Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Marvin Sparks interviews Bay-C from dancehall group T.O.K. on Rinse FM

Pre-carnival on Monday I ventured down to legendary radio station Rinse FM. The Heatwave crew ran up in the station armed with record boxes ( Serato loaded on MacBook) and took control of the breakfast show. Essential carnival warm-up tunes, carnival top ten and an interview with Jamaican group TOK's Bay-C (the dude with the deep voice). The latter is where I came in as the "dancehall expert" (their words not mine (but they're definitely true)).

We spoke about T.O.K.'s (Touch of Klass) beginnings, appeal in their biggest market Japan, dancehall in Japan and Africa, importance of touring with declining record sales, why crossing over is not a priority, then similarities between UK and JA (chatting on sound system and crews). First time interviewing live on radio. Went alright still. Listen below.

Furthermore, here are some TOK songs you will probably know:

"Gal Yuh Ah Lead"  (this would have charted well if it wasn't for external campaigns)

"She's Hot" on Sexy Ladies riddim

"Footprints" on Drop Leaf riddim

"Toppa Toppa" (Galang Gal) on Diwali riddim

"Solid As A Rock" (Alison Hinds borrowed the flow in the verse for "Roll It Gal")

Personal fave:

"Fire, Fire" on Mad Instruments riddim

Plus, the ones in the mix.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

"Out of one, many" JA influence on 00s UK underground

Previous post was about the effect of dancehall on the overground. I guess I could have worked it so we end on overground success, but I value underground over mainstream success. So in saving best 'til last, I'm talking about underground.

Now if you've followed me for a bit, you'll know that people don't seem to understand the influence Jamaica has on the underground lineage. Obviously, those with sense know it, but I will explain it. Like the other genres I've written about, I'm not saying Jamaican music (or in this case, dancehall) is the only factor or they'd all sound exactly like dancehall.

What has made UK excel at music over the generations has been mixing our various influences to create something unique. Many say our music isn't original because we just copy everything else, but I disagree. Our music is original, because we take influence from everything. Be it house, hip hop, r&b, soca or Jamaican music. I doubt there is anywhere in the world that has the access to different cultures, therefore different musical influences like UK, London to be precise.

UK garage

Yeah, some songs sounded similar to US, but many others didn't. When the emphasis was placed on bass, you knew it was something different. When MC's hosted sets similarly to toasting, it was something different. Then they started making dubplates (full vocal songs), it was something different.

All of these above elements were distinctly part of the UK rave scene linage, many of which can be traced back to sound system culture Jamaicans brought with them in the 70s.

(I'm doing this next bit from memory so I may placing some of the next events out of sync, but here goes.)

Ms Dynamite "Boo" was a game changer. It was effectively sped-up dancehall. Sped-up Bogle riddim to a certain level. When this tune dropped, the door opened for a new vibe. I'm from south of the river, so So Solid had already begun pushing a new sound as far as we heard. "Oh No" sounded completely different to anything I'd ever heard, it was a garage song with hip hop arrangement, "Boo" is the dancehall equivalent.

So Solid, who I know used to play ragga (cos it's just what everyone did) made dancehall-fused "They Don't Know" and roped in the ferocious female MC to deliver two of the best verses a UK MCs spat on "Envy". Deep Roller remix of "Ride Wid Us" is also dancehall-fused (bass melody is similar to Bogle riddim) merged with sped-up New Jack Swing drum pattern.

Barbershop dudes K2 Family charter top 40 with "Bouncing Flow". Another classic from this era is dancefloor-filler "Oi" by east London collective More Fire Crew - name itself is inspired by reggae artist Capleton. p.s. Ozzie B's verse is another of the best verses ever. Both he and Neeko utilitse a dancehall pattern with a slight Yardie twanged accent. "Hey" sample, bass pattern and stabs are all prominent dancehall influences.

Fellow east London collective Pay As U Go entered the top 40 with "Champagne Dance". Despite some faux-American accents, the beat is dancehall-garage. PAUG member Maxwell D had a big underground hit with "Serious", Maxwell + other members of PAUG, Gods Gift, Major Ace and Wiley's classic "Know We" is a song that Wiley himself names as one of his earliest attempts dancehall productions.

North Londoners Heartless Crew were probably the purest example of a vintage dancehall sound system in a garage setting. The trio dropped classic "Heartless Theme" in 2001. To hear them in full sound system mode, listen to Crisp Biscuit.

Powerful anthems such as "Are You Really From The Ends?", Stush - "Dollar Sign", Tubby T "Tales of the Hood", Brasstooth "Pleasure" all relied heavily on dancehall influences alongside others.


Classed by many as UK's first independently British genre. (Well, it depends on whether you class any of the above as grime.) Grime became the known as the voice of "urban" youths.  Seminal tune "Wot Do You Call It?" by grime's god father Wiley could be a King Jammy's or Bobby Digital riddim sped-up. The melody of the bass is similar in style to say Shabba Ranks "Peeny Peeny". It isn't a copy, but bears a resemblance, yet done in a uniquely British style through warped synths and a fresh drum pattern. And more importantly a British rave BPM.

Jammer's breakthrough "Murkle Man" is also another that sounds similar to dancehall in a British style. Once again, a classic, fusing our elements. If I recall correctly, Jammer's dad is a sound man. He has a lyric where he says he loves something "more than Frankie Paul loves Sarah". That isn't a regular song to name check.

These guys grew up hearing dancehall in their houses, so regardless of whether they were trying to or not, they were unconsciously drawing from that influence to a certain degree whilst keeping in line of what British lineage.  Much like So Solid "21 Seconds" before it, a song like "Pow" captures the pass-the-mic toasting which has travelled the generations from Jamaican immigrants. Approx a quarter of the MCs on the track utilise a yard accent (Ozzie B, Flowdan & Jamaka B). Bass and synth stabs are dancehall-flavoured

And just like dancehall, reloads are order of the door. Crews are basically sound systems compromising of MCs and DJs (in Jamaica they were DJs and selectors). They also liked to clash a bit.

