The 30 Most Essential Dancehall Tunes of the 2010s 🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲

December 31, 2019

Words by Sajae Elder, Gabriel Heatwave, Eddie STATS Houghton, Juss Kool, Kieran Meadows, Jesse Serwer and Marvin Sparks

Illustration by Robin Clare

The 2010s will be remembered as the decade when pop went dancehall. Whether it was Rihanna scoring the biggest hit of her career with her most undiluted homage to date, Drake’s mainstreaming of patois, or the dancehall-lite rhythms on massive pop hits by Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber and others, Jamaica’s influence on mainstream music and popular culture has perhaps never been as widespread as in these last few years.

This influence did not always translate to opportunity for the culture’s own artists. The decade began with the trial and conviction of Buju Banton and, a year later, the arrest of Vybz Kartel on murder charges, casting a pall over the genre as two of its giants served time. But, as Kartel himself pronounced, dancehall cyan stall. By mid-decade decade Popcaan had emerged as the new face of the genre, while Kartel himself put forth even more hits from behind bars. Artists, stylists and music video directors rediscovered the timeless aesthetics of ‘80s dancehall, pumping new life into the genre by absorbing the past.

As we head into the next decade, it is now women artists like Koffee and Shenseea who are leading dancehall to its future with hits that are sure to be playing for years to come.  Before we get there, let us take a look back at the decade’s biggest and most essential dancehall hits and bashment anthems.

30. Spice, “Jim Screechy”
Year: 2011
Producer: Equiknoxx Music

Spice’s appearance opposite Vybz Kartel on 2009’s “Romping Shop” proved she could hold her own next to dancehall’s reigning champ in terms of flow, raunchiness and pure sauce. 2011’s “Jim Screechy” proved she could channel that sexual energy and lyrical firepower into arrangements of cinematic complexity, building from a sotto voce opening that tiptoes into her adulterous subject matter only to explode into the soaring, full-throated hook. Add the unique appeal of the rhythm built by dancehall auteurs Equiknoxx, and you have all the makings of an ahead-of-its-time classic. – Eddie STATS Houghton

29. Busy Signal, “Stay So”
Year: 2017
Producer: Warriors Muzik

“Stay So” is the unlikeliest of dancehall hits, comprised of spare, atmospheric synths and a wandering, melancholy lyrical flow. Even such minimal rhythm as underpins the track is completely disrupted by the funereal drama of Busy’s immortal line, “One phone call it take fi make some boy wipe offa earth and drop dung flat.” The gunshot that follows seems to underscore the sea change of the 2010s: In an era when the basic patterns and cadences of dancehall have become ubiquitous worldwide, simply riding the rhythm is not enough. Rising to the top of the juggling requires the storytelling and lyrical pacing of a true master. Busy Signal is certainly that, as “Stay So” establishes beyond a reasonable doubt. – Eddie STATS Houghton

28. Ishawna, “Equal Rights”
Year: 2017
Producer: Ed Sheeran/Steve Mack

For all of dancehall’s freeing, sensual and often judgement-free energy, bowing has remained taboo subject matter, particularly when it comes to female artists expressing their desire for some head. Ishawna’s unabashedly straightforward lyrics on “Equal Rights” set social media and the culture at large ablaze, garnering pushback from DJs and even a diss track. Subject matter aside, it’s the song’s repurposing of Ed Sheeran’s massively successful dancehall-lite pop jam “Shape Of You” into unmitigated dancehall that was, arguably, its most impressive feature. Even the biggest critics of Ishawna’s lyrics had to play this one, marking a true turning point. – Sajae Elder

27. Ding Dong, “Fling (Yuh Shoulda)”
Year: 2017
Producer: Romeich Entertainment/Khalfani Records

This decade saw Ravers Clavers crew founder Ding Dong evolve from dancer and occasional hype MC into a full-blown dancehall artist, and one of the most successful at that. While his star was building steadily, with big tunes sprinkled across the years, his standout campaign has to be 2017, when he scored hits like “Fling (Yuh Shoulda),” “Dweet (Genna Bounce),” “Flairy” and “Lebeh Lebeh” (the latter coming on the riddim from Runtown’s afrobeats hit “Mad Over You.”) Each had an accompanying dance to help propel the tunes virally, but it was “Fling” that truly captured lightning in a bottle, with everyone from the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, to the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, getting in on the action. Reggae star Chronixx paid nightly tribute during his Chronology Tour, bussing the dance out onstage during performances of his own song “Likes” alongside percussionist Hector “Roots” Lewis. – Kieran Meadows

