Mixpak Records had a ferocious year in 2016, releasing albums by underground stunners likes Palmistry and Jubilee, and snatching the crown at Red Bull's prestigious Culture Clash. Label manager Suze Webb, also known as The Large, was there every step of the way. In addition to her crucial behind-the-scenes role at Mixpak, she's one of New York's finest selectors and foremost experts on dancehall. Below, she offers her take on all the wild and wonderful music the genre had to offer this past year. In addition, you can check out a special Spotify playlist she made just for us below—nothing but heat, as usual.
2016 was without a doubt a great year for dancehall: crossover smashes, on-island street winners, compelling songs from young artists on the come-up, international co-signs, hilarious one-hit wonders, sex-positive slow jams and, as always, a can-you-keep-up quantity of singles from mainstay artists.
Songs about dancing often reign supreme in Jamaica, and this year was no exception: Konshens' "Bruk Off Mi Back" tied for the year's biggest hit, alongside Vybz Kartel's "Fever." With no signs of slowing down from behind bars, Kartel continued to deliver some of the most inventive lyrics ("Fever" has part of its chorus sung in a dialect called Jamaican Gypsy), melodies that could test any pop writer, interesting collabs and even released an impressive full album with longtime collaborator TJ Records.
His protege Popcaan stayed on the rise to international superstardom, with "Ova Dweet" coming in as one of the year's biggest songs, as well as cricket anthem "World Cup", "Wicked Man Ting", and the more downbeat "Nah Idle." Spice had a strong year, with hit singles "Indicator", "Sight & Wine" and "Siddung." And, of course, she told Wiz Khalifa to "eat [her] pum pum" live on the BBC at the Red Bull Culture Clash.
The biggest artist to emerge from Jamaica in the last few years, Alkaline, had his best year yet, with consistent hits, great videos, rabid fans, and a good "Formula." For years he has been referring to 2016 in his lyrics, perhaps as a preview of his New Level Unlocked album that dropped this year; whatever the case was, his prophecy came true—this year was a defining moment for him.
In the wider music world, the ripples from mainstream stars dabbling in the genre (think Kanye West, Jamie XX, Major Lazer) turned dancehall's dialogue with pop culture into a full-blown conversation this year. As Marvin Sparks details in his great piece for FACT, the Caribbean sound dominated the charts; from Sia to MIA, Drake to Tory Lanez, Fifth Harmony to PND, dancehall and dembow were the winning flavors.
Here's a list of some of the best things from this year, plus a deeper Spotify playlist of 2016 hits, including some soca and afropop.
1. Most Important Questions
2. Best Songs About Teaching
3. Best Throwback
4. Best part of Vybz Kartel's "Fever" video
5. Most Uplifting
6. Best Song that Takes Place on a Bus
7. Best Lee "Scratch" Perry Dedications to Lindor Chocolate
8. Best Lee Perry Dedications to Other Things
9. Best Life Advice
Popcorn - "Ova Dweet"
10. Best Song on the Toll Road Riddim About Cutting People Out
11. Best Song About Cricket
12. Best Busy Signal Cover 2016
13. Top item from Vybz Kartel's Gaza Clothing Line
14. Top Things Popcaan Feels About Money
15. Best Songs About Bumpas
16. Top Faces Elephant Man Made While Lifting Women
17. Best Synths
18. Wotless Prize 2016
19. Best Money Lover Songs
20. Best Riddims (in no order)
Cure Pain (prod. Good Good)
47th Floor (Seanizzle)
Club Life (Leemilla)
The Champ (CR203)
Toll Road (Chimney)
Wicked Wicked (Young Vibez)
Crown Love (Head Concussion)
Pile Up (Yellow Moon)
All Inclusive (DJ Frass)
21. Best Dancehall Firefighting
22. Best Piano Intro Since "Hold Yuh"
23. Best Catchphrase
24. Best Use of Pan Pipe Sounds
25. Best New Levels
Alkaline - New Level Unlocked LP
26. Best Artwork
27. Best Singalong
28. Best video
29. Best Song to Dedicate to Trump
30. Best Dab
31. Best Song to Cry to
32. Best videos in which Alkaline wears a tan coat