Heds and Dreds: Sterling Simms, Nas, Kanye + ’80s Dancehall Samples

Words by Jesse Serwer—

This week we’re reviving our long-dormant hip-hop x reggae column Heds and Dreds to discuss the growing trend of ’80s dancehall samples in rap songs.

Remember a few years back when teenagers who weren’t even alive during hip-hop’s Golden Era started making Rick Rubin-style rap tracks talking about bringing ’88 back, while walking around looking like Kwame and Big Daddy Kane with flattops and dookie ropes? Could 80’s dancehall be headed for a similar revival? We haven’t seen anyone at bashments wearing tiger-stripe suits with fannypacks, but there’s a growing trend of mainstream rap/R&B records based on samples of ’80s dancehall songs. Earlier this year, Nas made a major statement with“The Don,” a Salaam Remi-produced track based on a sample of Super Cat’s “Dance Inna New York,” while Kanye West and his GOOD Music family had one of the biggest hits of the summer with “Mercy,” a track that notably samples Fuzzy Jones’ part from “Dust A Sound Bwoy” by Super Beagle.

The latest track in this vein is Sterling Simms’ “Tell Her Again,” which features a sample of Barrington Levy’s “Murderer,” and Barrington-inspired vocal ticks from the Philly R&B singer. The song, which features Maybach Music Group rapper Meek Mill, has been getting a lot of love from DJs here in Miami, and I’ve even heard it mixed a few times with “Mercy” into a mini ’80s dancehall-sample hip-hop set. We’re jumping back a year here, but Brooklyn’s Uncle Murda sampled the same song on “Warning,” which was huge underground street hit in NYC during summer 2011. Hey, maybe that’s where the whole thing started. But then again, rappers have been sampling Mr. Levy for what seems like forever.

On an underground level, here at LargeUp we’ve been submitted a couple songs riffing on the Sleng Teng riddim, most recently “Jump + Move + Rock” by London’s Wrongtom and Deemas J. And there’s probably a few more I’m forgetting. In any case, it’s a welcome trend, especially if we can get some more tracks like “The Don” and have more reasons to publish stories like this.

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