Reggae Inspiration & Sub-genres

 Reggae in the Mainstream

Maxi Priest

Maxi Priest

Reggae continued its global rise through the 1990s. British artist Maxi Priest had a US No 1 with ‘Close to You’ (1990),   whilst his cousin Jacob Miller had a global hit with band Inner Circle on ‘Sweat (A La La La La Long)’ (1993). almost the same time when vegas hero casino was in its rising fame. American/Jamaican artist Shaggy’s music went global with ‘Oh Carolina’ (1993) and ‘Mr Bombastic’ (1995). 1994 proved a boom year for commercial Reggae, with Ini Kamoze’s ‘Here Comes the Hotstepper’; Chaka Demus and Pliers’ ‘Tease Me’ and female Reggae artist Dawn Penn’s ‘No, No, No’ all becoming chart-topping tunes. Reggae labels Island Records, Greensleeves, Treasure Isle and Trojan Records continued to support the industry. Into the 2000s, Reggae continued to reach the top of the mainstream charts through artists like Wayne Wonder and Gyptian, whilst R’n’B stars Rihanna and Alicia Keys had early reggae-influenced successes, including ‘Pon De Replay’ (2005) and ‘Ghetto Story Chp 2’ (2006). The children of Reggae legend Bob Marley also had musical success, including Damien Marley’s Grammy award-winning album ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ (2005). Pioneering pirate radio stations DBC (Dread Broadcasting Corporation), LWR, WIBS, Galaxy in London and PCRL in West Bromich, and Bristol’s Black FM were giving more airtime to Reggae and Dancehall, gaining interest from commercial and public service stations. http://www.londonpirates.co.uk. Goldfinger’s Reggae Show lasted for 13 years on Radio 1 (1996-2009) paving the way for Reggae artists to reach new national audiences as Tim Westwood incorporated Dancehall and Ragga into his Radio 1 Rap show. Entrepreneur Levi Roots’ 2007 success with his Reggae-branded ‘Reggae Reggae Sauce’ and the children’s TV programme ‘Rasta Mouse’ – featuring a crime-fighting, tam-wearing, reggae-playing lead character – are further testament to the popularity of the genre and its entry into the mainstream.

The Story of Bristol’s DJ Derek

DJ Derek

D.J Derek plays live

Headlining the St Pauls Carnival in 2013, Bristol’s DJ Derek has seen Reggae’s pathway to the mainstream. A white DJ from St Paul’s, Derek started out as a drummer with a love for Ska and R’n’B, building up a vast record collection including some rare imports from Jamaica. After losing his job as an accountant in the late 1970s, he was booked to play at a local St Paul’s pub. His reputation and bookings grew thick and fast amongst the West Indian community. His distinctive use of patois was learnt through listening to people at barbershops, where he was told ‘Keep your eyes and ears open and mouth shut till you’re ready to say something!’ – a philosophy which carried through to his live sets, where he played hidden behind a screen and introduced himself in patois.  Later he would reveal himself to the amazed cries of ‘Oh my, the DJ is a white man!’ He has since achieved local and national recognition, supporting big name Reggae artists at festivals, including Glastonbury. He has also featured in a recent music video for Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Dirtee Disco’ playing himself as a DJ in a disco for old-aged pensioners. Reggae legend Toots Hibbert said of DJ Derek: ‘Everybody knows you, you’re the white man that talks the people’s talk and plays the people’s music’.[link: learning to speak patois http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00t96yd]

The Rise of Dancehall


With DJs in Jamaica respected equally to musicians and performers, dance halls were the places where people came together to party, hence the Dancehall/Ragga genre. Reggae followed the changes in Hip-Hop, moving from conscious lyrics to what was termed ‘slackness’, as with Gangsta Rap in the US, with artists like Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg. Dancehall used more violent and sexually explicit lyrics, which were sometimes criticised for glorifying materialistic lifestyles and denigrating homosexuality. Shabba Ranks reached global success with ‘Mr Loverman’ (1992) while hits such as Beenie Man’s ‘Who Am I?’ (1998) and Capleton’s ‘Number One Pon De Look Good Chart’ (1993) became Dancehall anthems. Dancehall artists did not always use braggadocious lyrics, with artists such as Sizzla and Anthony B returning to more conscious themes and Beenie Man a good example of the eclecticism of the genre. Dancing played an important part in the culture, with new styles emerging like the Bogle and Dutty Wine. Female Dancehall artists broke into this male-dominated Reggae world, including Lady Saw (known for her raunchy stage performances) with ‘Hardcore’ (1994) and Tanya Stephens, who had hits with ‘Yuh Nuh Ready For Dis Yet’ (1995) and ‘It’s A Pity’ (2002). The film ‘Dancehall Queen’ (1997) tells the story of women participating in Dancehall competitions [link: Dancehall Queen trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjIBq-4L4i0]. Dancehall artists successfully collaborated with US R’n’B artists, such as Beenie Man’s ‘Feel It Boy’ (2002) with Janet Jackson. Competition and strong loyalties between artists led to the sometimes violent feud between Gully and Gaza-affiliated artists, including Bounty Killer and Mavado on the Gully side and Vybz Kartel and Popcaan on the Gaza side (well-known for their 2010 track ‘Clarks’), who released a series of ‘diss’ tracks verbally assaulting each other. However, undoubtedly the most commercially successful Reggae artist of the 2000s was Sean Paul, whose 2001 album ‘Dutty Rock’ sold millions of copies worldwide. His sound fused popular elements of Dancehall and Reggae, taking Reggae to a vast new international audience.