Modern day grime carries more of an independent vibe or imitation of trap south beats, but there is still some dancehall influences to be found. Go to 2:00 on this to hear Tempa T using a dancehall flow when drawing for "Fletcher" lyrics. That video also features "Circles" by leading producer Preditah which not only contains a dancehall 8-bar, it's another element of Jamaican music, dub. Total underground smash-hit "Next Hype" has a few dancehall patterned rhymes ("Pulling out lengs everywhere/ Dun know we got the shotgun there" for example)

UK Funky

I would write about bassline, but I don't know much about it. I'm from London. Never listened to it, wouldn't even know where to back up my thoughts with facts... pretty pointless. However, in London around a similar time, UK funky emerged. Drawing on influences from a variety of places funk, US house, UK garage, soca and dancehall. Much like UK garage before it, people left from harsher sounds of grime to female-friendly UK funky.

As the story stands, UK funky is the last in this lineage made, played and enjoyed by London's African and Caribbean communities. We'll get onto that in a second.

Examples are as follows:

MC's toasting

Maxwell D (of Pay As U Go fame) turned Lil Silva's bashment-funky banger "Different" into "BlackBerry Hype"

Femcee Shystie linked up with Ill Blu for a remix to her track "Pull It". Her yard matches the vibe of the distinct dancehall bassline in typical UK warps synths and soca drum pattern.

KIG hit top 20 with a instuctional dance song. Would post it, but I hate that song. I'll post Gracious K - "Migraine Skank" instead. Didn't like the replayed beat on the official video version either, you can watch that here.

Jamaican dancehall artist Aidonia jumped on Crazy Cousins "Attraction"


While African and Jamaican communities went wild for UK funky, dubstep appeared to come out of nowhere. Dubstep's roots are in Croydon, just outside of south London. Earlier dubstep took a more explicit influence from Jamaican dub music. Rusko sampling Mad Professor "Kunte Kinte" dub for the monster "Jahova" for example.

Or Coki remixing Mavado's breakthrough "Weh Dem A Do"

True Tiger "Slang Like This" is Jamaican dub friendly.

Nowadays dubstep has gone similarly to when jungle became drum & bass (a.k.a. dead) with more techy stuff, but to a certain levels there is still the same understanding. Dub from King Tubby's studio was about the engineer creating songs from what the bands already cut, adding echoes, distortion and delays. Dubstep still does this, and usually operates on similar drum beat structure.

Skrillex, a man many credit for killing dubstep, recently called upon Damian Marley to appear on his album. "Make It Bun Dem" is the result, showing reggae influence still about.

UK Rap

Sound the African and Caribbean youths are creating at the moment is UK rap. Basically, "let's pretend we're American", hence calling UK funky the last of the traditional UK lineage. However, there is still some Jamaican influences, naturally.

Pioneer of the whole road rap movement is a guy from Peckham called Giggs. There were guys rapping the road life before him, but people didn't care as much as they do now post-Giggs. He burst onto the scene with "Talking the Hardest" a freestyle on a Dr. Dre beat, but had a timing similar to dancehall artists. Low and behold, I find out he used to be a ragga DJ.

Whilst it was a hip hop beat, it was dancehall-friendly. A few other UK dancehall guys jumped on it, 1Xtra remix king Seani B blended dancehall vocals on there and it's generally been a gun fingers all-round type vibe to this day.

His other banger, "Look What The Cat Dragged In" is pretty similar. Fluid drums in the intro make it sound more dancehall than the prominent ones throughout the song, but the rest of it could easily be a dancehall song.

Brixton-repping rapper Sneakbo is probably the only guy to get the streets buzzing as much as Giggs did. Sneakbo's approach is unashamedly bashment, choosing to rap over established and unestablished dancehall riddims directly from Jamaica. Breakthrough song: "Touch A Button" freestyle over popular Vybz Kartel song.

Just as comparison, listen to how Sneakbo's "Touch A Button" lyrics sound on "Talking the Hardest" beat (I just came across this). End plays "Wave Like Bo", another dancehall riddim.

US superstar Drake recently bigged him saying he loved that he was "rapping over dancehall beats" (watch video of interview here).

Cashtastic and Ard Adz & Shallow have good buzzes at the moment, Cash's biggest tune is still dancehall, "Call Me Up" over the Sex Appeal riddim.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"Out of one, many" - 00s pop in UK

Today we talk Jamaica's influence on UK pop in the 21st century.

Jamelia roped in a little help from Beenie Man to get her first hit, a #5 in 2000

Shaggy - "It Wasn't Me" - best selling single in 2001. It still ranked #5 in the best-selling singles of this century in the chart released December 2011. That includes singles sold for 79p and benefit of reality TV shows. This along with fellow number 1 "Angel" were released on the diamond-certified (10 million albums worldwide) Hotshot.

American rock group No Doubt ventured to Jamaica to record their album Rocksteady. The well-received album spawned two dancehall-fused hits, Grammy award winning "Underneath It All" featuring Lady Saw and UK #2 "Hey Baby"featuring the unmistakable vocals of the poor people's governor, Bounty Killer.

Australian actress/singer/siren Holly Valance climbed atop the UK charts in 2002 with the ultra sexy "Has she got on clothes? I'm not sure but I'm gonna say no to fulfil my pubescent fantasies" (may or may not be based on real version of events) video for "Kiss Kiss". The original is by Turkish superstar Tarkan, but this is a cover of Stella Soliel's version. Dancehall influences sit alongside traditional Mediterranean sounds. The med like a bit of reggae and dancehall, they do.

2003 saw the rise of dancehall's first genuine superstar in form of Sean Paul. Not many saw the vision of the uptown youth becoming the first dancehall artist to chart consistently and sell albums with authentic dancehall riddims, albeit giving special treatment for mainstream (additional instruments). "Gimme The Light" kicked the door in initially.

