Murda She Wrote: March 2020
As Women’s History Month comes to a wrap, what better way to kick off the new Murda She Wrote — a monthly reggae and dancehall column now available exclusively on TIDAL Read — than with a roundup of the hottest sounds by female artists? Twenty-twenty saw a “Toast” for the ladies early on, with Koffee winning the Grammy for Best Reggae Album. The first female artist ever to win that honor since it was introduced 35 years ago, Koffee made women’s history at age 19. As she says, it’s all about the “W”’s and letting go of the L’s. The Spanish Town singjay follows in the footsteps of many great women who paved the way in reggae and dancehall. But for now let’s check out some of the latest tracks in rotation.
Just this month the announcement arrived that Spice will be officially crowned the new Queen of the Dancehall this summer at Reggae Sumfest (pandemic permitting). The title has been a long time coming for the hard-working artist born Grace Hamilton, who’s well known for her fun, sexy stage performances and videos as well as an ongoing role on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. But as the saying goes, heavy is the head that wears the crown. “A lot of people is throwing the Queen of the Dancehall at me,” Spice told me a few years ago. The crown was long held by Lady Saw, who now performs gospel music as Minister Marion Hall. Since Saw’s retirement, Spice has emerged as the people’s choice for top female artist, which comes with a certain amount of envy and jealousy.
“I was born for this,” Spice said. I’ve watched her battle for her position in the dancehall, go to war with her record label and engage in lyrical war on the legendary stage show Sting, where infamous clashes such as Beenie Man vs. Bounty Killer and Vybz Kartel vs. Mavado took place. It’s pretty safe to say that Spice has earned her stripes in this business, and she is nothing if not a survivor.
Young Grace lost her father at age 9, and later came home from school to find her house destroyed by fire. With no worldly possessions besides her school uniform and the bookbag on her back, she promised herself there and then that she had to make it. Her family’s struggles forged her determination to succeed, inspiring the passion you hear in her music.
Fast forward to 2020 and Grace Hamilton is riding high, dropping hits on the regular — like her latest bedroom anthem “Rolling.” As for her naysayers, Spice dealt with them in a recent freestyle posted on her social media, which sums up why she doesn’t give a crap about who has what to say. “Wake up February 20, 2020/And a wonder how mi get so much hate an envy,” she spits. “The word queen mek dem form hate train/Dem set up campaign fi mi career abstain,” she adds. Dripped in Chanel, Spice sits on the “throne,” wiping her batty and sending haters swirling down the drain as she says, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Now that’s a royal flush!
B already told us who run the world. But who run di road? I know this girl, her name is HoodCelebrityy, and as her new single states, “she ah run di road.” The latest banger from the artist who achieved worldwide fame with “Walking Trophy” flips the ’90s dancehall selection “Murder She Wrote,” by Chaka Demus & Pliers, to a female perspective. Although she chats, “Mi face pretty and mi belly well flat,” it hasn’t always been pretty times for Tina Pinnock, who was born in Portmore, Jamaica, and moved to the Bronx at a tender age. “I miss those good old days in Jamaica,” she told me in 2018, when I produced a documentary short about her for Mass Appeal. “Growing up in America is very hard.” Money was tight for Tina’s family, and she had to find ways to support herself. “When you broke you mad about everything,” she recalled.
Still, she managed to thrive in the Bronx, studying music and dance and later landing a job at a clothing store on Fordham Road where she became well known for her style and personality — hence the name HoodCelebrityy. An early freestyle caught the ear of her longtime friend Cardi B, who gave her a boost on social media. Hood ran with the opportunity, signing with KSR productions, bagging a major-label deal and living her dreams. While most of her hits to date have featured a more contemporary sound, Hood’s latest track proves she’s equally adept at riding a classic dancehall riddim. As she puts it in the new song, “Any beat me go pon ah get murder.” Run it…
Exploding on the scene in 2017 with “Loodi,” a duet with Vybz Kartel, Shenseea has gone on to become a social-media star and a force within dancehall’s new wave, thanks to the loyal fans she refers to as “ShenYengs.” Her grind has paid off, and last year she signed with Interscope Records via Rvssian’s Rich Immigrants imprint, which has seen her collaborating with Tyga, Young Thug and Swae Lee. A proud single mom, she’s always been vague about her romantic partners and threw the dancehall world a curveball when she released the music video for her song “Blessed,” in which she wakes up in bed next to a girl. “What are you doing to me!!” she laughed when I asked her last year if she was dating a boy or a girl. At the time she insisted she wasn’t with anyone and was really just married to the music. On her new track, “The Sidechick Song,” Shenseea claims she is usually the main girl but seems OK playing second fiddle in her latest lover’s life. Could she be throwing another curveball? Very likely, but as always the artist knows how to keep her fans entertained.
A fresh face on the scene, Moyann is the latest to cover our Dancehall Rising playlist with her new track, “Bruk Pocket Man.” Produced by dancehall hitmaker DJ Frass, the song finds Moyann paired up with fellow Montego Bay act Teejay. “Big up to all the MoBay massive,” says Moyann, recognizing all the new talent spilling out of Jamaica’s second city, long known to tourists for its pristine beaches and luxurious resorts. The young female artist first reached out to DJ Frass via DM a couple of years ago. Since then she’s dropped a series of buzzy tracks and is definitely one to watch for. Known for his deep catalog with the original dancehall Star Bwoy, Mavado, DJ Frass laces the beat just right on “Bruk Pocket Man,” as his new artist bossily declares “waste man fi gwan.” Looks like Frass is on the verge of creating a Star Gyal.
The title track of Note to Self, Jah9’s mindful new album, delivers some timely food for thought during the struggles we are all facing with the current coronavirus pandemic. “I’m gonna be OK,” she sings, a mantra we can all use during these strange days. Jah9’s poetic compositions and distinctive messages of spiritual uplift have always advocated for cleaner living both mentally and physically. Over the years she’s been a big supporter for health and nutrition, with songs like “Avocado” (which some interpret as being more of a sexual song) and her breakout hit, “Steamers a Bubble.” When not in the studio or onstage, Jah9 teaches yoga and meditation. (Trust me — she can fold you like an envelope and roll you up like a spliff.)
I’m sure “Note to Self” was written before the viral frenzy hit home, but lucky for us it’s arrived just when we need it most. Her duet with Chronixx is sweet and calming, something to pick you up during those moments of lull while we wait for the world to get back on its feet. Check out Jah9 on Roots Revival.
Reshma B is a music journalist and filmmaker who specializes in reggae and dancehall. Her work appears on the BBC, Complex, Pigeons & Planes, Billboard and VIBE, and she is TIDAL’s reggae and dancehall curator.
Image of Spice at top by Spex Photography.