There is no denying Dancehall’s influence on the international landscape since its emergence as a popular genre in the late 80s. Its catchy, up-tempo sound made it a hit with music lovers, especially those who had already been exposed to Reggae music’s pleasantries in decades previous.
Once Dancehall’s popularity took off thanks to acts such as Shabba Ranks, Supercat and Buju Banton to name a few, the genre’s sound not only attracted new fans, but garnered attention from the ears of prominent international entertainers who either yearned to add a bit of spice to their song by using said sound or just wanted to introduce themselves to a new audience. This allowed new avenues for Dancehall to break out as an international phenomenon and over the years, we’ve seen a plethora of instances where Jamaican artists mesh with overseas stars in an attempt to become famous in unfamiliar territory.
With that said, here are 10 instances where that mesh worked, whether to the tune of commercial success or simply became instant classics in the minds of listeners. These instances do not include mash-ups or unofficial remixes, but legitimate collaborations.
10. On The Rock (Remix) – Mavado feat. Jay Z: In 2008, Mavado could seemingly do no wrong as his star became brighter and brighter following the success of his debut album, Gangster for Life: The Symphony of David Brooks and was in the middle of a hot feud with former Alliance teammate, Vybz Kartel.
People outside of Jamaica became familiar with him following hits such as Dying, Dreaming and Last Night. But his international portfolio never really started being filled until he landed a big collaboration with rap mogul, Jay Z for the remix of his single, On The Rock.
Jay Z’s presence on the gospel-themed Dancehall track made it stand out much further than the original version, gaining regular rotation on American radio stations, a feature on MTV and chart success, officially meaning Mavado had arrived in the U.S. market. Now a member of DJ Khaled’s We The Best Music Group, collaborations with rappers have become very common for him, including ones with Nicki Minaj, Akon and Ace Hood. But it was his linkup with Jay Z that made the singjay a known commodity in the good ole U.S of A.
9. Whine Up – Kat Deluna feat. Elephant Man: By 2007, Elephant Man was already a big thing internationally with hits such as Pon Di River and made his mark in the American market collaborating with the likes of Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz, Twista and Janet Jackson on some high-profile remixes, even signing a deal with P Diddy’s Bad Boy Records.
However, the Willie Bounce singer’s most commercially successful single with an international artist was his song with Kat DeLuna, a then 19-year-old American singer with Dominican roots. Whine Up, DeLuna’s debut single, reached the top 25 of several Billboard charts and became a smash hit that played on Jamaican and North American airwaves ad nauseum, launching her into instant fame and further building Elephant Man into an international sensation. Because of Elephant Man’s happy-go-lucky, high tempo sound, the Energy God became a name many international artists were all too happy to call to feature on their songs, making him one of the more accomplished Jamaican acts in the U.S. market to date.
8. Fly – Sugar Ray feat. Supercat: With a wave of Dancehall acts making instant waves international with their local hits, American records quickly expressed interest as Columbia Records did with the original ‘Don Dada’ Supercat in the early 90s.
Landing such a deal helped him to expand his resume, with standout achievements on said resume including a collaboration with the late, great Notorious B.I.G, P Diddy and 3rd Eye for the remix of his single, Dolly My Baby as well as Dem No Worry We with the late Heavy D. However, it was his feature on Fly by popular rock band, Sugar Ray that was his most successful international collaboration, with the single topping Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay and Canada’s singles chart.
The song was included in VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s and was one of Supercat’s last mainstream recordings for many years, but remains arguably his most fruitful
7. Watch Out For This – Major Lazer feat. Busy Signal: Having broken out on the scene with hardcore Dancehall roots, becoming more of a Reggae crooner by the end of the 2000s, with One More Night and Night Shift.
However, after serving prison time in the U.S. for absconding bail on a drug case, Busy Signal needed that one song to put him over the top as an international force once again. Enter fusion specialists, Major Lazer, who reached out to Busy to be the lead vocalist for their song Watch out for This (Bumaye).
Though the song achieved somewhat limited success on the major American charts (28th on Billboard’s U.S. Dance/Electronic Songs chart, it was a smash hit worldwide, particularly in Europe, where the song became platinum in Denmark, while making the top 10 in Belgium, France and Holland to name a few places. The song also became the background music for a Pepsi commercial featuring Argentine football megastar, Lionel Messi. This was undoubtedly Busy’s biggest commercial success to date.
