Author: Yasa

A very large guide to
Reggae Deejay Albums 1971-1990

FAQ

How did you choose these records / Why isn’t [record] listed here?

I’ve heard every record here at least twice, most of them a lot more that, and I’ve tried to represent a wide range of iconic or outstanding artists in the reviews. If a record isn’t listed, I probably haven’t heard it (or heard it enough) to confidently recommend it. And as that implies, if I really think a record is rubbish, or not worth recommending to anyone except superfans who will find it just fine on their own, I’ll leave it out. For example Red by Bunny Lion. There’s a whole lot more not listed to that I have heard, but left out to avoid unnecessary bloating. I-Roy has 23 solo albums, most of them are excellent, but if you like I-Roy you’ll find the rest without my help - and only a couple need to be reviewed before the image gets bloated by me ranting about I-Roy, which I’d love to do, but not here.

Where can I listen to this music?

Most of these records will be on YouTube if you want to listen online. You can try your luck with streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify etc., in my experience they seem to usually only have a couple old records or some shitty bootlegs/compilations/remasters and so on. If you want the record for yourself, buy it from the Discogs marketplace, or you might even find it in a record store if you’re lucky. Or you could pirate them, if you’re into that.

Why nothing past 1990?

I haven’t listened to much past the 80’s. I’ll get there eventually, but the rudeboy shit, weird riddims, and hip-hop fusion stuff turns me off.

I disagree with how you’ve used this word…

The terminology of reggae is tricky. Everyone has their own slightly different definitions of words like “dancehall”, “deejay”, “rapping”, “rockers”, et cetera. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible and not over-generalise or over-simplify, and I also try to use words that were used at the time instead of retroactively applying new meanings of words to the music of the past.

Any other questions?

Ask for Yasa in the Reggae Discord Server.


Early Toasters
Definitive years: 1971-1975

U-Roy
Version Galore
1971

Version Galore is the first deejay LP. In my opinion this record is required listening for anyone interested in deejays. U-Roy’s original toasting style is vibrant, energetic and bursting at the seams with joy, and no less can be said of the riddims – a series of rocksteady classics from the Treasure Isle label. Most come from the Paragons, and you can hear U-Roy play off of Phyllis Dillon’s original vocal track on “Don’t Stay Away” in a lover’s quarrel kind of style. By the time this album came out the mainstream style had already moved on to early reggae, but Version Galore helped rocksteady stay in the public ear for a little longer. Really good rocksteady! In the words of Ray Hudford & Joakim Kalcidis, this album is “a faultless classic”. My picks: On The Beach, Same Song, Happy Go Lucky Girl

Big Youth
Screaming Target
1972

Big Youth pulls no punches with his debut on the early deejay scene. A well dramatic opening – quite literally screaming – greets you upon Gussie’s excellent “No No No” riddim. Welcome to another great album! Big Youth is less animated than his contemporaries, he is the first “heavyweight” deejay. He has a thicker and deeper voice than U-Roy and makes the most of it in his own style. Lyrically this album builds off the topics of the original vocal tracks, with not much else going on, but that is not the point of this album! You listen for the toasting. By the time his next record came out in 1975 his deejaying style had transformed completely, so this album and the earlier Chi Chi Run album (credited to Big Youth, but featuring other vocalists too) are where you will need to go to experience the original Big Youth style. My picks: Screaming Target, Pride And Joy Rock, Lee A Low

I-Roy
Hell And Sorrow
1973

Some people pick “Presenting I. Roy” as I-Roy’s magnum opus, in my opinion this record – his sophomore – deserves the title. Whichever you listen to, if you like it then you must hear the other one too. Both are excellent. I-Roy’s deejaying style is totally unique – his sense of timing is something that only exists within his own mind, and I would sooner liken his rhythmic ideas to math rock music than any other deejay of the era. Hell & Sorrow, being his 2nd record and self-produced, sees his style more refined than his debut, with tunes that truly “go from start to finish”. I-Roy tunes are not earworms – you will not remember a chorus or hook – what you will remember is storytelling and lyrical wit and cadence. My picks: Deep & Heavy, Ja Lion Jungle, Forward Ia, Dr. Phibbs

Dennis Alcapone
Forever Version
1971

Forever Version, as the 2nd deejay LP, follows the exact same formula as U-Roy’s Version Galore – classic rocksteady riddims, plenty of the original vocal track coming through, and energetic old-style toasting. The difference is that the riddims here come from Studio One – Carlton & The Shoes, Delroy Wilson, The Heptones and so on. If you already like Studio One you will certainly enjoy this record. If you don’t, this is a good place to get started! Dennis Alcapone is the deejay who hits closest to the original U-Roy style and it is just a wonderful treat for any 70s toasting fan to have more of it to listen to, especially with the lack of follow-up albums in that style from U-Roy himself in the early 70s. Alcapone still has his own spin on it, being more melodic (many pick him as the first ‘singjay’), and with more wailing in the high register. If you enjoy this, see also his other early albums, for more of mostly the same formula applied to different riddims. My picks: Run Run, Sunday Version, Forever Version

Tapper Zukie
Man Ah Warrior
1973

It’s quite remarkable how diverse the styles of the big-name deejays in the early 70’s managed to be, in such a new genre of music. Compared to the others, Tapper’s style sounds more like regular speech, but volatile, ready to burst into shouting or tremolo at any moment. Coming from a turbulent upbringing involving two political parties and being shipped to the UK and back, and recording this at about seventeen, he understandably comes across as unhinged. Musically the sound is very raw roots reggae, especially stripped down on “Simpleton Badness” and “Solomon A Gundie” where you can barely hear anything besides the organ and the echo of what Tapper said four bars ago. Allegedly there was no tape echo in the studio and producer Clement Bushay had Tapper shout directly into a huge piece of sheet metal. My picks: Man Ah Warrior, Simpleton Badness, Solomon A Gundie

More recommended listening…

Big Youth – Chi Chi Run (1972)
Dennis Alcapone – Guns Don’t Argue (1971)
Dennis Alcapone – King Of The Track (1974)
Dennis Alcapone – Dread Capone (1975)
Dennis Alcapone – Belch It Off (1974)
I-Roy – Presenting I. Roy (1973)
I-Roy – Many Moods Of I Roy (1974)
I-Roy – Don’t Check Me With No Lightweight Stuff (1997)
Jah Woosh – Jah Woosh (1974)
Jah Woosh – Jah Jah Dey Dey (1976)
King Stitt – Reggae Fire Beat (1996)
Scotty – Unbelievable Sounds (1998)
U-Roy – U. Roy (1974)


