Jamaica, with a population of just over 2.9 million people, is a juggernaut in various capacities. Including the island’s most popular export, reggae. The island which is roughly the size of Houston, Texas has a major influence in the world of music, culture, fashion, and sports. This is why we have decided to dedicate this article to the best reggae songs of all time.
Most people associate Reggae with Jamaica’s most famous export, Bob Marley. Bob Marley introduced the world to reggae. But there are several other important artists that contributed to reggae and its appeal to the world. Including sub genres such as “Reggae-dancehall”.
Lastly, in this article, we will explore some of the best reggae songs ever made. Including best classic reggae songs, best reggae-dancehall songs, best female reggae songs, best reggae-drum & bass songs, among other categories. In addition to the best reggae songs of yesteryear to current songs.
Toots and the Maytals, originally called The Maytals, were a Jamaican musical group and one of the best-known ska and rocksteady vocal groups.
Ska and rocksteady were the earlier genres that later became reggae. The Maytals were formed in the early 1960s and were key figures in popularizing reggae music. In addition, frontman Toots Hibbert is considered a reggae pioneer on a par with Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff.
Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals was recorded in 1969 and released in 1970. Moreover, the song was a big hit for Toots And The Maytals.
Furthermore, Pressure Drop was also featured on the soundtrack to the film “The Harder They Come” which starred Reggae icon, Jimmy Cliff. The film also brought reggae music to the world. As a result of the film, Pressure Drop was introduced to an even wider audience.
With Toot’s major contribution to the world of reggae music, Pressure Drop isn’t only one of the best classic reggae songs but one of the best reggae songs of all time.
American singer-songwriter, Johnny Nash was a fan of reggae music. He worked with and became friends with a lot of reggae artists from Jamaica.
His hit reggae song, “I Can See Clearly Now” was released in 1972. The song reached number one on the Billboard Charts in The United States and was also certified gold. The groundbreaking song also achieved success in the UK and it reached number one in Canada and South Africa.
I Can See Clearly Now also had a major role in popularizing reggae into the mainstream. The positive and feel good up-tempo song is often covered by other artists. In 1993, Jamaican singer-songwriter Jimmy Cliff re-recorded the song for the motion picture, Cool Runnings.
With his major influence on promoting reggae music to the mainstream, it is without a doubt that Nash’s song “I Can See Clearly Now” is one of the best reggae songs of all time.
You can’t talk about reggae and not talk about the legendary Bob Marley. With so many hits, it was difficult to choose just one song.
The BBC named One Love “The Song Of The Century”. It was originally recorded in the ska style by Marley’s original group, The Wailers in 1965. But was later re-released as a single, and re-recorded several times.
One Love contains an interpolation of Curtis Mayfield’s and his group, The Impression “People Get Ready”. People Get Ready was written by Curtis Mayfield. But Mayfield wasn’t credited because copyright law in Jamaica wasn’t enforced in Jamaican recordings at the time.
However, the famous version of the song which was re-recorded for Island Records was retitled as “One Love/People Get Ready”. Which also credited both Bob Marley and Curtis Mayfield.
One Love has been a featured song for the Jamaica Tourist Board advertisement for television since 1994. The song has also been featured in the movie Marley and Me. It was part of the inspiration to name the dog in the film, Marley. This was after the character in the film heard the song on the radio and decided to name the dog Marley.
Lastly, One Love is an anthem worldwide. A song that is still utilized as a symbol of the human race coming together as one. Without a doubt, “One Love” is one of the best reggae classic songs ever.
After his ongoing victimization by the Jamaican police, reggae superstar and former member of the Wailers was inspired to write “Legalize It”.
With a conservative Jamaican government and their policies against marijuana, Tosh’s response was to “legalize it”. Legalize It was also the title name of his album at the time. The album was also his debut album as a solo artist after he left the Wailers.
The song was also a political statement to push marijuana for medical use. Ironic, but smoking ganja as a herb which is considered a sacrament by Rastafarians, isn’t legal in Jamaica.
Legalize It was banned when it was first released in Jamaica in 1975. But the attempts to suppress the song failed and as a result, catapulted Tosh into an international superstar.
The song being a symbol of legalizing marijuana is without a doubt one of the best reggae songs of all time. Moreover, with strength from the song “Legalize It” and the debut album, it smoked its way to the Billboard 200 album chart, where it peaked at no 199 for two weeks.
Reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff wrote his hit song Many Rivers To Cross at age 21 in 1969. A few years later it was also re-released in 1972 on the soundtrack of film The Harder They Come.
The song became an international hit after the release of the film. Cliff stated that he wrote the song due to his ongoing struggles to make it as an artist after he arrived from Jamaica to the UK.
He came to the land of promise but saw that his hope and dreams were fading away. Many Rivers To Cross was originally a last minute filler for his 1969 album, Jimmy Cliff.
According to Cliff, after wrapping up a session with the musicians for the day, he decided to ask the musicians their opinion on his new song. He initially doubted the song because it was more of a ballad. He didn’t feel that it would work with the album.
The scorching gospel-tinged song which featured organs has become one of the most popular reggae songs of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it no. 325 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Moreover, Many Rivers To Cross is also featured in the 2013 film Rush. In addition to the TV shows Daredevil, Wilfred, and Falling Skies.
This song isn’t just a classic reggae song. But one of the best reggae songs of all time!
Bam Bam is arguably the best reggae drum and bass song. As reggae entered the dancehall phase of utilizing mostly electronic instruments, several well-known rhythm patterns were created.
These “rhythm” patterns were called “riddim” in Jamaica. One of the most well-known riddims was called the Stalag riddim or better known as Stalag 17 riddim. In addition, the Stalag riddim was named after the 1953 movie, Stalag 17. Jamaican recording artist Sister Nancy’s lyrics for Bam Bam were recorded on the infectious Stalag riddim.
The Bam Bam terminology was introduced to the music scene by reggae star Toots of Toots and The Maytals. A simple yet hypnotic riddim with the main components of a groove-driven by the drums and bass.
The infectious beat along with the youthful slang and energy of sister Nancy became quite popular outside Jamaica. Moreover, Bam Bam was more popular with hip-hop stars such as Kanye West. Who sampled the song for his 2016 “Famous”.
Slowdown has got to be the best reggae love song. It is a cool infectious song by Skip Marley featuring American singer H.E.R. With several fans and media agreeing that the two artists had a lot of chemistry in their hit song and music video, we can see why this was a big hit in 2020.
Slow Down with over 90 million streams and counting, became the quickest and biggest streaming song in the Marley family music history. Having over 200 million global streams, the song reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Adult R&B chart.
This was the first time a Jamaican-born artist reached the number one spot on the R&B chart. Including the first Jamaican born artist in the Top 15 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay in nearly a decade.
The feel-good Reggae/R&B mashup was also nominated for Best Reggae Album and Best R&B song for the 2021 Grammy Awards. Including the Soul Train Music Award for Best Collaboration and the Soul Train Music Award for Video of the Year.
The song which was well produced with organic yet sophisticated quality is a template for current and future artists looking to elevate reggae music. Like an actor, I’m stepping outside my 4th wall to say this song is indeed one of the best Reggae-R&B fusions I have heard in a very long time. Slow Down is also one of the best reggae love songs of all time.
Switch Up by Jamaican recording artist Protoge features Koffee, the 20-year-old Grammy Award-winning artist who is also from Jamaica. It is one of the best feel-good reggae songs ever!
The feel-good track has a youthful back and forth energy between Protoje and Koffee. The switching up of lyrics between the two talented artists is a cross between semi rapping and reggae-dancehall vibes.
A genre-infused song that is exciting, while still holding true to the sounds of Jamaica. I feel a song like “Switch It Up” is a good direction for the new generation. As well as an exciting glimpse of the great music that is evolving out of Jamaica. The energy and vibe of a song such as Switch Up exemplifies that the music is eventually in good hands.
In the middle of 2020, Protoje inked an unprecedented deal with RCA Records and Six Course for his label and artist management company “In.Digg.Nation Collective”.
Blessed by Buju Banton has the kind of beat and vibe that makes you move. It tells the tale of oppressed people who are not being slaves to what the larger society tells them. They are blessed.
The positive and bombastic song is an urgent and passionate reminder of instilling hope in the minds of downtrodden people. The music video amplifies the message further with a dedication to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The feel-good reggae song resonates in the hearts and minds of many as a reminder of hope in a time of hopelessness. We need more of these songs in our current environment.
After a long hiatus, Buju Banton is a much-needed breath of fresh air to jump-start a faded reggae scene. There are several remixes of Blessed, including a remix featuring American rappers, Fabolous & Jadakiss.