Performing it on the MOBO Awards in 2002 (when the MOBOs actually gave artists like him a chance to access the wider market) helped a whole heap. It wasn't until summer 2003 when the buzz really turned to something tangible, appearing on two number 1's - Blu Cantrell "Breathe" and Beyoncé's second solo US chart-topper "Baby Boy" (#2 in UK).

"Get Busy" on the Diwali riddim (possibly the most successful riddim of all time) became Paul's highest chart entry that year.

Sean Paul's success set off a chain reaction that summer. Fellow artists to benefit chart-wise were Wayne Wonder who did exceptionally well with "No Letting Go" reaching #2

At this point, dancehall experienced a time I've never seen in my life. Authentic dancehall songs that were banging in the clubs graduated to TV rotation. Elephant Man "Pon Di River" took the land by storm, he seemed to appear on a remix for every urban American song from Usher "Yeah" to Lil' Jon "Get Low",  TOK were set to breakthrough in my opinion with "Gal U A Lead". But all that came to a halt when OutRage! launched a political campaign against them with the support of the nations media.

For once, the world seemed to take the moral high ground as far as music/entertainment is concerned. Maybe too far, as the whole genre was labeled "murder music" and corporations cut back investment - something that still hinders the genre to this day.

And St Vincent & Grenadines born Kevin Lyttle hit one of the biggest songs of the whole entire year. "Turn Me On" floated in the top ten forever acquiring silver status (excess of 200,000 singles sold). Although, more a meeting point of Caribbean sounds (reggae, dancehall and soca to be precise) the styling of the video is carnival, while they take inspiration for dances from both carnival and popular dancehall moves. This broke in UK before (being remixed and) moving to US the next year.

Another hit to benefit of the dancehall trend, was Jay Sean. Producer Rishi Rich lined him with the r&b/bhangra riddims such as "Dance With You" and "Eyes On You" in 2003 - a lot of bhangra has a strong dancehall influence (see Apache Indian). Juggy D singjay's on the former and the latter has a internationally made dancehall feel like Cassidy's "Hotel". Another Asian artist to benefit from the dancehall rise was Raghav who reached #6 with "So Confused" that same year.

R&b/pop group Blue chopped up a little dancehall on top 5 single "One Love" - a song produced by Norwegian duo Stargate who went on to fuse dancehall and r&b to great success when breaking America a couple years later... (see NeYo)

2004 saw Fya's Def Jam released single "Must Be Love" reached lucky number 13. Long time Sky digital viewers will recognise this from MTV Base. American (former) hip hop group Black Eyed Peas turned in a dancehall attempt in form of "Hey Mama" which served as third single from breakthrough album Elephunk. One of the numerous songs clearly influenced by the Diwali riddim after SP's success, boasted a feature from UK's very own Tippa Irie from Saxon Sound. Together they reached #6 in UK chart.

Like Kevin Lyttle the year before, another minority nation managed to capitalise on dancehall's dominance, this time reggaeton. The genres hit came in shape of top 5 hit "Gasolina" by Puerto Rican fast-chatting "rapper" Daddy Yankee. This set off a host of reggaeton raves, namely La Bomba. The Latino's came out in fully force for that, I tell ya.

Remember Stargate from a bit earlier? Well, they teamed with Ne-Yo to produce "So Sick". Went to #1 and sounds like dancehall. If you disagree, but think Rihanna "Rudeboy" does, you're a plank. Second UK-released single, "Sexy Love" went top 5, and sounds like a slowed down Diwali.

Speaking of both Rihanna and Diwali riddim, her debut single/ Diwali knock-off "Pon Di Replay" jumped in at #2 in 2005. Later in the year saw the return of Sean Paul complete with new album The Trinity lead by most successful single to date "We Be Burnin'" held off top spot by Pussycat Dolls "Don't Cha".

On the flip side, previously relatively unknown Marley by the name of Damian emerged with monster of the year. "Welcome to Jamrock" had been burning on the dancehall scene in 2004, but it wouldn't be until 2005 that the commercial crossover began. It's eventual release in September saw it peak at number 13.

Mouthy west Londoner Lily Allen rose to the forefront of UK music in 2006 with a ska and rocksteady-infused sound much like Madness or The Specials before her (check an earlier post where I spoke about this or watch this YouTube clip of Lily + The Specials performing together at Glastonbury).

Following her discovery on MySpace, Mrs. Cooper bounced Shakira's monster (reggaeton/dancehall-infused) hit from the top spot by cussing an ex on "Smile", sampling Jamaican producer Jackie Mittoo ("Free Soul") in the process.

My mind has gone blank, can't think of any examples between 2006-2010. Ne-Yo, Rihanna and Stargate kept a bit of a flow. "Hate That I Love You" - #15 in 2007, "Miss Independent" - #6 in 2008, Rihanna - What's My Name - #1 in 2010.

Biggest urban single this side of the century is "Pass Out" by Tinie Tempah. This is a perfect example of reggae in a UK electronic style.

Wretch 32 "Traktor" is the biggest selling hip hop song on UK iTunes. PR call it dancehall-fused, Wretch explains his initial love was dancehall and his delivery is a dancehall fashion

Then you have Rizzle Kicks who are basically a 2012 version of Madness. Classed as a hip hop act, but they've made ska and dancehall-fused tracks. "When I Was A Youngster" (#8 UK) samples The Clash "Revolution Rock", "Down With The Trumpets" (#8 UK) has a reggae bass line and "Mama Do The Hump" (#2 UK) has a driving dancehall kick drum pattern. They aren't dancehall and reggae songs ("Youngster" is a ska revival record), but they use influences to make something which sounds fresh and original. Something we excel at. Hate them or love them, it's true. They've sold over a million singles and 300,000 albums, so someone likes them.

You can read about last year's JA influence here. I did a whole post about it.

This year Bajan pop-reggae group Cover Drive topped the charts with "Twilight"

Monday, 13 August 2012

"Out of one, many..." Jamaica inspires 90s UK rave

So, I decided to take the day off yesterday. An opportunity to catch up. Omnibus type vibe.

