21 Best Reggae Artists Of All Time

Who are the best reggae artists of all time? Well, that’s a subjective question but we are going to try to figure it out together in this article. Let’s get into it, yeah?

Note: These are not necessarily in order.

1. Ziggy Marley

Ziggy Marley | True To Myself | Dragonfly

Born David Nesta Marley, the oldest son of Bob and Rita Marley, goes by the name “Ziggy” — a nickname from his dad meaning “little spliff.” Though the artist also strongly appeals to Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars album. Whatever the origin, Ziggy has been making music since 1979, when he formed Ziggy Marley And The Melody Makers with his brother and two sisters. The eight-time Grammy winner has also had a notable solo career, even launching his own record label known as Tuff Gong Worldwide. The video embedded here is for True To Myself, one of his biggest hits.

Next: The best reggae songs of all time (top tracks from the genre)

2. Stephen Marley

Stephen Marley - Made In Africa ft. Wale, The Cast of Fela

The youngest son of Rita and Bob Marley went into the family business and has had notable success as well as accolades on his own, in addition to collaboratively with his siblings. His album Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life, released in 2011, secured the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2012. Have a listen to Made in Africa feat. Wale and the cast of Fela!. Over the years, reggae has incorporated other styles, illustrating its versatility and enduring appreciation.

3. Damian Marley

Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley - Welcome To Jamrock (Official Video)

Damian is the only child of Bob Marley with Cindy Breakspeare, who was crowned Miss World in 1976. Following his father’s footsteps into reggae music, He is also known as “Junior Gong”, a nod to his father’s nickname “Tuff Gong”. However, Damian has made a name for himself in the industry that stands on its own — he has acquired four Grammy wins throughout his career. Welcome to Jamrock is probably his best known song, which comes from the album of the same name.

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4. Toots and The Maytals

54-46 Was My Number

Toots Hibbert is widely regarded as a reggae pioneer who helped establish the form and wrote the first song to use the word reggae. Do the Reggay earned Toots and the Maytals an entry into the Oxford English Dictionary for coining the term. So their bona fides are pretty solid. The band rose to fame in the late 1960s, hitting their stride in the 1970s with record releases that attempted to set Guinness World Records, as well as tours with acts like The Who and The Eagles. Have a look at 54-46 Was My Number.

5. Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh - Get Up, Stand Up (Official Audio)

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. Tosh went on to a solo career after parting ways with The Wailers. 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.

6. Bunny Wailer

Soul Rebel featuring Bunny Wailer and Manu Chao | Song Around The World | Playing For Change

This list would be incomplete without mentioning Bunny Wailer, born Neville O’Riley Livingston in Kingston. Though he was a percussionist in The Wailers, Bunny was involved with songwriting and had a more prominent position vocally while Marley was away in Delaware for a time in the mid-1960s. Eventually going solo, Wailer made a name for himself — winning three Grammy Awards in the 1990s. He was also a follower of the Rastafari faith. Watch him perform Soul Rebel for Playing for Change.

7. Protoje

Protoje - Who Knows ft. Chronixx (Official Music Video)

Born Oje Ollivierre in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica to musical parents, Protoje has carved out a name for himself in reggae and dub circles. Certainly a more modern name in the world of reggae than some of the previous entries, he was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2018 for Best Reggae Album. He worked with Ky-Mani Marley on a song called Rasta Love, released in 2011. Perhaps his most popular song is Who Knows, available in the video above via his YouTube channel.

8. Rebelution

Rebelution - "Roots Reggae Music" - Live at Red Rocks

Another modern act that has turned ears is Rebelution from Isla Vista, California. The members went to the University of California, Santa Barbara, successfully acquiring their degrees while building a reputation in the local music scene while promoting their debut EP. Despite losing a founding member early on, the band has forged ahead. Rebelution was nominated for the Best Reggae Album Grammy award in 2017 for their album Falling Into Place. Get a look at them performing Roots Reggae Music live at Red Rocks in Colorado in the video embedded above.

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9. The Melodians

The Melodians - "Rivers Of Babylon" (Official Audio)

The Melodians might not be a name that comes to mind quickly, but they hail from Kingston, Jamaica and have a career that predates the reggae movement. Their early sound was categorized as rocksteady, though they evolved like the other acts on the scene. Founding band members, Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton are responsible for the lasting hit Rivers of Babylon, which uses biblical verses as a way to make an allegory about the conditions for Rastafarians in Jamaica during those times. Hear them perform in the video above.

10. The Abyssinians

Another reggae act that you might not be well-versed in is The Abyssinians. Known for their three-part harmonies, the band was originally formed by Bernard Collins along with brothers Donald and Lynford Manning. Though they never reached the heights we have seen from other performers on this list, the group did write the beautiful song Satta Massagana. This brief clip captures a rare live group performance. They would split up but eventually reformed in the 1990’s for a time.

