In the music history, there has never been another musical genre or subculture so exclusively focused on rankings, ratings and the constantly updated scoring of who is the king, queen or even the don of all capos than Dancehall.
This musical genre from Jamaica mixes smooth reggae with fast rhythms, and manages to merge dance with the Rastafarian culture.
Who started Dancehall music?
The history of Dancehall begins in the late 1970s in Jamaica, when popular music moved away from its reggae roots towards a more modern, daring and different culture. This new trend was called Dancehall and marked the emergence of a new musical phenomenon that would eventually go global.
After Bob Marley’s death in 1981, the music began to change. The lyrics began to take on a new sense of identity. Themes about sexuality, violence and dance took center stage. DJs like Yellowman and Shabba Ranks boasted of their looks and prowess, a form of individual advancement for the humble Jamaican classes.
Technological innovations around the art of DJing also meant that faster digital beats could be produced and more DJs could jump on the scene. With the creation of the Sleng Teng beat in 1985, it was possible to mix a digital beat with different vocals. The Dancehall style of ‘talk-over’ became easy to reproduce and easy to do.
Notable in the history of Dancehall was the rise of DJ Yellowman in the early 1980s, which marked that transition from mainstream reggae to Dancehall music that took place in Jamaican nightclubs.
In the 1980s and 1990s, computer-generated beats mechanized and accelerated Dancehall. Notable Dancehall DJs like Shabba Ranks, Sugar Minott, Barrington Levy, Frankie Paul or DJ Yellowman are among the most important Dancehall artists of all time.
Subscribe to our newsletter 🎧
Why is it called Dancehall?
This musical style owes its name precisely to the dance halls of Jamaica, where you could both listen to this type of music and dance to it.
How has Dancehall influenced the new contemporary pop?
The real turning point came in 2003 with Sean Paul’s Get Busy, the first Dancehall single to reach #1 in the US. Beenie Man, Popcaan or Vybz Cartel also had some international impact, while Kevin Lyttle, from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, gave it a pan-Caribbean dimension thanks to his hit ‘Turn Me On’.
From there to Barbados with Rihanna and to North America with Drake and Diplo’s Major Lazer. A song that marks its global reach today is Work by Rihanna and Drake. Today, Dancehall is a fashionable genre in countries all around the world.
Top 20 Dancehall songs of all time
Here is a list of some of exponents that created the origin of the rhythm and style of Dancehall music. Each artist takes us to their country of origin and at the same time connects us with different cultures. Undoubtedly it is a style that transmits strength through their lyrics, dances and songs.
1. Eek-a-mouse ‘Wa-Do-Dem’ – 1981
Ripton Hilton, aka Eek-A-Mouse is one of the first artists to describe himself as a “singjay” a combination of “singer” and “deejay”, which is a Jamaican style of singing and dj/chanting.
Singjay became one of the core elements and a signifier in the aesthetics of Dancehall music that was present in the 1980s.
2. Sister Nancy ‘Bam Bam’ – 1982
“Bam Bam” is the most sampled reggae song of all time.
Although it was released in the 1980s, Sister Nancy, whose birth name is Ophlin Russell, didn’t know “Bam Bam” was an international hit until nearly 15 years after its release.
Now, thanks to the hit Netflix series Ozark, the song ranked number one on the Top Reggae chart.
3. Yellowman ‘Zungguzungguguzungguzeng’ – 1983
Dancehall legend Yellowman ruled Dancehall style from the late 70s to the early 90s, and one of the hit records in his arsenal was none other than the classic Zungguzungguguzungguzeng.
Since then, the song has been used by artists such as Tupac , Queen Latifah, Buju Banton , Vybz Kartel and Junior Mafia.
4. Barrington Levy ‘Here I Come’ – 1984
Nicknamed “Mellow Canary” for his distinct style and pure voice, he is considered one of the top reggae vocalists of the early Dancehall era.
It is so superb that you don’t even realize that the song narrates Barry’s escape attempt after unintentionally getting someone pregnant.
5. Tenor Saw ‘Ring The Alarm’ – 1985
In 1985, Clive Bright, the jamaican deejay better known as Tenor Saw, released one of the first Dancehall anthems.
When he recorded it, Saw was only 19 years old. Three years later, in 1988, he was murdered. Undoubtedly, one of the most terrible losses among those of us who love Jamaican musical culture.
6. Johnny Osbourne ‘Buddy Bye’ – 1985
Osbourne is also one of the most requested vocalist for dubs due to the number of Dancehall classics he has had. This has resulted in the nickname Godfather of Dancehall.
Osbourne said he came up with the lyrics of Buddy Bye based on the ‘Sleng Teng’ rhythm’s bassline. He had heard Wayne Smith’s Sleng Teng before Tad Dawkins approached him in New York to do a song on the rhythm.