Saturday's post detailed Jamaica's pop invasion, so it's only right for me to talk about underground movements to mainstream success.

Soul II Soul emerged during the eighties, seeing success right on the edge of the nineties (1989 to be precise), so I've put them here as it fits the theme of this post. Jazzie B-led production outfit sought session singers to vocal their reggae-infused soul and new jack swing riddims. One-time lovers rock singer, Caron Wheeler, featured on both of their big hits, "Keep On Movin'" and "Back to Life" which sky rocketed to the top of the pop charts. Both managed to cross the ocean too.

Jazzie B credits his foundation in the sound systems and house party as a main inspiration for the whole Soul II Soul movement. Prominent bass line is a dead giveaway in "Back to Life". Soul II Soul's mission was to unite the influences of the soul and the reggae scenes - both were very divided in those times. Watch a lecture from Red Bull Music academy click here.

Rave music in the UK lineage owes as much if not more to Jamaica than it does anywhere else. 1992 saw Prodigy sample Lee "Scratch" Perry-produced "Chase The Devil" by Max Romeo on pre-jungle banger "Out of Space".

Likewise, SL2 nabbed vocals from Jah Screechy's "Walk and Skank" and sample the Answer riddim for dance chart topper and #2 in the nationals "On A Ragga Tip".

Taking it back a little bit, you will have seen I mentioned Saxon Sound in the UK reggae in the 80s post. Today I will go a bit further into examples of their influence.

Following on from the hardcore scene came jungle. I don't think any UK rave genre based itself on the ragga scene as much as jungle. MC's had the fast-chat style as pioneered by Saxon sound MCs in the previous generation.

Most notable jungle anthems are UK top ten M-Beat "Incredible" boasting vocals from UK ragga artist General Levy and Shy FX "Original Nuttah". Both had an unmistakable ragga influence, from vocals to bass lines.

Correct me if I'm wrong but "Original Nuttah" samples the bass line from Shabba Ranks "Wicked In Bed"

Then you have songs where they dubbed new drum beats over popular ragga songs (Congo Natty - Lion Jungle) and sampling ragga vocals to a new beat like personal favourite of mine Leviticus "Burial"

Towards the latter end of the 90s black Londoners moved from the harsh sounds of jungle to the female-friendly house and garage scene. Following a few years of US-sounding stuff, Jamaican influences began emerging when the UK producers created their own sounds. But before that, the UK mc's were toasting similarly to sound system guys.

And just like jungle, dancehall samples peeked through. But more on that in the next episode...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

"Out of many, one..." Jamaica inspires pop in 90s

Towards the latter stages of the 80s, a new movement occurring in Jamaica would later become the third and probably most influential generation of Jamaican music in the UK to this day. Not to discredit the previous two (ska and reggae), because there'd be no dancehall without them. Digital rhythms and re-licks of older riddims combined with the toasters of the day became sound of the youth. If ska is jovial, reggae is conscious Rasta, dancehall incorporated all those elements plus the rude boy. 

A Jamaican rude boy is different to the UK rudies of the 80s. Generally speaking, a Jamaican rude boy comes from a harsh ghetto and generally braggadocios (Jamaicans say "boasty"). Be it the best lyrics, toughest guy, gets the most girls or bedroom prowess, these guys had it in abundance. The competitive element from previous generations sound clashes both before and after the DJ (toaster) "killed each other" lyrically speaking came out in songs a lot more.

Dancehall's influence on the 90s, both under and overground, is probably still unmatched by any other genre. Jamaican dancehall hits in addition to cheesy dancehall-inspired pop songs regularly appeared high in the national charts. 

Here are a few songs you should already know:

Chaka DemusPliers were the first Jamaican acts to have three consecutive top 5's in the UK two of which shot to the top spot  for the singer & deejay combination. Believe it or not, neither of them were the omnipresent "Murder She Wrote", no, their number 1's came via "Tease Me" and a cover of The Beatles/Isley Brothers "Twist & Shout". 

Taking the record for most top 5's by a Jamaican act was actually a Jamerican (Jamaican-American). Former US marine-turned-Mr Lover-Lover, Shaggy became the most commercially successful artist from making dancehall-fusion. From first chart-topper "Oh Carolina" (based on the Folkes Brothers ska classic) to his eventual diamond success in the '00s, Shaggy's success was gradual even if a bit here and there.

Like Chaka Demus & Pliers (and numerous other acts) a cover is on the hit list, this time in form of Mungo Jerry's 70s hit "In The Summertime" (#5) before returning to top the pop charts with (this version of) "Boombastic" (not the "Sexual Healing" instrumental).

Here's said Levis advert credited for helping "Boombastic" become a hit. And it's a bloody good song.

I couldn't write about 90s dancehall without talking about the emperor, Shabba Ranks. Possibly the greatest dancehall artist to never have a #1, his credibility ranks higher than any of the aforementioned. Unlike the others, Rexton Gordon's adulation in Jamaica rivalled that internationally as we saw when the prodigal son returned to Jamaica after a decade.

Hits include "Housecall" featuring vocals from UK's own Maxi Priest, "Slow & Sexy" featuring soul singer Johnny Gill and the unforgettable "Mr. Loverman" which peaked at #2. Definitely a contender for best song to not reach #1

Saxon Sound (will talk about them in the next post) alumni Maxi Priest managed to nab a #1 on the US Billboard charts with "Close To You". The song hit #7 in UK.

I mentioned the UB40 - "(I Can't Help) Falling In Love" in a previous post. Now onto the cheesy pop dancehall-influenced tracks, of which there are many. Not all the cheesy songs are bad, in fact, I like a few that I will post.

Inner Circle - "Sweat (A La La Long) - #3 in 1993

Ace of Base - "All That She Wants" - UK #1 in 1993

Apache Indian - "Boom-Shak-A-Lack" - #5 in 1993 

Reel 2 Real - "I Like To Move It" - #5 in 1993

Remember the Chewits advert?

