Reggaeville Riddim Corner #10 [October 2015]
10/31/2015 by Dan Dabber
As an American-born, non-Caribbean reggae/dancehall selector, my interest is most piqued when Jamaican music crosses over into other stylistic and geographic spaces. The crossover ability of the island’s sounds has been repeatedly proven throughout multiple generations on a number of levels. Acts from Jamaica have crossed over and experienced success abroad, and acts from other parts of the world have achieved success by borrowing and repurposing sounds from Jamaica. Some of these borrowed ideas birthed entirely new genres, as reggae was integral to the development of music like hip hop, jungle, and dubstep. Some of these new genres went on to gain global prominence and, in turn, began influencing reggae and dancehall directly, creating a kind of uroboros of music. This cyclical cross-pollination between Jamaica and the rest of the of the world has embedded nearly every riddim release with some subtle borrowed element and has even the poppiest of American radio stations scattered with at least some evidence of Jamaica’s influence.
The following four October riddim releases each exemplify, in their own way, the musical give-and-take between Jamaica and the rest of the world.
RADIKALY RIDDIM - FLASH HIT RECORDS
Based in southern France, Flash Hit Records has worked with artists like Perfect Giddimani, Jah Vinci, and Kabaka Pyramid, and released singles, artist albums, and riddim jugglings such as Mek It Gwan (2012), World Wide Love (2012), and Pretty Looks (2014). Their latest riddim album is Radikaly and, like many of their other productions, it is a nod to one of the well-traveled, bygone eras of reggae, as well as a platform for artists from around the globe. According to Flash Hit’s website, Radikaly is “widely inspired by one of the biggest reggae classic riddim... Heavenless.” While it is not a true re-lick, this riddim perfectly captures the mid-80’s dancehall vibe with the use of horns, organs, and a walking bassline, the latter the most obvious connection to Heavenless. Although re-creating a 30-year-old sound may not seem like the most cutting-edge musical endeavor, it is a good strategy for a label that needs to win over core reggae fans as well as peripheral markets. The core fans will enjoy the quality of the production and the authentic vintage vibes, and less reggae-savvy fans will have an immediate familiarity with a sound that has been consistently infiltrating the ears of listeners from around the world for over 30 years.
Flash Hit decided to go big on Radikaly, voicing seventeen versions that feature artists from Jamaica, America, and Europe. This project has clearly been in the works for well over two years, as Kabaka Pyramid’s Cliché was included on his 2013 EP, Lead The Way. Regardless of when it was released, Cliché is a bad tune, but Flash Hit’s ability to think big paid off beyond Kabaka, landing some serious versions from other artists as well. Jah Vinci is usually solid, but Burn Di Fire is exceptional, borrowing slightly from Iba Mahr’s Diamond Sox melody in order to torch the system with this catchy song. Ward 21, Perfect Giddimani, and Exile Di Brave nicely execute on their tracks, and two combinations, Million Stylez & Rebelious and Jah Sun & Bobby Hustle, help to give the juggling that real throwback feel. Papa Michigan is equally essential to Radikaly’s overall vibe, employing his veteran deejay skills, which find their native environment on his version, Ready Fi Dem. Michigan also brands the riddim, proclaiming, “Ready fi dem. Wi ready fi dem. Wi radi-radical. Dis yah one yah name Radikal.”
YEMISI RIDDIM - ONENESS RECORDS
Like Flash Hit, Germany’s Oneness Records has forged their reputation by doing two things very well: building retro-style riddims and working with great talent from around the world. Where Flash Hit has a sweet spot for the pre-digital and early digital dancehall riddims of the 80’s, Oneness’ bread and butter has always been 70’s/80’s roots-style riddims. Their newest release, Yemisi, is a little different. It is still similar to Oneness’ previous projects in many ways and is certainly within the rootsy label’s wheelhouse. Like every riddim they’ve released, Yemisi is a one drop riddim with a host of international artists providing versions, many of which are conscious. But the riddim itself is subtly different from the other, more militant Oneness riddims like Retro Locks, African Children, and Rise Up. Yemisi is a bit softer and smoother. Ethereal flutes and a “talking” bass give it an air of whimsy, which is coupled with a synth lead that, at times, is reminiscent of 70’s/80’s California funk. Together, these seemingly disjointed components cohere into a reggae riddim infused with a sultry, R&B flavor - a style very similar to what many Jamaican one drop producers have been doing for the last decade. Yemisi Riddim stands out as something different for Oneness and does so in a way that could help the German label garner more attention in Jamaica, a market that outsiders find hard to crack. A wide range of international artists like England’s Macka B, New Zealand’s House Of Shem, and America’s J Boog, bless Yemisi with versions, but the riddim’s appeal may suffer from a lack of well-known Jamaican names. One Jamaican artist, Lutan Fyah, stands out on Yemisi, singing alongside German songstress, Sara Lugo, for their combination tune, They Know Not Love. This track is likely the top selection from the juggling, containing both Lugo’s angelic vocal butter and Lutan Fyah’s proven Bobo Ashanti swag. They Know Not Love has all of the elements necessary to hit multi-tiered markets, and may make a modest impact on reggae charts around the world.
