The dancehall genre of music has evolved tremendously over the years becoming a global phenomenon, particularly from the rise of female artistes that have emerged on the scene. Though still dominated by men, these women have boldly stood amidst their counterparts, holding their own and generating huge fan bases revering of their musical renditions.
In the world of entertainment there is always competition, so today we’re exploring the top 15 female artistes that have significantly influenced and ultimately revolutionized dancehall music.
15. Lady Ann
Lady Ann paved the way for female dancehall artistes in a time when it was difficult. Ann, whose real name is Barbara Ann Smith, rose to fame in the mid-’70s. She is also considered one of the first female dancehall DJs, along with Sister Nancy.
She found success in 1978 with her debut single Plan Your Family. She’s probably most famously known for her track Shine Eye Boy, which was her first solo single. She embarked on tough times during her career, as many producers back then didn’t want to produce her music. She eventually overcame those hurdles in 1980 and recorded Husband & Wife for Blackbeard, then moved on to release what is considered to be her first big hit Sattap.
Not long after she debuted a full-length album titled Vanity, which cemented a place for her in dancehall with songs like Crazy Boy, Chalice to Chalice, and Tony Gone. Her second album in 1982, entitled Informer earned her two honors, the first female DJ to top the singles chart as well as the albums chart. She’s also known for her singles Talk Talk Talk, Heroes Connection, Lady Ann You’re Sweet and Informer.
Cecile Claudine Charlton, aka Ce’cile got her big break in 1995, when Steven Ventura, the owner of Celestial Sound Recordings discovered her. She started out singing back-up vocals for various bands also finding the time to write and produce songs with artists such as Jah Mason & Chrisinti.
Her hard work would pay off when she found success in 2001 collaborating on the single Can You Do the Work with dancehall artiste Sean Paul. Then in 2003, she signed with Delicious Vinyl Records, however never released an album under the label.
Cecile’s first album entitled Bad Gyal was eventually released in 2008 with Kingstone Records, making history as the first dancehall album ever to be featured in German Playboy. She released her second album in 2009 called Waiting, which still has a remarkable international following in countries like Germany and Japan.
Alaine (Alaine Laughton) had her breakout hit in 2005 entitled No Ordinary Love, the single was very well received that it ultimately pushed her into the limelight. Since then she has continuously produced several hits that dancehall fans have come to know and love.
Some of her best work over the years is reflected in songs like, Dreaming of You, Sacrifice, Rise in Love and Bye, Bye, Bye. After releasing her debut album titled Sacrifice in 2007, she interestingly turned to Koyashi Haikyu Records in Japan to release her second titled Luv A Dub in August 2009. Her third and last album titled Ten of Hearts was released in 2015, however she has dropped several singles since then.
Alaine is an ambassador of dancehall music, performing all over the world where she has gained a remarkable following in several East African countries. She has collaborated with some of the greats in the industry, namely Shaggy, Beres Hammond, Beenie Man and many others.
She is largely recognized for her musical writing skills and has even gained numerous accolades for her work. She has co-written hit songs like Gimmie Likkle One Drop and Wanty Wanty with Reggae singer/musician Tarrus Riley.
These days she serves as a resident judge on Jamaica’s #1 reality talent search show ‘Digicel Rising Stars’.
12. Queen Ifrica
Another Reggae and dancehall legend is Queen Ifrica; she has a more conscious approach in her music and has used her positive lyrics to influence fans not only in Jamaica but also all around the world. Ifrica, whose real name is Ventrice Morgan was first recognized for her talent in her hometown of Montego Bay back in 1995, this ultimately marked the beginning of her musical career.
She quickly earned a space in dancehall and by 1998 was featured in Reggae Sumfest that year. She has so far produced hits like Randy, Jus my Brethren, Below the Waist and Daddy, performing these and many of her other songs at various shows across the globe.
Queen Ifrica signed a record deal with VP Records in 2009 and released her first album entitled Montego Bay in July of that year. Her second album, Climb was released 8 years later in March 2017, and went on to top the Billboard Reggae Albums chart.
Queen Ifrica is widely recognized for humanitarian efforts, using her positive music to gain much needed resources to help the impoverished youths in Jamaica.
Born in Jamaica yet raised in Brooklyn New York, Sasha whose real name is Christine Chin launched her career as a dancehall-recording artiste in 1993. She is notoriously known for her single Kill the Bitch; especially that it was released when she was quite a young teenager. Sasha then released her debut album titled Come Again in 1997 with Anchor Records.