Then remember them presenter puppets Zig and Zag from Channel 4 breakfast show The Big Breakfast?

Even Outhere Brothers "Boom, Boom, Boom" had some Jamaican twang lol

UB40 featuring Pato Banton - "Baby Come Back" - #1 (4th best-selling single in 1994)

ChinaBlack - "Searching" - UK #4 in 1994

Big Mountain - "Baby, I Love Your Way" - UK #2 in 1994

Peter Andre - "Mysterious Girl" - #2 in 1996; #1 in 2004

T-Spoon - "Sex On The Beach" - #2 in 1997

Vengaboys - "We're Going To Ibiza" - #1 in 1999

Popular underground dancehall singles grew from radio stations, clubs and local record stores to the charts in a fashion for the first time in dancehall history.

Beenie Man - "Who Am I?" - #10 in 1998

Mr Vegas - "Heads High" - I think this was a top 20 in 1999. I know it charted top 40, not sure where

Oh yeah, this next one is a strange one. I never realised the reggae influence until I saw a documentary about Oasis. Lead guitarist and writer Noel Gallagher said lead singer Liam Gallagher's initial reaction to "Wonderwall" was (words to the effect of) "F**k off, I'm not singing reggae". It wasn't until I listened underneath the strings to hear the bassline that I could hear the influence. They worked it like The Police who had a reggae bass foundation with rock formula.

Strange one

And some hip hop songs

Fugees "Killing Me Softly" had the reggae bassline. Those who know properly will know the raggamuffin' vibe really set them apart from other hip hop acts at the time similarly to Soul II Soul. They worked a lot with Salaam Remi who produced Super Cat's first major label single "Ghetto Red Hot" and the Ini Kamoze "Here Come's The Hotstepper" (UK #4). "Fu-Gee-La" was probably the most explicit reggae single.

Another big crossover hip hop song with a similar raggamuffin' vibe mixed with hip hop was UK #2 Arrested Development "People Everyday".

And who wants to tell me Mark Morrison's delivery wasn't similar to ragga singjay's on the first number 1 hit by a black male soloist, "Return of the Mack"?

Can't forget the reggae MOBO award-winning Finley Quaye

Friday, 10 August 2012

"Out of many, one..." 80s Ska revival

Yesterday's post was about reggae's influence on punk rock. Post-punk genres in the late '70s/'80s still drew influences from Jamaican genres. I'll just take a bit of time out to post some examples.

The Police were another English rock band to successfully blend Jamaican elements with traditional rock music; be it a drum sequence, bassline and/or guitar stab with a lead guitar/keys and conventional rock arrangements. Lead vocalist and bassist Sting is quoted saying: "Bob Marley's singing had a great effect on me and I would cite Bob Marley as a major influence on The Police." [source] The white reggae band (or new wave) made explicit attempts like "So Lonely" [#6 in UK], "Can't Stand Losing You" [#2 in UK] or their first #1 "Walking on the Moon".

Ever wondered or thought Mary J. Blige ft. Common - "Dance For Me" sounds like reggae? Well, it's because it samples "The Bed's Too Big Without You" lifted from debut album Regatta de Blanc - French translation of "white reggae" (along with their first two number 1's "Walking On The Moon" and "Message In A Bottle").

"Message in a Bottle" is slightly more disguised; drums and bass in the verses are reggae, lead guitar throughout and arrangement in the chorus more conventional rock. This formula contributed to an undisputed great anthem I will feature later in the post.

Rudeboy (rudies) and skinhead movements were sub-culture's following punk in the late-70s to mid-'80s amongst predominantly white British youths. The soundtrack to their culture was Jamaican music that hadn't been produced or popular in Jamaica for two decades. Poster boys of the movement were Madness, the choice of the skin heads [note: not all skin heads are racists, racists adopted skinheads] - while The Specials were for the rude boys.

Camden Town, north London band Madness formed in late-'70s, before releasing their tribute to the great ska producer and their idol ska pioneer Prince Buster entitled "The Prince" peaking at #16. Together with reggae group UB40, Suggs and his mates spent the most amount of weeks in the UK chart by a band during the 80s. UK top ten chart hits include "One Step Beyond" (originally written and recorded by Prince Buster), "My Girl", "Baggy Trousers" and slowing it down to reggae with "It Must Be Love" recently performed on top of Buckingham Palace for Diamond Jubilee celebration.

Rudie's The Specials represent midlands area Coventry. Much like Madness, The Specials paid homage to their fore-bearers, sampling "Al Capone" by Prince Buster on "Gangsters" and covering Dandy Livingstone - "Rudy, A Message To You" and Toots & The Maytals classics "Monkey Man" and "Pressure Drop".  These covers introduced songs from the 60s to a new generation they wouldn't reach otherwise. To this day, Toots & The Maytals perform at festivals mainly due to this period of 2 Tone (2 tone was the name of their label and the suits rudie's wore). 

The band topped the charts with "Too Much Too Young" telling the story of a woman who had a child young instead of "being out with me!" 

My all-time favourite The Specials song is "Ghost Town". By this time, the music had slowed into a more reggae groove, and like "Too Much Too Young", they deal with everyday issues and social-observations. "Ghost Town" reflected the times of Britain as Tory government had taken over, mines were sold off and unemployment increased. Songs like these separated The Specials from Madness, however, playing the same shows did a lot for mixing the two groups fan bases.

The unforgettable Amy Winehouse paid tribute to the band by covering  a few of their covers - "You're Wondering Now" whilst touring. After a plea for the band to re-unite during her Glastonbury performance, they re-grouped at V festival, bringing out Wino as their special guest.

Another member of the ska admirers is mouthy west London bird Lily Allen. Much of her early success relied heavily on ska. Songs such as "LDN" and "Friday Night" were essentially ska instrumentals. We'll get onto that in another post though. Check her out below with The Specials frontman Terry Hall and guitarist Lynval Golding.

