The 100 most important dancehall tracks of all time
Born in Jamaica around half a century ago, dancehall music has found fans, artists and chart-topping success all around the globe in the decades since. Initially an offshoot of reggae, in the ‘80s, the use of electronic production tools spawned the digital dancehall age, helping define the sound and putting it on the path to world domination. Dancehall DJ, Grammy-winning producer, label boss and BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter, Seani B, counts down 100 tracks — arranged chronologically — that have had the biggest impact on the progression of the genre and live in the dance
Dancehall music has been the driving force in my career. As a DJ, I’ve played most if not all genres of music on radio and in clubs worldwide, but dancehall has always been at the forefront — it’s who I am.
Dancehall is not just about the music; it’s a culture, a way of life, language and fashion. The air horn that DJs use is dancehall. The kill switch or filtering of basslines to create a drop is dancehall. The pull up, wheel up, spin-back is dancehall. Dubplates and clashes are dancehall. The way we talk with slang and patois is dancehall. Dancehall is a lifestyle!
Being asked to complete a list of the 100 most important dancehall tracks ever was a frightening proposition for many reasons. The fear of not getting it correct because of difference in opinions rested heavily on my thoughts. How others absorb the basslines and digital drums while in their own world will be different to how I do in mine. Even lyrically, what triggers me to raise my hand in the air with a two-finger gun salute is controlled by an emotion or feeling that I am going through at the time.
Dancehall music has been the backdrop that added the colour to so many stories of love, danger, envy, freedom, justice, dancing and, of course, marijuana. Some of these tales are why I have chosen tracks to be in this list. But what I have drawn on most is the experience of playing the music where it sounds best — in the Dance Hall.
There are times that as a DJ I feel I have the cheat code to making the ravers happy with the music that I represent. It’s undeniable that the drums used in dancehall are some of the most infectious around; they force involuntary body movements by anyone in close proximity to a speaker. I can confidently challenge you to hear Chaka Demus & Pliers’ ‘Murder She Wrote’ and not realise that the party is about to start!
This is what I’ve drawn on for this list — the songs I have relied on make sure that I get the job done effectively, with as much collateral damage to the club as possible.
As a final point, although reggae and dancehall have been the core of Jamaican music for over 60 years, the chart lends itself in the main to the area of digital dancehall. The vast majority of the tracks selected have been created since the evolution of the digital era in the mid ‘80s, which took the genre to a new level and created a path for the music as a whole.
Note from the editor: The majority of tracks on this list were released multiple times over the years, licensed to separate labels across different territories. For consistency and out of respect for the roots of dancehall culture, we have primarily chosen the earliest versions released in Jamaica (usually on seven-inch single).
Dancehall is full of one-off characters who are cut from a different cloth. There is no better example of this than Ripton Hilton, aka Eek-A-Mouse. Distinctive tone, six-foot six-inches in stature, and with a languid and fluid style that became synonymous with this larger-than-life character.
One of the most sampled riddims and songs from dancehall has to be ‘Bam Bam’. The likes of Jay Z and Kanye West have both borrowed from the ‘Stalag’ riddim on the Techniques label. Sister Nancy has commented that she was oblivious to its impact until her daughter told her about it, when it was featured in the 1998 film, Belly, featuring DMX.
The original King of the Dancehall, Yellowman reigned in the ’80s with hits like this. His style and originality made him a one-off who went far beyond the dancehall realm. A staple of the genre.
‘Here I Come’ is the title track from his 1985 album that also features the classic ‘Under Mi Sensi’, but was released as a seven-inch single the year before. From the intro, Barrington Levy draws you in with his trademark “Shoodilley-wop, shoodilley-woop, ooh woh ooh”, before we hear of his parental issues.
Another version to Sister Nancy’s ‘Bam Bam’, ‘Ring The Alarm’ is every soundsystem’s anthem. Tenor Saw was a unique artist with an original tone that is showcased on this track. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to see him grow due to his untimely death in 1988.
This track utilises King Jammy’s (also known as Prince Jammy) ‘Sleng Teng’ riddim, and its popularity is in large part down to the audience participation it requires. This is a firm festival favourite with its call and response intro.
Super Cat was a sought-after artist for soundsystems in the early ’80s, but quickly became the same for producers too, due to his smooth and melodic style that complemented any riddim. This is the title track from his debut album, produced by Winston Riley. ‘Boops’ was the name given to a sugardaddy, Jamaican-style.
Tenor Saw was one of dancehall’s most authentic and favoured artists in the ’80s. His distinctive tone with hits such as ‘Golden Hen’ and ‘Pumpkin Belly’ made him a core favourite in the main centres of reggae across the world. ‘Pumpkin Belly’ was cut on the ‘Sleng Teng’ riddim.
Some dancehall fans would credit this song as the start of the digital dancehall revolution in 1985. There are many stories as to who created the riddim, but the one fact is that this song kicked off hundreds of different versions of King Jammy’s ‘Sleng Teng’ riddim.
