MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2015
WEEK 41: RAGGA
To the consternation of many, ragga has been the most commercially successful Jamaican music since the late seventies peak of Bob Marley. It has also been the most populist and catholic genre of Jamaican music ever, a new folk form drawing freely from almost every aspect of the islands popular culture. And yet, while academics and music critics have written volume after volume of books dedicated to the history of reggae; from ska to rocksteady; from seventies roots and dub to early dancehall and the digital revolution; those narratives always grind to a halt in the late eighties at the exact moment the most creative and exciting version of dancehall emerged from the studios of Kingston.
Of course, like everything in reggae it’s always been impossible to draw a definitive line between subgenres and while ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ and Jammy’s digital innovations were certainly revolutionary, in their wake came a tsunami of producers and deejays intent on doing it their own way. Bobby Digital, Dave Kelly, Patrick Roberts, Steely & Cleevie and many more were so prolific and production costs so cheap that a staggering five thousand new singles were released each year through the nineties.
Abandoning the Casio-like sonic quality of digital dancehall, ragga was sleeker and far more eclectic resulting in a host of new rhythms built through a more sophisticated use of technology rather than electronic versions of older, vintage forms. This rationale of new production styles and the assembly line ethos necessitated a totally different vocal approach. Whereas dancehall had pushed even the most gifted singers into the background, ragga dispensed with their services almost completely as packs of unknown deejay’s appeared from nowhere to seize their moment.
For those raised on Marley and roots, digital rhythms and the absence of singing proved a step too far but that was nothing compared to the outrage generated by the rhymes that accompanied them. New depths of slackness were plumbed as deejays found increasingly sensationalist ways to praise the usual dancehall themes of guns, gals, ganja and far more controversial subjects. As deejays battled to become the next big thing, the faddish ragga scene was subsumed by a novelty mindset that resulted in the weirdest gimmicks, the strangest, staccato beats, and vocal mannerisms that evoked the jittery paranoia of coke rather than the smooth ride of marijuana.
As a weird scene logic worked its magic, fired by the intimate interaction between producers, deejays and their audience, ragga’s uncontrived, functional music pushed the boundaries to become stunningly futuristic. The most hardcore variation of reggae there’s ever likely to be, it’s ironic how commercially successful and influential it has been. Not bad for a permanently misunderstood genre that continues to be castigated and denounced at every available opportunity.
01 CHAKA DEMUS ‘Young Gal Business’ (A Side 1987)
02 MAJOR MACKEREL ‘Read Jah Bible’ (A Side 1988)
03 NINJAMAN & FLOURGON ‘Zig It Up’ (A Side 1989)
04 GREGORY PECK ‘Pocoman Jam’ (A Side 1990)
05 CUTTY RANKS ‘The Stopper’ (A Side 1991)
06 DADDY SCREW ‘Gal U Body Good’ (A Side 1991)
07 COBRA ‘Yush’ (A Side 1991)
08 SHABBA RANKS ‘Ting A Ling’ (A Side 1992)
09 BUJU BANTON ‘Big It Up’ (A Side 1992)
10 TIGER ‘Yuh Dead Now’ (A Side 1992)
11 TONY REBEL ‘Chatty Chatty’ (Vibes Of The Time LP 1993)
12 CAPLETON ‘Good So’ (Good So LP 1993)
13 LIEUTENANT STITCHIE ‘Whap Dem’ (A Side 1994)
14 LADY SAW ‘Stab Out Mi Meat’ (A Side 1994)
15 JIGGY KING & TONY CURTIS ‘Butterfly’ (Have To Get You LP 1994)
16 BEENIE MAN ‘Big Up And Trust’ (A Side 1995)
17 SIMPLETON ‘Quarter To Twelve’ (A Side 1995)
18 SPRAGGA BENZ ‘Funny Guy Thing’ (A Side 1996)
19 LEXXUS ‘Fade Away’ (A Side 1997)
20 GENERAL DEGREE ‘Bag A Tings’ (A Side 1998)
21 BOUNTY KILLER ‘Anytime’ (A Side 1998)
22 ELEPHANT MAN FEAT. MR VEGAS ‘Bun It’ (A Side 1999)