Reviews Of Reggae Music Albums

Reggae music is a genre with a rich history — one that has not only provided a soundtrack for social movements but has also carved a deep groove in the heart of global music culture. It’s a genre that transcends mere sound, encapsulating a philosophy, a way of life, and a powerful means of expression. Here is a review of a handful of what I consider the best reggae music albums since the 1960s when reggae emerged from ska and rocksteady.

Reggae guitarist

There is a more detailed discussion elsewhere on this website but put succinctly, the origins of reggae music can be traced back to the vibrant streets of Jamaica, in the 1960s. Its predecessors, ska and rocksteady, set the stage for what was to become a global phenomenon. As rocksteady slowed down, the distinctive rhythm of reggae took form, characterized by the offbeat accents known as the ‘skank’.

In discussing the influence of reggae, we must acknowledge that its echoes are felt far beyond its Jamaican origins. It’s an influence that spans genres, infusing its characteristic rhythm into hip-hop, punk, and even pop music, making it an undeniable force in the wider music industry.

The tapestry of reggae’s history is adorned with influential figures, such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer, among others. These pioneers channelled their music to voice the struggles and hopes of a nation, thus amplifying reggae’s resonance with listeners grappling with their own societal challenges.

Now let’s move on to discuss some of the most iconic albums that have cemented reggae’s place in history. These albums are time capsules, capturing the essence of eras and the pulses of movements, and they deserve to be examined with the reverence they command.

Classic Reggae Albums Reviewed: Timeless Reggae Icons

Reggae music stands as a testament to the art of storytelling through rhythm and harmony. Iconic albums in the genre not only showcase musicianship but also act as cultural artefacts, mapping the socio-political landscape of their times. Let’s now explore some of the genre-defining albums that have etched their names in the annals of music history.

Let’s start with the preeminent star of the genre, Bob Marley. Along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, he was a founder member of The Wailers. Prior to 1972 when they signed a record deal with Island Records, The Wailers had released four albums The Wailing Wailers (1965), The Best of the Wailers (1970; released 1971), Soul Rebels (1970) and 1971’s Soul Revolution Part II.

Bob Marley on a mug

In 1973 the group released two albums on Island Records, Catch a Fire (April 1973) and Burnin’ (October 1973). However, dissatisfaction was simmering between Tosh and Wailer the president of Island Records, Chris Blackwell. Amongst other things, Blackwell had selected Bob Marley to lead The Wailers, even though the three founders had always enjoyed equal billing and standing. Accordingly, Tosh and Wailer left, and the band was renamed Bob Marley and The Wailers.

The first album released by Bob Marley and The Wailers was 1974’s Natty Dread. There were a further five studio albums released before Marley’s premature death in 1980. These were, in 1976, Rastaman Vibration, Exodus (1977), Kaya in 1978, Survival in 1970 and 1980’s Uprising.

Natty Dread (1974)

The first album after the departure of Tosh and Wailer, Natty Dread gave the world the seminal No Woman, No Cry – with writing credit given to Vincent Ford with Marley’s part in it uncredited. In fact, Marley is formally credited with only three of the tracks on the album, although it is certainly his work. Contractual issues are likely to have led to him signing away his credit.

As the single focal point now, his songwriting becomes more personal with his definitive view on the world and his life experiences which helped to shape it. He covers the themes of love, spirituality, and social justice.

The album demonstrates just why Blackwell believed Marley was ready to strike out on his own. Aside from No Woman, No Cry, other standout tracks include the opener, Lively Up Yourself, a call for the listener to be the best version of themself that they can be. Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) has a religious meaning in that despite being physically full of food, people are lacking in other aspects of their lives.

The final track, Revolution, is a song addressing Marley’s desire to see social and political change in Jamaica. He is frustrated at the status quo and believes that change is necessary, but not likely with dramatic events, implying perhaps that politicians cannot be relied upon to carry out election promises once they have gained power.

Catch a Fire (1973)

The first Island Records album marked the Wailers and Marley’s international breakthrough. It features a mix of socially conscious lyrics and infectious reggae rhythms. The inclusion of full band arrangements and production by Chris Blackwell gave reggae a wider audience.