26. Mavado, “Settle Down” 
Year: 2011
Producer: JA Productions

Released in Summer 2011, Justus Arison of JA Productions’ massive Overproof riddim dominated dances across the first half of the decade. For selectors, juggling was made easy due to the many excellent songs voiced on it — there was Beenie Man’s summer anthem “Let’s Go,” Tifa’s “Dash Out” and Aidonia’s “Caribbean Girls” — as well as on JA’s extremely similar Master’s Blend riddim (see Konshens’ “Bad Gal”; “Come Over” by Sweden’s Million Stylez). Overproof might be one of the decade’s most frequently voiced riddims: New Zealand pop star Daniel Bedingfield even got into the mix with “Sometimes You Just Know.” Most impactful, however, was “Settle Down,” a song which helped Mavado complete his evolution from gangster for life to a radio-friendly gyal tune deejay, as the Gully Gaad and his love interest seem to agree that it’s her destiny to not only get next to him, but also settle down with him. The track’s pop sensibility, crossover vibe and general influence could be felt by the middle of the decade in a number of dancehall-influenced pop songs, and in the rise of afrobeats. – Kieran Meadows

25. Vybz Kartel feat. RVSSIAN, “Straight Jeans and Fitted” 
Year: 2010
Producer: RVSSIAN

Few partnerships in dancehall have been more fruitful than the one forged between Vybz Kartel and producer Tarik “RVSSIAN” Johnston. For RVSSIAN, his early hits with Kartel — delivered at the peak of Kartel’s run with Portmore Empire/Gaza, when he still Russian with a ‘u’— gave him a springboard into reggaeton and Latin trap, genres he’s helped reshape with hits like Farruko’s “Passion Whine” and Bad Bunny’s “Krippy Kush.” In RVSSIAN, Kartel found a producer whose ambitions matched his own relentless drive. Already riding high on the shared success of 2009’s Go Go Club riddim (which produced hits for Kartel and an array of Gaza affiliates) the duo celebrated their unorthodox partnership and mutual fashion sense with “Straight Jeans and Fitted,” an anthem which highlighted the pair’s contrasting backgrounds (Kartel hails from Portmore’s Gaza ghetto, while RVSSIAN was raised in tony uptown Kingston). It was a track so big it even spawned one of the great dancehall parody tunes in “Fake Jeans Admit It” by “Trever Off-Key” aka Zip FM jock Bambino. – Jesse Serwer

24. Popcaan, “Only Man She Want” 
Year: 2011
Producer: Elvis “So Unique” Redwood/Johnny Wonder

There comes a time in the career of any prodigy where they must outshine their mentor to earn respect. For one-time Vybz Kartel pupil Popcaan, that moment came on 2011’s Lost Angel riddim, produced by So Unique. I can still remember my barber Tim creating a silence in the shop the first time he claimed Popcaan’s “Only Man She Want” was better than Kartel’s own “Love You Enuh.” Some would say Kartel might have been distracted by the events leading up to his 2011 murder arrest, which would go down not long after these tracks were recorded. Any way you look at it, this was a massive tune for Poppy, big enough to land his Billboard debut, and an early co-sign from Busta Rhymes. – Juss Kool

23. RDX, “Jump”
Year: 2012
Producer: Apt. 19 Music

Dancehall picked up its pace in the early 2010s, as producers pushed BPMs northward to match the tempo of soca, EDM and other uptempo sounds— and to encourage female dancers towards ever more vigorous, and athletic, winery. The zenith of this movement came from dance-minded duo RDX, whose frenetic, self-produced “Jump” was a logical progression from their late-aughts daggering anthems like “Bend Over.” The track’s exuberant, accordion intro, punctuated by Renigade’s ever-more expressive ad libs (“Gyal, gyaal, gyaal, gyaal, gyaaalll, GYALL, GYAALL, GYAAL!) build perfectly towards the coming crescendo, creating a heart-spiking payoff that lends itself as effectively to Zumba classes as it does to clubs and parties. – Jesse Serwer