Rockers Deejays
Definitive years: 1975-1977

Prince Jazzbo
Natty Passing Thru’
1976

The quintessential rockers deejay album. Prince Jazzbo is a real heavyweight deejay, shining best when on a slow, powerful, dramatic tune, and nothing works better on rockers riddims. And the UHHHs must me mentioned! Huge!! Lee Perry matches the weight of the vocals with some of his heaviest and dubbiest riddims, one of which is shown off without the vocals at the end of the album. Lyrically, Jazzbo is as culture as culture gets, very religious, and even a little bit racist… “All black people unite, so the white man would be a loser”. Pro-black and anti-white are not the same, but Jazzbo is both. “Hold My Hand” takes a more romantic and melodic approach, falling far short of the mark made by the other tunes. While “Bloody Dunza” features a bizarre sped-up soundclip of what sounds like an old comedy show playing in the background, to the comfort of no one. My picks: Dreadlocks Corner, Natty Passing Thru, Ital Corner

Jah Stitch
No Dread Can’t Dead
1976

A less well-remembered deejay who has it where it counts. Namely in the mouth, where he had been shot the same year before this record dropped. Like Jazzbo he is a heavyweight – very similar style and voice. He is also another very cultural deejay – but he does manage other lyrical topics well, like on “See And Blind” and “Bawl For The Rootes”. More than Jazzbo he also can bring a melodic kind of hook into a tune and make it really work, see “Reggae Muffin Style”. The most special thing about this album is the riddims – they are so dubby it sometimes sounds like the music is being played inside out!! Check out the work on the horns on “Reggae Muffin Style”! The overall sound is a little gritty but very very well produced. Tasteful, clever, and most importantly engaging – some rockers albums tend to drag on the riddim side, this one does not disappoint. And if you enjoy this, check out his second LP, it’s more of the same. My picks: Bawl For The Rootes, Reggae Muffin Style, Sinners Repent Your Soul

U Brown
London Rock
1977

The whole sound of the rockers style can be encapsulated in the first few seconds of this set. It’s backed by the Revolutionaries and produced by Bunny Lee, and they together invented the sound, so here it is. U Brown’s sound on this set has doubled in weight since his debut “Satta Dread”, but he still keeps it dynamic and melodic to stand apart from Princes Jazzbo & Far I, who he cannot compete with in the – monolith style, shall we call it. The result closer resembles U-Roy, who U Brown was a massive fan of and cited as his main inspiration. Lyrically this record is more than just culture, with tunes like “London Rock”, “Manners”, and “Going To The Ball” bringing some variety into the topics. “Manners” in particular is an outright praise of socialism – such explicit politics talk being less than common in the contemporary deejay records. Overall a very enjoyable, and heavy (but not too heavy) rockers set. My picks: London Rock, Manners, Fire And Desire

I-Roy
Crisus Time
1976

Like any good I-Roy record, stop paying attention for more than a second or two and you will start to miss out. The album is full to the brim with musical ideas, and they will travel from the microphone, through your speakers, into your ears, and by the time you’ve processed what’s going on I-Roy has started doing something else. Like a musical train of thought. Most of the riddims on this record come from Johnny Clarke’s excellent “Rockers Time Now” LP and you will hear a decent amount of Johnny’s voice in here also. Just a shame that I-Roy didn’t do a version of “Them Never Love Poor Marcus”, but Crisus Time is nonetheless a masterpiece without it. The record is excellently put together, mimicking the natural patterns of highs and lows that you would find in a line of I-Roy’s toasting. Nothing is overthought, it’s a very pure album in that way, a must hear for any I-Roy fan. Criminally, it was re-released as “African Herbsman” with different track titles and ordering, and whatever you do you must not get that version! My picks: Equality And Justice, Satta, African Herbsman, Moving On Strong

Dillinger vs Trinity
Clash
1977

Seems Clement Bushay managed to improve his recording setup in the years between doing Tapper Zukie’s “Man Ah Warrior” and this set from perhaps the two most iconic deejay voices of the mid-70’s. The production is not only super clean but also very outlandish for a deejay record! Dual trombones whisper sweet nothings into each ear on “Natty Dread Ah Carry The Swing”, soulful blues-cum-reggae piano leads the charge on the opening tune “Rizla Skank”, and the album keeps you on your toes by just completely re-thinking the instrumentation every tune or two. (Synth) Horns back at it again on the closing tune “Starsky And Hutch”… it all works really well and makes for a much more engaging album than some other producers would go for. Unlike “Step Forward Youth”, I-Roy & Jazzbo’s pioneering clash album from the year before, Dillinger and Trinity will share the microphone on each tune. This is not a “clash record” in the way we understand it now, more just like an impromptu duo. And just like the riddims it works wonderfully. The two deejays are similar enough to be able to ride riddims together without sounding unbalanced, and different enough to make it feel like it’s worth having both of them present! A great introduction to Dillinger and Trinity for those uninitiated, and a delicious treat for those who are already fans. My picks: Jamaican Dollars, Step It Up Brother Clem, Cricket Lovely Cricket

More recommended listening…

Big Joe – Keep Rocking And Swinging (1977)
Big Joe – African Princess (1978)
Big Joe – At The Control (1979)
Big Youth – Natty Cultural Dread (1976)
Bunny Lion – Red (1979)
Dillinger – CB 200 (1975)
I-Roy – The Best Of I-Roy (1977)
I-Roy – Can’t Conquer Rasta (1977)
I-Roy – The Godfather (1978)
I-Roy – Heart Of A Lion (1978)
I-Roy – Hotter Yatta (1978)
I-Roy – Musical Shark Attack (1976)
I-Roy – Ten Commandments (1978)
I-Roy vs. Prince Jazzbo / Tommy McCook & The Aggravators – Step Forward Youth (1976)
Nuroy & U-Roy – The Originator (1976)
Prince Far I – Psalms For I (1976)
Prince Jazzbo – Kick Boy Face (1976)
Prince Mohammed – African Roots (1979)
Tapper Zukie – Tapper Roots (1978)
Trinity – Up Town Girl (1977)
Trinity – Shanty Town Determination (1977)
Trinity – Dreadlocks Satisfaction (1979)
Trinity – African Revolution (1980)
U Brown – Satta Dread (1976)
U-Roy – Dread In A Babylon (1975)
Yabby You & Trinity – Yabby You Meets Trinity At (King Tubbys) Dub Station (1975)
Zimbabwe Dread – Earthman Connection (1981)


