10 worst things about reggae in the noughties

Consider this your grumpy intermission. Part Two of “The best reggae 45s of the noughties” will follow shortly…

Riddim Albums

20 cuts, 40 cuts, but how many are worth playing more than twice?

Riddim albums made economic sense. If you look at the Greensleeves discog for the end of the 90s they were releasing 5 or 6 seven inches for each riddm, some of which were quite difficult to get hold of. The double LPs were cheap, available and great for mixing. And Tony McDermott’s iconic sleeve designs (see above) were awesome.

But it seemed like producers ended up getting any passing stranger into the studio just to make up the numbers to the magical 20. And sometimes there were 3 or 4 of these riddims a month, often with the same “stars” on them alongside the no-marks, all being paid by the hour. The quality took a dive.

Some of the actual riddims were great (especially Diwali, Martial Arts, Hard Drive). Others were pretty dreadful and boasted generic hateful vocals to boot (my personal worst was the Saddam Birthday / Jailbreak riddim LP).

Having said that, there are still some gems from this era, some of which are collected on the Boom Boom Bashment Mix I did with Paul Meme and Paul’s own Nervous Ragga mix.

Collectors/Downloaders

Collectors over-value the music and turn it into a game of speculation and acquisition rather than, y’know, listening.

They have always been around, but until the noughties their presence at least ensured the continuation of record shops. Now ebay has come to the fore you can amass a record collection worth thousands of pounds without actually having to meet anyone except maybe your postman.

Glutonous downloaders devalue the music by acquiring vast quantities of it for free. Don’t worry about the quality or context, look at the size of my iTunes collection!

Neither of these processes (both of which I confess I have been guilty of to a minor degree at times) result in any money going back to the creators of the music. Which brings us nicely to:

Tuff Gong photo by pixelskew

Tuff Gong photo by pixelskew

The end of vinyl production in Jamaica

As detailed by my man Dave Stelfox in the Guardian

The medium shouldn’t affect that message, but it does. There is simply less chance of making money out of music now that it has all dematerialised, so less people are interested in getting involved with making it. Also, even by reggae’s usual meagre standards, investment in marketing/promotion is at an all time low. Apparently Vybz Kartel’s latest album sold just eight copies during its first week of release.

I have an emotional and a practical attachment to vinyl, but realistically this is a losing battle.

Drop Leaf

It’s OK as it goes and undeniably popular, but just a bit too twee for me.

The main issue with this riddim is that it basically killed off the “relick reggae” there is so much of in my “best of the noughties” chart. Instead everyone did “tasteful” tunes with plucky guitars or strings and over-emoted. Or they entered the realm of the…

Soca Autotune

Towards the end of the decade it all got a bit more ravey, bit more soca, bit more r ‘n’ b. Which actually sounds alright when I write that, except hardly any of the tunes did it for me. I’ve got lots of love for what Heatwave are doing with their whole Caribbean Rave thing, but I just had to sit this dance out. I really hope this isn’t because it coincided with me entering my forties, but you never know.

Homophobia Hysteria

Look I don’t like homophobia any more than you do. I don’t buy those records, I don’t play those records out, I’m not known for shying away from expressing my views on the matter.

I’m not going to defend people’s right to spout hatred of gay people on some kind of cultural-relativist ticket either, but you would be a bit dim if you didn’t look at the context of anti-gay legislation in JA.

I could write a lot more about this but it usually kicks of a huge ruckus in the comments box and I think we’ve all made our position clear on the issue over the last ten years. And yes, it does seem to have settled down a bit now.

One thing that pisses me off is that coverage of reggae in the media in the noughties was either snide or hysterical. Which is a bit galling for me, as someone who thinks a ton of good things have been happening.

Speaking of which:

Pisstaking Journalists

Yes it’s ridiculous that some white people like music made by black people.

And hilarious that Collie Budz, a white guy who grew up in Bermuda, makes reggae himself.

And we’re all really pleased that you have transcended the disadvantages of a public school upbringing to become a broadsheet journalist who writes so knowledgeably about the music and culture you so clearly love.

