Check It Deeply: When Jamaican Reggae Met Miami Bass


Words by Scott Brown, with Jesse Serwer

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Hip-hop’s deep foundation in Jamaican toasting is well documented, but the mixing of music between the Caribbean island and the States reaches further south than the Bronx. Throughout the 70s and 80s, artists who contributed greatly to the rise of reggae in Jamaica, including Joe Gibbs, Ernest Ranglin, Inner Circle and Noel “King Sporty” Williams, were playing a role in the development of music in Miami. These influential reggae pioneers were involved in Miami recordings that varied from rap, funk, disco and electro. And the role of Jamaicans and other Caribbean people in the music business of South Florida in many ways contributed to the success of the region’s homegrown genre of Bass music.

As a reggae producer, Joe Gibbs was behind many of Dennis Brown’s most notable hits, including “Money in My Pocket.” The founder of the Amalgamated label and other imprints, Gibbs got his start in the rocksteady era, working with Lee “Scratch” Perry and Bunny Lee, before going on to contribute to reggae’s development producing for the likes of Gregory Issacs, Jacob Miller, Freddie McGregor, Culture and Beres Hammond.

Gibbs set up his Joe Gibbs Music outfit in the Opa-Locka area of South Florida after leaving Jamaica in the 1970s. Most releases on the label were strictly reggae, but a couple from an act called Xanadu stand out as early examples of female rap. “Sure Shot” is a “Rapper’s Delight” type of track complete with “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” nursery rhymes, while “Rocker’s Choice” smoothly interpolates Chic’s “Good Times” with a reggae skank. It’s a sound that may very well have been rocking parties in late 70s Miami, where the Caribbean influence was steadily rising during a wave of immigration from Jamaica and other islands.

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