Rub-a-Dub
Definitive years: 1976-1980

Clint Eastwood
African Youth
1978

The younger brother of Trinity, Clint Eastwood is all style and no lyrics. This (debut) album deserves a spot here because of how Eastwood’s deejaying features all of the hallmarks of the late 70’s style. The squeaks and melodies and pitching are all perfectly representative of the era. And his excellent execution of that style makes him a great entertainer despite not having much talent for lyrics at this stage of his career. This record is a Bunny Lee production, very typical 70’s rockers riddims, well produced, but no alarms and no surprises. Together with Clint Eastwood’s bubbling, it’s a good formula when it comes together. My picks: Have Some Faith, African Youth, Shine Eye Gal

Dillinger
Ready Natty Dreadie
1975

Handled by C.S. Dodd, this record is built on some of the earliest riddims that you could call rub-a-dub. Very similar content to what was coming out in the “Dub Specialist” series at the time, but with most of the content cut to make way for the superstar Dillinger. Who did have a decent amount of success with this record, but not nearly as much as his follow-up “CB 200” for Joseph Hoo Kim – not a bad album, but compared to “Ready Natty Dreadie” it comes across as a one-trick-pony with the gimmick tune “Cokane In My Brain”, supplemented by stuff that simple isn’t as good as Dillinger’s debut. So do not complain about my choice to recommend this less popular record, for it is patently the correct one!! Anyway. Dillinger is one of the first performers to pioneer the “second wave” of deejaying, and here it is! Enjoy his voice bubbling pon riddim – coarse, but not as coarse as I-Roy, wobbly, but not as wobbly as Trinity, animated, but not as animated as Lone Ranger or Ranking Joe. A lot of what you hear from Dillinger on this record was bordering on cliché by the end of the decade. And we love it all! My picks: Babylon Bridge, Dub Them Rasta, Fountain On The Mountain

Lone Ranger
On The Other Side Of Dub
1977

Lone Ranger is easily one of the top deejay talents of all time, and even this debut record is nothing but rub-a-dub excellence. Even at his young age – still a teenager at the time of release – his mouth and tongue are fantastically precise, refining the melodic bubbling style before Ranking Joe even had an LP on the market! The production is C.S. Dodd at Studio One so the quality is guaranteed on the musical side. It should come as no shock C.S. Dodd in fact has quite a good knack for producing artists – it’s hard to imagine riddims that would better compliment the young Ranger. Bubbly, light, catchy. Get one of the later re-releases which include the tune “Barnabas Collins” and its dub “Grave Yard Skank” – this is one of the rare occasions where a bonus track actually made an album better instead of worse. Recorded in 1978, it does not sound out of place! And it is one of the finest deejay tunes of all time! My picks: Barnabas Collins, Apprentice Dentist, Everything She Want

Michigan & Smiley
Rub A Dub Style
1979

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your rub-a-dub flow?” chants the opening and title track. It’s deejaying about deejaying, lighter-hearted and more secular than just about anything since Version Galore. And crucially, the rub-a-dub style – or as corrected by Papa Michigan, just “rub-a-dub”, as it was the name of the genre now – is in full effect here upon the “I’m Just A Guy” riddim, courtesy of C.S. Dodd who also did the original. Followed by “Nice Up The Dance”, again deejaying about deejaying, upon another classic C.S. Dodd rocksteady riddim (Real Rock). “Promoter and him idren haffi laugh!” This was, in the words of Beth Lesser, a pivotal record in the transformation record in the transition from roots to dancehall. Michigan & Smiley are, as they had to be, a dynamic and engaging duo to listen to, bringing a crucial part of the dancehall culture to the genre just in time for it to explode into the eighties. My picks: Rub A Dub Style, Nice Up The Dance, Compliment To Studio One

Errol Scorcher
Roach In A De Corner
1980

“BIM! KILL HIM!” is a catchphrase you will hear not only in the audio but also printed on the back of the cover, accompanying an illustration of Errol Scorcher spraying dead a gang of massive roaches… in the corner of a room. Illustrated by a “D. Lawrence” that I cannot find any information on. This record revolves around its iconic title track, which runs for a staggering nine minutes, including five of dub. Errol Scorcher’s style is understated - usually quite soft-spoken and on the verge of voice cracking - but otherwise resembling General Echo’s monotone, rhythm-locked deejaying. The lyrics range from baffling to bizarre and back to unusual, if not for their topic then for how they’re expressed. “Tell me which boat Scorcher show Ms. Lou? Tell me which boat Scorcher show Ms. Lou? Canoe…” and of course Roach In De Corner and Frog-In-A-Water speak for themselves. Not to mention when Scorcher forgets couple letters of the alphabet after dedicating thirty seconds to reciting it. A must listen! My picks: Face In De Place, Roach In De Corner, Ninteen Eighty Style

General Echo
Rocking And Swing
1979

Before his untimely murder in 1981, General Echo was just beginning to ride the success of his hard slackness style that he is now best known for. Slackness in reggae goes way back, but never was it so explicit, vulgar, humorous, and fucking bizarre as it was when presented by Echo. But before his slackness records came out was this record, Rocking And Swing, in roots & culture style. Immediately after the needle touches the record you will hear the voices of people suffering in the Titanic disaster, followed by “’Tis a lucky ting me granny get sick…” and there is really no better way to be introduced to General Echo’s personal brand of deejaying. The record is impeccable from start to finish, with an upbeat, jolly and musically simple – sounding very similar to the impending dance hall style – vibe that sadly only made it onto a handful of records before disappearing. My picks: Titanic, Oil Ina Babylon, International Year Of The Child, Do The Thing

