Reggae and Dancehall in particular have a strong connection with Hip-Hop, which originated in New York with significant influence from Jamaican born DJ Kool Herc. Having migrated to the US at age thirteen, Herc created the blueprint of Hip-Hop upon the art of toasting, which is described as “impromptu – boastful poetry/speech over music.” That was the 1970s, and the term Hip-Hop was said to be coined in 1978, so let’s fast forward just over 30 years to 2012…
US Hip-Hop and Dancehall have experienced a blissful relationship, resultant in scores of hit records such as Ja Rule ft Sizzla – The Crown, The Game – One Blood, Juelz Santana ft Cam’Ron & Sizzla – Shottas, and Shyne – Bad Boyz to name a few. UK Hip-Hop, though of course nothing new, has seen a surge in popularity, arguably overtaking its sibling Grime (which is faster paced) to be the most listened to form of ‘Urban’ music. However, increasingly upcoming and established artist’s from both genres are increasingly embracing Dancehall riddims and artists.
The most notable example came in 2011 with the emergence of Grime artist Sneakbo whose version of Touch Ah Button (already an original single from Vybz Kartel on the Sprite Riddim) was one of the biggest tracks of the year. At the time of its release I was in my final year of university and remember it causing clubs to erupt when it was played, it was also all over the radio, and tore up Notting Hill Carnival. However, I was not impressed! Why? Well there’s probably 3 reasons.
- I had already been rinsing out Vybz Kartel’s version and was used to it, I didn’t feel the Sneakbo version could compare.
- As with the majority of UK Hip-Hop artists, the monotony of Sneakbo’s voice over a Dancehall Riddim didn’t work. If there’s one thing for certain, a huge amount of the appeal of Dancehall music is the distinctive tones of voice, expression and pronunciation. I felt Sneakbo’s rendition took away from this.
- I am generally these days a Dancehall purist.
That being said, I did eventually develop some sort of appreciation for the Touch Ah Button track (though not as much as the original and not as much of some of his original tracks).
Grime artist Chipmunk scored a hit in his collaboration with Mavado ‘Every Gal’ – once again though in my experience opinion has been split on whether the song is quality. I’ve heard many people say “I only like Mavado’s part” – leading me to once again question do UK Hip-Hop or Grime/Dancehall collaborations work?
Another notable example is Ratlin, definitely more UK Hip-Hop than Grime and seemingly a fan of more gritty Bashment sounds which sound Hip-Hop influenced. The West Londoner has recorded covers of tunes from singjays Mavado and I-Octane which have been well received. His cover of ‘My Life’ which features the original hook by I-Octane, which states “My life nuh easy like 1-2-3” ties in well with the artists dark subject matter about the struggles he’s experienced. Once again my initial problem with this track, was due to my prior knowledge of the original. However I have gone on to appreciate it!
The final word from me: Does it work? It’s all relative! Many Dancehall purists will have difficulty understanding the fusion on such tracks and won’t think they work. The biggest problem is the lack of character or energy that many UK Hip-Hop artists use currently, which sounds awful on Dancehall…or any other genre for that matter. Also, many up and comers who are, let’s face it, never going to be big artists due to a lack of talent are deciding to do Dancehall covers. To them I say: “Unnu stop mash up wi music yuh ‘ear!” But all in all I guess it can be argued that ‘good’ artists are able to interpret and adapt to various genres, especially in the instance of closely related genres such as these. The result can end up sounding pretty good.. Here’s Ratlin’s latest track over the Earthstrong riddim featuring Jah Vinci.