Unbeknownst to many fans, Electro Reggae saturates the world’s musical landscape. Even before Sly and Robbie coined the term “Electro Reggae” for their 1986 Taxi Gang LP release, they had begun experimenting with dissonant, electronic sounds. Random, computer-generated blips and electric percussion permeated the Black Uhuru albums the duo produced. A year earlier they would claim Reggae’s first Grammy on the heels of such innovation.
The 1990’s would see a migration in the music with Reggae-related styles becoming as varied as the population. As Drum and Bass took hold, fans of the music never forgot its roots. UK soundsystems and producers would incorporate the MC skills of heavyweights like MC Conrad, Skibadee and The Ragga Twinz. The part they played in the evolution of the music was magnified by the growth of the internet. The scene was no longer confined to a geographic region. Roni Size even conquered the American music marketplace with his 1998 “Reprazent” release on Universal Records.
Around the turn of the millennium, UK producers began building on their more insular genres such as two-step and grime. As Reggae-Dub had by then permeated the cultural landscape, it was included to create a new sound. The result, characterized by a tempo of 140 bpm and syncopated high hats, also placed a heavy emphasis on Electro bass line permutations. It would not be formally recognized or called by its name “Dubstep” for several years after its inception. Championed first by BBC radio host John Peel and Mary Anne Hobbs afterwards, the new form of Reggae-Influenced Electro music took the world by storm.
After 2008 Dubstep began a move to the mainstream, but the Electro-Reggae innovation continued. An XLR8R Magazine acknowledged the contributions of America-based Reggae artists like Trinidadian Dub Poet Juakali, Jamaica’s Lexie Lee, Panama’s MC Zulu, and DJ Collage. Juakali spent years as the host of New York’s Dub War introducing Dubstep sounds to an eager fanbase. MC Zulu and Lexie Lee would both collaborate with Electro-Reggae luminaries South Rakkas Crew, with Zulu taking the modernization to the extremes. Wildly experimental and defiant in his approach, MC Zulu created new cadence structures, incorporated weighty lyricism, and can even be heard singing backwards on some releases.
The commercial success of Dubstep finds fans of Electronic music at odds with one another, separated into camps of those who remember the roots, and those who have no idea. Balance that against the continuing innovation in the production, and you will find genres such as Baile Funk (Carioca), Moombathon, Kuduro beginning to move to the forefront. Each of them are suitable vehicles for Reggae lyrics, with fans from the corresponding areas more readily identifying with Reggae’s quasi-political, globalist leanings. Reggae MCs who sing in different languages are emerging.