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.
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.
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.)