Bristol’s Trip Hop Pioneers

© Adrian Boot / urbanimage.tv

Tricky © Adrian Boot / urbanimage.tv

Meanwhile, among the fertile bass culture scene, a new ‘Bristol Sound’ was evolving from the pioneering sounds of Smith & Mighty, Fresh Four, The Wild Bunch and others in the 1980s. Using samples and experimental breakbeats, it contained influences of Soul, Funk and Jazz alongside clear influences (and often vocals) from Reggae and a downtempo beat, creating a unique blend of music which was named Trip-Hop by a journalist from Mix Mag. During the 90′s, Bristol bands Massive Attack and Portishead flew the flag for this new sound, beginning with Massive Attack’s 1991 album ‘Blue Lines’, featuring the vocals of Horace Andy and Shara Nelson. Subsequent Massive Attack and Portishead albums put Bristol’s music on the international map. Former band-member Tricky (pictured) went solo and won critical acclaim with his unique sound on ‘Maxinquaye’ (1995). Portishead’s debut album ‘Dummy’ (1994) also remains a vital record of this period. Members Geoff Barrow (who had worked on Massive Attack’s ‘Blue Lines’ album), Adrian Utley and Beth Gibbons made use of electronic loops and samples beneath an ethereal singing style.

Rave, Hardcore & Jungle

In the late 80s and into the early 90s, a new rave party scene emerged.  The enormous parties, often held in abandoned inner city warehouses, blasted out tunes with a frenetic pace designed to instil a sense of euphoria in the ravers. As the illegal raves culture grew, the police and authorities cracked down on these unauthorised parties, targeting them through legislation on parties where the ‘music includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.’ (Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). The music itself was a hyperactive blend of many genres, melding Acid House with sped-up Ragga chants, Hip-Hop samples and looped breakbeats. The influence of the Reggae toasters remained, with raves characterised by fast-spitting MCs whose job was to energise the crowd. Styles such as Acid House became Happy Hardcore and Hardcore Techno, later blending into Jungle. As with previous genres, the influences from Reggae, Dancehall and Soul remained, with Jungle and ‘Junglist’ being terms that had been referenced by toasters in Dub, Reggae and Dancehall for decades. M Beat & General Levy’s ‘Incredible’ is a good example of a Ragga Jungle style.

Drum ‘n’ Bass in Bristol

Roni Size & DJ Krust (c) Pete Williams

Roni Size & DJ Krust © Pete Williams

Further mutations and splintered sub-groups abounded, with a turn towards the ‘darker’ sound of Darkcore and often more ambient and progressive styles, leading to Drum ‘n’ Bass tracks like those on Goldie’s 1995 album ‘Timeless’ (on his co-founded 1994 label ‘Metalheadz’), LTJ Bukem’s ‘Atlantis (I Need You)’ and Omni Trio’s ‘Renegade Snares’. In Bristol, Roni Size (who had attended parties organised by Bristol’s Wild Bunch and learnt music production at the Docklands youth club) blended Jungle with Jazz elements and live instrumentation on tracks such as ‘Music Box’ (1993) with fellow Bristol Drum ‘n’ Bass producer DJ Die. Together with DJs Suv and Krust (formerly of Fresh 4), they set up ‘Full Cycle Records’ to release their music. These artists, along with a string of other Bristol talent, had success with their collective Reprazent, receiving a Mercury prize award for their album ‘New Forms’ (1997). [link: DJ Krust on Roni Size and the label http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THlEsUKHSZ4]. Female Bristol DJs like DJ Dazee and Flora played at venues around Bristol, featured in this documentary along with the Full Cycle collective [link: Sounds of the West http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oDU9ba-cBk].

