BY: Jodee Brown
Last week, I looked at artists who managed to climb music’s proverbial mountain, but never quite reached the heights their talents would have led us to believe, despite possessing stout catalogues. This week, it’s time to explore musician who barely moved higher than said mountain’s base once they began their climb.
This is not to say the artists on this list were not good enough. Some are bonafide legends in the game who helped pave the way for newer generations of artists to make their names internationally, while most were legitimate talents that possessed strong potential, but for some reason or another, could not fulfill it.
Again, like the What If list, we will not include those who tragically were unable to build on their hits. Thus names such as Natasja Saad (Calabria) and Dirtsman (Hot This Year) won’t be included.
In 2012, when the Dancehall community was looking for artists to step up and produce more hits in the wake of Vybz Kartel’s incarceration the year prior, the Trench Town native came out of the woodwork and produced arguably the most popular song that year, A Yah So Nice. With a intro full of whispers and a number of catchy, yet quirky punchlines, Potential Kidd became an instant star, His chorus widely infiltrated Jamaican pop culture to the point fellow artists, media personalities and other public figures were using it and even landed him endorsement deals, albeit short-lived deals.
So after such as a hot start, why did he cool off so quickly? First off, he followed up with songs that sounded awfully similar to A Yah So Nice, which certainly did not endear him to the masses in terms of his originality, or lack thereof. However, the biggest deterrent in his career was the apparent mismanagement of his career. In July 2012, he was accused of scamming American an promoter, which he vehemently denied, suggesting his manager stole money sent to him for an upcoming show. Additionally, Potential Kidd accused said manager, his cousin, of stealing over JA$10 million from him, allegedly pocketing tour money and booking shows without his knowledge.
Last summer, he vowed to rebuild his career from scratch, so it may be too early to fully write him off. But considering the fact he hasn’t put out much material since then, that one-hit wonder looks likely to stick with him for quite a while.
With smooth vocals and an affinity for lovers rock, Nanko burst onto the scene with Lucky You on the classic Sweet Sop Riddim, which in this humble writer’s opinion, was the pick of the litter on that compilation. He was gaining strong airplay locally with the song and later released his follow-up single, Loco Amor (Crazy Love) which sounded like one of those ‘take you to paradise’ type songs, which like its predecessor, topped some local charts. He certainly possessed the imagination and lyrical clarity to make a successful career for himself.
But in 2007, Nanko suddenly disappeared, leaving Jamaica for the United States to live with family while in the midst of an ugly contract dispute with the Josef Bogdanovich-led Downsound label. Since then, he’s largely been a novice in the mainstream, recording some singles, as well as recording a 15-track album in New York that was never released. He’s believed to be living in Mandeville as he tries to revamp his career
The moved turned out a success, and after dabbling in the music scene with a few conscious hits, including his feature on Buju Banton’s Mother’s Cry, he made a name for himself in 1998 with the moving hit single, El Shaddai, which gained him popularity across the airwaves and remains a fan favourite to this day due to its spiritual message and perfect combination of his sound and the background vocals.
After dropping this gem, he dropped creditable efforts such as Cry For The People, Real Issues and Politics, but never garnered the acclaim he received for El Shaddai and became relatively absent from the music scene ever since.
7. VC – In 2001, Valton Cragie, more popularly known as VC etched his name into Reggae folklore with the classic, By His Deeds, which spoke about people who went down the wrong path and failed to think about the consequences that could reach them.
The song was powerful and remains popular to this day. But much like the first three entries on this list, VC disappeared from the scene altogether until 2006 with his release, Judgement Day. These days, the singer sports locks, a far cry from the bald head he rocked when he debuted and still tours, often keeping his fans updated on his musical progress via Facebook.
6. Shalom – In the final year of the last millennium, Reggae singer, Steve Harper more popularly known as Shalom seemingly started his ascendancy to stardom after dropping the smash hit, Baby I’ve Got News For You.
The love ballad was scintillating as his pitch perfect vocals made the song standout as one of the biggest hits in Jamaican music that year.
But, as is the theme with this list, Shalom was gone in a flash, absent from the music scene until the mid-2000s when he released a gospel album; suggesting his departure from the spotlight was needed for personal discovery. His whereabouts remain a mystery to this day, but Baby I’ve Got News For You will always remind us of his talents.
However, it’s safe to say that he has not achieved the heights he reached since his chart-topping lovers rock anthem, My Princess Gone. The song told a great story of heartbreak and relationship troubles, with the singer showcasing his unique, raspy voice and seemed poised to join the likes of I-Wayne, Warrior King and others who were making big names for themselves at the time.