6. Ghetto Story (Remix) – Cham feat. Alicia Keys: A former protégé of Bounty Killer in the late 90s, Cham found his biggest hit to date in 2005 with the inner-city anthem, Ghetto Story.
With buzz from the single still strong several months after its release, Cham opted to merge his rough-edge sound with the sweet, soft sound of Grammy-winning singer, Alicia Keys for the remix. The pairing reaped immediate success with the remix, reaching number 77 on the Billboard Hot 100, with the accompanying video being featured heavily on BET and MTV, giving Cham unprecedented exposure.
5. Make It Clap (Remix) – Busta Rhymes, Spliff Star and Sean Paul – Perhaps no Dancehall artist has collaborated with more international acts since the turn of the millennium than Sean Paul, with the Gimme The Light singer becoming a hot commodity overseas after his sophomore album, Dutty Rock became multi-platinum and earned him the Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 2004.
A year earlier, Sean Paul appeared on the remix for Busta Rhymes’ single, Make It Clap. After the original song failed to garner much attention, the Jamaican-born Rhymes decided to tap into his roots for the remix, calling on Sean Paul to add that ‘rude boy’ touch to the more party-themed version of the song.
Results were solid, as the remix peaked at number 46 in the Billboard Hot 100 and became a fixture on North American television and radio airwaves, becoming one of the biggest party anthems that year. As we found out later that year, this was not the only hit international collaboration he would land.
4. Hey Baby – No Doubt feat. Bounty Killer: Already with a hit collaboration alongside The Fugees (Hip-Hopera) to his name, Bounty Killer was already universally recognized as one of the best Dancehall artists of all-time by the time 2001 rolled around. Looking for a ‘yardie’ touch to its aptly-titled album, Rock Steady, No Doubt called upon the services of the Alliance leader for the single, Hey Baby.
The lead single on Rock Steady peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 and later won the Grammy award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, leaving Bounty with his first and only Grammy to date. He and No Doubt even performed the song at the Super Bowl in 2002.
This wasn’t the only time Gwen Stefani collaborated with great success alongside a Dancehall star. More on that later.
3. Girls Dem Sugar – Beenie Man feat. Mya: In 1997, Beenie Man landed a major hit with the chart-topping classic, Sim Simma, which continues to permeate through the Dancehall landscape to this day.
With the song’s shelf-life still very healthy by the year 2000, Beenie Man teamed up with sexy R&B songstress, Mya for the international remake of the single, Girls Dem Sugar. The song earned modest Billboard success and peaked at 13 on the UK Singles Chart, with the video instantly becoming a fixture on BET, MTV and other American music stations.
The Neptunes-produced song’s success helped Beenie land a Reggae Grammy for Art and Life in 2001, further validating his status as one of Dancehall’s hottest commodities and building bridges for younger artists to cross as the years passed by.
2. Underneath It All – No Doubt feat. Lady Saw: After finding success with Hey Baby, No Doubt dipped into the Dancehall well again by collaborating with another hardcore Dancehall legend, the Queen of Dancehall, Lady Saw on the classic track, Underneath It All.
Gwen Stefani’s sultry, soft vocals mixed with Lady Saw’s strong, powerful tone made for a perfect joint effort, leading to Underneath It All peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping Billboard’s pop songs chart. The ska meets rock and roll sound made for a nice melody, and The Recording Academy agreed, awarding the duo with the Grammy for Grammy award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 2004. It also featured in the popular movie, 50 First Dates and got heavy rotation on American radio station.
1. Baby Boy – Beyoncé feat. Sean Paul: There’s no doubt as to what number one on this list was going to be, considering Baby Boy is the most commercially successful collaboration involving a Dancehall artist ever.
Launching her solo career after starring for several years as the lead singer for Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé found much success with her booty-shaking debut single, Crazy in Love. However, many would argue the song that really launched her to universal fame was her collaboration with Sean Paul on the single Baby Boy. Beyoncé’s scintillating sound needed that ideal contrast in tone to help the song truly resonate with music lovers and with Sean Paul very much in demand at the time for his edgier sound, she found the perfect collaborator.
Mixing Dancehall, Arabic and R&B influences, Baby Boy instantly grabbed top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and stayed there for nine straight weeks, later being certified platinum in the United States and Australia and was named one of the greatest songs of the 2000s was VH1.
Sean Paul never saw such success with a single before or since, despite being one of Jamaica’s highest ever selling artists. Not only did the song launch Beyoncé’s career into orbit, but made Sean Paul the crossover superstar he is today.