In 1998, at the tender age of 15 years old, Sasha wrote her break out hit song Dat Sexy Body. The single gained massive appeal and was later remixed with famous Reggaeton artist Ivy Queen, then mixed as a riddim to feature dancehall artiste Sean Paul’s Deport Dem and hip-hop rapper Fatman Scoop’s Coca Cola Shape.
Her biggest hit to date is I’m Still in Love with You with Sean Paul, which shot to #1 in the Reggae Clubs of Jamaica, London, Miami and New York. Other singles that went on to becoming great hits were Wanty Wanty, Wine Gal Wine, and We Got The Love featuring reggae artiste Turbulence. Sasha and Turbulence’s relationship blossomed into a love affair, spurring other great songs such as Natty On Mi Frontline, Want A Natty and Don’t Wanna be Alone.
She did another album titled Sexy Body Sasha with VP Records that was slated for release in 2006, however got shelved subsequently as she ended up leaving the label.
Sasha eventually transitioned into gospel music in early 2008 and currently goes by the moniker Sista Sasha. She created the Beauty of Holiness Gospel Band and 16 years later released the album Breaking Free in April 2014.
10. Shelly Thunder
Michelle Harrison-Timol, popularly known as Shelly Thunder was born in Kingston Jamaica and migrated to New York City in 1980 when she was 15 years old. She was somewhat of a tomboy in her teens and would frequently hang out with the boys in Brooklyn. There she began deejaying and in 1985 dropped her first single titled Shock Mi a Shock, which became an instant hit, landing the #1 spot on the US Reggae Charts.
She became a staple in dancehall with her legendary single entitled Sometimes Man Fi Get Kuff, which gained popularity in 1988. She continued to top the charts with singles such as Walk Out a Mi House and Bway Nuh Come Back that were all released under the production label Mango Records.
The prolific dancehall icon at the time released a string of albums in rapid succession namely, Fresh Out of the Pac and Break Up that both released 1989. Working Girl came a year later in 1990 and Jump Around in 1991.
By the time 1992 rolled around, Thunder the roughneck dancehall deejay interestingly switched gears and embarked on a musical career as a gospel artiste. She started performing at reggae gospel concerts, where she changed her secular song titles and lyrics to gospel with rendered titles such as Satan Fi Get Kuff and Walk Out a Mi House Devil Don’t Come Back while adding new religious titles to her repertoire, such as The Race Is Not for the Swift.
Thunder also authored and performed on Forgive Me Father, a popular gospel tune on American musician Lauryn Hill’s popular Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1988) smash.
The Reggae sensation/singer and songwriter that is Koffee was born Mikayla Simpson in Spanish Town Kingston. She began her musical journey singing in the local church choir and by the time she turned 12 had taught her self to play the guitar. Koffee began writing music and thrived doing so with the inspiration she acquired listening to reggae singers Protoje and Chronixx.
She skyrocketed onto the music scene in 2017 when she debuted her trendy Rasta-infused single Burning on the Ouiji Riddim under Upsetta Records. The young teen quickly gained the attention of other conscious reggae artistes who officially gave Koffee her big break.
In January 2018, her reggae hero Coco Tea brought the young talent on stage at Rebel Salute and Rototom Sunsplash in Jamaica and Spain respectively. Koffee would then experience a euphoric musical teaming when her idol Protoje asked her to perform with him. Chronixx, one of the island’s biggest contemporary reggae stars too, invited Koffee to join him on Seani B and Mistajam’s recent 1Xtra shows broadcast from Big Yard studios in Jamaica.
She then released her single Raggamuffin in December 2018 becoming BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Hot for 2019 artistes. The single Toast came a short time after with incredible success, reaching international heights, particularly when Canadian rapper/singer Tory Lanez made a remix to the song as a part of his International Fargo project.
She then released her first crossover collaborative single “W”, featuring hip-hop artist Gunna in November 2019.
She signed to Columbia Records in the same year and released her EP Rapture, which went on to winning the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, making Koffee the youngest person and only woman to be awarded in the Best Reggae Album category.
Harping on her given name Chinsea Lee, the artiste we’ve come to know as Shenseea the ShengYeng trailblazer made headlines when she collaborated with the iconic dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel’s on his hit single Loodi in 2015.
She is one of the few female dancehall artistes to have launched into stardom within months of emerging onto the scene. In 2016, she won ‘Young Hot and Hype Artiste’ at the Youth View Awards; ‘Break Out Celebrity of 2016’ and ‘Collaboration of The Year’ for her song Loodi with Kartel.
She teamed up with dancehall artiste Sean Paul in the 2017 single Rolling and later joined him on his European tour that year. Not long after, Shenseea became an international celebrity performing at concerts across the globe.