Ranking Joe
Around The World
1979

Opening with a few lines of Psalms 1 over a massive chorus of horns and reggae bass, this album slaps you right in the face with one of the most exciting openings in deejay music. And immediately after that you find Ranking Joe’s endless tremolo style drop with the drums and it’s pure fun for the rest of the album. Ranking Joe is one of the most animated deejays of his era and easily the one with the longest lungs, riding his two-note tremolo for eleven seconds straight in the second half of the tune, followed by ZION, LION!! Almost like the UK fast style ahead of its time. The sound of the riddims matches the intensity. All of them are huge, all of them very memorable, most of them in a heavy minor-key sound. And of course, all ridden by Ranking Joe with never-ending cultural lyrics. My picks: Zion High, Love Jah, Carpenter, Wood For My Fire

Trinity
Trinity Showcase
1978

This is a very seldom-mentioned mini album of just six tunes produced by Gussie. Trinity had several other, longer records out around this time – and they are good – but I cannot recommend anything else from Trinity before this record. Why not?? Very easy answer… top shelf riddims and top shelf deejaying. On his other records of the era – Shanty Town Determination, Up Town Girl, African Revolution – Trinity brings his wavery voice and totally off-rhythm cadence, but this record sees Trinity in a more conventional deejay fashion. Not to say that his trademarks aren’t there, there’s just less of it, making way instead for lyrics. This is a set of very personal tunes, with “Aquarian” and “Going Forward” include Trinity declaring his zodiac sign and race – “I’m a black Ethiopian” – with the latter featuring one of the biggest “Uhhh!!”s yet recorded over a hardcore riddim that slaps you right in the face on every 3rd beat. On “Shad & Banana” Trinity laments the flavor of his grandmother’s cooking. “Right now me nah critics me granny, but the truth a reveal itself as I would say… and the truth set me free!” My picks: Every tune except Showcase. Not that it’s bad. But the rest are better.

More recommended listening…

Brigadier Jerry – Freedom Street (1995)
Clint Eastwood (+Jah Thomas, uncredited) – Love And Happiness (1979)
Clint Eastwood – Reggae Sun (1980)
Clive Field Marshall – Poor House Rockers (1981)
Dillinger – Bionic Dread (1976)
Dillinger – Answer Me Question (1977)
Errol Scorcher & The Revolutionaries – Rastafire (1978)
General Echo – 12” Of Pleasure (1980)
Jah Thomas – Stop Yuh Loafin (1978)
Jah Thomas – Dance On The Corner (1979)
Lone Ranger – Barnabas In Collins Wood (1979)
Ranking Joe – The Best Of Ranking Joe (1978)
Ranking Joe – Weakheart Fadeaway (1978)
Ranking Trevor & Trinity – Three Piece Chicken & Chips (1978)
Toyan – Early Days (199X)


Dance Hall Style
Definitive years: 1981-1985

Burro Banton
Buro
1983

Burro is the original Banton, his ruff and gruff rockstone voice and infinite stamina being the inspiration for the much better-known Buju Banton… but even before Burro picked up the rockstone style he deejayed for Volcano in a softer tone. Backed by Junjo and the Hi-Times band, the riddims are naturally excellent, on this set they are original productions with a very light and island-y kind of sound. It’s light and easy deejaying over light and easy riddims and the sound of the album is very cozy, very very easy on the ears. Burro’s deejaying is a little rough around the edges, with some mistakes in the recordings and a very tone-deaf singing section on “Out A Hand”. However the rest of the album is consistently good if a little amateur sounding, and full of all kinds of original lyrics – which can’t be said about his 90’s works! It’s a short record, under 30 minutes, full of character, and finishes on a high note with “Modulla”, my personal favourite deejay tune. My picks: Jolly Bus, If Me A Chat, Better Than The Rest, Modulla

Early B
Wheely Wheely
1985

Sporting the greatest album cover in all of reggae, perhaps in all of music… this is a great, if somewhat strangely put together, showcase of The Musical Doctor Early B. Early B is the slowest, most even, most monotone of all the dancehall deejays. And with a light-hearted joyful approach to music that is really something special. The lyrics in this record, especially the A side, are full of surreal and self-deprecating humor that you could not imagine coming from anyone else. Outrageous tales of escaping authority on one wheel, being repeatedly rejected from joining the military on account of Early B’s weak and useless body, violence at the immigration office… but words other than his own cannot do it justice. This is a must-listen record for the dancehall era with some of the best storytelling out there. One can only hope that the new generations of artists can learn from The Doctor’s attitude, humor, passion and outstanding ability to not take himself seriously. My picks: Wheely Wheely, Owner Man, Stop The Robbery

Jah Batta
Argument
1983

Here is a unique and very special set from a lesser known deejay. The sound of this record is just incredible – easily the ‘dubbiest’ album of its era, sounding like it could have been played underwater, and with a lo-fi kind of mix that makes it difficult to tell what’s a synthesizer and what is a real instrument! One must wonder what on earth the synthesizer squeal at the beginning of “Hold On Pon The Woman” is supposed to be but the tune is so much better for it. Jah Batta rides these absurd riddims like he’s been doing it his whole life, with perfect rhythm, and his own series of original gimmicks. Through some kind of reggae alchemy he is able to transform the word “wait” into ten syllables! Just about nothing on this record can be heard elsewhere but it’s still recognizably an eighties dancehall record. And tell me there is not something wrong with his eye on the cover art… My picks: Ten To Seven, Mi Black, I Don’t Want To Wait­

Jah Thomas
Dance Hall Connection
1983

Jah Thomas opens his magnum opus with his own version of Answer – perhaps the best version of the best dancehall riddim of all time. The guitars just scream at you! And then he opens his mouth to deliver the best realization of Jah Thomas deejaying, having worked on his chatting formula on LP since ’78. He was always a good deejay but the dancehall style is definitely where he belongs – and not only that but he can produce it with the best of them! But despite having all the freedom to steer this record wherever he wants, the end result is the safest, most middle-of-the-road sound you will find in any 80’s dancehall record. “Lawful Neutral” are the words that come to mind. But there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Consistently good ’83 style dancehall with a delicious thick and smoky voice delivering rhymes to your speakers. My picks: Dance Hall Connection, Cool Profile, Joker Smoker

