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Dancehall Music Guide: Explore the History of Dancehall Music

The real experience of Kingston's lower- and working-class people impacted the development of dancehall.Dancehall is as much about music as the clothes, dancing, and art surrounding it.

It was more than a genre; it was a lifestyle. Ska, rocksteady, mento, American R&B, and roots reggae were the most popular types of music in Jamaica prior to the rise of dancehall. Still, in the late 1970s, a transition occurred with the sound and lyrical content created by then-emerging singers.

What Exactly Is Dancehall?

Dancehall is a kind of Jamaican popular music that evolved in the late 1970s from the country's thriving and diversified music industry. Dancehall music replaced reggae's serpentine rhythms with prerecorded or digitally generated tunes based on pure, driving grooves.

The subgenre also adopted lyrical material emphasizing worldly pleasures above traditional or roots reggae's spiritual and mystical vocabulary.

Dancehall's popularity went beyond Jamaica's boundaries, giving international prominence to musicians like Sean Paul, Beenie Man, and Lady Saw. Moreover, mainstream performers like Drake and Rihanna earned their own dancehall successes.

Dancehall Music's Brief History

Dancehall music had its start in Jamaica in the late 1960s:


Dancehall music is named after the dance halls that conducted dances in inner-city regions of metropolitan places such as Kingston in the 1950s and 1960s. Local sound systems consisted of a generator, a turntable, and huge, portable speakers monitored by a selector. They played early versions of reggae, such as rocksteady and ska, as well as R&B from the United States.

In a sound system, the DJ's job was to write fresh lyrics for instrumental tracks called riddims—pronounced "rhythms" in Jamaican patois—in a delivery manner akin to hip-hop rapping. DJs like Count Machuki, Sugar Minott, and U-Roy became celebrities due to the toasting technique.

First Recordings

In the 1970s, Jamaican music producers like Duke Reid and Henry "Junjo" Lawes used existing instrumental tracks or parts from songs with vocals. They rerecorded new vocals with other singers and deejays, recognizing the appeal of sound systems. These early dancehall tracks propelled artists like Barrington Levy, Gregory Isaacs, and Junior Reid to stardom.


By the 1980s, artists like Yellowman and U-Roy had laid the groundwork for current Jamaican dancehall music. Over hard-driving taped beats culled from old reggae records, songs included toasting. Slackness was defined by lyrics centered on scandalous subjects, a trait derived from early Caribbean popular music styles like calypso and mento. These qualities distinguished dancehall reggae from roots reggae, which included performers like Bob Marley and was more socially and spiritually oriented.


When producers like King Jammy used electronic instruments instead of earlier records with analog instruments and quicker rhythms, dancehall went even farther away from roots reggae. Jammy's sassy "(Under Me) Sleng Teng" was a smashing success in 1985, and it heralded the birth of the digital dancehall or ragga style.


Many of dancehall's greatest artists, such as Shabba Ranks and Bounty Killer, rose to prominence in the 1990s. Lyrics glorifying laziness predominated their albums. However, certain singers, such as Buju Banton and Mavado, also celebrated "rude boy" conduct like gunplay and drug usage. Female dancehall musicians such as Sister Nancy, Lady Saw, and Lady G provided a counterpoint to these tunes.


 In the new century, dancehall entered the worldwide market. Sean Paul, whose 2003 song "Get Busy" charted in the United States and other regions, opened the path for subsequent dancehall musicians, including Elephant Man, Spice, Aidonia, and Vybz Kartel. Their records shifted away from slackerness and included pop and dance music influences.

Old-fashioned sound

 Some dancehall singers, such as Banton and Sizzla, embraced Rastafarian beliefs in their songs by harkening back to the 1970s. Pop singers like Justin Bieber and Rihanna took notice of these and other musicians and made songs influenced by their sounds. Drake has a streak of dancehall successes under his belt, including "Controlla" from 2016.

Trap dance

Trap Dancehall Music is a brand new type of music emerging from Jamaica. It got popular in 2016 because Dancehall musician Rygin brought it to the forefront. The fusion of Hip-Hop and Dancehall music is known as Trap Dancehall.