22. Chronixx, “Likes”
Year: 2017
Producer: Jamar McNaughton

The decade’s breakout reggae star, Chronixx, has showed his versatility by effortlessly shifting between reggae and dancehall. As with his early forays into the genre, “Behind Curtain” and “Odd Ras,” the self-produced 2017 anthem “Likes” presented a positive, conscious twist to dancehall. A perfectly-timed commentary for the era of Instagram and social media hype, “Likes” found Chronixx professing to “do it for the love,” not the likes. And indeed, the song showed love to the culture, ending with an extended homage to reggae/dancehall icons. Fittingly, “Likes” went viral on social media: After he was seen doing the Fling Yuh Shoulda dance during performances of the song while on the Chronology Tour, Chronixx dropped an official dance video for “Likes” featuring the dance’s creator Kool Ravers, among other members of Ding Dong’s Ravers Clavers crew. As Chronixx told us at the time: “The people made ‘Likes’ one of the biggest songs and Fling Yuh Shoulda one of the biggest dances. They say dancehall can’t be clean, conscious and fun. We show them it can.” – Kieran Meadows

21. Kranium, “Nobody Has to Know”
Year: 2013
Producer: LMR Pro

While most dancehall hits begin their journey in Kingston, there’s a shadow tradition of New York-born classics which rise from the weekly parties and Caribbean radio stations in the city’s outer boroughs and into mainstream consciousness via Hot 97 mixshows. Such was the trajectory of “Nobody Has to Know,” which turned the previously unknown, Queens-based Kranium into the city’s first proper dancehall star in a generation. Kranium has gone on to an impressive career, releasing two albums and numerous stellar singles via major-label Atlantic Records. But “Nobody Has To Know” — an unrepentantly sleazy (and, in its non-radio form, very X-rated) celebration of infidelity — remains his signature tune. – Jesse Serwer

20. Popcaan, “Ravin”/Vybz Kartel, “Summertime”
Year: 2011
Producer: Adde Productions 

“Ravin” was the solo breakout hit of the decade’s future star, and, arguably, an even bigger anthem than Popcaan mentor Vybz Kartel’s “Summertime,” a massive hit in its own right on the same riddim. “Dream” and “Gangster City,” Popcaan’s first notable solo tracks, were gunfinger-raising anthems but “Ravin” crossed borders beyond hardcore fans, giving him the followup to “Clarks” he needed to establish himself as a solo threat. Swedish producer Adde’s airy, synth-heavy production also became a roadmap for the decade. After Kartel’s “Summertime,” everyone tried to catch a summer song for the next few years. – Marvin Sparks

19. Alkaline, “Champion Boy”
Year: 2015
Producer: Yellow Moon Records

Alkaline was the decade’s most divisive dancehall personality, emerging as a sort of carnival sideshow and combative Vybz Kartel wannabe before distinguishing himself as the new voice of young Jamaica with a string of inescapable mid-decade anthems. Any number of other Alkaline tunes from this period could have easily made the cut here, but just narrowly didn’t: “After All,”“City,”“Formula,”“Gal Bruk Out.”  It’s “Champion Boy” that stands the tallest in his catalog, distilling his defiant attitude into his best the Man Himselff’s best minutes. – Jesse Serwer

18. Konshens, “Gal a Bubble”
Year: 2012
Producer: Subkonshus Music

Konshens could easily make a claim to being this decade’s most consistent dancehall deejay. From “Gal Dem Ah Talk” in 2010 through to this year’s “Bad Man,” the Subkonshus Music label head has delivered heat every single year without fail. But it was 2012 when he really got rolling and found his niche as a gyal tune specialist, unleashing a torrent of hits that had ladies dashing towards dancefloors to flex their, ahem, muscles: “Do Sum’n,” “Stop Sign,” “Gyal Siddung.” The coup de grace, though, was “Gal a Bubble,” a tune that has only grown more essential to bashment party setlists as time has trod on. From the moment that any selector cuts in Konshens’ intro — Yaoww, how di party ah look suh? Dog, how di party a look suh? — you know things are about to turn way up. – Jesse Serwer