Stand-out tracks include Concrete Jungle, 400 Years and Stir It Up. Concrete Jungle rails against the situation in which Kingston’s ghetto kids find themselves. Marley’s evocation of the idea that the sun not shining in the tourist destination which Jamaica undoubtedly is. 400 Years is a Peter Tosh diatribe against slavery and the predilection towards infighting of the oppressed. Finally, Stir It Up, is more light-hearted and possibly sexually provocative, as Marley sings about ‘pushing the wood’ and ‘I’ll satisfy your heart’s desire.’

Exodus (1977)

Exodus is revered not just for its captivating melodies but its profound impact on the identity of reggae. This album, released in 1977, offers many of Marley’s best-loved songs. The entire second side consisting of Jamming, Waiting in Vain, Turn Your Lights Down Low, Three Little Birds, and One Love/People Get Ready has been released as a single, either contemporaneously with the album, or in the case of Turn Your Lights Down Low, as a 1999 cover/remix with Lauren Hill.

My standout track is Waiting in Vain, as the singer muses on the probable rejection of his advances by his heart’s desire. Other anthems, such as One Love on which Marley sings about the rejection of evil but the redemption of sinners, continue to resonate across the globe, highlighting reggae’s potential to be both personal and universal.

Two albums by Peter Tosh

Legalize It (1976)

Here, Tosh delivers a solo album that boldly advocates for the legalization of marijuana. Written in response to his ongoing victimization by the Jamaican police, it’s a blend of roots reggae with a rebellious spirit.

A marijuana leaf

The first, and title, track was banned in Jamaica upon its release as a single in 1975, but this only served to elevate Tosh’s status, making him an international star. The lyrics highlight the hypocritical attitude towards marijuana by the Jamaican authorities – as Tosh lists users of the drug from singers and instrumentalists through doctors and nurses to judges and lawyers.

Equal Rights (1977)

Tosh’s Equal Rights is a cornerstone of reggae. With its unabashed call for social justice and against oppression, it showcases reggae’s deep connection to struggle and resistance. Through this album, Tosh amplifies the voice of the marginalized, a recurrent theme in reggae’s narrative.

Stand-out tracks are the opener Get Up, Stand Up, Downpressor Man, and I Am That I Am. Get Up, Stand Up was written by Tosh and Bob Marley and had earlier appeared on The Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’. This version is Tosh’s own take on it and although not as famous as the ‘original’ Wailers version, it still resonates with righteous fury as the singer extols the listener to take action now to live their best life now, as is their right.

Downpressor Man is a cover of an African American song called Sinner Man, written by Les Baxter and Will Holt in the 1950s and later adapted by Nina Simone. Tosh’s version of the song takes aim at Jamaica’s inequality which remained, even after its independence from Britain in 1962. I Am that I Am is a call for people to be true to themselves and to believe in their ability to be anything they choose.

(Winston Rodney) Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey (1975)

Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey takes listeners on a historical journey to the roots of pan-Africanism. Mostly written by Rodney with Phillip Fullwood, its stirring acknowledgement of African heritage and rights speaks to the core of roots reggae, which often looks to the past to inform the present and future.

Beacon tracks are the opening and title track, Marcus Garvey, and Slavery Days. Marcus Garvey is a tribute to the great Jamaican political activist and businessman who encouraged pride and self-worth amongst the African diasporas. The track extolls Garvey’s virtues of empowerment and cultural awareness. And of course, it has a killer rhythm provided by Rodney’s backing band, The Black Disciples.

Slavery Days is a track, which, as its name suggests is about slavery. It paints a picture of the horrors of slavery but also celebrates not only the indomitable spirit of those who were enslaved but also of those who came after and are still, to this day, forced to face up to keep the memory of it alive to serve as a warning.

Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come (1972)

The soundtrack to the film of the same name, this album features both Cliff’s hits and tracks by other Jamaican artists such as Desmond Dekker with 007 (Shanty Town), Toots and the Maytals with Pressure Drop and Sweet and Dandy. In truth, it’s a mixture of reggae with some ska, and even a hint of gospel with Many Rivers to Cross, but the overall package helped introduce reggae to the world.