A hit collaboration with Jah Cure, Run Come Love Me soon followed, but despite dropping a plethora of albums since My Princess Gone, he never again was able to match the exploits of the popular single despite putting out consistently decent material over the years.
4. Althea and Donna – A two-girl group featuring Althea Forrest and Donna Marie Reid, the singers were just 17 and 18 respectively when they dropped the classic, Uptown Top Ranking in 1977, a response to another classic single, Three Piece Suit.
The Joe Gibbs-produced song topped the U.K. charts and made them popular prodigies. But as quickly as they started to ascend, the duo split in 1979 and disappeared without a trace. Nevertheless, Uptown Top Ranking remains a popular song at retro-themed events and on the airwaves and has since been covered or remade, as it was by Kris Kelli in 2004.
3. Musical Youth – Featuring five youngsters, two of which were sons of Frederick Waite Sr. from popular band, The Techniques, Musical Youth originated in the United Kingdom, performing multiple shows locally before securing a record deal with MCA Records in 1981.
The following year, the band released the U.K chart-topping hit, Pass The Dutchie, a play on the marijuana anthem, Pass The Kutchie, instead talking about passing around a pot of food instead of pot. The song sold over four million copies and was nominated for a Grammy award in 1983.
They followed that single with a reputable effort, Youth of Today, which like its predecessor, was from their debut album, The Youth of Today which was certified gold in the U.K.
Unfortunately, Musical Youth’s case will undoubtedly be remembered as the typical story of young entertainers who perhaps reaped success too soon. The group disbanded in 1985 after band leader, Dennis Seaton left. This, as the quintet endured a series of financial and legal problems at the time. Once broken up, the boys were left to fend for themselves, and in the case of one of Waite Sr.’s sons, Patrick Waite, the disbandment led him to a life of crime throughout his teenage years. He met an early death in 1993, collapsing from heart failure at the tender age of 24, with an autopsy later detecting that he had a heart condition.
After years away from the scene, the band returned as a duo in 2001, but would never achieve the level of success they had as kids.
In 1967, Penn recorded the single, You Don’t Love Me, produced at the legendary Studio One label by Coxsone Dodd. After a few other efforts, she left the music industry altogether in 1970, seeking a new life in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she lived for 17 years until moving back to Jamaica, citing racism she regularly experienced in the country.
Upon her return to her native land, Penn tried again to make her name in the industry and didn’t see much progress until 1992, when she was invited to perform You Don’t Love Me at a Studio One anniversary show and impressed so much that producers, Steely & Clevie, who were backup singers that night, encouraged her to re-record the single for their greatest hits album, Steely and Cleevy Play Studio One Vintage. With a few adjustments, the song was released a year later with the alternate title, No, No, No, topping the charts in Jamaica while achieving creditable chart success in the U.S., U.K. and across Europe.
Though Penn has largely shied away from the spotlight since, bar her performance of No, No, No at the 2013 BET Awards, her song remains one of the most popular songs ever produced by a Jamaica and has been remixed by countless artists, including Eve and Stephen Marley, Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, Jae Millz and Ghostface Killah.
Despite the one-hit wonder tag, Penn remains a legend, helping pave the way for female singers and deejays, past and present, to crossover. To that, we salute her.
1. Millie Small – Before the world got to know Bob Marley as the symbol of Jamaican music, the first true crossover star from Jamaica was a then 18-year-old from Clarendon by the name of Millie Small.
In 1964, Small remixed the Barbie Gaye classic, My Boy Lollipop with elements of ska and pop, instantly skyrocketing to super stardom in the process. Small’s adaptation of the song reached second on the U.K. and U.S. charts, making her the first Jamaican artist to ever achieve such success. Worldwide, the song sold over seven million copies worldwide and made her a global success, even earning her a spot on Around The Beatles, a TV special dedicated to legendary British band, The Beatles.
There has long been a dispute as to whether or not Small really qualifies a one hit wonder, considering follow-up singles such as Sweet William and Bloodshot Eyes both reached the top 50 of the U.K. charts in 1964 and 1965 respectively.
However, it can’t be denied that Small never again achieved the astronomical heights she reached with My Boy Lollipop, largely disappearing from the music scene since the 1970s. Though she’s number one on this list of one-hit wonders, by no means is this a black mark or a derogatory tag. That one major hit created the pathway for countless other Jamaican artists to crossover into the U.S., U.K. and other top foreign music markets, including the aforementioned Marley.
She was awarded the Order of Distinction in the role of Commander in 2011 and is an idol to many of Jamaica’s top female singers, including The Voice winner, Tessanne Chin. There’s no doubt Millie Small will always remain one of the great trailblazers in Jamaican music.