Music: “African Beat” Riddim

I spent twelve years in Miami and in that time I grew to love reggae and dancehall music. It was a bit hard to get into in the beginning; prior to moving down there, the most exposure I’d ever had to these genres of music were the Shabba Ranks, Maxi Priest, and Mad Cobra videos in rotation on BET at the time. While I certainly liked and listened to “Slow & Sexy,” “Mr. Loverman” and “Flex” when they came on the radio, they weren’t necessarily the kinds of songs I’d bump of my own volition.

That all changed when I began college. My school’s brown-skinned population was overwhelmingly Caribbean and parties at the on-campus bar, The Rat, reflected that. DJs would spin all kinds of tunes that were seemingly familiar to everyone else but me. And these same tunes enticed the ladies to the dance floor—to wine, to grind, to sweat. I determined that if I was to have any type of fun, I had to get involved.

Thank God for Flea Market USA. Situated on NW 79th Street in the heart of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, Flea Market USA was home to many booths selling bootlegged albums and mixtapes. (And I’m taking actual cassette mixtapes, Dear Readers.) My favorite spot was Lion Records & Tapes. In the beginning I was only buying hip-hop mixes, the newest releases from DJ Clue or classic Jam Pony tapes. But slowly I began picking up dancehall tapes and familiarizing myself with names like Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Spragga Benz, Tanya Stephens, Capleton, Lady Saw, Red Rat, and Sean Paul.

Yes, that Sean Paul. This was long before “Gimme The Light.”

The one tape that cemented my love for reggae and dancehall was not a bootleg, however, but an actual record label compilation called Reggae Gold 1997. Released on VP Records, the tape featured songs that still resonate with me today. Buju’s “Love Sponge,” Beenie’s “Romie,”  and Tony Rebel’s “If Jah” are still favorites to this day.

One of the things that struck me about dancehall was the concepts of riddims. Riddims are basically instrumentals that nearly every artist uses, sometimes again and again, so what happens is that you’ll have different songs by different artists which essentially the same backing. Wikipedia explains it thusly:

A given riddim, if popular, may be used in dozens—or even hundreds—of songs, not only in recordings, but also in live performances. Some “classic” riddims, such as “Nanny Goat” and “Real Rock” are essentially the accompaniment tracks to the original 1960s reggae songs with those names. Since the 1980s, however, riddims started to be originally composed by producers/beatmakers, who give the riddims original names and, typically, contract artists to “voice” over them. Thus, for example, “Diwali” is the name not of a song, but of a riddim created by Lenky Marsden, subsequently used as the basis for several songs, such as Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” and Bounty Killer’s “Sufferer.”

All of that prelude brings us to the point of this particular post. I was in a nostalgic mood the other night and refused to go to sleep until I heard Reggae Gold 1997. A couple songs on the compilation make use of the “African Beat” riddim, the Yami Bolo/Capleton collabo “Put Down Your Weapon” and the aforementioned “Love Sponge.”

The “African Beat” riddim is one of my favorites. Dope, right? It’s a classic. What’s your favorite riddim? LMK below–not on Facebook or Twitter, ya goofs!


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