What are the recipes needed to develop a formula that guarantees a catalogue full of hits? Artistic skill-set, innate talent, accomplished producer or management? Is the ability to read and feel the pulse of the market (audience) so as to tailor material to satisfy what appeals to them also a needed ingredient? While a good number of artistes have deployed some or more than than the prerequisites highlighted above to release hits and remain relevant in the Industry, most (who never bothered themselves about these things when they recorded their first half song) have toiled or continue to struggle in vain to yank off the 'One Hit Wonder' label attached to their name by pundits - even after adopting some of the perceived formula used by 'perpetual' Hit makers (Hyperbole intended). Perhaps, there is no particular formula -- or where they exist -- they are never a 'one-size-fits-all' pair of Gideon Boots for every Ras, Banton or Rankin' to step in and trod up the Hit Parade.
Hits! What are they anyway? Sometimes, it depends on who you talk to. We have some fans of the music (not pundits, please) who consider every song they love 'hits' (chuckling). As ridiculous as this classification is, it can stir up emotions and heated debate on semantics in a Whatsapp group or among friends. This is sad and totally unnecessary as such perception of what a hit song is, can't be farther from the truth. If a hit were one's favorite song, then Ras Shiloh would have been a Human Hit Factory in my book - because I personally rate most of his songs. However, the truth is, the U.S based artiste escapes being labelled as a One-Hit-Wonder by a hair's breadth. Some pundits could even slap the tag on him and I won't argue because apart from 'Are you Satisfied' released in 1996, other releases have largely failed to garner similar buzz, except for 'Unto Zion' released two years later (exactly why I think he has more than one hit).
We also have a school of thought that would argue till Babylon falls and Zion calls, that a hit song is 'any' release that makes it up a chart. This is technically true but it begs the question - what chart? The Brazilian Reggae Chart, the Peruvian, Columbian or Ghanaian (if at all they have such chart in the West African country). There have been cases where artistes who have absolutely no buzz in Jamaica or in the Mainstream Airwaves brag in front of cameras about landing the top spot in Guatemala, Guadaloupe or some tiny Island you can only find on an Atlas with the aid of a magnifying lens. I am not so sure such No.1s can be passed up as 'hits'. Neither can we gift the title to songs that do appear on reputable charts only to disappear faster than smoke from a 'Boom-Draw'. Just as we can't categorically call every random song that makes it to the charts hits, we can't also deny the fact that some bonafide hits never made it to prominent charts (topic for another day)
Traditionally, songs that feature on compilation CDs such as Ragga Ragga Ragga by the defunct Greensleeves Records (now acquired by VP Records) and VP's Strictly The best and Reggae Gold were once widely regarded as hits. Well, that was until recently. While it is still relatively true that hits appear on Reggae Gold compilations, the inclusion of some songs lately, leaves you wondering if the songs made the cut on merit or some label promotional politics are at play. So, let's scratch compilation CDs altogether. Away from indicators that don't necessarily define a hit to the ones generally accepted (less contested) - broadly popular, widely played (even though this can be achieved through payola), duration on reputable charts and these days - significant streaming data. For some largely unknown reasons, some good artistes with good songs (a good song and a hit are often mutually exclusive) struggle to register follow-up hits. Mention some names and the 'One Hit Wonder' label sticks out like a sore thumb. Many artistes live in denial and this is quite understandable. Who would want to brag about having only one hit song after putting in the work for years? No one! Well, we are both wrong - Jah Bouks is changing that narrative. On the track aptly titled 'One Hit Wanda' from his latest album 'Long Awaiting', Jah Bouks appear to wear the label like a badge of honor. I love the song for more reasons than one. It partially inspired me to write on this phenomenon. I love the hook, the backing vocals, the nyabinghi drums (I always love Reggae songs done in this style - mystical feel and less busy). Above all, I love the song because of the courage he summoned to confront the Elephant in the room.
'Yuh can call me One Hit Wonder...
But -- mi nuh beg yuh no sponsor
I'm doing great
(I'm doing great)
Nah eat fram yuh plate
(Not eating from your plate)
The song is arguably the best on the album alongside 'Jah Judgement' which was blessed by vocals from Chino McGregor and another Nyabinghi Drum-driven track - 'Gone Too Soon'. The other tracks are easily forgettable.