She has collaborated with American singer and songwriter Christina Aguilera in the single entitled Right Moves from her 2018 album Liberation. Then after signing with Interscope records in 2019, she released the hip-hop/dancehall track titled Blessed, featuring American rapper Tyga, which became the young deejay’s most successful track to date.
Another Queen in her own right and arguably one of the fiercest females to emerge in dancehall is Patra. Though her name hasn’t been heard since the ’90s, she was once the only female deejay that could be heard in the clubs and on the radio.
Born Dorothy Smith, she began her career in the late 1980s. She broke into the US market when she was featured on Shabba Rank’s single entitled Family Affair. She is most popularly known for her monster debut album Queen of The Pack which hit #1 on the Reggae albums chart. The most famous singles featured on the album are Think (About It), Worker Man and Romantic Call, which were all hugely successful in the US.
Her single Pull Up to the Bumper peaked at #60 on the Hot 100 list, then #21 on the R&B charts and #15 on the Dance chart. She was also featured on C+C Music Factory’s remix of its hit single Take a Toke.
Her second album, Scent of Attraction, regrettably didn’t do so well. Patra’s career would begin to slow down after she released the albums Pressure Me and Man Dem Thriller. Neither of the two albums was as memorable as her first or any of her previous work.
Patra has taken time off from music and has attained a Bachelor degree in History and Political Science.
6. Macka Diamond
Like many, Macka Diamond has publicly acknowledged Sister Nancy as a huge influencer on her career. She grew up around music and was even acquainted with some big hitters in the game like the iconic Gregory Isaacs.
Macka is known by many names including Lady Cham, Lady Mackerel, and the Money Goddess. Recently, she unveiled a new older persona, Mackadoucious – the Granny of Dancehall.
Diamond has many celebrated hit singles, some of which include Done a Ready and Don Girl along with her clever reaction to Vybz Kartel’s Tek Buddy Gyal titled Tek Con. Some of her other hits are Bun Him featuring Black-Er, Hula Hoop and the mega-hit Dye Dye, which eventually went on to becoming a #1 hit in Jamaica after its release.
These days she’s keeping herself busy advocating for the awareness about domestic violence, even recently dropping a new single, Talk Up, which brings attention to the issue
5. Tanya Stephens
Tanya Stephens, who real name is Vivienne Tanya Stephenson, gained popularity and enjoyed most of her success in the late 1990s.
She dominated the scene and made a name for herself with the single Yuh Nuh Ready Fi Dis Yet, the single was later featured on the Reggae Gold 1997 compilation album. She quickly followed up with tunes like Draw fi Mi Finger, Freaky Type and Cry & Bawl that have become anthems in dancehall. Later in the 2000s she released her controversial chart topping single It’s a Pity that ultimately shot her to stardom.
Stephens teamed with Warner Music Sweden in 2004 and eventually gained international recognition for her Gangsta Blues album. She continued churning out more hits, releasing the album Rebelution in August 2006 where one of the featured singles These Streets went on to rank #1 in the Caribbean. In 2010 she released Infallible and then Guilty in 2013 marking the last known work from the singer.
4. Sister Nancy
One of the first female contributors to dancehall; Sister Nancy who is often called Muma Nancy as well, however her real name is Ophlin Russell. She is regarded as the “dominating female voice for over two decades” in the world of dancehall.
The music scene would not have been the same without Sister Nancy’s famous single Bam Bam. The song gained massive success back in the 80’s even creating a buzz in the media. The international broadcasting company BBC recognized the single as a “well-known reggae anthem” and the Jamaican Observer stating it as a “classic”.
The Bam Bam track is one of the most sampled reggae songs ever, having been voiced over by scores of international artists including Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill and Chris Brown to name a few.
Sister Nancy began her career as a teen, occasionally performing on the Twelve Tribes of Israel and Jahlovemuzik sound systems. She would later break down huge barriers for other female dancehall artistes that followed in her footsteps. In an unprecedented feat, she was the first female act to perform at Reggae Sunsplash and also the first female Jamaican deejay to ever tour internationally.
Her popular singles include One Two, Money Can’t Buy Me Love and Transport Connection from her debut album One Two, which was released in 1982. She’s also widely known for her hit singles A No Any Man Can Test Sister Nancy, Bang Belly, and a collaboration with Yellowman, Jah Mek Us Fe A Purpose.
She deliberately stepped away from the dancehall scene in what she revealed were efforts made to give other female artistes a chance, after all the went through great strides in paving the way for them. Though, in an interview with HOT 97 in 2017, she said that her hiatus had come to an end and was gearing up to do more shows.
