Best Reggae Artists: Top 5 Musicians Most Recommended By Fans

Reggae music as a whole has been a powerful voice for social and political change, with its roots deeply embedded in the history of Jamaica. Strongly influenced by traditional mento, jazz, rhythm, and blues, reggae has origins dating back to the earliest genre of ska. Reggae’s unique sound and distinctive beat, characterized by the prominent use of bass, helped it gain popularity not only in Jamaica but also worldwide. Its lyrics often tackle themes of social injustice, inequality, and the struggle for freedom, making it an influential genre that raises awareness and inspires change. With some of the best reggae artists using their voices worldwide, the genre continues to be a force for positive transformation and a symbol of unity and resistance against oppression.

Even a recent study shows that Americans put Bob Marley’s “Sun is Shining” in the top 10 songs that make people happiest! The song topped the charts in the study and checked all the boxes in Dr. Michael Bonshor’s formula. The researcher, who has a Ph.D. in music psychology and studies music in relation to well-being, believes that to create a happy song, one must have a combination of a major key, 7th chords, 137 BPM, strong beat, four beats in every bar, and a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure is a sure-fire way to produce a happy beat. It should also have a short intro, repeated riffs, high volume, bright tone, and a mix of predictability and surprise. Dr. Bonshor’s formula for a happy song seems to encompass all the necessary elements to create a joyful melody, and Bob Marley’s classic, among other tracks, are just a few of the lucky songs that get to invoke such a joyous emotion. Other tracks that follow this formula include “I Got You” (I Feel Good) by James Brown, “House of Fun” by Madness, and “Get the Party Started” by P!nk, with “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys coming in at number one.

We aren’t the only ones vibing with the uplifting sounds of reggae; however, our furry friends may also prefer to listen to its soothing melodies. If a chewing treat or rubber toy isn’t getting the job done when it comes to exciting your pooch, turning on the radio just might do the trick. Just be careful as to which station you put on. Researchers out of the University of Glasgow in Scotland, along with folks at the Scottish SPCA, found that reggae, as well as soft rock, topped the canine charts, though certain dogs do seem to have various tastes. Seeing as specific reggae songs have been shown to bring out a happier demeanor; it only makes sense this would pass on to our pups as well. 

Seeing how influential reggae music is not only on society but on people’s mentalities, it makes sense that one may want to expand their music taste into the reggae genre. That being said, we at StudyFinds have researched across multiple expert sources to bring you today’s ranking of the best reggae artists of all time. Don’t agree with our list? No worries, we would love to hear from you and your recommendations in the comments down below! 

grayscale photo of band performing on stage
Bob Marley (Photo by Bill Fairs on Unsplash)

The List: Best Reggae Artists, According to Music Experts

1. Bob Marley  

Of course, no other name could be number one than Bob Marley. The man who needs absolutely no introduction in musicians’ circles. “Robert Nesta Marley, better known as Bob Marley, is a name that is widely known in the world of reggae music. He was born in St. Ann, Jamaica’s Nine Mile, to a white father, Norval Marley, and a Jamaican mother, Cedella Booker. Bob dropped out of school to pursue his music career, where he, with other members, formed the group The Wailers,” explains EnkiVillage.

Bob Marley artwork
Bob Marley artwork (Photo by TBIB on Shutterstock)

“There’s the image pinned to numerous students’ walls. There are his songs, which spoke to the world not only of love but of struggle and redemption. There is his role as the prophet who took reggae to places it had never been heard. There’s his unique status as the first global ‘rock’ superstar who came from the so-called ‘third world.’ What is often forgotten about Bob Marley is the versatility of his voice: being one of the best reggae singers of all time is what made it all possible,” raves UDiscoverMusic.

“Any list of reggae singers would not be complete without the iconic Bob Marley, who went on to become one of the most influential figures in the history of reggae music. Marley’s music was characterized by its fusion of reggae, ska, rocksteady, and elements of Rastafarian spirituality. His powerful lyrics often touched upon themes of oppression, poverty, and unity,” explains HelloMusicTheory.

2. Toots and the Maytals

The people’s second pick is Toots and the Maytals. Known for their infectious rhythms and powerful vocals. “Toots Hibbert, a prolific reggae hitmaker from Jamaica, broke out in the 1960s to become a global success with his breakthrough album, ‘Funky Kingston.’ His tenor voice had a raspy tone that made him sound familiar to listeners across the globe,” notes CNW.

Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals
Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals (Photo by Ben Houdijk on Shutterstock)

“Popularly called The Maytals, this group emerged in 1962 as a vocal trio consisting of Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, Henry ‘Raleigh’ Gordon, and Nathaniel’ Jerry’ McCarthy, who sang on musical bases of The Skatalites. With several interruptions and modifications, the band, which was one of the precursors of the genre, is still giving some concerts,” writes LifePersona.

“Toots and the Maytals deserve a special nod since their 1968 single ‘Do they Reggay’ was actually the first popular song to use the word ‘reggae’ and likely gave the genre its name. Toots and the Maytals managed to bag several Grammy award nominations throughout their career and were once described as ‘The Beatles to the Wailer’s Rolling Stones,'” describes MusicGuard.

3. Peter Tosh

Next up is Peter Tosh. The musician and activist played a crucial role in popularizing reggae music worldwide. “Peter Tosh was one of the original members of Bob Marley’s Wailers, but he went on to have a successful solo career after his time with the Wailers. Peter Tosh exemplified reggae culture as a proud Rastafarian with strong ties to Jamaica. One of his biggest hits was the song ‘Legalize It,’ which was all about legalizing marijuana,” comments MusicGuard.

“One notable milestone in Tosh’s career was his collaboration with Mick Jagger, the iconic frontman of the Rolling Stones. Aside from his musical achievements, Tosh was also renowned for his outspoken nature and his willingness to use his platform to criticize politicians and advocate for social justice,” adds HelloMusicTheory.

“There are a few names that are synonymous with the foundations of reggae music. Peter Tosh is one of them. As a founding member of The Wailers, he wrote many of the anthems that led the band to prominence during their original lineup run from 1963 to 1974. Unfortunately, during a home invasion, Peter Tosh was killed in 1987 after winning the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Performance for his final record, ‘No Nuclear War,'” reports MusicGrotto.

4. Desmond Dekker

Fourth on our ranking goes to Desmond Dekker, another pivotal musician in the history of reggae and ska music. “Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1941, Desmond Dekker began his music career in the early 1960s and quickly rose to fame. Dekker’s music was characterized by its infectious rhythms, catchy melodies, and socially conscious lyrics, and his unique sound helped to shape the evolution of reggae music in Jamaica and beyond,” writes SingersRoom.

“One of the earliest reggae hitmakers was Desmond Dekker, who sang in his authentic Jamaican dialect on a number of reggae classics such as ‘Israelites’ and ‘It Miek.’ Dekker introduced the UK to Jamaican rude boy culture and paved the way for the likes of Bob Marley with his songs about the daily struggles of Jamaican people,” says  MusicGuard.

“Dekker recorded his most famous hits with Leslie Kong, who produced his music from 1963 on. Together, they recorded some of his most seminal albums, including ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ and ‘Action!’ both of which paved the way for reggae music both in the UK and abroad,” adds CNW.

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5. Burning Spear

Last but certainly not least is the musician better known by the stage name Burning Spear. A very influential singer-songwriter in Jamaican music. “Burning Spear was another early pioneer of the reggae movement in Jamaica. Like Bob Marley, Rodney was born and raised in the Saint Ann district of Jamaica, where he spent his youth absorbing the influence of American R&B, soul, and jazz on the radio. In 1969, a casual conversation with Bob Marley soon led to Rodney seeking a record label. Burning Spear first began as a duo act with Rodney and bass singer Rupert Willington before the likes of Delroy Hinds and Jack Ruby joined as the group grew,” explains Insure4Music.

“Winston Rodney, or Burning Spear, first appeared on the reggae scene in 1969. To date, he remains one of the most influential and long-standing roots artists of all time. In 1974, he released the album titled ‘Marcus Garvey’ which had several songs that encouraged a generation to find its Rastafari roots. ‘Marcus Garvey’ went on to become one of the greatest reggae albums ever made. People loved it because it was coherent, brilliantly produced, adequately thought out, and sung from the heart,” comments Tuko.

“If you want the sort of vocalist only Jamaica could deliver, one whose heart and feeling is in every word he ever uttered, one who knew what it was he was trying to say and why he was saying it, the lead voice of Burning Spear would be at the top of your list as one of the best reggae singers the island had to offer. From a quiet, almost softly-spoken delivery to a crying wail, this roots pioneer has spent the best part of 50 years spreading the message of Rastafari and Garveyite beliefs and is plainly the same voice he was when he started: involved, committed, and utterly mesmerizing,” concludes UDiscoverMusic.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

New York raised and Florida-based Jilly Hite studied screenwriting and theatre at The Lee Strasberg Institute before becoming a full time content creator and podcaster. She loves old movies, musical theatre, and her pup Ted.

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