Cultural Raiders

Yay! It’s a global village! Even though I’m in my twenties and I live with my parents in affluent Surrey, I can still simulate the sounds of being a Kingston Ghetto Sufferah by the power of my sampler! Look at me posting up pictures of reggae soundsystems on my internet profile! Here’s my latest tune, it’s called “Jah Yardie Lengman Spliff Ackie Lickwood Skank”.

The best example of this for me was some breakcore producer who made a tune called “Battyman” which got released on vinyl without anyone actually knowing what the word meant. This prompted a wise old cove on the C8 discussion forum to comment: “You like sampling Capleton because he sounds so angry. He is angry AT YOU!”

Dance Crazes

“Bad man forward bad man pull up” was a tune. We all had a laugh watching Paul Meme “signal de plane” off the instructions from that Sean Paul poster sleeve. And “Dutty Wine” was alright. But after that, every single bashment tune had to have its own increasingly contrived dance craze.

And yes, it is a bit rich for me to be slagging of Jamaican people for making tunes that go down big time at Kingston dancehalls and across the globe. Sorry.

Needless to say, with “daggering” it all ended in tears. Actually, not just tears: broken penises.

“Festival Reggae”

A relatively new development. Live bands performing their own songs for an international festival audience. There are a few of these around and they all seem to have quite good press agents. I’m reluctant to name them because I am sure they are all very nice, but it just seems a bit lifeless to me.

I guess this development springs from the recognition that you can still make cash out of live performances if not record sales. As Matt B points out in the new Woofah (soon!) – it’s probably nice enough on a sunny afternoon in a field, and might even act as a “gateway drug” for some. But otherwise it all seems a bit surplus to requirements.

6 Comments

  1. JIM says:

    Ahoy Mr Eden
    your last two posts have been delivered with the accuracy of a sniper, top notch. A virtually inarguable Pt One of the Noughties selection followed by this ‘took the words right our of my mouth’ overview. I’d like to point out that you are ‘on fire’ but I fear that might induce a blast of sampled to death airhorns (perhaps that should be #11, Diplo and the dilettantes have a lot to answer for with the preponderance of that contemporary sample cliche!) Please keep ‘em coming.

  2. ERIK says:

    Hi! Very well written and interesting.

  3. B says:

    Wicked & wild ! Nice one J :-)

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shane and Sam Mc Dermott, Jamdown Digital. Jamdown Digital said: uncarved.org blog » Blog Archive » 10 worst things about reggae in …: The main issue with this riddim is that it… http://bit.ly/7FFgSo […]

  5. LASONIC TRC-931 says:

    Great fuckin post. I’m really sick of over-emotive ‘one drop’. Dancehall is on the decline but ‘one drop’ was always pretty awful, and terrible re-imagining of saccharine big label Lover’s Rock (not the Dennis Brown kind, the Maxi Priest kind)… Fittingly Maxi Priest had a tune on the ‘Drop Leaf’ I hate that riddim so much and all the music that followed in it’s aesthetic footsteps… All in all a great list (I should mention that riddim albums started really gaining steam in the 90s and exsisted since the 80s)…

    re the journalists, don’t forget the idiots in the tabloid/entertainment/blog world from JA too, most of them are talentless hacks (UPT no doubt) and are directly responsible for the pressure cooker that was Gully versus Gaza in ’09… The wild thing about dancehall in the 00s was its instant transition to internet distribution (youtube, imeem etc) and how obvious it is that rich layabouts in Jamaica and abroad have a despotic stranglehold over the entire business using and abusing ignorant kids for their talent or image and throwing them away… Although I really don’t like most of his music, especially lately, Vybz Kartel should be commended for working outside that world and still making a huge impact (again, with usually lame songs, but ppl seem to like his auto-crooning ever since he abandoned being an actual deejay.)

  6. […] The Myspace includes some more commercial tracks but “Burn” is worth your time if you like my clip, and “Strong Woman” is a bit like the Drop Leaf Riddim if that’s your bag (it’s not mine). […]