So what happens when you put Tippa Irie and Lady Chann on the same riddim? The ‘apotheosis of fast chat’ and the ‘aurally explosive’- together. ‘All the time lyric a rhyme’ and ‘the treble to your bass’. Sparks should indeed fly because the Saxon deejay is still jumping on the same riddims as the ‘dancehall queen’ of today. This says a lot for his longevity, and subsequently, the longevity of 80’s dancehall. Would Lady Chann be the same MC we hear today without the likes of Tippa, Maxi Priest and Papa Levi? These youngsters have a whole lot to be thankful for and it isn’t just us who thinks so.
Let’s face it; music can be unpredictable, for example, N-Dubz at the Royal Variety Performance. Who would have thought it? Dappy vibing right in front of the future king of England. We live in a hectic and technology driven society that’s forever changing. All the more reason for us to remember and acknowledge what came before. In the year 2011, what is important is what is happening now. Who’s at number one? Which are the hottest MCs? Which rapper 50 Cent just tweeted abuse at? And so on. Sometimes it’s refreshing to take a step back and stare. So please, take a seat, and kick of your loafers. Today’s music cannot help but embody the beats of days gone by, something you’re about to find out.
The most natural place to begin is with the foundations; the bricks laid by the master craftsmen, the 80’s dancehall extraordinaire’s. They weren’t just any cowboy builders doing a quick botch job. They mixed that cement properly and built a solid, secure and inspirational house. Perfectly pointed, lots of doors and an open porch. The neighbours, or the many musicians that were to emerge following them, just couldn’t keep away.
“If you want to know where grime and the rest of the UK rave MC culture came from,” says Paul Meme, reggae music mogul, “Saxon Soundsystems live LP ‘Coughing Up Fire’ (UK Bubblers; 1984) should be the first port of call”. So, these are the guys who made fast chat look so easy. If you’re unsure on fast-chat 80’s style, you may be more at one with their spawn perhaps- Ghetts, Badness and the likes. Peter King is usually recognised as the first fast chat MC but Papa Levi (formerly of Saxon) released the first fast chat record ‘Mi God Mi King’ in 1984. The record hijacked the number one spot here and in Jamaica, a rarity for a UK artist and still the only one to ever have done so. Many 80′s dancehall deejays have since staked their reputation upon the composition of some of the biggest reggae hits this country has ever seen. Complain Neighbour (Tippa; UK Bubblers 1985) and Cockney Translation (Smiley; Fashion 1989) to name only a couple. Yet sadly they remain terribly underrated and largely unrecognised for the foundationsthey laid.
It is irritating really, that the integral parts to many of the UK ‘urban’ genres derive right from these greats, yet so many fans remain oblivious. 80’s dancehall, however unintentionally it worked out, is partly responsible for kick starting their engines. Inheritance none-the-less of fast chat, soundsystems, dubplates and clashing. You could say the 80’s lent it and jungle, breakbeat, dubstep and grime gave it an MOT.
In his own lane, and currently speeding straight ahead is Gabriel Heatwave, Rinse FM Dancehall DJ and the best placed man to agree that Saxon are largely responsible. Like an encyclopaedia of reggae, he talks enthusiastically and fast. For all he has to say, one thing is paramount. “All the 80’s dancehall veterans have been mad influential on the music we hear today,” he pipes. “If you look at British popular music in the last forty years it all traces back to reggae”. Arguing would be silly.
Argue it with Lady Chann and you may just be left in a bit of a sticky situation. She knows, her dad was part of the Exodus Soundsystem back in the 90’s, and she runs dancehall for the girls right here in the UK. In fact Chann is so enthusiastic about dancehall she gives Gabriel a serious run for his money. “I live it, breathe it and sleep it. Dancehall is so energetic” she says. “It connects with your soul, your sexual side and draws it out of you, its very liberating… I love it!”
The hottest track, by the baddest artist, and there’s an exclusive dubplate pressed. Much was the same in the 80’s and 90’s. If you’ve got the baddest sound around town to play a dub special of your tune at a popular dance, say, DJ Jamboree (Saxon; 1982) you were sorted. Everyone else would then jump on it. The Saxon dubplate of Dawn Penn’s track ‘No, no, no (you don’t love me) for instance replaced the original lyrics with ‘no, no, no you can’t test Saxon’. The track became an international hit.
Oh, and then there is clashing. The 2000’s brought us Eskimo Dance. The biggest UK MC’s, under one roof, went head to head. The likes of Dizzee, Wiley and D Double E. Many parallels could be seen in your typical 80’s sound clash. Play it strategically, make it convincing and aim to kill off the opponent in whichever way possible. Exclusive dubs with the hottest artists, the deejays chat or a countless amount of forwards. If either were forced to turn off their system, the other was hailed more than victorious. “Clashing in dancehall is just like battles in hip hop. Its healthy competition” says Chann.
“The dancehall sound was getting co-opted and the youth lost interest and begun to look for something new, emerging with new fragmented styles like jungle, drum and bass, garage and most recently dubstep” says Beth Lesser in her book, Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Culture (2008). Fast forward a little to November of last year when reggae ambassador and Kiss 100 DJ David Rodigan released his Fabriclive compilation. Its aim: to remind the fresh young dubstep fabric-goers the genres roots. Augustus Pablo, Cham, you name it. Dubstep evolves from dub reggae after all.
Uncovering some of the greats that influenced these modern sounds is exciting. Here is merely a snippet, a scratch on the acetate for you to explore. Reggae was “designed to make you skank pon the spot, weather you’re white or black, slim or fat, bald head or dreadlocks” so embrace it, please.