These albums are, ‘classic’ reggae albums and of course, are all reggae classics. They have great historical significance, not only for what they commemorate and celebrate but also in terms of the context in which they were made. They have great lyrical depth and the distinctive sounds that helped define reggae music.

New Waves on Old Shores: Reviewing Contemporary Reggae Albums

Reggae music has evolved, flourishing with innovative artists who take the genre to new heights, while respecting its storied past. Here is an examination of fresh albums that rock to the rhythms of reggae while weaving in modern influences.


Born shortly following Bob Marley’s death, Protoje is a Jamaican reggae artist. He has steadily risen to prominence with his distinctive sound and thought-provoking lyrics. He is a true torch bearer and a link to the traditional reggae from the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. He does this by blending traditional reggae elements with modern influences.

Ancient Future (2015)

Ancient Future is Protoje’s third studio and perhaps his stand-out album. It highlights his evolution as an artist, incorporating a fusion of reggae, hip-hop, and electronic elements. Collaborations such as Who Knows feat. Chronixx and Criminal feat. Sevana became instant favourites, capturing the essence of Protoje’s musical versatility.

A Matter of Time (2018)

Another noteworthy album in Protoje’s discography is A Matter of Time. This Grammy-nominated project solidifies his status as a contemporary reggae force, blending roots reggae with soulful melodies and socially conscious lyrics. Protoje manages to uphold the traditional reggae spirit with songs like Blood Money while pushing boundaries with tracks like Like This. The album again features collaborations with Chronixx (Flames and No Guarantee).

Two More New Reggae Artists

With Chronixx’s Chronology (2017), we get a blend that has reggae purists and newcomers alike nodding their heads. Chronixx has genuine cross-generational appeal with songs which celebrate Jamaica (Smile Jamaica), Rastafarianism in general and Zion in particular (Selassie Children). Skankin’ Sweet is perhaps the standout track, encouraging the listener to join in with the artist to allow music to wash away their troubles, whilst acknowledging that people’s struggles are real.

On 2019’s EP Rapture by Koffee (born Mikayla Victoria Simpson), the listener is struck by the youthful energy that courses through it. This Grammy-winning effort features five tracks including the title track and Toast. The EP offers dancehall beats meeting nuanced reggae grooves, offering yet another fresh take on reggae’s potential.

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Of course, reggae’s ability to progress is not just about the in lyrics or the rhythm – in fact, as we have heard, these two aspects remain as central pillars of the genre. What does change is reggae’s embrace of new technology and influences from other genres. I believe these modern works really do foreshadow an exciting trajectory for reggae music, showcasing its adaptability and eternal freshness.

Understanding this guide: What have I considered in my assessments?

In appreciating reggae music, it’s crucial to go beyond the surface and understand the elements that contribute to a truly great album. I hope that my reviews take this into account and have provided you with an understanding of each work.

When considering lyrics and messaging, I have tried to look at how the artist uses words to convey the music’s soul. The best reggae songs not only sound good, but they also carry meaningful messages about life, love, and justice, resonating with listeners on a deeper level.

And of course, whilst reggae has a laid-back groove, it’s not just about that. No, it’s the mastery of rhythm, the interplay of bass and drums, and the crispness of the production that creates its immersive sound.

Lastly, I’ve briefly assessed the cultural impact and potential for longevity. For example, in the case of the classic reggae albums, of course, they have stood the test of time, and have contributed to the evolution of reggae music. An album’s legacy can often be predicted by its ability to inspire and influence both current listeners and future generations.

Jamaican guitarist

With these criteria in mind, I hope my reviews offer more than just an opinion but go further to give a viewpoint on the fullness of reggae music. I hope I’ve given you a flavour which will help you to feel equipped to not only enjoy the music but have a little understanding of how it was made and of the politics and human relationships behind it.

So, there you go. What do you think? Please let me know if I’ve missed anything that to think should be here in this review.

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