17. Vybz Kartel feat. Shenseea, “Loodi”
Year: 2016
Producer: Elvis “So Unique” Redwood

“Loodi” firmly planted Shenseea on the world stage, announcing that a new star was on the scene as the then 20-year-old deejay held her own alongside the World Boss, Vybz Kartel. When Shenseea told us that her pumpum is fluffy like sheet spread, she had many hitting the stores looking for bedding with a higher thread count. All co-signs aside, Shenseea created a moment, while endorsing Jamaica’s favorite homegrown board game. – Juss Kool

16. Mr Vegas, “Bruk It Down”
Year: 2011
Producer: Teetimus/MV Music

I can’t be 100% sure that this Mr. Vegas anthem was the first song to deploy the stuttering “bruk-bruk-bruk-bruk” motif, its inexorable increase in velocity invariably inciting frenzied dancing. But it definitely popularised this move, and has inspired a rash of imitations in the eight years since. I love playing tunes this joyful. It lifts the spirit of any party. – Gabriel Heatwave

15. Major Lazer feat. Busy Signal, the Flexican and FS Green, “Watch Out For This (Bumaye)”
Year: 2013
Producer: Major Lazer/The Flexican

Busy Signal spent the first decade of the new millennium proving himself the most versatile dancehall deejay in the game, shining particularly bright on the soca/garage/club tempo riddims that were then pushing the genre forward. As such, he was a natural fit for this 2013 Major Lazer hybrid, built on a filtered salsa sample that channels the glory days of Nuyorican house. The dramatic build-up of the track seems tailormade for Busy’s relentless vocal attack, culminating in the titular cry of “Bumaye”; simultaneously a war yell suggesting Muhammad Ali’s famous victory in the Congo, and a greeting, the sound of Busy introducing himself to a whole new audience. – Eddie STATS Houghton

14. Vybz Kartel, “Touch A Button”
Year: 2010
Producer: Ricky Blaze and Linton “TJ” White

While the drum pattern on Ricky Blaze and Linton “TJ” White’s Sprite Riddim recalled that of 2009’s Trippple Bounce, the way the chords stuttered on the same pattern shaped the way dancehall riddims would sound this decade. We can’t get around Kartel’s calm badman delivery, which basically solidified his demeanour in real life as we saw with the charges that caught up to him just one year later. Sneakbo’s version of “Touch a Button” became a contender for London national anthem, too. – Marvin Sparks

13. Aidonia, “Pon Di Cocky” (a.k.a. “Fi Di Jockey”)
Year: 2012
Producer: Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor

This steelpan-infused infused track stiff with some of dancehall’s favorite double entendres (jockey rides, etc.) has passed with flying colours well into the decade. Produced by Di Genius, this standout hit from Aidonia is arguably his biggest in a 15-year career, catapulting his signature rasp and octave jumps to mainstay status. – Sajae Elder

12. Charly Black and J. Capri, “Whine & Kotch”
Year: 2013
Producer: RVSSIAN

While not a particularly massive tune in the core market, the influence that “Whine & Kotch” had worldwide goes beyond any dancehall song made this decade. RVSSIAN’s 808-heavy production on the track that introduced the short-lived career of the late J. Capri made waves particularly in France, the U.K. and Latin America. French artist Willy Williams jacked it, then J Balvin linked him — and together they made “Mi Gente,” one of the decade’s biggest global hits. “Fester Skank” by Lethal Bizzle the year before relied heavily on this new bass pattern, as does Wiley’s more recent “Boasty” featuring Sean Paul, Idris Elba and Stefflon Don. – Marvin Sparks

11. Spice, “So Mi Like It”
Year: 2013
Producer: Notnice

Over the last few years, it’s been women artists, long relegated to the genre’s periphery, who’ve generated much of dancehall’s innovation and excitement. From Koffee’s PG-rated motivational anthems to Jada Kingdom’s jazzy, body-positive sexuality, there are more notable female dancehall stars than ever before, spanning an ever-broadening variety of perspectives and styles. This revolution can likely be traced back to Spice’s “So Mi Like It,” a sinister track which not only cemented Grace Hamilton’s position as dancehall’s new queen bee following the religious conversation of Lady Saw, but positioned her near the top of the genre’s overall pecking order just below her “Romping Shop” collaborator, Vybz Kartel. If you didn’t know Spice was a boss when you heard “So Mi Like It” in the club, you certainly did when you saw her wielding a whip in the track’s video. – Jesse Serwer

