One of the most intriguing aspects of music is what influences how we create it and engage with it. Rock-and-roll is heavily tied to biker culture, while country music is inextricably linked to rural culture. Hip-hop, as the genre most reflective of our everyday experiences, is perhaps most strongly influenced by outside niche cultures and public figures. (Just look up how many times Madonna, Bill Gates, Nia Long, and Michael Jordan have been mentioned on hip-hop tracks!) And aside from maybe the most boastful showman, Muhammad Ali, legendary singer and activist Bob Marley has undeniably influenced hip-hop, as well. In fact, hip-hop owes most of its sound, structure and swag to reggae and larger Jamaican culture.
Many of us are familiar with the technique of “scratching,” which is when a DJ uses records on a turntable to cause friction and create a rhythmic, high-pitched noise. Though this method became popular in New York’s South Bronx, it was actually created in Jamaica as “dubbing.” Reggae records would have an A-side of fully composed songs; the B-side would contain chopped-up remixes of the original songs that allowed the record cutters (the original DJs) to manipulate different components of the track.
The mastering of dubbing in reggae allowed an artist to “toast”—the predecessor to rapping or emceeing—over instrumental versions of songs. Jamaican DJs usually existed only to hype up songs, but dubbing pioneer King Tubby set a new standard with his emphasis on giving bass and rhythm a prominent spot on his remixes. Tubby commissioned DJ extraordinaire U-Roy to toast over his head-knocking mixes—which is recognized as the true creation of rapping. There is strong speculation that hip-hop’s forefathers—Barbados-born Grandmaster Flash, Jamaica’s Kool Herc, and Afrika Bambaataa—gained their inspiration directly by King Tubby and U-Roy.
The method of sampling from outside of hip-hop, which was popularized by West Coast legend Dr. Dre in the 90s and has been elevated by superstar Kanye West, was also birthed in Jamaica. Lee “Scratch” Perry was a Jamaican producer who invented “upsetter” rhythms—sound effects layered over, or in place of, beats. We can credit Scratch for the signature police sirens and gunshots heard in songs by early legendary groups such as Public Enemy and NWA, as well as many artists today. Upsetter rhythms provided the skeleton for the idea of sampling vocals and instruments to create new beats entirely.
Twerking—undoubtedly the most popular dance of this generation—was not exactly created in Jamaica, but hip-hop culture definitely inherited it from the Caribbean country. The traditional West African dance “mapouka” originates from the Ivory Coast. As a testament to the power of movement, free West African migrants brought the dance to the Caribbean in the 19th century. Thereafter, Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean groups migrated to New Orleans in the late 20th century—later resulting in the creation of “bounce” music in the early 90s. DJ Jubilee was the first artist to feature the word “twerk” in of his songs. His birthday should be a national holiday.
We can also point to countless examples of reggae artists directly impacting hip-hop over time. Reggae legends Sean Paul and Shaggy dominated the American radio in the late 90s and early 2000s, paving the way for acts such as Gyptian, Mavado, and Serani to gain prominence in hip-hop culture. In fact, Mavado would be featured in Drake’s “Find Your Love” video—a subtle prediction of the rap star’s growing fascination with Jamaican culture and music. Drizzy’s interest in reggae, as well as Bajan superstar Rihanna’s musical influence, have brought reggae and dancehall back to the forefront of hip-hop.
As evidenced by Kanye West’s heavily reggae-sampled Yeezus (as well as past works for JAY-Z such as “Encore” and “Lucifer”), the culture remains indebted to Jamaican music; look to Kendrick Lamar’s militant “Blacker the Berry” from To Pimp a Butterfly for further validation. Reggae and hip-hop were both created by black youth with an equal disdain for the poverty they experienced and love for rhythm. As the culture continues to elevate, we can guarantee one thing: black people in both Jamaica and America will be rump-shaking and head-nodding in unison for years to come.
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