UK Garage & 2-Step

Craig David "Born to do" album cover

Craig David ‘Born to Do It” album cover

Breaking away from the increasing darkness of Drum ‘n’ Bass, some fans were drawn towards the dress-to-impress vibe of Speed Garage, with sped-up repetitive Garage beats that were broken down and then built up again for the dancefloor, with tracks like ‘Rip Groove’ by Double 99 (1997). Jungle influences remained with the heavy basslines, while R‘n’B influences could be heard on the vocals, but also a half-spoken delivery more reminiscent of toasting. The sound became UK Garage in the following years and was commercially successful, with artists like Artful Dodger collaborating with R‘n’B singer Craig David on tracks like ‘Re-Wind’ (1999). Other artists experimented with drum patterns, creating 2-Step, whilst influences from Dub and Reggae remained, for example Horsepower Productions’ ‘Gorgon Sound’ (2000).


wileyGrime emerged in East London in the early 2000’s. Developing out of a combination of mainly Garage and Hip Hop and supported by pirate radio stations, including Rinse FM, Grime was popular with inner city British youth. Fuelled by the challenges of urban city living, this distinctly British sound spoke for and to a whole generation. “Spitting” fast-paced lyrics was the new toasting and beats tended towards the minimal, as originally they were often produced on low-tech computer programmes and games consoles, with many of the scene’s protagonists starting out in their teenage years. Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Boy In Da Corner’ album (2003) was seminal for the development of the genre, with stripped back beats and an emphasis on the fast-paced lyrics, documenting life on the estates of East London in the shadow of great wealth in the City of London. Fellow Roll-Deep Crew member Wiley, sometimes known as the ‘Godfather of Grime’, pioneered his ‘eskibeat‘ sound, which was a raw version of Grime seen in his early tracks ‘Igloo’ and ‘Shanghai’ (both 2003). Alongside Roll Deep, Newham Generals, Boy Better Know, Slew Dem Crew and Ruff Sqwad were all pioneers of the genre, with Ruff Sqwad’s ‘Functions On The Low’ achieving almost anthemic status and later, the over-the-top aggression of ‘Next Hype’ (2009) by Tempa T (of Slew Dem Crew). East London pirate radio station (and now community broadcaster) Rinse FM played a crucial role in the development of Grime, providing a platform for many young aspiring artists to showcase their lyrical talents.

UK Dubstep

© Liz Eve / www.lizeve.com

Mala © Liz Eve / www.lizeve.com

In the mid 2000s, with artists like Oris Jay / Darqwan and Horsepower Productions producing Dark Garage, it was clear which direction the music was taking. Horsepower Productions’ debut album ‘In Fine Style’ (2002) is widely seen as part of the roots of Dubstep, launcing the ‘Tempa’ label, which continued to have releases with Dubstep giants Skream and Benga, including Skream’s ‘Midnight Request Line’ (2005). Blending elements of Drum ‘n’ Bass, Dub and Garage, the sound of Dubstep was focused on a chest-rattling emphasis on bass, often foregoing lyrics entirely or using chant-like vocals, as with The Space Ape monologues on Kode 9’s ‘Memories of the Future’ album (2006). Also released in the same year, Burial’s self-titled debut album was met with success, clearly showing its influences from Garage and 2-Step. The genre was supported with a network of radio stations, including Rinse FM (which had moved away from its Grime beginnings) and John Peel on Radio 1 and club nights, including the ‘FWD>>’ night in London and ‘Dubloaded’ in Bristol. The ‘DMZ’ night/label was also instrumental in pushing Dubstep, with releases from Loefah, Mala (pictured), Coki and Digital Mystikz, including the iconic ‘Anti-War Dub’ (2006).

Bristol’s Dubstep Scene

Joker "The Vision"

Joker “The Vision”

Bristol rapidly established itself as an outpost for Dubstep, creating its own sound through labels like ‘Tectonic’ (2005), ‘Punch Drunk’ (2006) and ‘Apple Pips’ (2008), founded by Bristol Dubstep artist’s Pinch, Peverelist and Appleblim respectively. Peverelist’s ‘Roll With The Punches’ (2007) and Pinch’s ‘Qawwali’ (2006) set the scene for the early sounds of Bristol Dubstep, whilst artists Joker, Gemmy and Guido later achieved success with their sound, dubbed ‘purple’, including the Joker & Ginz track ‘Purple City’ (2009). The Hench crew – including artists Wedge, Jakes, Komonazmuk, Mensah, Headhunter & Gatekeeper were also foundational in the Bristol take on Dubstep. At the time of writing in 2013, with Dubstep’s firm place in the commercial mainstream, it is interesting to consider the possibilities for future directions and different blends of musical styles.


From Reggae music born from the African drum, the influence has been undeniably threaded through the musical decades. The fact that recognisable elements of Reggae still remain in current music is testament to its longevity and the proud history of that which is known as Bass Culture.

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