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Reggae’s Impact on Hip-Hop

Jamie Ann Board

Music is one of the most influential factors of our lives; it is thought provoking. It makes us ask questions such as, how did they get that sound? Or what are they saying? Music can give off a variety of feelings. With this you can only do one thing and that’s listen.

Reggae has been at the ‘fore-front’ of the development of music. It has influenced disco, pop, and ska. In today’s uprise of hip-hop we must give credit to Reggae and the Jamaican culture from which it came from. Reggae’s discovery of dubbing and toasting led to hip-hop’s emceeing (later known as rapping) and scratching. A variety of techniques would develop from this, one being sampling. The sound systems of Jamaica became the center of American inner city night-life. "Showdowns" between emcees and challenges between dancers became competitive. Leading youth to putting their minds and skills towards something else, rather than the violence that became daily in inner cities. Gangster rap and dancehall music would tell of everyday realities of living in the ghetto, including the violence always occurred. Most of all African-Americans of the inner cities and Jamaicans could relate with the hardships of the political, social, and economic conditions that faced them; this became the root of hip-hop lyrics.

Reggae’s contributions in musical technology were at many times looked over as being influential in hip-hop.

"Very significant, but little appreciated outside New York’s Caribbean community at the time, was the introduction of the Jamaican "sound system" style to the city’s party-going mix. Using their own versions of mixing boards, since the 60’s DJs around Jamaica had given "back-a-yard" parties where the bass and drum pounded like jackhammers. The "dub" style of these mobile DJs stripped away melody to give reggae’s deep, dark grooves throbbing prominence." Reggae music must be acknowledged for setting the beginnings for hip-hop, especially through reggae’s use of dubbing.

Dubbing is an instrumental remix of an original tune. It usually was the B-side of Jamaican 45s, which was a remix of the A-side. In Jamaica, record cutters "began to dub out the band track right after the intro of the tune and during the first few bars of vocals, leaving the singers acappella. Then abruptly shut off the vocals, sometimes chopping off words and letting the band roll." Songs could be cut to pieces and be put anywhere on the record; nothing had to sound smoothly. You could get fleeting moments of sound. The next cut would be unpredictable creating suspense in a song, yet it was vital that the song still unfolded naturally. "Dub is a kaleidoscopic musical montage which takes sounds originally intended as interlocking parts of another arrangement and using them as raw material, converts them into new and different sounds; then, in its own rhythm and format, it continually reshuffles these new sounds into unusual juxtapositions."

This sound interested urban artists in the United States, especially in the African American community. Dubbing was being called "scratching" in the states. "Scratching" took popularity in the South Bronx, a poverty-stricken area in New York. One main reason why it developed here was because for "scratching" all that was needed was two turn tables and a mic; this was relatively inexpensive compared to band equipment. It led to techniques of punch phrasing and break spinning. ""Punch phrasing" —playing a quick burst from a record on one turntable while it continues on the other — and "break spinning"–alternately spinning both records backward to repeat the same phrase over and over."

Afika Bambaata, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash, are three legends of hip-hop. They are looked as the founding fathers. Kool Herc, is the only one out of the three that gives credit to his Jamaican roots for his early development of break spinning. "Hip-hop….the whole chemistry of that came from Jamaica…..In Jamaica all you needed was a drum and a bass. So what I did was go right to the ‘yoke’. I cut off all the anticipation and just played the beats. I’d find out where the break in the record was and prolonged it and people would love it. So I was giving them their own taste and beat percussion wise….cause my music is all about heavy bass."

One Jamaican artist that probably influenced Kool Herc was Osbourne Ruddock, also know as King Tubby. He was the chief pioneer of dubbing. King Tubby put the focus and center of the reshuffling process, on bass and rhythm, obviously this is where Herc learned his skills. "In Jamaica there is an acute awareness of the riddum as the inner message of the music and a distinct value placed on it." There was no longer a focus on vocals. Herc use to take a record called "BongoRock", which just featured bongos and congas and length and extend each song. This record would later be called "B-beats" and become the first background beats for the dance parties in the Bronx.

Dubbing, thus enable a person to toast. The rhythm and the bass could still be in the background, and a person could just rhyme off the beat. "What is remarkable about vocal/dubs is the way the arrangement constantly changes texture under the lyrics, plunging and climaxing with echo trails, creating different moods that underscore the singer."

DJs in Jamaica were originally around to promote albums and hype up songs. U-Roy was the first to "toast" over King Tubby’s dubbings. "But what separates U.Roy from the rest is the fact that he gave reggae this live jivin dimension which is so electrifying…" Roy boasted phrases fitting in with the words of the song. He used a call and response style, to get the crowd hyped up. "His rhythmic sense and distinctive voice, with it’s gravelly exclamations of "Wow" and "Yeah" have been much imitated, but international success has been elusive for U-Roy."