ICE COLD RIDDIM - LOUD CITY MUSIC / 21st HAPILOS
Dan Grossman and Michael Gore, the production duo behind Seattle-based Loud City Music, have been building riddims for labels like Dynasty Records, Breadback Productions, Royal Order Music, and others for several years. But Loud City, a relatively new imprint, is Grossman and Gore’s baby, and that baby has continued to grow its catalogue and fan base throughout 2015. They released an impressive psychedelic dub album called Dub Current in March and a wickedly gangster dancehall riddim EP called Mosquita in June, polar opposites on the reggae spectrum. The heat of August brought the release of fellow Seattle native Bobby Hustle’s It’s The Hustle, a project that was largely produced by Loud City. Now, in October, the highly sought after production team are back with another riddim EP, Ice Cold, a project produced collaboratively with Johnny Wonder of 21st Hapilos.
The instrumental track is fire, driven by a piano skank and a bouncing bass line that is sprinkled with atmospheric sound effects and melodica. The drum samples and patterns are particularly nasty, giving Ice Cold a distinct grime that will enthral hip hop and reggae heads alike. The juggling includes five tunes and no waste, with stellar performances from all artists involved, including Collie Buddz, Cecile & Vibrant, and Richie Stephens. Another German-based singer, Gentleman, hits hard with his well written and brilliantly executed titular tune, Ice Cold, a track tough enough to deserve to be the title track of the EP. Jah Vinci’s Devil Boy is also a fantastic selection, with a raw and strangely beautiful vibe that again exemplifies why Jah Vinci gets on as many riddims as he does. With every artist performing in top fashion over this one drop banger, it is likely Ice Cold will at least make some sort of impact in the dance, if not beyond.
LET’S ROCK THIS RIDDIM - CR203 RECORDS
Jamaican producer ZJ Chrome’s CR203 Records label has been at the forefront of reggae and dancehall for at least five years, releasing multi-faceted and creative projects like the acclaimed “Cardiac” riddim series [Cardiac Bass (2010), Cardiac Strings (2011), Cardiac Keys (2013)], the Dancehall Sings double release from this spring, and his own full length album, Music Without Rules, which hit iTunes back in July. Chrome’s newest effort, Let’s Rock This Riddim, is a simple riddim album, but the riddim itself is an interesting hybrid take on dancehall that contains elements of pop, hip hop, and electro, employing an 808 drum kit, distorted synths, and symphonic string stabs. The end result is a deceptively laid back, yet groove-inspiring club vibe infused with a retrofuturistic edge. Listeners may be tempted to pop-and-lock or break out their long-retired robot.
Let’s Rock This boasts a killer artist lineup, headlined by superstar deejays, Mavado and Vybz Kartel. The riddim is especially well-suited for Mavado, whose version, Shadow, is strong enough to make an impact as a single. Kartel’s track, Stop Follow Me Up, has similar potential, benefiting from Kartel’s unmatched songwriting and trademark delivery. The juggling also includes tunes from veteran deejay, Agent Sasco aka Assassin, and up-and-comer, Kranium, as well as a particularly nice song by Tifa called Ratings. Zagga and Chi Ching Ching round out the album with exciting vocal approaches that accentuate the hip hop influences of the riddim, propelling the Let’s Rock This project to must-have status for dancehall selectors.
LISTEN TO THE FOUR RIDDIMS IN THE MIX