Nicodemus
Dance Hall Style
1982

What it says on the tin. Nicodemus got his start in the 70’s in the animated bubbling style a la Ranking Joe, Lone Ranger etc., but quickly settled into his characteristic heavyset vocal style, repetitively melodic, huge and tough but smooth like butter. The record opens with the anthem tune “Good Better Best”, over some of the most exciting percussion work to come out of the Roots Radics, and then when the tune is over it plays again! To no complaints from the audience, of course. And then the rest of the album is essentially more of the same – again no complaints! The rhythm of it all gets mesmerizing after a while. Most of this record is played as slow as dancehall gets – check out “Church On Sunday” for the most extreme example. Besides that, no alarms and no surprises, it’s just Nicodemus inna Dance Hall Style. Enjoy!! My picks: Good Better Best, Life In A Jailhouse, Bird-Man Style

Sister Nancy
One Two
1982

Sister Nancy was not the first female deejay but she might as well have been for the impact she made upon the scene. In the classic feminist rebellion story, she went against her parents’ conservative & sexist expectations and followed in the footsteps of her elder brother Brigadier Jerry in the deejay scene in the late 70’s. One Two is remembered in the highest esteem by reggae fans, and her career being nurtured by one of the best, there is a lot of substance to this record – it’s more than just the story behind it. And by far the biggest hit, not only of this album, nor this year, nor this era, but of all dancehall history – is Bam Bam, opening up the B side of the album. Sampled to the ends of the earth and back, instantly renaming the Stalag riddim, and being copycatted by just about everyone in the scene for decades after. But in all fairness, some of the performance on this record as awful as Bam Bam is excellent. On “Ain’t No Stopping Nancy” and “Coward Of The Country” you will hear Nancy go far higher than her tessitura accounts for – and not in falsetto, let alone in tune! Turn the highs down on your system or risk tinnitus, it’s fucking horrible. Otherwise a great record, okay, have fun!! My picks: One Two, Gwan A School, Bam Bam

Various
Great British M.C.’s
1985

In the 80’s, as the dancehall scene was exploding in Jamaica, a smaller explosion was occurring across the Atlantic in London. Before long the yardie deejay’s UK counterparts were developing the “fast style” of deejaying, and it took over the Jamaican charts and radio immediately. While the UK dominance was short-lived, it birthed a whole new culture of reggae-based music in London – the influence is still present today in grime, jungle, garage, dubstep, etc. Put this record on and experience the origins! The fast style – also recently re-imagined in Atlanta Trap under the name “Migos Flow” (!) – is present on most of these tunes. It’s the trademark of British MCs. Before long it made its way back into Jamaica, just in time to be flung upon digital riddims. But here it’s in the original, organic dancehall style. These are the some of the best and most popular tunes from this scene, and also the best starting point if you want to explore some of the UK deejays’ works. My picks: Slam Bam, Mi God Mi King, A Gentleman With Manners, Fare Dodger

General Trees
Heart, Mind And Soul
1985

“Call this here youth the mic magician”! General Trees is the greatest storyteller in the deejay scene, coming from the highest league of lyricists, easily giving I-Roy and LKJ a run for their money with his excellent tales of the mundane, the cultural, and the absurd. And he has the deejaying fundamentals completely perfected. On this record you hear the best of what makes Trees Trees, pre-digital era. This is a showcase album built mostly on then-recent singles, all produced in-house by Jack Scorpio, upon some of the easiest-going riddims of the decade (dubs included!). Yet another example of organic dancehall being pushed to its limits. And with Trees’ vocals flooding the rest of the mix. His lyrics project a lot of his personality into the music and if you can get used to his thick patois you will very quickly get a good picture of who he is. This quality of this record cannot be overstated! My picks: Butter Bread, Monkey And Ape, Outta Hand

Lone Ranger
Rosemarie
1981

Opening with the iconic BUNG SLUNG… here is another masterpiece from the Lone Ranger!! Winston Riley nails the dancehall sound with the Roots Radics in tow and Lone Ranger is on the mic trying out some excellent ideas. Four of the tunes on this record are swung and it works amazingly with the Radics, making you wonder why there weren’t more deejays doing that at the time. The album is so much more unique for it and the rest is just good reggae. Lone Ranger’s voice has matured a lot since his debut and there are more ribbits and bims and oinks than ever! Towards the end of the record the listener is treated to a couple curveballs with “Fe Me Woman A De Best” upon what would very soon become known as the Bam Bam riddim, and “Judge Not” which features old-style preaching-toasting, off the beat. My picks: Rosemarie, The Storm, Reggae Dance

Lone Ranger
D.J. Daddy
1984

In the book “The Small Axe Reggae Album Guide: Deejays”, reviewers Joakim Kalcidis and Ray Hudford lament the financial un-viability of this album due to Lone Ranger fading out of popularity in favour of new stars like Charlie Chaplin, writing “It could have been the best deejay LP of all time and it would not have mattered”. Which is an interesting way of putting it, because it very nearly is. D.J. Daddy is full of everything that makes dancehall great. A spectacular, glistening mix, massive drums and basslines, plenty of musical interest from the guitar and keys and engineer, and Lone Ranger bringing lyrics upon lyrics from his mouth that already perfected the art of deejaying seven years prior. When “Style And Fashion”, a very good song, is the lowlight of your record – you know it’s the cream of the crop. Winner, gwaan! My picks: Jennifer Lee, Susan A Gorgon, Look How She Fat, Me And Yvette, Walkman Connection

Louie Lepkie
Willie Red
1982

Hurry, hurry! Go to the record shop and get your copy! This happens to be the BADDEST deejay LP… starring I man Louie Lepkie. Hurry, Hurry!
With Scientist at the controls and backed by the Roots Radics, there is no doubt whatsoever that the riddims on this record are up to par. Massive, heavy, deadly, crucial, however you like to describe it, this is top shelf dancehall. On top of it all is the one Louie Lepkie, with some of the longest dreads in the deejay game, and also one of the softest voices. With a voice like his, you’d wonder why he didn’t become a singer, until you hear him attempt it on the opening track of this record and decide that yes, he is definitely better suited to deejaying. Lepkie has a very recognizable signature cadence, dropping down the minor arpeggio, which can be heard on every single tune on Willie Red. He brings tales of his experiences in America with “Brooklyn Jogging” and the hardcore “42nd Street” where you can hear him really go in on the mic until he starts to lose breath. Don’t miss this one if you’re into the Radics sound! My picks: Sharron, Lorna, 42nd Street