Originally called emceeing, rapping draws roots from toasting. In the United States, Coke La Rock is credited with boasting crowds; he worked with Kool Herc. "La Rock didn’t rap as we’d recognize it now but was more in the style of the Jamaican sound system toasters or black radio announcers hyping a record. Still, several of his pet party motivating slogans ("Ya rock and ya don’t stop!" "Rock on my mellow!" "To the beat y’all!") would become rap staples. Some old schoolers assert that La Rock was the first hip hop rapper."

Lee Scratch Perry created the idea of injecting sound effects into his versions and dubs. "His own "upsetter" rhythms have long been a staple of the genre (and echo throughout hip-hop today) and he virtually invented sampling." The original sound effects were babies crying, pistol shots, police whistles and breaking glass. These were sounds of the inner cities of Jamaica and America. Without this, we wouldn’t have cop sirens or gun-shots in the background of today’s rap songs. N.W.A. (Niggers With Attitude) would not be able to give the overall effect of gang violence, without sound effects in there song "Straight Out of Compton". To people this was shocking but it brought forth the reality of urban communities that many looked away from.

"Directly or indirectly, elements of hip-hop can be traced back to the sonic experiments that began in Jamaican studios 25 years ago." Hip-hop had to start from some idea, and it is visible that not enough Jamaican artists are credited for its technical development.

"I and the other DJs in the ‘80s, we change the whole style, we don’t toast and chant like one time, we put it lyrically, we put it more like a poem, you can read along, there is rhyming. . . But still DJ, we still have to respect all the artists who came first and set the pace, we have to respect that."

-Papa San

Reggae music gave America the technology to create hip-hop. From those foundations, pioneers took the basics and developed new techniques that would advance and distinguish artists from their original roots. The earliest dance parties in the Bronx had the similar sound systems to those developed in Jamaica. The "control tower" included amplifiers, crossovers, turntables, tape recorders, mixers, echo units, and microphones. In Jamaica, while the deejay was "working the crowd", the selector uses a number of electronic tricks. The selector will most likely "drop bombs", which is tricking the deejay and dancers with switching the beat, and add woofers and echoes, to add or decrease tension. In America, the deejays did something else, in addition to Jamaican techniques. They began to take two copies of the same disc on separate tables. "Why listen–the early hip hop DJs asked–to an entire commercial disc if the disc contained only twenty seconds of worthwhile sound? Why not work that sound by having two copies of the same disc on separate turntables, moving the sound on the two tables in DJ-orchestrated patterns, creating thereby a worth-while sound?"The result was one of selective extension and modification, developed simply by the human hand and ear. This was one of the main differences between deejaying in the States, from Jamaica.

In Jamaica, dances would have a showdown between two rival sound systems. "The competition among the mobile discos is fierce, and these contests are an important way of making and keeping a reputation." People began to "battle" one another to sway the crowd towards one particular deejay. "Twenty minutes of competitive sound meant holding the mike not only to "B", but also to set the beat —to beat out the competition with the "defness" of your style. So–it was always a throwdown: a self-tailored, self-tutored, and newly cued game stolen from the multi-national marketplace." There was synergy between what the DJs played and what excited the crowd. A deejay’s interaction with the crowd was influential and important. Winning a showdown meant holding control over a whole crowd; everyone’s attention was on you.

Break dancing, just like dance-hall music was competitive. Breaking crews, in the long tradition of urban gang culture, challenged other dancers to meet them at a specific playground, street corner, or subway platform. Breakers dueled each other, move matching move, until one of the crews was acknowledged victorious. In break dancing, locking and popping were upright dances in which dancers used their arms, legs, and torsos in isolated, semi-robotic moves requiring great body control.

However, in dance hall music, the flexibility of your body was key in competition. As seen in the movie "Dance Hall Queen", women would compete against each other in moving their body sexually in different positions. "The dancers are bubbin’ —it’s a pelvic thing —and it’s sexy." Whoever got the most attention of the crowd, would be the decided winner or the person with the best moves got to hold the limelight the longest. "Some people find the whole sexuality of the dancehall scene offensive, but many of the women in it told me it allows them to be in control of their sexuality as opposed to someone using them for their own gain."

In Jamaica and the United States, messages of violence and harsh living were portrayed in songs. Many stressed importance on moral behavior because a corrupt lifestyle was an option for those who lived in inner city areas, such as the South Bronx and Kingston. "Both rap and dance hall herald the ascendancy of lone street poets who present an unflinching treatment of ghetto realities and aspirations. The two forms have grown to represent the most authentic voices from the communities in which they emerged."

The type of hip-hop called gangster rap can be especially related to dancehall music.

"When I wrote about parties, someone always died. When I tried to write happy, Yo’ I knew, I lied, I lived a life of crime. . . Jet you thru the fast lane. Drop ya’ on death row. Cause anybody who’s been there, knows life ain’t so lovely. On the blood — soaked fast track. . . Don’t carry no switch blades. Every kids got a Tec 9 or a hand grenade. Thirty seven killed last week in a crack war."


