Words by EchoSlim—
Sean Paul’s “Gimme the Light” put Jamaican dancehall on the path to its greatest period of crossover success following its release in 2001. Frequent LargeUp contributor and family member EchoSlim gives us the Miami-set backstory behind one of the most ubiquitous and internationally popular dancehall records ever.
For those that don’t know me, my name is EchoSlim, TK to most, Trini Kid to some, Lethal Weapon to others, and Dwayne to my close fam. I’m an unofficial historian by day and an official DJ/producer at night. I would like to share with you how I saw “Gimme The Light” change the lives of a small circle of people in Miami and Jamaica, and introduce the rest of the world to Sean Paul.
Dancehall followers were already familiar with Sean Paul for songs like 1997’s “Infiltrate” (on the Playground Riddim produced by his first manager, Jeremy Harding) or “No Bligh” on Donovan Germain’s Up Close and Personal Riddim, or even his debut song “Baby Girl” on Harding’s Fearless Riddim. It seemed like Sean and his Dutty Cup Crew were on every riddim out in the late 90s. After I first heard Sean on “Baby Girl,” I immediately started playing that song at house parties and in the clubs because his voice sounded similar to one of my favorite deejays, Super Cat aka the Wild Apache.
It also didn’t hurt that the Fearless Riddim was a wicked riddim with a nice lineup of artists. Sean’s debut was well received by most, though some thought he was biting off Super Cat’s style. That small group of people definitely didn’t slow down his success.
Around the same time, Miami sound system Black Shadow Movements, who were already mashing up dancehalls left and right and had one of the best radio shows on the popular Caribbean radio station Mixx 96.1, stepped into the production world. Lead members Troyton and Daddy Reds (in the pic with Sean Paul, above) started Black Shadow Records (other selectors and MCs on the sound included Juxxy Kid, Donny Don, Screwface, and Kapone), and began dropping riddims. While each riddim (including the Paid In Full, Get Mad Now and Mad Sex riddims featuring SP on the tracks “Look So Appealin,” “Hot Already” and “Es Ee Ex” respectively) built a solid foundation, one finished the castle, passed all the inspections tests, mowed the lawn, and kept the whole yard clean: The Buzz riddim, featuring one of the most commercially successful dancehall songs ever,”Gimme The Light.”
Arguably one of the greatest riddims ever produced, The Buzz riddim instantly started tearing dancehalls up locally in Miami, before spreading across the world. Black Shadow being family, I always got exclusive 45s. Vinyl records, I miss those days. My sound system at the time, Lethal Weapon Sound, would spin at top 40 and open format clubs in South Florida like Club Space, Mansion, and Prive besides the usual hardcore dancehall venues. I used those clubs as a barometer to see which reggae songs had crossover potential. When I dropped the Buzz Riddim in my set, it was a wrap. Every song kept the dance floor ram. I never knew which track was going to buss the biggest, but I knew one of them would get into radio rotation very soon.
“We never knew ‘Gimme The Light’ would blow up as big as it did when we recorded it” recalls producer Roger MacKenzie, aka Daddy Reds. “We just asked Sean to write something different than he was normally writing at the time, which was usually songs about girls. He ended up writing the most catchy hook on the riddim and arguably the biggest song of his career. We asked Sizzla the same thing with ‘Pump Up’ except, in his case, something different than his usual conscious message. Sizzla ended up writing the most controversial song on the riddim and probably his career”
After signing to Atlantic Records, Sean Paul’s second album, Dutty Rock, would go on to sell 6 million records worldwide, with five top 15 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 including “Gimme the Light,” which peaked at No. 7 (“Get Busy” would hit No. 1 for three weeks). It could have probably sold another 6 million copies if it wasn’t bootlegged so much. Around the time Napster, Kazaa, and other free filesharing sites were at their peak, everybody and their mother had that album, while iTunes and other digital retailers had not yet established a template for online sales.
Black Shadow would produce popular riddims such as Surprise, Ching Chong, Blink and, most recently, Spook. The Buzz Riddim, however, still remains my favorite for many reasons. First, It still can mashup any dancehall session and get anyone on the dancefloor. Secondly, The bredren Little X directed a sick video for “Gimme The Light,” and the talented Taneisha Scott killed the choreography in the video. Thirdly, I always love seeing the Caribbean, Miami, and Toronto collab on projects, as I have family ties in each region. The main reason why I love this riddim, however, is because it changed the lives of a small circle of people I’m proud to know for the better. They all put in the work and achieved their goals. They made their mark globally and will forever be etched in music history.