10. Rihanna feat. Drake, “Work”
Year: 2016
Producer: Boi-1da/Noah “40” Shebib/Kuk Harrell

Dancehall-inspired pop songs seemed to be everywhere in 2016. But it was Rihanna’s “Work” featuring Drake that really kicked off the wave. Released at the start of the year, the track, with its interpolation of Richie Stephens’ 1998 dancehall riddim Sail Away, was also the most authentic — we’d even argue that it’s a true dancehall track. Sung by a proud Bajan (and the biggest Caribbean superstar since Bob Marley), written by Jamaican-Canadian auteur PartyNextDoor, produced by two more Jamaican-Canadians, Boi-1da and Sevn Thomas — it’s hard to get more authentic than this in the pop world. The first of the song’s two videos reunited Director X and Jamaican-Canadian choreographer Tanisha Scott, the same team behind the videos for Sean Paul’s early 2000s mega-hits, who set the steamy bashment scene inside The Real Jerk, one of Toronto’s most popular Jamaican restaurants. The song gave Rihanna her longest run at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, proving that you can stick to your roots and go pop at the same time. – Kieran Meadows

9. Beenie Man and Future Fambo, “Rum and Red Bull”
Year: 2010
Producer: Seanizzle

Red Bull, the energy drink which promises to “give you wings” (and sponsors a myriad of music and sporting events), has been fueling long nights of partying for decades. But it wasn’t until the stuff reached Jamaica that it attained anthem status in the form of Beenie Man and Future Fambo’s “Rum and Red Bull.” The track was the first international hit for the veteran artist formerly known as Future Troubles, with the self-professed “Drunken Master” providing fire alcoholic lyrics and general good vibes over the Seanizzle-produced One Day riddim. It’s also the latest hit of this stature from the legendary Beenie Man. As we head out of 2019 and into 2020, “Rum and Red Bull” is still one of the biggest party starters there is. – Juss Kool

8. Drake feat. Popcaan, “Controlla” 
Year: 2016
Producer: Boi-1da/Supa Dups/Di Genius/Allen Ritter 

Summer 2016 got one of its biggest soundtracks when multi-genre musical icon Drake reached out to Popcaan to create “Controlla.” Drake’s inclusion of the Vybz Kartel protege on this dancehall-infused pop hit solidified the Unruly Boss’ position as an ambassador for dancehall culture in the international mainstream. And when the Popcaan-featuring version of “Controlla” did not appear on Drake’s massively successful Views LP (the album instead included a version featuring a sampled Beenie Man), the omission created an uproar which only added to the Unruly Boss’ legend. Though it was never officially released, DJs know that this is the version to play if you really want a big forward. – Juss Kool

7. Vybz Kartel, “Fever”
Year: 2016
Producer: Linton “TJ” White

Measuring a tune’s impact purely in ticking and tocking waistlines, this 2016 Vybz Kartel track is surely the biggest of the decade. Two years after he was handed a life sentence for murder, “Fever” assured the world that Kartel would continue his dominance of the dancehall scene for years to come. Unconventional, attention-grabbing intros had long been a Kartel trademark, a product of Di Teacha’s penchant for writing backwards, bar-by-bar, from a track’s hook to arrive at an unexpected opening line. Fever’s “X-O-X-O, my love is very special” intro is no exception, Kartel’s cadence seemingly catapulting us straight into the B-section of the song before we’re ready. It’s an opening perfectly designed for a million rewinds. – Eddie “STATS” Houghton

6. Popcaan – Party Shot
Year: 2011
Producer: TJ Records

I’ve always had a soft spot for songs where I thought “this is a hit” upon first listening. It’s obviously nice as a DJ to think that you can smell a smash. But seeing “Party Shot” go from a hopeful MP3 in your inbox to bonafide anthem status via huge festival singalongs and a few thousand rewinds…that’s a special journey, and I feel like a proud uncle tagging along for the ride. Nearly a decade of hits later, it would be hard to pick a tune from Popcaan that’s had more legs than this one. – Gabriel Heatwave

