Words by Gabriel Heatwave with additional reporting by Dan Bean
After Notting Hill Carnival post-game breakdown and a successful NYC jaunt, our UK lime experts from the Heatwave crew have graciously agreed to bless us with regular updates on developments in London and all bouts. The first installment is a supersize edition breaking down the entire year from a UK perspective in order to get your mind correct for 2011. Read on the answer this question: Why the “Queen fi England haffi love off Yardie”?
Dancehall (bashment) in the UK hasn’t been in such a strong position since the early 90s. The small number of big Jamaican tunes that are regularly tearing down English raves highlights just how barren the previous few years have been in terms of crossover hits but the dry period came to an end in 2010. “Hold Yuh” was A-listed on BBC Radio 1 and reached number 16 in the national charts. “Clarks” was featured in several national newspapers (thanks to LARGE UP editor Jesse Serwer! -ed) and sparked a surge of interest in the classic comfortable footwear. A whole heap of JA tunes such as “Rum & Red Bull,” “My Heart” and “When You Feel Lonely” got heavy rotation last year on the BBC’s black music station, 1Xtra.
Many of the tunes that make it big in the UK were also hits in Jamaica, but what really shows the strength of the UK dancehall scene is its independence from the island in making and breaking tunes. Ward 21’s Cosa Nostra riddim was not such a big hit in JA, but it was among the biggest juggling riddims in the UK. Spearheaded by Mr Lexx’s incredible “Dem A Pree,” Cosa Nostra found its way into the record boxes (or Serato crates) of countless DJs, dancehall specialists and dabblers alike.
Much Ado About Dancehall
2010 saw big improvements in dancehall’s UK media profile. The misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the music and culture will not be eradicated overnight, but increasingly the people writing about it actually knew what they were talking about. MTV and Marvin Sparks ran a series of in-depth interviews with key players in Jamaican dancehall, which has both generated and satisfied considerable bashment interest in the UK. Sparks ended the year publishing a two-part interview with the dominant but elusive Vybz Kartel, which was never going to be short on controversy!
With record sales declining, live shows are an increasingly important revenue stream for artists. So it was good to see Mavado and Gyptian pack out London’s Brixton Academy last month, proving that despite poor sales there is no shortage of fans to support the music. Just as significantly, UK star Gappy Ranks got some BIG forwards, a contrast to the disdainful silence which often greets local support acts.
England Ah Mi Yard
Gappy Ranks was UK’s most successful dancehall export in 2010, touring the world and consistently releasing new tunes. He may even put out too much; quality control is not always there and it’s hard to keep up with the tide of new releases. But among them the hits usually stand out. Gappy has been busy recording in Jamaica, voicing for producers like Liv Up, Delly Ranx and Loud Disturbance and collaborating with artists including Beenie Man, Tony Matterhorn and Kibaki. Though his biggest success was probably the revival album Put The Stereo On with London label Peckings, hitting on a foundation/singjay style that contrasts with his usual bashment output.
While Gappy leads the way, there is no shortage of UK artists and producers who look set to push things forward in 2011. London’s Suncycle crew gave Gappy his bashment apprenticeship and two other Suncycle alumni – Lady Chann and Dolamite – are also at the forefront of the UK bashment scene. Dolamite scored in 2010 with his percussive monster “African Oil” and the follow-up “Shake Like Dice,” drawing links between Jamaica, Africa and UK funky. Lady Chann continued to dominate the ‘funky bashment’ sound pioneered by producer Sticky, as well as working with JA producers Ward 21 and Prodigal and voicing a heartfelt cut on the ever-present Hold Yuh riddim.
The classic dancehall productions from Curtis Lynch and his Necessary Mayhem label have been making worldwide waves for a few years, featuring vocals from UK deejays like General Levy, Mr Williamz, YT, Blackout JA, Papa Levi, Top Cat and Tippa Irie. In 2010 he also scored a huge Jamaican hit with reggae singer Etana, “August Town”–a rare feat for a non-Jamaican dancehall producer. Hopefully Lynch will build on that success and work with more JA artists in 2011.
On the bashier side of things, London/Trini producer Wundah came through strongly with two hit riddims, Flash Forward and Transition. The former featured Sizzla and Capleton and the standout track from Stylo G’s Warning Crew, an anthem swearing allegiance to the Blackberry. Though rumour has it that not all of the members actually owned a BB when they recorded the track!
Elsewhere, grime producer Morfius relicked the Shine & Criss/Ba Ba Boom riddim and renamed it Bullfighter, featuring heavy UK and JA voicings from the likes of Turbulence and Badness. Birmingham big man and Heatwave family member Serocee clocked up his skymiles touring with South Rakkas Crew and released some diverse and distinctive singles including Badeng, Bullring and War Dance. And ragga jungle legends Tenor Fly and David Boomah went soundboy killing with a dubstep-flavoured reggae monster, “Sound Ago Dead.”
So 2010 was a bumper year for English bashment…but it’s not just in the dancehalls where Jamaican music runs things in the UK.
UK dance music has a long-standing love affair with Jamaica: during the 90s the dancehall/reggae influence was strong in hardcore, jungle and garage. In the last decade, dubstep, grime and funky have continued to explore that fertile relationship.
In 2010, JA/UK collaborations exploded and the influences ran both ways. Kano worked with Aidonia and Vybz Kartel, Natalie Storm jumped on Redlight’s MDMA riddim and Toddla T recorded with Wayne Marshall. Meanwhile, David Rodigan lent his voice to the Newham Generals’ grimey dubstep hit “Hard” and Footsie released his Rastaman Pickney EP, sampling Horace Andy, Barrington Levy and Bounty Killer.
Grime legend Wiley spent several weeks in Jamaica, voicing a number of tunes including a remake of his own classic Eskimo riddim by Jamaican producer Prodigal. Renamed the Showa Eski riddim, the release also featured UK bashment queen Lady Chann. And grime/reggae artist Badness laid down a memorable freestyle on the beat, despite being interrupted by the Metropolitan Police!
One of the strengths of dancehall is that it’s not restricted to one tempo, unlike most UK dance music. So a Jamaican Londoner like Doctor can voice on dubstep for Chase & Status (142bpm), funky bashment for for Sticky (129bpm) and grimey hiphop on Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out beat (91bpm) … and they’re all bashment! This brings together those sometimes separate and competing scenes, highlighting through the Jamaican link the relationships that apparently distinct UK sounds have as part of a larger whole.
As well as those mentioned above, Ms Dynamite, Maxwell D, Mz Bratt & General Levy, Riko Dan, Mighty Moe, Marvin Brown, Stush, Rubi Dan and Shizzle all connected in 2010, spitting bashment rhymes over grime, funky, and dubstep.
Is this daggering I see before me?
So what’s in store for the UK scene in 2011? One thing we can say with 100% certainty is that The Heatwave and LARGE UP will be bringing you monthly updates on the UK bashment scene. We’ll keep you up to the time on all the big tunes, artist albums/mix CDs, raves, collabs and maybe even some gossip.
In terms of predictions, let’s just say that it looks like 2011 will see the following:
- Some big JA tunes crossing over to the UK mainstream
- Ever-increasing interest in dancehall music and culture
- Bigger and bigger bashment hits from UK artists
- Producers and labels of all genres working with dancehall MCs
So get ready! (And to absorb all this information in a much louder format, check the Heatwave London Bashment mix here).