11. The Paragons

Pack up Your Troubles

The Paragons took the sounds of reggae other acts from Jamaica were performing and combined it with the lush vocal harmonies and production sense of lounge acts. In 1967, the group released The Tide is High, which was written by vocalist John Holt and featured the violin of “White Rum” Raymond. Their pop sensibilities come across in shimmering tones throughout the song as the vocals share melodic duties with the fiddler. Take a listen to the video above.

12. UB40

UB40 - Red Red Wine (Official Video HD Remastered)

Not every single reggae act is related to Bob Marley or comes from Jamaica. The genre has been influential globally and inspired musicians to incorporate the style anywhere music can be heard. UB40 is from Birmingham, England. The band has had a large cast of members over the years, even from Jamaica, as things would turn out. Though the band has not won a Grammy Award, they have been nominated four times over their career. You have probably heard their cover of Red Red Wine on the radio a thousand times, at least.

13. Ken Boothe

Ken Boothe - Everything I Own (Official Audio)

Ken Boothe has been working the circuit since 1963. He was performing, recording, and releasing albums at a breakneck pace through the 1970’s, capitalizing on the reggae boom of the era. One of his best known songs from that period is Everything I Own. The song is excellently produced and reached number one on the UK Official Singles Chart upon its release in 1974. Take a listen to Ken’s sultry voice on the track by playing the video above.

14. Gregory Isaacs

Another prodigious name in reggae is Gregory Isaacs, who was described at one point as “the most exquisite vocalist in reggae” by Milo Miles of The New York Times. His big break came in 1982 with the song Night Nurse, though it wasn’t a chart topper. Over 500 albums have been released under Isaacs name over the years and he successfully acquired four Grammy nominations during his tenure on the microphone.

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15. Junior Murvin

Jamaican born vocalist, Junior Murvin was active from 1965 until his death in 2013. He recorded with well known producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who worked with Bob Marley, The Clash, and even the Beastie Boys. They are responsible for Murvin’s most well-received single Police and Thieves. His debut album, named for the single, was distributed by Island Records. The record is considered to be part of the holy trinity of albums Perry produced in his recording studio, Black Ark. Listen to the single in the video embedded above.

16. 311

Maybe you do not include 311 on your list of the 21 best reggae artists of all time. That is a little shortsighted though, because these guys blended rock, reggae, and hip hop into a chart-topping formula for a number of years. There are a few moments throughout their work that don’t land authentically, but one song that is an undeniable hit is Amber. The song still gets radio play and is their top listing when you search for the band on Spotify, so it’s safe to say people appreciate their work on the track.

17. Desmond Dekker

Desmond Dekker & The Aces – Israelites (Official Lyrics Video)

Desmond Dekker was born in Jamaica and spent his formative years in Kingston. Making a career in ska, rocksteady, and reggae as a singer-songwriter and musician, he eventually relocated permanently to the UK. His most well-received work was from the era between 1967 and the early 1980s. He did reach the charts with a few songs, but his most notable track is easily Israelites.

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18. Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff - I Can See Clearly Now (Video Version)

Jimmy Cliff is another Jamaican-born singer that has been going strong on stage and in the studio for decades. Since 1962, Jimmy has been singing ska, rocksteady, reggae, and soul, scoring two Grammy awards for Best Reggae Album. It is likely that you are familiar with his rendition of Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now which was released for the film Cool Runnings. Get a look at the official video above.

19. The Wailers

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Stir It Up (Live at The Old Grey Whistle, 1973)

Two of the founding members of The Wailers have already made this list, but it is important to recognize the group collectively. Before the spotlight focused on Bob Marley and the original lineup split up, The Wailers were the standard-bearing musical group of reggae. Peter and Bunny, along with Bob, established the act and built the name together, but the media focused too heavily on Marley and the other two began to feel marginalized. Get a look at them performing live together on video, a very rare artifact!

20. No Doubt

Perhaps a contentious selection, but No Doubt attempted to lean into Jamaican sounds like reggae, dub, and dancehall for Rock Steady. Whether you think they belong on your list or this one is secondary to the conversations they started about genres a lot of pop music fans might not have heard previously. The band immersed itself in Jamaican culture to absorb the vibes in the hopes of committing them to a song. How did they do?

21. Bob Marley

Bob Marley & The Wailers - No Woman, No Cry (Live At The Rainbow 4th June 1977)

Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without the legend making an appearance. It would be a pretty sorry collection if Marley was not included, which is why the “G.O.A.T.” was saved for last. It was a given that he would be a name folks would look for and, while this is not a ranked list, it is easy to argue that Marley’s catalog helps to shed light on the other acts named here. Watch him perform No Woman, No Cry live with The Wailers in 1977.

Take a listen to the best reggae artists

Who do you think are the best reggae artists? If you’d like to listen to this collection of songs, playlists are available on Spotify. There are probably a billion ways to compile this list, not only through different reggae acts but also through slight stylistic variations, and eras. Really, any categorization you can dream up could generate a whole new collection of favorites. Then we can combine them to see what sort of interesting playlists we can put together. So, who made it onto your list?

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