The Selector and Bad Manners were two other popular bands around the similar period. Check 'em out

Thursday, 9 August 2012

"Out of many, one..." - Punk Rock

Unlike the previous two posts, reggae isn't the sole influence on today's genre. Reggae and punk rock shared many characteristic in rebel music, sound of the revolution and great support by the common man fighting for rights. Not only did they share a mentality, there were many crossovers musically.

'70s Britain was a tumultuous time; a credit boom-and-bust, public sector strikes and long-haired hippies in the swinging 60's were replaced by brash, punk rockers with dyed mohawks, bleached jeans and other shocking outfits. Similarly, Jamaica had moved on from their own smiley, happy-go-lucky ska to a slowed down, more political-driven with a afro-centric Rastafarian consciousness genre which became known as reggae.

The rebellious attitude of punk rockers mirrored those of Jamaicans going through problems with crime, politics and political crime, famously evidenced by the shooting of Bob Marley before the Smile Jamaica concert (allegedly). The Clash - dubbed "The only band that matters - were admirers of Jamaican music as noted when they covered Junior Murvin's timeless "Police and Thieves". Lee "Scratch" Perry ("Complete Control") and Mikey Dread were amongst Jamaican collaborators over the course of their career. 1980 recording "Bankrobber" is pure reggae.

Delving deeper into both ska and reggae on their critically-acclaimed third album, London Calling (named best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine). Taking on themes of rising unemployment, revolution and police brutality. Jamaican music influences can be found on "London Calling", "Guns of Brixton" and "Revolution Rock". The album surpassed 5 million sales and voted 8th out of 500 greatest albums of all-time

"Guns of Brixton" distinct reggae bassline has been sampled by Norman Cook a.k.a. Fatboy Slim on Beats International electronic number one single "Dub Be Good To Me" (1990) and on UK rapper Professor Green's top five hit "Just Be Good To Green" featuring Lily Allen on chorus duties. We'll be back to Lily Allen a bit later.

Rizzle Kicks recently sampled "Revolution Rock" on top ten hit "When I Was A Youngster" I mentioned earlier.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

"Out of many, one..." UK Reggae in '80s

Black Britain's musical cycle eventually mirrored that of Jamaica moving on from lovers to more socially-conscious music reflecting the harsh realities affecting black Brit's of Caribbean descent. Optimism of a better future and hopes of being embraced for first generation black Brit's by the wider society were halted by high profile cases of racism - on the streets by regular Tom to police and employers.

Main issue of contention was the controversial sus law which many black youths believed meant they were unfairly stopped-and-searched/harassed by police because of their skin colour. Racially-motivated riots spiked during the '80s. (I think there were more that decade than any other - don't quote me though... unless I'm right. Obviously.) UK movement faced a lot of fight by reggae listeners who preferred Jamaican styles, but they still achieved success.

Handsworth, Birmingham representers Steel Pulse formed in the late '70s, starting off independent before inking with Island records. The Rastafarian group are well-known for their initial release on the label, "Ku Klux Klan" talking of racism at the time. They are the first non-Jamaican act to win a Best Reggae Grammy award for album Babylon the Bandit in 1987, first reggae band to appear on the Tonight show in USA, survived terms on three (now major) record labels (Island, MCA and Elektra) with credibility and are often cited as inspirations by many European-based reggae stars like Italian-born Alborosie.

Jamaican-born, south London raised Linton Kwesi Johnson poet who voiced the plight of black youths in a different style of toasting, leaning towards spoken word over dub riddims. "Inglan is a Bitch" is probably the most well-known song.

Aswad (meaning "black" in Arabic) gained a lot of musical experience as backing bands for elite Jamaican acts such as Burning Spear and laid the rhythm for Dennis Brown's "Promised Land" (which you may recognise from Nas & Damian Marley's "Land of Promise"). The Brinsley Forde-lead outfit themselves scored numerous chart hits including pop-reggae interpretation of Tina Turner's "Don't Turn Around" reaching number 1 in the late '80s, uplifting UK top ten "Shine" and freedom fighter anthem "Warriors" entering the top 40 in the '90s.

Another band from Birmingham were Unemployment Benefit Form 40 better known as UB40. Whilst facing criticism of exploiting reggae by covering classics, Ali Campbell & co. managed to carve out successful career, scoring big hits in both the '80s and '90s. Songs such as Jimmy Cliff's epic "Many Rivers to Cross" (#16 in UK singles chart), Eric Donaldson's "Cherry, Oh Baby" (#12 in UK singles chart) managed to crossover successfully, taking relatively unknown reggae hits to a whole new set of ears in the mainstream, even taking Neil Diamond's "Red, Red Wine" to higher heights of #1 in UK.

They did, however, have popular original songs; my favourite "One in Ten" where they share stresses of unemployment. Their debut album Signing Off is meant to be good too. UB40 have reportedly sold over 70million records worldwide.

And I have to mention the cover of  Elvis "(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You" which saw the group topping charts in six territories including Australia, UK and US in the early 90s (but we'll get onto that in another post.

Alongside the above movements was one that laid foundations for the next generation of UK music. Saxon sound from southeast London took what was happening in parties to a major level, signing major label deals and chart hits. Tippa Irie and Smiley Culture both achieved top 40 hits with "Hello darling" and "Police Officer" respectively.

As a sound though, they encompassed everything that happens today in the homegrown underground genres of fast-chatting (double-time "rapping"). Papa Levi, Peter King and Daddy Colonel along with the aforementioned deserve to be held high as legends for paving the way.

Another stand-out tune, and probably the biggest of them all from the British reggae scene in the 80s can only be fellow Brummie group Musical Youth with "Pass the Dutchie". First black video on MTV is credited to the aforementioned Michael Jackson, however, Musical Youth appeared on there before him (I've heard Prince was too). Their 1982 smash reached #1 in the UK, and top ten in USA, becoming one of the highest selling singles of the year in excess of 5 million records.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

"Out of many, one..." - Lovers Rock

So, in the first post of "Out of many, one..." (read introduction here) is a spotlight on lovers rock.