3. Lady G
Janice Fyffe better known as Lady G became a household name after she released the soundtrack Man a Bad Man from the Jamaican film Third World Cop in 1999. Rewind a couple years prior, her musical career started out as a deejay on Black Scorpio sound system. Then in 1988 achieved incredible success when she debuted the hit single Nuff Respect.
Shortly after, she teamed up with her mentor dancehall artiste Papa San for the release of her epic single Round Table Talk where the two put on one the most memorable performances in the now renowned music video.
In 1995, Lady G after taking a short hiatus came back on the scene performing at several stage show and then joining forces with the trending (at the time) singer Chevelle Franklyn to drop the singles The Right Slam and Thank You (on the No Woman No Cry riddim) as well as Love and Hate.
The single titled Provide The Wine featuring Crissy D came in 1997 and received massive airplay on several local radio stations back then. She released several other popular hit songs like Certain Friends, Breeze Off and Girls Like Us, which eventually led the singer to perform for international audiences at Europe’s biggest reggae festival, Summerjam, in 2001 and later in the United States touring with dancehall’s most popular at the time, Buju Banton.
Lists like these are never easy to compose since an artiste’s past and present influence on dancehall is considered. While our #1’s contribution is untouchable there is one hard working female artiste that is perhaps also worthy of the spot and that is none other than Spice. Her real name is Grace Latoya Hamilton.
Spice began her career in the early 2000s and is recognized as a stalwart in the industry, and one of the few to have taken the Jamaican brand of music globally.
She was featured on Beenie Man’s single Hot from his album Concept of Life (2006) which gave her added exposure however, her single Fight Over Man was ultimately responsible for giving her that big break.
Her first mega-hit came through her collaboration with dancehall veteran Vybz Kartel in the 2009 single Romping Shop.
She would go on to prove that she could single-handedly progress her career to new heights by delivering several highly successful hits over the years to then transition her music career into international commercial entertainment.
Her debut EP So Mi Like It was released in 2014 through VP Records. Later that year, she would declare her space in dancehall with the release of her first full-length project, a mixtape titled Captured, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart.
In 2018 Spice joined the cast of VH1’s reality television series Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.
Spice became extremely popular through her theatrical stage performances, which would often leave her fans in awe. Together with hits like Complain (Mi Gone), Hype, Right There (Fix Me Good) featuring Toi among many others she became a force to be reckon with.
Still considered one of her hottest tracks Romping Shop, spent 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, peaking at #76. The song was ranked at # 9 on both Pitchfork’s list of the ‘50 Best Dancehall Songs of All Time’ and Billboard’s, ‘12 Best Dancehall & Reggaeton Choruses of the 21st Century’.
Spice continues to dominate the charts with hits like Conjugal Visit featuring Vybz Kartel which got over 2 million views on WorldStarHipHop within a day.
In February 2020, Spice released her first solo song of the year, titled Rolling. She is widely regarded as the new “Queen of the Dancehall” and is currently working on her debut album, which is set to be released under Shaggy’s record label, Ranch Entertainment.
1. Lady Saw
Sitting at the top of our list is an artiste that dominated dancehall for at least two decades. Her music is still played throughout the Caribbean region and the world even though she has retired from dancehall. Marion Hall, formerly Lady Saw, is now a gospel artiste and preacher but her earlier career demonstrates that she was indeed once the undisputed Queen of Dancehall.
What sets her apart from the pack is one of the highest accolades an entertainer can achieve in the industry. Saw is the first female deejay to be certified as a triple-platinum and Grammy Award-winning artist.
Lady Saw began performing with local sound systems when she was just 15-years-old, however her career didn’t kick off until in 1987 when she took on her sobriquet, which was influenced by Jamaican legend, Tenor Saw. It wouldn’t be until August 1994 that she released her first album entitled Lover Girl, which spawned the hit single Stab Up De Meat.
Her second album, Give Me the Reason dropped in 1996 and shot her to fame simply due to its explicit sexual lyrics, especially with featured songs such as Life Without Dick and Name Nuh Stand Fi Sex. Saw’s third album Passion followed and cemented her position as dancehall’s Queen with hits like Healing and Sycamore Tree.
She broke into the United States market with the single Smile with Vitamin C. The song brought international fame, trending on the charts in New Zealand and Canada and accomplished certified gold with over 500,000 sales. Her international success continued in 2002, when her collaboration with American band No Doubt on the single Underneath It All, reached #3 in the US. The single sold more than 3 million copies, reaching triple platinum certification.
More success followed with singles such as Chat to Mi Back and Me & My Crew (The Rae) along with others.