Nobody knew the summer of 2020 was going to feel like this. At this point, most of us have been in some form of lockdown for months because of a deadly virus. Many of us have lost loved ones and endured economic hardship — not to mention the rising tensions and nationwide protests over police brutality, racial injustice and politicians playing games with people’s lives. As the world tries to reopen, who really knows what to expect? One thing’s for sure: Whatever we once considered “normal” is pretty much out the window for the foreseeable future.
But some things haven’t changed. Summer is still hot and we all want to get outside and feel the sun on our skin. (Just make sure you bring your mask and stay 6 feet apart!) The season is going to be a true test of our spirit, and we could all use some musical energy to help us rise to the occasion. Even if we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, these songs will get us through the night and maybe even teach us some realness along the way. After enduring so many emotions and so much pain on a global scale, we should have the strength to overcome — or at least “Overstand.”
To call Buju’s album Upside Down 2020 “highly anticipated” would be an understatement. It’s been 10 years since the dancehall/reggae superstar released any new music, and his last project, Before the Dawn, won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2011. The new album consists of 20 songs that cover a wide range of sounds and feelings. “I am speaking to my global fans,” the artist says, adding that the tracks reflect his clear-eyed “2020 vision” — 10 songs to make up for the 10 years he was not able to connect with his fans, and 10 to take him into the future, with a few handpicked collaborations. John Legend appears on “Memories,” while Pharrell Williams produces and sings on “Cherry Pie.” Tory Lanez appears on a remix of the hit single “Trust,” and Buju links up with U.K. artist Stefflon Don on the sexy track “Call Me.”
Perhaps the most powerful collaboration on the album is “Yes Mi Friend” featuring Stephen Marley. Revisiting a classic Bob Marley song (“Duppy Conqueror”), the two comrades share an emotional moment as they recall the trials and tribulations of Buju’s incarceration and celebrate his return home. It’s uncanny to think that this new tune arrives 50 years after Bob Marley sang a similar message to mark Bunny Wailer’s release from jail after he spent 18 months locked up on ganja charges.
I first heard the song when Stephen and Buju debuted it live on the 2019 Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise. “It was very emotional,” Stephen told me after the performance. “I had to compose myself” — to which Buju replied in jest, “Well, I’m glad he said that, ’cause he tried to say that it’s I who shed a tear.” The performance created an emotional wave through the audience, an undeniable human connection that made several onlookers cry with joy. Buju told me the feeling was beyond words. “Sometimes we don’t even need words,” he said. “Cause it’s not good to explain everything with words. Cause there is no word!” Better sometimes to say nothing at all, except maybe to give thanks for one’s blessings.
Speaking of which, there is one more notable collaboration on Upside Down 2020: the reunion of Buju and Dave Kelly. The dancehall mastermind produced two of the hardest singles on the project, “Trust” and “Blessed.” Kelly is also the man responsible for many of Buju’s signature hits over the years — including much of his landmark album Mr. Mention — as well as a flood of Jamaican street anthems, among them Bounty Killer’s “Look,” Cham’s “Ghetto Story” and Beenie Man’s “Dude,” to name a few. “Tell them we blessed, tell them we blessed, tell them we blessed,” Buju belts over Kelly’s hard-hitting digital riddim. “God light ah shine on we in our quest.”
“Do You Want to Be That Guy”
That Beenie Man vs. Bounty Killer turned out to be one of the biggest Verzuz battles to date should come as no surprise. The vibe and authenticity that created dancehall culture are the very things that make people so infatuated with the sound from the small Caribbean island. The realness at dancehall’s core is something nobody can bottle up and sell, but with the release of Beenie Man’s latest single, “Do You Want to Be That Guy,” the King of the Dancehall is making sure he’s one of those guys who benefits from the more than 1 billion social-media impressions that resulted from his epic competition with the Warlord.
It’s only right that Beenie should make the most of his cultural moment. After all, he was the one who saved the battle when police turned up to try and shut down the IG Live event. If you’ve ever attended a Jamaican dance, you know that police harassment is a pretty common occurrence. There could have been any number of reasons why the Jamaica Constabulary Force showed up to this particular session — press reports suggest they were enforcing Jamaica’s strict social-distancing requirements — but when dancehall culture is being livestreamed around the globe, stopping the show would be more than a bummer.
“People, the police are here,” Beenie explained to the audience in a moment of high drama — a very real moment that could have swung in a number of directions. However, Beenie took control of the situation, backing down the Babylon system with a simple question: “We have half a million people watching right now — do you really wanna be that guy?” The cops retreated, the event continued in peace — after Beenie and Bounty let off some major steam spitting lyrics over the Showtime riddim — and the next day social media was flooded with memes celebrating Beenie’s immortal phrase, “Do you wanna be that guy?”
Stylo G x Busy Signal x Ajji
“Live for the Summer”
Three wicked lyricists take turns flossing as hard as possible. Stylo and Busy are better known than Ajji, a.k.a. Ajrenalin, who goes extra hard with his flows and slick talk just to stand tall next to these giants. “Yo Stylo, don’t know why they make we link up on one track,” Ajji asks, just before the three proceed to tear up this shiny new riddim.
This just-out release from New League Music sounds like a strong contender for song of the summer, especially since it celebrates the fun stuff we’d all like to be doing if 2020 wasn’t such a nightmare. “Live for the summer,” Stylo spits on one of those catchy hooks he’s so good at creating. “Benz man a drive for the summer, whoa!”
Vybz Kartel feat. Danii Boo
“Dons & Divas”
Despite being incarcerated for almost nine years now, Vybz Kartel remains one of the biggest forces in the streets of Jamaica. His music has continued to dominate the dancehall scene, and as Buju said in a recent interview, “Kartel still a run the place.” June 26 marks the release of Kartel’s new album, Of Dons & Divas, which finds the Worlboss collaborating with some of the hottest up-and-coming acts in dancehall — both male and female, as the title suggests.