5. Charly Black – Gyal You A Party Animal
Year: 2015
Producer: Kurt Riley

When I first heard Charly Black’s “Party Animal,” the hook didn’t quite sit right with me. It felt a little wayward and loose, like a drunk person singing at 3am. I was happy to be proved wrong, or maybe it was right: I have since seen and heard thousands of people singing along drunkenly to this tune at 3am, and I can tell you it’s a stone cold vibe. Pure unadulterated joy and exuberance, just what you need on a night out with your mates. – Gabriel Heatwave

4. Konshens – Bruk Off (Yuh Back)
Year: 2016
Producer: Birchill Records

It’s fitting that one of the most consistent and versatile dancehall stars of the 2010s had one of the decade’s biggest hits. Recorded on Birchill Records’ Moskato Riddim, an instrumental taking its musical cues from Gyptian’s Ricky Blaze-produced “Hold Yuh,” Konshens’ biggest tune of the decade was arguably a hit two times over — in the original, raw form as “Bruk Off Mi Cock” and as the more radio-friendly “Bruk Off (Yuh Back).” It didn’t hurt that the song was released the same year that Drake, Rihanna and other pop stars borrowed heavily from dancehall, leaving countless uninitiated ears curious, open and eager for more dancehall sounds. It’s no wonder that “Bruk Off” has more YouTube plays than almost any other dancehall tune, with over 162 million views to date on the official music video alone. The only other Jamaican artists with numbers like these are named Sean Paul or have the last name Marley. – Kieran Meadows

3. Koffee, “Toast”
Year: 2018
Producer: Izy Beats/Walshy Fire

In the midst of a reggae resurgence, breakout artist Koffee teamed with Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire and IzyBeats to drop this nearly inescapable record. “Toast” has become an anthem for finding the light within the darkness of a tumultuous decade, its pulsing reminder that Gratitude is a must resonating on dancefloors and playlists across the globe — all while creating Jamaica’s biggest new star in the process. – Sajae Elder

2. Vybz Kartel feat. Popcaan and Gaza Slim, “Clarks”
Year: 2010
Producer: ZJ Chrome

“Clarks” has a very strong claim for most important dancehall tune of the decade. Let’s examine the evidence: Introduced the world to Popcaan, one of the most significant Jamaican artists of the 2010s. Reinvigorated sales of Clarks shoes around the world. Probably the most played among many, many Kartel hits of the last 10 years. As evidenced by this list, that is some SERIOUS competition, so that is quite the achievement. Plus, it’s a neat reminder of the power and dominance enjoyed by the Gaza/Portmore Empire in its peak era. – Gabriel Heatwave

1. Gyptian, “Hold Yuh”
Year: 2010
Producer: Ricky Blaze

This is a controversial choice, for a few reasons. For one, Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” actually made its first appearance in 2009, in a DJs-only email blast sent by Johnny Wonder’s digital distribution service 21st Productions. (It would not get its official label release, via VP Records, until March of 2010). It was also not a particularly notable hit in Jamaica. However, no other dancehall song in the last decade has had the global impact and sheer staying power of this Ricky Blaze-produced masterpiece. “Hold Yuh” is the ultimate mood shifter, capable of changing the temperature in any room. Its opening and central melody — a series of simple, slightly off-key minor-chord piano stabs — has been absorbed into dancehall’s DNA, influencing the feel of tracks from JA Productions’ Overproof Riddim to Konshens’ “Bruk Off Yuh Back.” While dancehall records have historically taken years to bubble up into mainstream consciousness, “Hold You” became a fast smash in early 2010 — infiltrating radio playlists from Hot 97 to BBC Radio 1, and earning a remix from a then-sizzling Nicki Minaj — on its way to summer soundtrack status. Gyptian has never quite replicated the magic of “Hold Yuh” — he perhaps came closest with its immediate follow-up, “Nah Let Go” —  but he never really needs to. He’s already got the perfect song under his belt. – Jesse Serwer