Toyan
How The West Was Won
1981

Right first time. “How The West Was Won” is probably the best deejay record ever, easily the best in the original Dancehall style. Backed by the holy trinity of Scientist, Junjo and the Roots Radics, the riddims are as dancehall as dancehall gets, unbelievably heavy (especially on the first two cuts), full of life and character, and perhaps most importantly for an album of this caliber – all in agreement and connection with one another. The record is almost seamless with how the tracks flow into each other. The riddim will fade away, and Toyan – full of energy, passion, and having way too much fun in the studio on his first solo LP – just continues a capella for a while after. The result is so much more engaging than just a collection of singles, and it’s all very deliberate. “African Ting” is heavier than lead, you better hope your speakers go to 11 to get the most out of this cut. It’s Scientist’s best work and nobody else could dream of making it themselves. Then “Big Showdown” recounts dreadlocks vs. baldhead in the boxing ring, told in slow motion, and by this time you might have picked up a dozen or two of the words from Toyan’s mouth. For a foreigner like myself, no matter how well you do on the patois of other deejays, Toyan is still barely comprehensible. Especially on “Children Children”, which rides upon Johnny Osbourne’s “Ice Cream Love”, cut with a beautiful introduction, about half a semitone lower than the original. Amazing attention to detail from start to finish, THE unmatched dance hall record, listen to it or miss the fuck out. My picks: African Ting, Children Children, Capital Offence

Yellowman
Mister Yellowman
1982

Welcome to the debut album of the undisputed King of Dancehall!! It is perhaps impossible to internalize just how big of a star Yellowman was in his time without having been there - or so the people who were say! Yellow very quickly turned to gimmicks for most of his later records, and they make up a large part of his character, but you don’t want to miss this record, lest you miss out on the real excellence under the surface of this King’s legacy. With none other than Junjo in charge of production, flinging a mixture of Hi-Times and Radics riddims. Yellowman explodes upon the first one with cultural lyrics in “Natty Sat Upon The Rock” and the excellence continues nonstop for the rest of the A side. Then you get “Lost Mi Love” over one of the best-built riddims of all time, “Mister Chin” with Yellow’s unforgettable singing segment in the character of the store owner Mister Chin, another unbelievable riddim on “Two To Six, Supermix” (check out the work on the organ!) and a tease of slackness in “Morning Ride”. The B side is not bad either!! “Yellowman Getting Married” flings the 50’s musical piece “Get Me To The Church On Time” in classic slow and heavy dancehall style. Cheesy as fuck, and way out of tune, but that’s what makes Yellow Yellow (see his ‘87 record - “Yellow Like Cheese”)! And “Cocky Did A Hurt Me” begs mention too for the absurd slackness, Yellow being the flagbearer for that after the demise of General Echo. My picks: Lost Mi Love, Mister Chin, Two To Six Supermix

More recommended listening…

Asher Senator – Born To Chat (1986)
Brigadier Jerry – Jamaica Jamaica (1985)
Captain Sinbad – Again (1983)
Charlie Chaplin – Que Dem (1984)
Colour Man – Cool Profile (198X)
Early B – Ghost Busters (1985)
Early B – Four Wheel No Real (1985)
Early B – Sunday Dish (1985)
Eek-A-Mouse – Wa-Do-Dem (1982)
General Trees – Ghost Rider (1985)
General Trees – The Younger Horseman (1985)
General Trees – Every Thing SoSo (1985)
General Trees – King Jammy’s Presents: The Best Of General Trees (2012)
I-Roy – Outer Limits (1983)
Jah Thomas – Dancehall Stylee (1982)
John Wayne – Boogie Down (1983)
Josey Wales – No Way Better Than Yard (1984)
Josey Wales & Early B – Josie Wales Meets Early B (1983)
Lee Van Cleef – Rock It To Me Twice (1982)
Lee Van Cleef – Reggae Sunsplash (1982)
Little Harry vs. Billy Boyo – DJ Clash Volume 2 (1983)
Lone Ranger – Badda Dan Dem (1982)
Lone Ranger – M16 (1982)
Lord Sassafrass – Horse Man Connection (!982)
Lord Sassafrass – Poccomania Jump (1985)
Louie Lepkie – Late Night Movie (1981)
Mellow Yellow & Young Ranks – Herpes Take Over (1982)
Nicodemus – Gunman Connection (1982)
Nicodemus vs. Toyan – DJ Clash (1982)
Nigger Kojak – Rock Jack Kojak (1983)
Papa San & Anthony Red Rose – Frontline (1986)
Peter Ranking & General Lucky – Jah Standing Over Me (1982)
Peter Yellow – Hot (1982)
Rappa Robert – Come In A Dis! (1983)
Ringo – Riding West (1982)
Sister Candy & Purpleman – Laserbeam (1983)
Sister Carol – Black Cinderella (1984)
Sister Carol – Liberation For Africa (1983)
Smiley Culture – The Original Smiley Culture (1986)
Toyan – Toyan (1982)
Toyan – Spar With Me (1982)
Yellowman – Under Mi Fat Thing (1984)
Yellowman & Toyan – Superstar Yellowman Has Arrived With Toyan (1982)


Digital Dancehall (Early Ragga)
Definitive years: 1986-1990

Admiral Bailey
Undisputed
1987

Admiral Bailey is full to the brim with gimmicks, probably more so than anyone else in the eighties! And there is nothing wrong with being a gimmicky deejay, so long as it works. In Bailey’s case, it sometimes works. He is a very entertaining deejay with excellent foundations and a positive attitude to rival Early B, but his the results of his skill and talent sadly turns out hit-and-miss. This is the record with the most hits. “Kill Them With It” and “Try Some Hustling” are fierce, hardcore tunes where the vocals are carrying the riddim instead of the other way around. And “Big Belly Man” is a certified Sleng Teng classic. Between the hits of course are the misses. “Right Foot Out” is a decent attempt at re-imagining the Hokey Pokey dance in dance hall style, but the lyrics are all wrong!! “Me Head A Hurt Me” opens with a wailing and bawling style, and you can commend the effort, but not the sound. By the time you find yourself halfway through “Don’t Be Lazy” you will be well and truly sick of it, and this is not the most pleasing album to sit the whole way through, but Admiral Bailey is such an iconic deejay that he needs a spot in this chart regardless. My picks: Kill Them With It, Try Some Hustling, Big Belly Man

