Catch a Fire: How Reggae and Dancehall Scorched the US. Part Two: The '80s to mid '90s

1980sThe 1980s signaled the birth of an additional musical era, and the slow demise of another. With the help of producer King Jammy and musicians Steely and Clevy, Dub made way for a faster, more aggressive tone with artists deejaying (and rapping) over drum machines instead of acoustic sets. In prior years, more sound selectors (DJs) started to leave sound systems to record their “toasts” and showcase their talents within the accepting walls of the nightly dance halls of the ghettos. Consequently, this faster beat with crude and often sexual, violent overtones (which at the time was not played on the radio) became known as “Dancehall music.” Slowly, new stars from Kingston's inner cities began to emerge: namely, King Yellowman, Papa San, Super Cat, Ninja Man, Shabba Ranks and others.1980 – Bob Marley's single "Jamming" is the inspiration behind "Master Blaster" ("Jammin'") by Stevie Wonder.1980 – Bob Marley's Uprising (his final studio album) was released. It is probably one of his most spiritual albums, with tracks including "Forever Loving Jah" and "Redemption Song.”1981 – King Yellowman becomes the first Dancehall artist to be signed to a major American label, CBS Records.Video of Josie Wales and others deejaying/rapping at a party:1981 – Bob Marley, the first Jamaican and Third World artist to achieve extraordinary international stardom dies of cancer.Having traveled with Bob Marley and the Wailers, actor, author, lecturer and owner of the world's largest Bob Marley memorabilia collection, Roger Steffens (renamed 'RoJah' by Bob), gives AllHipHop Alternatives the real deal behind the rise of Bob Marley and Reggae Alternatives: In what ways has reggae music made an impact on the US urban landscape?Roger Steffens: The most obvious impact Reggae has had is in the Hip-Hop/Dancehall fields. The form was developed and matured in the '60s and '70s in Jamaica, carried by immigrants to the U.S., and given a distinct Bronx twist through the work of Kool Herc and others. Now that form has turned on itself, and is influencing the styles of current rappers/toasters in Yard.AHHA: What impact did Bob Marley and the Wailers have on the urban market?RS: Bob Marley is probably the one Jamaican Reggae artist whose work is universally known. The fact that American urban artists have often quoted his lyrics, or participated in remix updates of his catalog, speaks for itself.AHHA: Tell us about the importance of Reggae music and the social climate that existed in the US and the Caribbean when it emerged.RS: Reggae emerged in 1968, a time of racial upheaval throughout the world. People in Jamaica were keenly aware of the civil rights battles ongoing at that time in America. Bob himself began visiting his mother in Wilmington, Delaware in 1966, and witnessed the daily news reports of the battle for equal rights and justice bringing the races together in the States in unprecedented fashion. Lyrics of Jamaican music began to be more geared toward the current “politrickal situations,” both on the island and abroad, with the rising importance of a "third way" - that of Rastafari, a movement that eschewed politics and religion.AHHA: Apart from Bob, who would you say are some of the Reggae music's forerunners, who helped to propel the movement into mainstream America?RS: Initially, the contributions of Johnny Nash were of major importance in introducing the rhythms of Jamaica to the U.S., although ironically they were never referred to as "reggae." Of lesser, but significant importance, are the two keystone Jamaican hits of the '60s - Little Millie Small's ska sensation, "My Boy Lollipop," in 1964 and 1968/69's "Israelites," the first international Reggae smash, by Justin Hinds and the Dominoes.Jimmy Cliff's breakthrough movie of 1973, The Harder They Come, played a huge role in letting foreign audiences witnesses the culture that produced the music. Third World brought an R&B edge that gained mainstream Black radio play with songs like "Now That We Found Love" and "96 Degrees in the Shade." Hippies everywhere adopted Peter Tosh's 1975 ganja anthem, "Legalize It," and made him a crossover force.AHHA: Do you think enough has been done by Jamaican artists to be a part of the mainstream market?RS: It is a continuing problem. The inability for Jamaican artists to gain access to a mainstream U.S. market. Most major labels don't have the sensitivity to the Reggae audience to properly market to it and see the returns as too tiny to bother. The obvious exceptions are one-offs like Ini Kamoze's "Hotstepper" and Damian Marley's "Jamrock," which have made a lot of money for Columbia and Universal, respectively. Jamaicans can continue to knock on the doors of the dwindling number of majors, but they continue to regard Reggae as an outsider's music.AHHA: What else could be done to make Reggae more mainstream?RS: My question would be, how mainstream must it become before it loses its roots and the spirit that has attracted so many of us to it?AHHA: Is it fair to equate music's importance with its mainstream success?RS: The importance of Reggae worldwide cannot be overestimated. Everywhere I go in the world today, I encounter the continuing presence of Jah Music, whether