These lyrics come from Ice-T’s song called "O.G.: Original Gangster". It clearly depicts the everyday lifestyle of growing up in South Los Angeles. These lyrics got much criticizism because it darkly displayed life, and people feared that listeners would take these violent actions, even though it was a portal of real life. "Ice-T writes a song that tells such stories, and the majority, spending so much time criticizing the song, ignore the whole message."

The dancehall musician Anthony B. can relate to Ice-T in his song "Cold Feet".

"Dem a walk wid gun in the hand and a run the town. All in front ah station man ah shot man down. Dem a walk wid gun in the had and a run the town. All in front ah station man ah shot man down."

-Anthony B.

Dance hall parties and parties in the inner cities of America, were a "calling" for violence. At many of these parties knocking off a rival sound system or creating mayhem at events are a convenient way to make a point. The competitive aspect of rapping and dancing on occasion has resulted in chaos, which should not be associated with a party.

"Despite, the "dangerous" edge of so much hip hop culture, all of its most disturbing themes are rooted in this country’s dysfunctional values." The same goes for reggae music. Most reggae music speaks of the suffering and oppression that plagues Jamaica. Jamaicans and African Americans, deal with racism and discrimination. Life in the inner cities also brings economic oppression. "Throughout history, music originating from America’s black communities has always had an accompanying subculture reflective of the political, social and economic conditions of the time."

Kurtis Blow, was one of the first rap artists to have a hit single, with his song titled "TheBreaks", which came out in 1980. He had this to say about rap "It’s hard for new things to get exposed outside of their birth place. And it was so hard for us to travel; it’s hard to take a small part of the world where something is created; how do you get exposed? I’ve been rapping since 1974. I wanted to put hard core messages but I thought that radio would just blank off to that. But since "The Message" came out, I don’t know. Maybe we can say anything we want now."

"Don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head. It’s like a jungle sometimes; it makes me wonder how I keep from going under."

-Grandmaster Flash

"The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five came out in 1982. This song was a gold single and the first rap song that rock critics respected and inspire a generation of MCs. It was the first harsh reflection of street life that inspired rap music. In "The Message", Grandmaster Flash is speaking about class discrimination and his frustration is on the verge of his breaking point.

"Hip-hop has brought America a new language of rhythm, speech, and movement that has inspired a generation to take verse to say what was too long unspoken about this nation."

"Jamaican musicians have been singing the latest news for nearly half a century, blurring the lines between entertainment and social commentary, and between showmanship and politics." The Jamaican life condition has generated three social responses; they are aggression, acceptance and avoidance. Aggression is violence, acceptance is Jamaica’s acceptance of its hopeless conditions, and avoidance being that since there is no good in society, there is no hope of contributing any.

Many reggae songs deal with these hardships of living in Jamaica.

Mother’s joy turn to pain and hollering. Weeping for their babies and sucklings. Spirits of the innocent wandering. Sufferation everlasting, but I want to know who’s responsible? They don’t give a damn no.

-Steel Pulse

These lyrics are from the song "A Who Responsible?" by Steel Pulse. The name of this album is "True Democracy". This title portrays what the Jamaicans wanted, but the songs depict the true lifestyle of the people. The economic hardships of Jamaica have left the country frustrated, leading the people to acts of violence and selfishness.

"The Message" and "A Who Responsible?" are just two of the many songs that tell of the sinister aspects of a country.


"The similarity of this type of music is that, it’s the same street people comin’ from the ghetto, off the street, singin’ the music, ‘cause if you notice the people that doin’ hip-hop in America are people comin’ from the mean street of the ghetto, and they’re comin’ with the same message, they’re lickin’ out about sufferation within I&I

community, the oppression within I&I community, police brutality and all a them type a thing there."

-Super Cat


Reggae was the most influential figure in the development of hip-hop. Jamaica’s musical technology of dubbing and toasting would lead to America’s techniques of emceeing and scratching. The ‘sound system’ would become the center of attention in urban areas. These places become the ‘battle grounds’ for youth to show off their skills in hip-hop.

Most important though is that people of the inner cities of Jamaica and America were finally being heard. Gangster rap and dancehall music spoke about the violence that went on in their neighborhoods. Other artists in reggae and hip-hop voiced about the harsh economic, social, and political conditions that faced them. As blacks, they faced a limited opportunity structure because of their skin color. Their songs portray their oppressed lifestyle. Society has given them much criticism about their lyrics, believing the violent words are influencing others to do deviant acts. If anything music is to be heard, not imitated. It is vital that society listens to the messages coming from the oppressed. Reggae and hip-hop have been the pioneers of getting the black communities’ message of their inequalities to the rest of the world.



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