Colour Man
Kick Up Rumpus
1986

Ambition!! Colour Man is a deejay with a unique and aggressive style and he is willing to do just about anything pon mic. The vocals are all over the place. Hollering, shouting, singing, dragging notes up into falsetto, the UK fast style, old style toasting, this record has every gimmick and style in the book plus more. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s just okay, but you can’t underrate the passion and energy. And it is always immediately recognizable as Colour Man. All of this craziness is ramped up from his debut album in 82/83, which is also very good, but this record just has more impact. You won’t forget about it. The riddims are produced by a smaller producer named Cashima Steele, it’s quite creative stuff in a hardcore style resembling the digital Harry J sound. Most impressive here is “Plain Truth Lyric” which features a walking bassline which Colour Man rides in the fast style, one of the wildest verses recorded in the 80’s. Unfiltered fire from both the mixing desk and the microphone!! My picks: Cala Bash Style, Plain Truth Lyric, Wicked Dem Wicked, Darkness Cover The World

Papa San
Animal Party
1986

The fabled movement of the fast style from the UK to Jamaica is realized to no disappointment in Papa San’s outrageous debut record. There is absolutely no chance of you ever finding a copy, let alone affording it, so the first thing you need to do is look up the cover art in high resolution on the internet (and hit up Elmo on Discogs if you manage to find a scan of the front & back in over 600 DPI). The pink sky! Alligator yu waa si di dentist! And the look on the human being’s face on the far left. The title track “Animal Party” is literalized perfectly by Wilfred Limonious, surely one of his best works. And as for the music, yes it is the fast style, yes it is ’86 digital dancehall, and it sounds dated in the best possible way. Picking up where Early B left off in ‘85, Papa San brings some of the most ridiculous lyrics ever recorded, opening the album with “Human Body” – “Me use my mouth just fe cough and spit, and use I man tongue just fe flash two lyrics”, and it just gets weirder from there. The title track tells the story of a dancehall session run by the animals, followed immediately by – and fuck you if you don’t think it’s funny, but I laughed out loud when I first saw the track listing – “Insect Session”. One guess what that’s about! Plus some roots & culture in between, and character on every track. Sadly his later albums never lived up to the standard set by this debut, and it wasn’t long before he had tracks coming out like “Dibi Dibi DJ” and “Hippity Hippity Hop”. My picks: Human Body, Animal Party, Insect Session, Concept

Peter Metro
The D.J. Don
1985

Super early digital style, brought to you by the same folks that would soon build Animal Party (Ossie Thomas & Phillip Morgan). And upon them, a real shouter of a deejay by the name of Peter Metro. Known best for his bilingual chat, this album is strictly in English, but still entertaining and very representative of the early digital sound. The set opens with “Frontline”, a police encounter story, but it really should open with “The Don”, which is a hundred-decibel anthem tune over Sleng Teng pushed so far it favors heavy metal! No tune could give you a better impression of how different Sleng Teng must have been at the time. Put it on immediately after General Trees’ “Heart, Mind And Soul” and see the difference. “Dance In A Africa” replicates the same intensity with the UK fast style upon excellent lyrics. “Who a cook inna the kitchen, now Margaret Thatcher, and the queen round a back now she a peel banana, when Margaret cook, Raegan lick him finger, she cook dead cow, dead goat, dead iguana…” And on the B side, it’s back to basics with some old human riddims, which he rides well, but unsurprisingly with less impact. One of which is a re-imagination of Early B’s “Join The Army” over the exact same riddim as Errol Scorcher’s “Roach In A De Corner”. Also check this man’s live recordings or videos, a tongue to rule the ages! My picks: The Don, Dance In A Africa, Seven Jamaican Heroes

Shabba Ranks
Just Reality
1990

Originally this chart was going to end at 1989, but after listening to this record another couple times I had to stretch the chart out to 1990 to include it. Shabba was a real superstar, in the caliber of Yellowman, and he made massive waves in the industry right from his ‘88 debut. This is his 2nd album, just barely before his sound was taken over by hip-hop beats and featured artists. What you get is unfiltered Shabba Ranks in original ragga style, and a set featuring some quite personal lyrics, along with the usual slackness and dancing tunes (and of course, this being Shabba, “all mamma man fe dead, BAM BAM, lick a shot inna a mamma man head”). Especially on “Just Reality” and “Roots & Culture” you hear a lot about Shabba’s approach to deejaying and justification for his slackness. Bobby Digital returns on production, having done Shabba’s debut, with even harder and ragga-ier riddims, especially on “Back And Belly Rock”, and of course on “Dem Bow”, the riddim of which was so big it created the whole reggaeton genre. Which is also known simply as “Dembow”. The dembow beat is still felt regularly in Western pop music, etc etc., the influence of this tune cannot be overstated. And Shabba’s deejaying upon it can’t be described better than PURE FIRE. My picks: Back And Belly Rock, Roots & Culture, Dem Bow

Tiger
Me Name Tiger
1987

No voice out there is quite as recognizable as Tiger with his massive roaring tiger style, and you will hear none other upon the first tune of this record. “No Wanga Gut” explodes upon the speakers with a riddim so raw it’s barely there, and Tiger’s voice screeches down from the squeak at the beginning of each line, followed by a slow glissando downwards and out of tune. Well I can write as many fancy words here as I like but you have to hear it for yourself anyway. The style is wicked and wild. The other hit song advertised on the cover is “Puppy Love”, which has a simply adorable riddim, bubblegum synth chords over a boppy interpretation of Answer. And then Tiger’s “budu bye”s and glissandos complete the package. Every tune Tiger deejays on this set is unforgettable, and the two where he sings instead are better off forgotten. As a young listener of the digital age, my take is that what dancehall in 1987 lacked in consistently good records, it made up for in spectacle, and this set is a very good example of that. My picks: No Wanga Gut, Puppy Love, Follow Me Model

