Four Dancehall Riddims That Keep Rocking

In Chapter Four of “The Money Show,” we introduce you to the riddim-sharing system in dancehall culture, and how it can function as a sort of creative commons–copyright laws be damned. Here’s an introduction to a few of the most popular riddims out there, with just a few of the countless tracks they inspired.



The “Real Rock” riddim is a fundamental part of the dancehall story. In the original 1967 track by Sound Dimension, Jackie Mittoo’s three-note organ riff sets the course for decades of music to come. From that beginning in Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s legendary Studio One, the melody winds its way through the history of reggae. It’s so omnipresent, the tune can serve as a tour guide on the road from ska to dancehall and beyond. You’ve been warned: “Real Rock” can be a gateway drug. Here’s a very small sample to get you started:

Rockers Rock by Augustus Pablo
Armagideon Time by Willie Williams
Tell Me How You Want It by Carlton Livingston
Too Greedy by Supercat
Run the Country by Ninjaman
Roots, Reality and Culture by Bounty Killer

Sound Dimension: “Real Rock”



Toots and the Maytals also got their start with Coxsone at Studio One. But it was with producer Byron Lee that they recorded “Bam Bam,” the tune that would become a huge part of their legacy. Dancehall legend Sister Nancy scored a hit with her own “Bam Bam,” influential in its own right. (See also Yellowman ) It was the prescient producer-duo Sly and Robbie, however, who planted the riddim in our ears for good, with “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus and Pliers. Since then, that bass line took on a life of its own, providing the hook for countless earworms to come.

Like this, and this and, um, this!

Toots and the Maytals: “Bam Bam”



Another towering figure in reggae is Winston Riley. His original production of “Stalag 17″ by artist Ansell Collins would go on to become, by some accounts, the most popular riddim of all. From Scientist’s dub version to Tenor Saw’s classic “Ring the Alarm” to this track by Junior Reid, “Stalag” continues to make its mark.

A few more, for now–Shabba RanksKardinal Offishall and Wayne Marshall. (Just to be clear, this Wayne Marshall is not the ethnomusicologist you heard from in our show. No relation–beyond a love of dancehall.)

Ansell Collins: “Stalag 17″



The “Sleng Teng” riddim cleared a whole new path in dancehall. Until then, classic Studio One riddims reigned supreme. But when producer King Jammy, keyboard player Noel Davey and vocalist Wayne Smith created a new riddim entirely on a Casio MT-40 (based on one of the keyboard’s preset loops), they set a different precedent. The result, as King Jammy said in our show, was “a brand new sound.” “Under Mi Sleng Teng” was a hit, but it was just the beginning. Besides opening up the genre to all-digital production, the “Sleng Teng” riddim itself went on to be one of the most-used riddims ever.

Here’s a taste:
Call The Police by John Wayne
Jam in the Street by Sugar Minott
Buddy Bye by Johnny Osbourne
Pumpkin Belly by Tenor Saw
We A Boss by Culture
Know How Fi Chat by Shinehead
Hardware by Ini Kamoze

and many, many more.

Wayne Smith : “Under Mi Sleng Teng”


Will you support The World?

There is no paywall on the story you just read because a community of dedicated listeners and readers have contributed to keep the global news you rely on free and accessible for all. Will you join the 314 donors who’ve stepped up to support The World? From now until Dec. 31, your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 match. Donate today to double your impact and keep The World free and accessible.