Heds and Dreds: Smif-n-Wessun and the Caribbean Influence on Hip-Hop

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
June 27, 2011

Words by Jesse Serwer, Photos by Fubz

For as long as I’ve been on the LargeUp team, we’ve discussed launching a column that would highlight Caribbean music’s influence on hip-hop. It’s a topic we’ve touched upon in various ways but which still remains an under-documented phenomenon, despite the huge role reggae played in the formation of hip-hop in the ’70s and in then again in its late ’80s and mid ’90s progressions. The name “Heds and Dreds” comes from a little-known album cut from Youngest In Charge, the classic debut album by Brooklyn-Jamaican MC Special Ed. It’s one of the greatest attempts at deejay chatting by an American MCย  but it has mostly been forgotten by history, a footnote on an overlooked and very underrated album.

Special Ed aside, there’s perhaps no better place to start our trip through the reggae/rap soundclash than with the music of Smif-n-Wessun, a group who, though not from the Caribbean themselves, have repped the prevailing culture of their native Central Brooklyn for more than a decade and a half with their convincing patois flows, love for dancehall, and collaborations with Bounty Killer, Eek-A-Mouse and more. Tek and Steele drop a new album tomorrow called Monumental (buy it on iTunes) and it’s produced entirely by Pete Rock. A Jamaican himself, the Chocolate Boy Wonder of course slid West Indian spices into “This One,” featuring Jahdan and Top Dog of OGC:

Smif N Wessunโ€”This One feat. Top Dog & Jahdan Blakkamore of Noble Society

Read below for a breakdown of all of Smif-n-Wessun’s most memorable Caribbean-flavored tunes, including “This One,” and visit us again tomorrow for an exclusive interview with Tek and Steele, on their respective introductions to dancehall, the making of the classic “Sound Bwoy Bureill,” working with Pete Rock on the new album, and more. And if you’re in NYC tomorrow, stop by the Monumental release party at Tammany Hall: It also doubles as an exhibition of photosโ€”some of which you can see hereโ€”taken during the recording of the album by LargeUp’s own Fubz.