Lovers Rock

Amidst the male-dominated Rastafarian takeover of reggae from lovers-centric rocksteady, first generation black British Afro-Caribbean's sought to create a genre reflecting their various influences and matching the mood of their parties otherwise known as "blues dance" or "shubeen". )"Shub" means to push or squeeze; "Een" is Jamaican pronunciation for "in".)

Most parties were in people's living rooms or vacant houses, because venues didn't allow the blacks throw parties in their establishment. Remember, it wasn't unfamiliar to see "No blacks, no Irish, no dogs" notices hung on houses with rooms to rent, so little chance of hiring a venue like nowadays.

Today's dance of choice amongst third generation black Brit's of Caribbean descent is bouncing around, a two-step, house shuffle or [insert other anti-social moves] on your own, whereas in the '70s men and women would "crub" against wallpaper. I think "crub" is an abbreviation of scrub. Can't really do that to afro-centric songs about truth and rights.

Lovers rock was the complete opposite to the popular sounds in Jamaica such as the Mighty DiamondsBob Marley & The Wailers and Wailing Souls etc.; as the genre title suggests love tales were order the day, mainly voiced by heartbroken females (often with questionable vocals lol). And there's a difference between a love song in reggae/rocksteady and that of lovers rock. Lovers rock had a cleaner cut, usually incorporating more lush soulful production.

Louisa Mark - "Six Sixth Street" is an example of a timeless classic, beautifully crafted with emotive instrumental matched by a relatable tale of catching her lover cheating. Her tender yet piercing vocals and honesty make it had to not feel sorry for her when she asks "Why just down the road from me so I could see? And all the people round they could laugh at me." Not sure if this is an original song or cover of an obscure soul song (can't find any evidence to support the latter), but it's great.

Brown Sugar - "I'm In Love With A Dreadlocks" meets in the middle of the conscious movement and lovers rock. Brown Sugar featured Caron Wheeler, who'd go on to be lead vocalist on Soul II Soul's signature transatlantic hits "Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)" and "Keep on Movin'"

Janet Kay - "Silly Games" is probably the quintessential lovers rock song. Mention the genre and everyone will do their best-worst attempt at singing this. I say "best-worst" because Ms. Kay's vocals weren't the strongest. Nor average, but that's irrelevant, you don't have to sing well to be a successful singer. The Dennis Bovell-produced "Silly Games" peaked at number 2 in the national UK single charts despite a lot of resistance from major radio. Nothing has changed. Janet Kay went on to capitalise on the surprising success of lovers rock in Japan, constantly touring and releasing material over there.

There are numerous examples of Jamaican artists embracing the softer,  more-soulful UK-styled production including Dennis Brown on commercial attempt "Love Has Found It's Way" and Penthouse records Donovan Germaine's artists like Wayne Wonder and Beres Hammond, but the biggest lovers rock song by a Jamaican has to be Sugar Minott. Roots Lovers saw the artists demand in Britain outweigh that of Jamaica. Signature song "Good Thing Going" reached #4 in UK charts in 1981 eclipsing the original 1971 recording by some guy called Michael Jackson.

As with most forms of Jamaican music, there is a huge commercial crossover song by someone that isn't authentic. Greatest example I can think of is Culture Club - headed by the ever-controversial Boy George - landing their first number 1 (in 10 charts including UK) with "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" which drew heavily from the lovers rock scene. They were kept off top spot in US by Michael Jackson's easily forgettable "Billie Jean"... 

For modern day lovers rock, I recommend Adele Harley based on her cover of "Sixth Street"

Be sure to check out the huge success Lovers Rock documentary which came as a surprise to many cinemas that had to hold on to showings for longer due to public demand

Monday, 6 August 2012

Jamaican 50 Independence Day

Tony Rebel: "What a nice place to live (Sweet Jamdown). The only problem is dollars nah run"

Eric Donaldson: "This is Jamaica, my Jamaica..."

Admiral Bailey "When mi check it out Lord, nowhere no better than Yard"

Protoje: "Independence no mean... Jamaica assists are the people"


"Dem give we flag, them give we anthem.
Not even give we half of what we need to execute the plans them
So we're still dependent on them.
Them just ah wait for we to come back with we empty hand them
You talk the truth and you get condemn
Walter Rodney speak a bit we own Government go ban him
They want to block our over standing
Want we do the wrong thing
Thats why you hear my song sing
Take control again...
Hold we head high and proud again"

Skip to 4:58

Anyway, Mr. Vegas featuring Shaggy & Josey Wales sums up everything right now

Lastly, the surrealist thing I think I've read this year.

A few months ago the disc jockey and radio broadcaster David Rodigan was awarded an MBE to mark his 40 years as an ambassador and proselytiser for reggae. Ram Jam, as he is affectionately known, tells this story of his trip to the palace. After the investiture he was approached by Prince Charles. 

"You really love this music, don't you?" said the Prince of Wales. 
"I certainly do, sir," he replied. 
"So do I," said Charles. "I love Jamaica." 
[source: Guardian "How Jamaica Conquered the World"]

Don't forget my own Jamaica tribute "Out of many, there is one" begins tomorrow. Check the intro here

Sunday, 5 August 2012

"Out of many, one" JA 50th Independence intro

Tomorrow marks Jamaica's 50th year of "independence" from Great Britain. As a Jamaican music lover, it would be wrong for me to not talk about how Jamaica has given back to the former mother Britain since 1st August 1962. I'd be interested to know which other former colonies have contributed as much to British culture. Not saying Jamaica is 100% the biggest contributor, just out of interest. I know Brits love Curry and tea which are both imports from Asia, but I think they have been a part of British culture since invasion. America is an obvious leader.

Anyway, I digress. Jamaican music (ska/reggae/dancehall) scored it's first of what would become many hit with the contagious ska record "My Boy Lollipop" by daughter of sugar plantation overseer, Millie Smalls reaching number 2 in 1964. The cover of Barbie Gaye's 1956 single was recorded and released in Jamaica by Coxsonne Dodd, founder of the iconic label, Studio One, the single went onto become the first hit for a Jamaican-raised man named Chris Blackwell, founder of Island records.