Dignitary Stylish
Jah Send Me Come
1986

Unbelievably raw riddims! This is about as simple as electronic music can get and it fucking bops. With a grand total of two drum beats to the whole album, and few basslines built on more than a sine wave. Sadly this is producer Conrad Green’s only LP, and one of only two LPs on the Harmodio label. Even the synthesizer player has nothing else to his name!! And on top of all that it is the only set from the deejay Dignitary Stylish. So this is a one of a kind record, and the team blew it out of the park. Dignitary Stylish has been described in another review of this album as sounding like Super Cat, which is a comment I cannot begin to understand, for me he sounds more like General Trees than anyone else. Fast & exciting bubbling, 100% cultural lyrics, not a lick of slackness or badness in sight – even explicitly rejected in “No Badness” and the title tune. Check out the music video for “Jah Send Me Come” and bear witness to the masses of Jamaica throwing away their weapons and liquor at the word of the shepherd Dignitary Stylish. Excellent!! My picks: Jah Send Me Come, Versitility, Keep It Covered, Asanction

General Trees
Negril
1986

Now here is an album that takes you all over! Or at least to Ochi and back again. General Trees, presumably failing to capture the hearts of the public with simply lyricism, had several cracks at success with gimmicky, poppier tunes, and had two massive hits with “Gone A Negril” and “Mini Bus”, both of which are featured on this record. Among others which aren’t. But that is mixed in with calypso style on “Threes’ In De Place”, hardcore subdued lo-fi tunes like “Vege Bun” and “Scatter Me Scatter” and two off-the-wall tributes to other artists (and the horseman lifestyle) on “Fresh” and “Great Jamaican Jockeys”. There is a lot to digest here, but most of it is very very good, and showcases Trees’ excellent versatility and character. There are even normal songs! The two hits on the record are so big that it seems few people are aware of anything besides them from General Trees but “Negril” will show you that there is so much more to experience from this entertainer from a higher class. My picks: Gone A Negril, Serious Ting, Scatter Me Scatter, Fresh

General Trees
Ragga Ragga Raggamuffin
1988

If “Negril” is the demonstration of the General Trees’ versatility, “Ragga Ragga Raggamuffin” is the demonstration of his foundations and consistency. Produced for Kangal, which only had three other albums, one of which is terrible and the other two of which are by Yellowman, this is a one-of-a-kind record with some VERY interesting riddims. Super raw, super digital, with plenty of basslines consisting of nothing more than staccato sine-wave synths playing at high enough amplitude to make them all warm and fuzzy. And some beautifully built chords, tight clickety clackety percussion and sublime arrangements, and you have the very special result, all ready for Trees to ride for fourty minutes. It’s General Trees, so there is no question as to the quality of the lyrics, and some of these tunes are simply unmissable. On the title track, a nyammin’ contest a Portland, “look how me maga like a any scallion”, on “The Girl Love I”, tales of poisoning by his lover, “Hear what the young girl gimme fe nyam! Oil a stop sting, oil a stop shock”, on “Granit”, sentimental recollection of his late guard dog, and on “Break My Lyrics Store”, you’ll have to hear how Trees treats lyrics pirates for yourself. A teaser of the aggressive anti-lyric theft sentiment that he would later bring to an aggressive peak on his ’89 single “D.J. Critic”. Anyway this album is to die for, especially the B side, it’s pure magic. My picks: Pick Up Me Chick, Youth Stop The Gaze, I Like The Thing, The Girl Love I

Pampidoo
The Governor General
1986

I absolutely love this record. Not just for the cover art, which features someone who looks nothing like Pampidoo in official attire upon what could be a golden throne or tatty old sofa, all appearing to have been illustrated in MS Paint, or more likely by someone’s kid, and flanked by the handwritten words “The GOVERNOR GENERAL” written horizontally until there was no more space, and then vertically to fill the gap on the right side, with an extra “the” to fill up the top-right corner, and unforgettably with “GOVERNAL” at the bottom. You can see it right there but it begs description for impact. But the music is good too!! Pampidoo has the original “rock stone voice”, which later allegedly became the coolest thing EVER when Buju Banton did it. And he brings the cancer-throated-cookie-monster style upon some very, very cool riddims, courtesy of Bertram Brown (in his first and only deejay LP venture). They have a very fuzzy and mellow lo-fi kind of sound to them, very pleasant to listen to, and with the Hi-Times as the performers there’s a lot of exciting melodic and harmonic ideas from the keys in particular. You’d expect the original rock-stone record to be hardcore but this is a strangely compelling listen in the early morning. My picks: Bonanza, Woman A Yu Yard A The Best, Grammy Award

Super Cat
Boops!
1986

One of the finest dancehall records ever, with yet another excellent cover artwork – something in no short supply in the eighties! Clean, semi-digital riddims rock the speaker and Super Cat’s style is hypnotizing. Steady, easygoing, sexy, occasionally melodic, full of style & fashion. But you could probably guess that part from the cover art. The record opens with “Pops”, itself a rework of the title track, as a little teaser of what’s to come, and holding its own as an excellent and memorable track. From then on it’s nothing but excellent tunes, not a single dud on the record, and always something to look forward to. When “Boops!” ends, you find yourself excited for “Vine Yard Party”, when that ends, you find yourself excited for “D.J. Daddy”, and so on. A rare perfect record that you could not nitpick if you tried. My picks: Terminator, Boops!, Vine Yard Party, D.J. Daddy, How Cat Go America

More recommended listening…

Beenie Man – The Invincible Beany Man: The Ten Year Old D.J. Wonder (1987)
Daddy Freddy – Body Lasher (1986)
Dominick – Dominick (1987)
General Trees – Kingstonian Man (1988)
General Trees & General Degree – Battle Of The Generals (1987)
Jah Screw – Herb Base Function (1986)
Lieutenant Stitchie – Wear Yu Size (1987)
Lyrical – Market Session (1986)
Macka B – Sign Of The Times (1986)
Mikey Jarrett – Mr. Excitement (1987)
Nicodemus – Mr. Fabulous (1986)
Nicodemus – Nuff Respect (1986)
Papa San – Lyric Shop (1987)
Santa Ranking – Ruff Neck Chicken (1988)
Shabba Ranks – Best Baby Father (1988)
Shelly Thunder – Small Horsewoman (1986)
Sister Carol – Jah Disciple (1989)
Tiger – Shockin’ Colour (1989)
Uglyman – Ugly Lover (1986)
U-Roy – Line Up And Come (1986)
Yellowman – Yellow Like Cheese (1987)