Dancehall is powered by controversial characters, by performers whose extrovert lyrics are married to lives which are more often than not played out in the headlines.
But then, the scene would be nothing without the studio boffins, the producers and engineers who gift Dancehall new ideas. Hailing from New York, Dre Skull has been a powerful advocate for Dancehall production, learning a few tricks along the way himself.
Working with the 'Werl Boss' himself Vybz Kartel, the producer was recently invited to submit beats for Snoop Dogg's own Dancehall project. Firmly acquainted with the legends of the genre, Clash asked Dre Skull to pick some of his favourite producers from across the Dancehall spectrum.
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King Jammy is a legend of Jamaican music. Alongside Wayne Smith, he is the creator of the first digital-based riddim to make an big impact. The 'Sleng Teng' Riddim was essentially their move to create reggae on a digital keyboard (the Casio MT-40). In doing so, they opened the door to the current digital era of production and what we now recognize as dancehall. The 'Sleng Teng' is an absolute classic.
Sly and Robbie
Like King Jammy, the drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robert Shakespeare built their careers working in reggae. In the early 1990s, working together, they created the 'Bam Bam' Riddim with the hits 'Bam Bam' and 'Murder She Wrote'. Aside from being a classic riddim, with it's dem bow beat, it's a great example of the diversity of rhythms that I love about the dancehall genre. In dancehall, not unlike rap music, any tempo or cadence can work. A good dancehall producer can bring a new vibe to the table and if it's good, that's all that matters.
The boss at Madhouse Records, Dave Kelly has released some of the biggest riddims that for me have really defined a certain dancehall sound and vibe. He is responsible for Beenie Man & Ms. Thing's 'Dude', Cham's 'Ghetto Story', and big riddims including Joyride, Eighty-Five, Showtime, and Fiesta. Check his Jungle inspired Backyard Riddim to see his diversity of his productions.
Jeremy Harding is the creator of one of the most essential dancehall riddims of all time, the amazing 'Playground' Riddim (the riddim behind Beenie Man's 'Who Am I' and Sean Paul's 'Infiltrate'). Drop this at the right moment at a party to this day and it's guaranteed to be a rowdy moment. I've been lucky enough to get to know Mr Harding a bit in Kingston. He's moved on from producing dancehall and is currently DJing and producing house tempo music.
I've always loved Ward 21's production style. They are always forward-thinking and often create dance floor wrecking riddims with devastating efficiency. See the classic Timberlee & Ward 21 track 'Bubble Like Soup' on the Rae Rididm for an idea of their minimal techniques or 2013's Biting Ants Riddim for a more recent example.
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Dre Skull's new single 'First Time' ft. Megan James and Popcaan is out now.
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