As a testament to it's success and impact on British culture, the song featured during the opening ceremony at the London 2012 Olympics. Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message To You" is another Jamaican song that featured. Oh, and Rizzle Kicks "When I Was A Youngster" is ska-influenced, Soul II Soul "Back To Life" has reggae as one of it's contributing factors to it's success - Jazzie B successfully merged London's black community's two rival sounds; soul and reggae. I'll get onto that later this week.

p.s. I don't remember (m)any hip hop or r&b songs during the ceremony, thus making Jamaican/Jamaican-influenced music the most represented M(usic) O(f) B(lack) O(rigin) sound during the ceremony? Hint, hint MoBO's...

As I write this, I know there will a whole bunch of Jamaican music sites focusing on Jamaican music. Therefore, being a proud British-Jamaican, I will write these posts from my perspective of how Jamaican music impacted and continues to impact mother Britain (to the best of my memory's ability) and post links to those on twitter (follow me @MarvinSparks).

Disclaimer: There shouldn't be (m)any, but forgive any inaccuracies of time period. Feel free to correct me if it's that. Also, there may be songs or artists that you feel are more important, but either I didn't remember them at the time, didn't realise or didn't care (lol just kidding). It's impossible for me to cover everyone over five decades, so I have picked a few.

And the one post a day for 50 days was hard to keep up with but I've already written most of these posts, so one a day is simple things.


Mr. Vegas - "Sweet Jamaica" can be purchased from here

Wiley interview by Marvin Sparks pt.2 [cutting room floor]

So, as some of you will know, I interviewed grime godfather back in February this year from American website (child of Questlove's OkayPlayer) about his reggae and dancehall foundations. You can read that here. Today, as Wiley will be announced as UK's #1 single this week, I thought "Let me release a little bit more from that interview". 

I like this because he recalls classic songs that stood out when attending family parties as a youngster prior to the soca-fused chart-topping single "Heatwave". It also leads neatly into next bashment-fused single "Ninja" which will feature Sneakbo, whom he speaks of highly in this interview. Please note, this is before Drake mentioned liking Sneakbo's dancehall vibe.

Marvin Sparks: Do you remember your first time on the mic?

Wiley: "Yeah! I can remember just being at home with my dad and he’s got that riddim [beatboxes Sleng Teng riddim then imitates a typical ‘80s dancehall toasting style]. I had that in me. I wouldn’t have done it in front of anyone apart from my uncles, if we were in a park I would have done it there, but then I might not have done it in front of my mum. I was called Ketchie Poo [laughs]."

Marvin Sparks: So when did you start going to raves?

Wiley: "I remember they used play dancehall at every christening and they were like raves to me anyway. When I got older, I used to go to a rave called “Jungle vs. Ragga” which was at Belair - it’s called Club Space, but it used to be called Belair on Waterden Road [east London]. I was only really young, I went to Waltham Forest College, so I remember [MC] Maxwell D, whoever I used to go with, we used to meet there and rave it out.

That is the first time I raved without my parents, without my dad, on my own. I went out on Old Kent Road, I’m mad, I used to go to them Yardie raves where you could smoke weed in the club - you can never do that in a club now."

Marvin Sparks: What did you like about those events?

Wiley: "I’ll tell you the truth, that gave me the energy to be who I am today. [Popular Jungle entertaners] DJ Bruckie and MC Det, that whole thing instilled a package in my brain that I still use today. If you hear me doing a dancehall tune, I could have [rapped] dancehall as a child, I remember spitting a long to all the dancehall tunes, but as you get older, I realise I’ve got to rap how I speak. But sometimes I go back to the dancehall thing, because that’s what’s in me. It’s what’s in me."

Marvin Sparks: Would you say dancehall and grime share many things?

Wiley: "Dancehall and grime are very similar. People battle, people say whatever to each other - false or true - it’s very much like it. The only difference is that we are in England so people can’t be as reckless."

Marvin Sparks: You have a song on latest album Evolve or be Extinct called “Cheer Up, It’s Christmas”. Tell us about the family parties you had as a youngster. What were your standout memories and which songs stand out?

Wiley: "Yeah, fam! I come from a Trinidad & Tobago background on one-side of my family, so obviously I remember every soca and calypso song played from “Dollar Wine” [originally by Crazy, popularised by Byron Lee & The Dragonaires] to [Arrow] “Hot, Hot, Hot”, [Crazy] “Nanny Wine” and all that. They stay in my brain.

"Do you know what I do remember? When aunties used to whine up with the uncles [LAUGHS]. I used to see my uncles giving my aunties some whine! That made me laugh a lot. I used to say “Look at them crubbin’.”

Marvin Sparks: What do you make of the current resgurgence of UK bashment not only the likes of Gappy Ranks, Stylo G etc., but also artists like Sneakbo and Ratlin rapping over dancehall beats?

Wiley: "I like Sneakbo, you know why? He is a spearhead. He is a figure who stands for something. On the streets of south London, for whatever reason he stands for something. Fear him or love him, whatever you wanna say. Sneakbo has become someone naturally. He gets high views, he doesn’t need labels or anything to get his views, he’s getting natural views. He’s special. That isn’t because of his ability, his name, what it stands for, has brought them fans to him and he works hard.

If Sneakbo didn’t work hard, he wouldn’t be there. He’s like me, he will vocal, and vocal and vocal until he’s blue in the face because he knows “I’m bussing mic”. He’s coming from the Nigerian side where he could have been a rapper or the dancehall angle, but he loves dancehall! And that is a south London thing. He was never gonna get away from that. Dancehall had to be in his skin."

Wiley - big up yourself my g. They counted you out many times, but your persevered with the music thing and got your first solo number 1 (third including the two with Roll Deep). Still got another piece of this to drop which may prove a tad controversial.