it's in the bottom of the Grand Canyon with the Havasupai Indian nation, or on Guam and Hawaii [where it's virtually the National Music], or in New Zealand, where Marley is considered a national hero called "Uncle Bob," or in Australia where Aboriginal people regard Marley as their own personal spokesperson. In South Africa, a growing local Rastafarian brotherhood carries the message of Reggae, and you'll find it all over South America as well, not to mention the other islands of the Caribbean. France, Germany and Italy all have homegrown Reggae bands, standing for truth and rights. So Reggae's "success" is in its penetration into markets thousands of miles away from its sources. Reggae influences culture - everything from styles of hair and dressing, to personal philosophies (livities), and movements for the legalization of herb.AHHA: There has always been a debate about where the name Reggae originated: From Toots' song, "Do the Reggay" or, according to Bob, “reggae” was the Latin word for “the king's music.” Where did it originate?RS: We'll probably never know the origin. Some say it came from word for king - rex/regis, mixed with "streggae," the name of a street woman. I have searched for an answer to this for 35 years, and am still not satisfied I know the correct one. 1982 – King Yellowman's "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" is released, from which a number of reggae and hip-hop stars in subsequent years sampled melodies. 1983 – Bob Marley's compilation album, Legend, is released and becomes the best-selling reggae album in history with sales of more than 12 million copies. Also released that year was his album Confrontation with the hit "Buffalo Soldier.”1984 – Ini Kamoze releases the album Ini Kamoze, which features the track "World A Music" on the Island Records label. 1985 – Supercat released his album Si Boops Deh with his hit single "Boops" (1986) sampled from King Yellowman's "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng.”1988 – Afrika Bambaataa (recorded as Afrika Bambaataa and Family on Capitol Records) dropped the album The Light, featuring UB40, George Clinton, King Yellowman, and Boy George, among others.1989 – Shelly Thunder emerged with the US hit "Break Up.”1990sSuddenly there were two Dancehalls: one aspect of the genre catering to “the Shabbas” and “Beenie Men” with “Loverman” lyrics and another catering to the “Super Cats,” “Bounty Killers” and “Ninjamen,” who echoed the more gritty and morbid reality of the Jamaican ghetto. Yet, Dancehall couldn't exist without the two characteristics. Shabba Ranks helped pioneer a sex symbol following for Jamaican artists in the urban market, while Super Cat remained outspoken in his lyrics about politics, violence and poverty, which the then urban rising stars: Heavy D, Mary J. Blige, Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man and others could also embrace in their music.It is also interesting to note, that in very much the same way, “lyrical clashing” became the norm in Jamaica. So it was that in the US urban underground, “rap battles” became an almost compulsory feature.Supercat and Ninjaman face off at Sting '91:1990 – Shelly Thunder again hit the mainstream with a fusion of rap and dancehall in "Working Girl.” "Just give me the mic and I bet you're gonna thank me," she chimed, and as it turns out, she was correct.1991 – Indisputably one of dancehall's most prolific deejays, Shabba Ranks burst onto the international scene and secured a major record deal with Epic Records. Some even argue that the origins of Reggae's latin subgenre, Reggaeton, can be partially traced back to the riddim of Shabba's hit, "Dem Bow" produced by Bobby "Digital" Dixon, from the album Just Reality, also released that year.1992 – Supercat's sophomore album, Don Dada cemented him as a lyrical heavyweight, not only in the Caribbean market, but also in the rap game. The album featured forceful rap acts, including The Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy on tracks like "Don Dada" and "Dolly My Baby.”1992 – Shabba released "Mr. Loverman" featuring Chevelle Franklin. The single landed in the No. 40 spot on the US charts. A skit parodying Shabba and his portrayal in "Loverman" even appeared on In Living Color.In Living Color Sketch:1993 – Shabba surfaced with yet another hit, "Housecall" (Your Body Cant Lie to Me) featuring Maxi Priest.1993 – UB40 released their most successful worldwide single – a reggae cover of the Elvis Presley ballad "(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You" featured on the Sharon Stone movie Sliver that year.Video for "(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You":1993 – The deejaying/rapping and singing duo, Born Jamericans (Edley Shine and Notch), burst unto the urban scene with the single "Boom-Shak-Attack" (not to be confused with Junior Reid's 1985 single, "Boom-Shak-A-Lack"). The single was an instant hit with the youngsters in the US urban scene, though they found diminutive success in Jamaica.1994 – Bob Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Time magazine labeled Marley & The Wailers' Exodus as the greatest album of the 20th century.1994 – Ini Kamoze released the song, "Here Comes the Hotstepper,” which would become his most famous song to date. The