Baker Steez, a Jamaican who now lives in Florida, was the first to combine Hip-Hop and Dancehall sounds to create Trap Dancehall.

Most of the newer dancehall singers from 2016/2017 are doing this kind of music, and much as Reggae has sub-genres like Roots Rock, Lovers Rock, and Dub, Dancehall now has its own sub-genre called "Trap Dancehall."3 Dancehall Music Characteristics

Different Features That Defining The Sound Of Dancehall MusicHybrid Elements

Early dancehall included artists toasting or singing over pre-recorded tunes from Jamaican record firms like Studio One's enormous collections. Digital dancehall, also known as ragga, was popular in the 1980s and 1990s and included creative songs produced using electronic equipment. Modern dancehall is a mix of Jamaican dancehall rhythms with American hip-hop and R&B sounds.


One of the critical ways dancehall music separated itself from roots reggae was via its lyrical content. It replaced Jah (God) festivities and political debate with topics similar to hip-hop styles: The bulk of dancehall songs have an outlaw spirit and a concentration on the racy subject matter.


Riddims, or dancehall music's rhythm tracks, are utilized by many performers on many records. A single riddim, such as the one used in Wayne Smith's "(Under Me) Sleng Teng)," fuelled a dozen or more creative compositions. By 2006, the riddim that underpinned 1967's "Real Rock" had been used in over 250 tracks. This unusual custom dates back to the early days of dancehall when a deejay would salute the selector's CDs live.

Four Important Dancehall Artists

Throughout the genre's five-decade existence, several noteworthy dancehall musicians have emerged, including:


Popcaan received his big break from another dancehall artist, Vybz Kartel, who took him under his wing to polish his writing and performance talents. A run of minor singles culminated in his breakthrough song. "Clarks," a duet with Vybz, won significant honors in the Jamaican music business. More successes followed, including "Only Man She Want" in 2012, as well as collaborations with Drake ("Controlla"), Young Thug, and Gorillaz. 1.

Buju Banton

Buju Banton has had a long and successful career. He is one of dancehall's most well-known performers. His music career started in the 1980s, but it took off when Stamina Daddy and Mr. Mention were released back-to-back in 1992. The later album set records in Jamaica and led to a deal with A&M Records in the United States. His subsequent albums received critical acclaim, and he was instrumental in reintroducing social and spiritual elements to dancehall. Banton had a few legal difficulties in the 2000s, which overshadowed his Grammy triumph for his album Before the Dawn in 2011. In 2018, he reappeared and restarted his music career.

Shabba Ranks

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ranks' booming voice dominated dancehall and created some of the genre's greatest crossover songs. After perfecting his toasting abilities on the sound system circuit, Ranks was signed to Epic Records and achieved limited success until 1991, when his song "Mr. Lover Man" hit the US Top 40. He would have even more success the following year, winning a Grammy for his album As Raw As Ever in 1992, which he repeated in 1993 with X-Tra Naked.


The dancehall performer Konshens, born Garfield Spence, is a gauge for the worldwide popularity of Jamaican music. Before launching his solo career, he was a member of the Sojah combo alongside his brother Delus. His track "Pon di Corner," released in 2005, was a tremendous success in Japan, and he is still a popular performer there as well as in the Caribbean, Europe, and Guyana. His worldwide following has led to collaborations with various singers, including Enrique Iglesias and DJ Matoma, on the US Top 40 track "I Don't Dance (Without You)."

Final Thoughts

Some argue that dancehall has the type of staying power that allows it to remain a genre that we constantly discuss, yet it seems that it has a bright future. Dancehall may seem to have run its course, having evolved from the slums of Kingston to become a sound heard throughout the world, yet the race has just started.

With the release of Spice's "Captured" and Popcaan's "Forever" in 2018, dancehall seems to be settling in as a fixture rather than a genre that comes and goes in the public's memory every few years. Hopefully, institutional improvements will follow, allowing its artists to be acknowledged for their contributions to music.

Article written by: Grace Hug

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