Jah Bouks made a thought-provoking statement on 'One Hit Wanda' though. He said his one hit song (Angola) trumps the albums of other artistes. An outrageous claim at face value but if you let it sink in, this could be true. I feel Angola (released in 2013) was bigger (and still is) than all the songs in Anthony B's 'Tribute To Legends' album released same year. It is kind of awkward to compare a single and an album but Jah Bouks have largely toured some countries just to perform Angola while some artistes have albums and they don't know the route to an Airport (not Anthony B though). If Jah Bouks' Angola isn't convincing enough and you need another living testament to establish the fact that some artistes can successfully live off one hit song, then look no further than Sister Nancy. Is she a One Hit Wonder? Well, she scored one or two local hits before she released her eternally impactful 'Bam-Bam'. So, it is safe to say crossover-wise (Internationally) she is a One Hit Wonder while in Jamaica and to some degree, the UK, she might not be labelled as such. Bam-Bam has been sampled over 80 times by other artistes across several genres and has featured as Soundtrack in over a dozen Hollywood Motion Pictures. That one song must be paying more bills than the proceeds from the entire catalogue of Ras Ijah (Oouch!). So, maybe being a One Hit Wonder isn't necessarily as bad as being a regular Joe with zero Hits. Perhaps, what is more important is how the labelled artiste capitalizes on their one song - commercially.
While a Sister Nancy approach or luck (if you believe in luck) is good for the artiste financially, the fans of the music deserve better - follow-up hits! It can be a bit hard or unfair from a consumer standpoint, to be denied or starved of an encore of similar releases when the appetite or cravings for more of the same (or better) is already stimulated. I would have loved to reference an analogy here but I don't want to be 'sexplicit'.
Some artistes have completely fallen off or literally disappeared from the Reggae radar altogether. Where is VC, the 'By His Deeds' crooner? Where is Nanko who gave us that slow reggae ballad - 'Lucky You'. How unlucky that yute turned out to be. How about Erup who briefly took Dancehall by storm with 'Click Mi Finger'? What has Notch been up to after 'Nutten'? I understand the likes of Sasha with 'Dat Sexy Body' and Ms Thing who wasn't 'Regular' have since found the Lord in the Gospel circuit but what about the others?
While the search for answers continue, one can't help but wonder why a set of artistes who scored a hit sometime in their careers have failed to get another, despite continued activity. Jah Bouks again comes to mind, so does Guinney Pepper (Lick The Chalice) and Marlon Asher (Ganja Farmer). Gully Bop is still releasing songs similar to the one that 'buss' him but nobody seems to be 'paying him no mind' anymore. His case is proof that 'style' got little or nothing to do with scoring a hit. Could it simply be a case of people having enough and moving on? This possibility bothers me and I am tempted to believe it could be a factor. Why else is it, that the likes of Sizzla, Capleton, Junior Kelly, Turbulence, Anthony B, Cham, Busy Signal, Beenieman, Bounty Killer and even Junior Reid (who did a song with Black Uhuru telling people what it takes to make a Hit record) who use to drop back to back Hits in their respective catalogues, have found it difficult to land one in recent years?
I guess we'll never really know but one thing is as clear as daylight -- there is no particular recipe or formula that works for all. Many up and coming artistes have studied and adopted everything in the Vybz Kartel 'manual' yet can't manage a single hit. Even being a Marley does not guarantee hits. Kymani Marley doesn't have more than one (if any).
Observers (like myself) might not be too bothered. I just want to kick back, relax and enjoy good music; whether it is classified as a hit or a miss. However, it remains a major concern for certain acts (if not most) as their chances of landing juicy record deals or bookings are hinged on the number of hits they have in their catalogue.
After all is said and done, what should artistes do when hits are not forthcoming? Should they give up like Erup or switch up like Sasha? My counsel might not count but being labelled a 'One Hit Wonder' isn't the worst thing that can happen to an artiste. Matter of fact, I think it is more honorable to wear that badge than being labelled a quitter