song appeared on the soundtrack to the fashion-industry satire film, Prêt-à-Porter (released in the US as Ready To Wear).1994 – Patra first made an impression on the US charts as a featured singer on the Shabba Ranks song "Family Affair,” also featuring Terri & Monica. The song copped the No. 84 spot on the Hot 100. Later that year, she emerged with her first solo recording, “Queen of the Pack,” and her second single "Worker Man", which peaked at no. 53 on Billboard's Hot 100 and reached the R&B Top 20 and hit No.1 on the US Dance chart. Her third single, "Romantic Call" (no. 55 US, no. 21 US Dance), was a collaboration with female rapper Yo-Yo. The video also featured a cameo appearance by rapper 2Pac."Romantic Call" video:1994 – Born Jamericans' "Cease & Seckle" landed in the No. 32 spot on the US Hot Rap Singles chart.1994 – Though the duo Chakka Demus and Pliers released the cover of the Isley Brothers' song, "Twist and Shout," and it reached number one on the UK Singles chart. However, it was their single "Murder She Wrote,” which became a huge crossover for them in North America.1994 – Diana King appeared in the The Notorious B.I.G.'s song, "Respect," from his Ready to Die album. She thereafter signed a recording contract with Sony Music. 1995 – Patra sang the lead vocals on the Panther movie soundtrack on both the rap and r&b versions of the song "Freedom (Theme from Panther).” The songs also featured the collaborative efforts of TLC, Aaliyah, Mary J. Blige, SWV, Queen Latifah among others.1995 – Shabba Ranks' "Let's Get It On" flooded the mainstream airwaves and peaked at No. 81 in the US.1995 – Junior M.A.F.I.A. (feat. Biggie Smalls) sampled King Yellowman's "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" on their track "Player's Anthem,” Remember, "Grab your d**k if you love Hip-Hop, rub your t**ties if you love Big Poppa"?1995 – Shaggy's "Boombastic" creates a stir in the US market."Boombastic" video:1995 – Diana King's first single "Shy Guy," from her debut album Tougher Than Love, became an instant hit. It reached number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold by the RIAA in the U.S. and went on to sell nearly three million singles worldwide. The song also made the soundtrack to the film Bad Boys, also released in that year.Video for "Shy Guy”:In a recent interview with Alternatives, here's what Diana had to say about her success throughout the years and her contribution to the US urban market. Alternatives: When you look back on your life and career, how do you feel about your achievements?Diana King: I feel truly blessed. But I do believe the best is yet to come.AHHA: What would you say has been your biggest musical achievement to date?DK: Off the top of my head, I'd say "Shy Guy.” It was on every chart at Number 1 for months…Hard to top, but I can say that I've done it. But it's really a daily achievement – just being able to do the thing you love to do everyday and get paid for it. [laughs] To work with all the people I have over the years, to travel to wonderful places to experience different cultures, etc. It's more than I ever dreamed: to write songs that people love to sing…WOW.AHHA: "Shy Guy,” which was featured on the soundtrack for the movie, Bad Boys – how do you think this (and you) impacted the mainstream scene because of that?DK: It made a great impact for Jamaicans and Caribbean artists all over. And every time one of us gets a break, it gets stronger. It's taking a long time still, but that has played a big part in convincing the world that our music is not just the flavor of the day, but comes from a people of great talent, passion and soul.AHHA: Do you sometimes feel trapped by the success of the song?DK: Not at all. I am very proud of "Shy Guy.” If anything, it has pushed me to try my best to bring quality music to the people because of all the loyal fans of all ages that I received from just that one song.AHHA: Who were some of your musical idols?DK: My idols were/are: Chaka Khan, Anita Baker, Bob Marley, Patti LaBelle, Grace Jones and Sting.AHHA: Do you think Jamaican content needs to be diluted to be a greater crossover success?DK: No I wouldn't say “diluted” – I don't really care for that word, nor the word “crossover” [laughs], but we all know what good music is, so that's what we should strive for at all time. Music from our culture; music that moves and uplifts; music that makes you feel good; music that makes you think and act and I don't necessarily mean “deep,” ‘cause we all aren't Bob [Marley], but music that we want to still play long after we are gone from this life…Music that lasts forever.AHHA: What is Diana King up to these days?DK: I'm about to go on tour in a few days again to Asia, but I'm working on a few projects of my own. I hope to release something new in the very near future. I have my own company now [called] Think Like A Girl, so I've been working on that as well. My goal is to educate and work with upcoming female artists from Jamaica in all areas of their career so that they are prepared when the opportunities come. So many of us have messed up along the way, but we don't teach. I wish I had some guidance when I started. I had to learn as I went along. Some never recover from that. I believe it's my duty. Click Here For Part One