting producer Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd and berating Lee for alleged unpaid royalties.
“Mr. Dodd, although dem seh him is not di best, him is di best because him pay wi, fi real,” Andy said. “Bunny Lee a di wickedest; him an’ Trojan. Him an’ Trojan dem, dem don’t pay wi fi 40 years. Forty years I don’t get nuttn in dis business!”
It was a bit of déjà vu as Andy had shared similar thoughts about Lee with The Guardian a year prior. Now owned by BMG, Trojan Records confirmed that they had a deal with Lee which has since expired, seeing all rights returned to the producer who died in 2020. The label also said contact would be made with Andy to “clarify these issues.”
8. Inseparable: The Late Gregory Isaacs And His Wife, June
Fans never get tired of hearing reggae’s ‘Cool Ruler’ Gregory Isaacs and June’s love story. This time, she recalled when they were arrested for illegal possession of firearms in 1983, the year they got married.
“We were badly beaten…” she recalled in April. “They found 2 firearms in our house. We were in jail for awhile at the HWT lock up…no bail… Gregory took the rap – he pled guilty. I was freed and he paid a fine.”
June loved that he was “one, sweet, caring, intelligent guy”, but admitted it wasn’t love at first sight for her. With much persistence and his debonair ways, she opened her heart.
The singer’s battle with substance abuse would take its toll on their marriage, and they separated seven years before he died in 2010 from lung cancer.
June has helped to maintain his legacy through the annual Red Rose for Gregory concert.
7. Spice: “I Never Said I Was Pregnant”
Queen of publicity stunts Spice shut down murmur that she was pregnant with the release of her real-life inspired tune God A Bless. Speculation that she was expecting spread in March when she shared a photoshoot with a pronounced belly. In an Instagram Live Q&A, Spice said the post was symbolic of new life, considering her major health scare in 2022.
“I am honoured to be given a second chance at life,” she said. “Fast forward to the photo I posted where I appeared pregnant, I never said I was. I said God has been good to me and that photo is just me celebrating my second chance at life.”
Spice apologised if her stunt offended anyone.
“I know there are people who can’t have kids, have had miscarriages. It [the photo] was just done to celebrate my new life.”
Spice had previously sparked skin-bleaching rumours after posting a light-skinned photo of herself in 2018. She later revealed it was a ploy to highlight colorism.
6. Jermaine Edwards Signs Deal With Sony Music UK
Gospel singer Jermaine Edwards welcomed 2023 with a licensing deal with Sony Music UK. The opportunity came with the revitalized success of his 2014 hit Beautiful Day, made viral in January by youngster Rushawn Ewears. The latter was 10 when his teacher recorded him singing the song at Top Hill Primary School in St. Elizabeth, before it went viral six years later.
His cover attracted millions of likes and views across social media, paving the way for him to re-record the song with Edwards and musician Prinz.
“So many different labels, so many different persons calling all over the world trying to get license to do remixes for the song,” Edwards told DancehallMag. “After meeting with many different persons, we decided to go with Sony. They were the best persons on the tab, so, that’s how this deal came about.”
The agreement sees the singer and Ewears owning the masters of the song, with Sony only licensing the song for bigger opportunities.
5. Jamaicans Have Mixed Reactions To Koffee’s Performance In Sam Smith’s ‘Gimme’ Video
The ongoing interest in Koffee’s sexuality pervaded in January with the release of Sam Smith’s music video for Gimmie, a sex-positive track featuring the Toast singer and Jessie Reyez.
Jamaicans were split on Koffee’s representation in the visuals, which included her performing before gyrating women in an underground queer club.
Popstar Smith is non-binary, whereas Koffee has never addressed her sexuality.
Comments across social media saw people expressing disappointment in her involvement with the project as a “Rastafarian”, though she has never self-identified as such. Others opted for the age-old conspiracy that she “sold her soul”.
On the flipside were comments encouraging her musical freedom, and those acknowledging good music regardless of one’s sexual orientation.
The dancehall-flavoured track was also defended by its co-producer Anju Blaxx.
4. Vybz Kartel’s Privy Council Appeal: Application To Introduce “Fresh Evidence” Denied
Dancehall star Vybz Kartel‘s application to introduce “fresh evidence” in his long-running appeal was denied by the Privy Council in February.
In applications made in November 2020, Kartel’s defense sought to introduce evidence that his cellphone, which contained damning text and voice messages linking him to the murder, showed signs of tampering while in police custody.
“Having considered written submissions from the Appellants and the Respondent, we have agreed to report to Your Majesty as our opinion that permission to appeal to be refused in the application dated 20 November 2020,” a February report from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council noted.
The submission, which sought to “advance additional grounds of appeal” was also denied on the basis that “a serious miscarriage of justice” did not occur in his case.
3. Minister Marion Hall: “If You Have A Problem With My Blessed Body Talk To God About It”
It was Minister Marion’s Hall’s titties versus the internet in May, in another episode of netizens being critical of her fashion choices as a Christian. The Sorry to Hurt Your Feelings artist, widely known by her former alias, Lady Saw, paused one of her Sunday sermons to celebrate her topical bosom and God-blessed body.
“I have a blessed body,” she said. “It’s mine, so cuss me for it. I did nothing to it. I have no enhancement… It is mine… Look, it is mine.”
Between holding her tatas and slapping one butt cheek, the pastor did a freestyle declaring that “a fi mi dem; a my titty dem”. Pointing to the insatiable nature of man, she added that she will continue to adorn herself as she pleases.
“I am here to preach the word of God and if I try to dress up and look nice, oonu complain,” she argued. “If mi dress like a woman, oonu complain. What else must I do?”
She teased a track called Blessed Body, inspired by the hoopla, but it never saw the light of day.
2. Tenor Saw’s Death: Here’s What Actually Happened To The Dancehall Icon
Thirty-five years after his death, the circumstances surrounding Tenor Saw’s demise were finally made clear thanks to documents obtained by DancehallMag, which revealed a hit-and-run leading to the star’s passing.
The records – including a witness report and autopsy – showed that the Ring the Alarm singer was seen standing at the edge of a driveway at 10020 Mykawa Road in Texas on July 31 when he was struck by a car that fled the scene.
Given name Clive Bright, Saw was taken to the Ben Taub General Hospital where he underwent brain surgery and a leg amputation, but ultimately succumbed to his injuries two weeks later. The unidentified driver is at large, and it remains unknown if the hit was deliberate.
He received a county burial after attempts to locate his relatives proved futile, though his body was reportedly later cremated and ashes returned to Jamaica.
1. Ziggy Marley Accuses Local Luxury Villa of Discrimination
Our top-read story of 2023 centered around Bob Marley’s eldest son, Ziggy, being plunged into anti-discrimination advocacy after claiming he was denied access to a St. Ann-based luxury villa because he’s Jamaican.
The multi-Grammy winner had recently wrapped up filming the Paramount Studios biopic of his father when he sought to unwind at Sea Salt Villa in March. However, the Love Is My Religion singer claimed the owner would not rent his property to Jamaicans, an experience he told Irie FM and in comments on the story shared by DancehallMag.
However, a manager from the estate disputed the claims, adding that his mother Rita Marley recently stayed there. Sea Salt also explained that their sole strict policy is no outside visitors during rentals, adding that they would welcome Ziggy and his family once that was adhered to.
Ziggy doubled-down on his claim, responding, “I was more than willing to follow dem rules. It’s a disgrace how they think about Jamaicans as if we don’t have any class or respect. I found another place that was cool with a Jamaican renting their villa.”