Released by Universal Music in 2008 in Australia and not to be confused with the Ministry of Sound compilation released in 2009 in the United Kingdom (not to mention several other similarly titled compilations), Essential Reggae is well deserving of its lofty billing. While not all 45 of the tracks are truly essential for reggae fans, indeed most are. Best of all, Essential Reggae spans several decades, ranging from groundbreaking classics like Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come" to contemporary smash hits like Damian Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock." Among the older classics, highlights include Bob Marley's "Sun Is Shining," Toots & the Maytals' "54-46 Was My Number," and Desmond Dekker's "You Can Get It If You Really Want." Among the more recent (i.e., post-1970s) classics, highlights include Gregory Isaacs' "Night Nurse," Ini Kamoze's "Here Comes the Hotstepper," Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me," and Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie." Given its generic title and the tendency of these kinds of compilations to be laden with filler, it's actually surprising how well compiled Essential Reggae is, rounding up dozens of veritable classics, one after another. Admittedly, the sequencing is sometimes choppy as the tracks jump back and forth through time and style, and the packaging leaves much to be desired in terms of annotation. Nevertheless, Essential Reggae is an ideal entry point for listeners who are interested in reggae but don't know where to start. Not only does it include lots of truly essential reggae, its price point is affordable and makes this compilation a great value. On the other hand, anyone with a respectable reggae collection might already have much of this music; for instance, no less than four songs are culled from the various-artists soundtrack album The Harder They Come (1972), a cornerstone of any roots reggae collection.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2