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

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“Sound Bwoy Bureill” (Dah Shinin’, 1995)

From the opener “Timz N Hood Check” to the definitive single “Bucktown,” Smif-n-Wessun’s seminal 1994 debut Dah Shinin’ was stacked with patois , paraphrased dancehall lyrics and other sonic (see producers Da Beatminerz’ dub-influenced filtering on tracks like “K.I.M. [Keep It Movin]”) and lyrical cues that spoke directly to the Brooklyn massive, but also sounded pretty damn cool to hip-hop heads who wouldn’t know a dread from a baldhead. “Sound Bwoy Bureill” was the apotheosis of this aesthetic, employing the terminology of the soundclash (“Sound bwoy you got nuff reason to worry/Comin’ with my troops we about to bury/Better pack your dubs and move off in a hurry/Ease off, seen”) in a way that gave the track a distinctive duality. Those literate in sound system culture recognized this language as figurative, while the vast majority of listeners saw them as literal threats.

Right from the beginning the track sounded like nothing else in hip-hop at the time, starting with high-pitched threats seemingly lifted from a vintage soundclash tape (but was actually an uncredited Beatminerz associate). Making his first appearance on wax, Steele’s younger brother Top Dog (later of Originoo Gunn Clappaz) kicked off the lyrical proceedings by quoting from Buju Banton’s controversial “Boom Bye Bye,” setting the tone for similarly flavored rhymes from Tek, Steele and OGC’s Starang Wondah. The dark, high-energy video featured an alternative mix that added one of the first known appearances of LargeUp family member Jahdan Blakkamoore (who was then going by “The Blakheart Skavenger”), and reconstituted rhymes from Tek, Steele, Top Dog and Starang.