Buju was Jamaica’s most popular star before his hiatus and he is still the most popular today. With his head close to the people, he is a great ambassador to usher Reggae back to the world.
Finally, Buju Banton’s album Upside Down is also blessed with a Best Reggae Album nomination at the 2021 Grammy Awards. Without a doubt, Blessed is one of the best reggae songs to dance to!
Jamaican reggae artist Chronixx’s “Cool As The Breeze/Friday” is another much needed breath of fresh air. It is indeed a song that is cool as a breeze.
The song is a dedication to life in Kingston, Jamaica. According to Chronixx “This tune is about everyday people of the world. But really a song about us in a Jamaican life that we live”.
The song has a hip-hop inspired beat that entails a light and airy vibe that will have you swaying. The music videos with special effect elements take the cool fun track about life in Kingston Jamaica to the next level. Chronixx sitting on a floating sofa in the middle of the Kingston streets is truly iconic.
Pressure by Koffee is the best female reggae song – no doubt. This young Jamaican reggae sensation was the youngest person at age 19 to win the Best Reggae Album at the Grammys for her 2019 EP Rapture.
In her song Pressure, Koffee and Buju trade and weave tales of standing up and surviving under the pressure of oppression. This song is another creative effort that was also inspired by the Black Lives Movement. As well as a lot of the unequal treatment of black people in the USA. Including other oppressed people worldwide.
Another great feel good song that is much needed in our current social environment!
Now it’s time for the best reggae dancehall song. “Welcome to Jamrock” is a song by Jamaican reggae artist Damian Marley. Furthermore, the song was released in March 2005 as the lead single from his album of the same name.
The song covers a wide range of issues in Jamaica. Including poverty, crime, and political corruption which is the harsh reality of Jamrock. With the demands of the stoppage in crime and corruption, his lyrics mirror his father Bob Marley’s legacy of inspiring the oppressed people to stand and fight together.
The riddim, known as “World Jam”, along with the hook was taken from Jamaican reggae artist Ini Kamoze’s 1984 song “World A Music”. Welcome To Jamrock was listed at number 270 on Pitchfork Media’s “Top 500 songs of the 2000s”.
The song charted on the US Hot 100 at number 55 and U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at number 18. Including U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Tracks at number 12.
Welcome to Jamrock has been featured in multiple media forms. Including FIFA 06, Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition Remix and The Sims 2: Bon Voyage. Where it is recorded in the game’s fictional Simlish language.
Finally, the best 90’s reggae song. While Damian Marley’s music video for “Welcome To JamRock” introduced the more harsh side of Jamaica, Shabba’s music video for his song Mr Loverman introduced the most beautiful parts.
Mr Loverman by Shabba Ranks was a very popular song in the early 90s. Released in 1993, the infectious sensual R&B-Dancehall hit with a shuffling groove is a great song to chill or vibe to on the dance floor!
Shabba’s easy-going yet ruffled voice alongside Jamaican singer, Chevelle Franklyn, included sultry female backing vocals.
Mr Loverman was a major hit with hip-hop fans. Including a major hit in numerous countries. Furthermore, the song was number 40 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 2 on both the Billboard Dance Singles and US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Including the top 20 in France, Germany, and Ireland.
Consisting of a high sing-along factor, the massive hit song from the 90s charted high in many other countries. In addition, Mr Loverman was also used briefly in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, in addition to several other shows.
Reggae music and music in general, can be quite diverse. Therefore it wouldn’t be fair to put music in one box. But, without a doubt, there is still a common denominator that connects music to the reggae banner.
Reggae music has lost the worldwide lustre it had in the early 90s, especially in the USA. Shabba Ranks, Supercat, Bounty Killa, Beanie Man and a few others had a natural crossover appeal to the masses. There were quite a few other artists that came after but over the last decade that special essence in the music and artist was missing. But things seem to be hopeful.
Finally, the more recent or younger artists such as Protoge, Chronixx, Skip Marley and Koffee, including the return of Buju Banton and a few others are also signs of hope.
That was our list of the best reggae songs ever made! Let us know if we mentioned your favourite or if we missed one in the comment section below! We would love to hear your thoughts!
A very good mix of old and new school reggae. I have glimpsed some of the new stuff on here in the past, but I have never really take the time to listen to them. Koffee, Proteje, and Skip are really putting a much needed twist on reggae. Well written article and the brief story the artists and songs were fund to read white at the same time, informative.
Thanks for commenting! Glad to hear you enjoyed this article 🙂