7. Super Cat ‘Boops’ – 1985
Early B gave him the nickname Wild Apache before he assumed his own stage name. After his first recordings for producers such as Winston Riley and Jah Thomas, he joined the crew of the legendary Kilimanjaro Sound with Early B before his musical career took off with the hit Boops.
After a while, he became one of the first Jamaican deejays to sign for a major record company, Columbia Records, with which in 1992 he recorded what would become his masterpiece: ‘Don Dada’.
8. Tenor Saw ‘Pumpkin Belly’ – 1985
Despite his short career, Tenor Saw has become one of the reference voices of the Rub-a-dub style and his music will always remain alive among us.
In his short career he only had time to record two albums “Album” and “Fever” that have left their mark on the scene with anthems like this Pumpkin Belly.
9. Wayne Smith ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’ – 1985
Wayne Smith’s song Under Mi Sleng Teng is said to have revolutionized the world of reggae. The Jamaican singer composed it with his friend Noel Davy with a Casio electronic keyboard.
The piece became a best seller in 1985 and its pleasant and catchy rhythm became popular all over the world in the blink of an eye.
10. Admiral Bailey ‘Punnany’ – 1986
The original track on the riddim, Admiral Bailey’s Punaany, became an instant classic after its release in the middle of the 1980s.
The song helped to stablish the beginning of a new era in Dancehall-Reggae music that was created with computerized patterns.
11. Super Cat ‘Mud Up’ – 1987
Released on the Skengdon label in 1987, this song was ahead of its time, as it provided an early example of a DJ scratching on the B-side of a Dancehall record.
12. Conroy Smith ‘Dangerous’ – 1987
Conroy Smith never became a recognized reggae legend. The “curse” of the digital era of the late 1980s was that none of the talented artists of this period of reggae music ever received the kind of recognition enjoyed by the roots singers of the 1970s, but this song was even adopted by a British boxer called Nigel ‘The Dark Destroyer’ Benn and used as his entrance music, a tune that sounded out his intentions in any forthcoming fight.
13. Krystal & Shabba Ranks ‘Twice My Age’ – 1988
At the time of the release of “Twice My Age,” Shabba Ranks was the biggest DJ in Jamaica, just ahead of his signing to Epic Records and his (and Dancehall reggae’s) stateside explosion.
The irresistible beat produced by Gussie Clarke, and the vocal chemistry between Shabba and Krystal ensure “Twice My Age” remains a Dancehall favorite.
14. Admiral Bailey ‘Old Time Something’ – 1988
During the 80s, Bailey did not stop releasing hits. Here is another of the songs that everybody continues to hear every August 6th on Jamaica’s Independence Day.
15. Frighty & Colonel Mite ‘Life’ – 1988
“Life is what you make it” was made by two relatively unknown Brits who became a worldwide success with this hit track.
This is one of the songs from this list that dominated the genre during an important period of the 90s.
16. Junior Reid ‘One Blood’ – 1989
One of the most distinctive vocalists in popular music, Junior Reid has been singing irresistible songs with powerful messages for more than three decades.
One Blood is both a gung-ho party song and an appeal for unity, a combination which guarantees movement on the dance floor and an attendant spirit of bonhomie.
17. Shabba Ranks ‘Dem Bow’- 1990
At the foundation of almost every reggaeton song is the unmistakable two-bar “boom-ch-boom-chick”. The immensely recognizable drum rolls at each downbeat to produce the infectious beat that stands as the hallmark of what scholar Wayne Marshall estimated to be upwards of 80% of all reggaeton tracks as of 2008.
What little was known was that the sound immortalized by the Dancehall Shabba Ranks with the famous Dem Bow single, in its rhythmic aspects, was also part of a Jamaican religion known as pocomania.
18. Tiger ‘When’ – 1991
Described as a Dancehall deejay with an infectious sense of humor, Tiger was one of the most fun, energetic and experimental DJs of the late ’80s/early ’90s.
The rhyming pattern for this song was very clever, ending each line with “when”, and it perfectly complemented the driving riddim from Steely & Clevie.
19. Buju Banton ‘Batty Rider’ – 1991
Mark Anthony Myrie aka Buju Banton was predestined for greatness in the entertainment arena. Perhaps the most famous Jamaican artiste whose surname isn’t Marley.
‘Batty Rider’ pays homage to high-cut women’s shorts. His delivery style fused a new-school energy with the sensibilities of older Dancehall days and the ability to ‘ride the riddim’ with flair and individuality.
20. Pinchers ‘Bandelero’ – 1991
In 1987, Pinchers gained fame with the single “Agony”, from the album of the same name produced by King Jammy, but it wasn’t til 1990 when he made another hit, “Bandelero“, which endures as probably his most remembered single.