While we’re on the topic of reggae, did you know that remixing and rap can both be traced back to Jamaica? That’s one musically influential little island.
The art of remixing, used ubiquitously in dance music of every stripe since the late ’70s, can be traced back to Jamaica and “dub.” And, amazingly, so can the foundation of rap: speaking rhythmically over all or a portion of an old R&B tune goes back to the Jamaican “DJ’s” (“MC’s” in America) “toasting,” or rapping over sound systems for Jamaican dances as far back as the late ’60s.
The standard set-up of two turntables and a microphone goes back to Jamaica sound systems and was imported to the Bronx by Kool DJ Herc in 1973. One of these early Jamaican raps, Dennis Alcapone’s “Teach the Children,” which is rapped over an instrumental version of Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff,” is included on the great collection, Dub Reggae Essentials.
It was in reggae dub that the mixer/remixer first became as important as the artist. In dub the original of a song is stripped down to its instrumental essentials – sometimes just the drum and bass (another offshoot) – and then the vocals are added back into the mix in spooky, chopped segments, often with extreme echo, to create a meandering, spacey mix. Dub and hip-hop also met in England to form trip-hop.
Before dub was “version,” a method of isolating the rhythm track of a given record and reusing it with new vocals, or even a new melody. This technique was perfected at Studio One in the mid ’60s, and by the end of the decade DJ’s were rapping over the tracks – like today, sometimes the rap version was more popular than the original song (“U Can’t Touch This” vs. “Super Freak”).
The 18 songs on this collection feature some of the most famous dubbers and artists from 1970-98, including King Tubby, Sly and Robbie, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Dillinger, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Scientist, Yellowman, Burning Spear. It’s a headphone classic of deep beats, strange noises, and vocals skittering from ear to ear, pausing only briefly to trod on your brain.