Another classic from King Jammy’s label, from 1986. ‘Punaany’ (also written as ‘Punanny’) made a mark. Not only did the song introduce a new phrase, but also a new type of dancehall riddim was created by Steely & Clevie. You’re not a dancehall artist if you can’t ride the ‘Punaany’ riddim — facts!
In days gone by, the producers in reggae and dancehall yielded most of the power. They could make or break an artist, and usually did. The opportunity to go inside of the studio for a new artist was a treasured one. Due to economic factors, dancehall productions — or riddims — had to be cost effective. Producers would build a backing track and record many different artists over the top. This served two purposes: firstly, the resulting tracks could be placed back to back in dances to create a “juggling” (playing from version to version), which also provided an easy way to determine the version audiences gravitated towards most — that would then usually be the one to get the commercial push. Secondly, it allowed producers to find new talent; a big hit on a riddim could set you up as a new artist, elevating your status very quickly and establishing your style.
Top 10 Dancehall Riddims
01. Punanny Riddim
Key cuts: Admiral Bailey ‘Punaany’, Little John ‘Yes Mama’, Shabba Ranks ‘Caan Dun’
02. Sleng Teng
Key cuts: Wayne Smith ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’, Tenor Saw ‘Pumpkin Belly’, Johnny Osbourne ‘Budy Bye’
03. Answer Riddim
Key cuts: Super Cat ‘Vineyard Style’, Bounty Killer ‘Spy Fi Die’, Yellowman ‘Kumina’
04. Stalag Riddim
Key cuts: Sister Nancy ‘Bam Bam’, Tenor Saw ‘Fever’, Reggie Stepper ‘Co-Onoo’
05. Real Rock
Key cuts: Dennis Brown ‘Stop The Fussing & Fighting’, Cocoa Tea ‘She Love Me Now’, Johnny Osbourne ‘No IceCream Sound’
06. Golden Hen
Key cuts: Tenor Saw ‘Golden Hen’, Michigan & Smiley ‘Diseases’, Luciano ‘Warning’
07. Bam Bam
Key cuts: Chaka Demus & Pliers ‘Murder She Wrote’, Pliers ‘Bam Bam’, Tiger ‘Beep Beep’
Key cuts: Beenie Man ‘Miss Angela’, Daddy Screw ‘Big Ting A Gwan’, Buju Banton ‘Nuff Man A Look You’
Key cuts: Spragga Benz ‘We Nuh Like’, Beenie Man ‘Hypocrite’, Bounty Killer ‘Eagle And The Hawk’
Key cuts: Sean Paul ‘Get Busy’, Wayne Wonder ‘No Letting Go’, TOK ‘Galang Gal’
If you have ever heard the term “Siddung pon the riddim”, this is the best method to describe the way the Don Dada manoeuvres around ‘Mud Up’, aka the ‘Worky Worky’ riddim. Released on the Skengdon label in 1987, this release was ahead of its time, as it provided an early example of a DJ scratching on the B-side of a dancehall record.
A favourite among boxers for their ring walk. Anthemic and rousing, and a big tune for the samplers and remixers in the jungle scene and across dance music.
Shabba’s reign over dancehall in the late ’80s/early ’90s is undeniable. Big Dutty Stinking Shabba was loved by his female fans for his slack lyrics and flamboyant style of dressing. This duet with Krystal was the perfect combination of rough meets smooth; when you listen, the transition from the innocent chorus of Krystal to Shabba’s entry “Idle Jubbie Jubbie” served as a perfect antidote.
The 6th of August marks Jamaica’s Independence Day and you are guaranteed to hear this record get played somewhere. Admiral Bailey was on a back-to-back roll at the time, while recording with the legendary King Jammy. The sparse intro gives space for the weighty bassline from Jammy’s studio to drop, creating an instant reaction from the masses, who always sing along to this Bailey bombshell.
“Life is what you make it” goes the refrain from two relatively unknown Brits who went on to have a worldwide smash with this track. One of a range of singer/DJ tracks that would go on to run the genre for a significant period in the ’90s.
There are reggae records, then reggae dancehall records. This cry for peace in the garrison communities of Kingston, Jamaica is the latter. Junior Reid’s distinct vocal tone shines on the hard-hitting riddim, which was sampled by rapper The Game for his monster record ‘It’s Okay (One Blood)’ in 2006. The military drum patterns here make it a mesmerising listen.
Ask any reggaeton producer or artist what the importance of this record is — the song created a whole new music genre. The beat in reggaeton is labelled ‘Dem Bow’, and this is where it’s derived from. The song is an early ’90s classic — Shabba when he was unstoppable. Brash, harsh, raw, vibrant, controversial — this song has it all. This is dancehall!
Tiger was one of the most fun, energetic and experimental DJs of the late ’80s/early ’90s. Unfortunately, a motorcycle accident that caused serious head injuries stopped Tiger from continuing his thriving career in 1994. The rhyming pattern for this song was very clever, ending each line with “when”, and it perfectly complemented the driving riddim from Steely & Clevie. Thankfully, Tiger is still with us and continues to get stronger each day.
Early Buju was on a roll when this track came out. ‘Batty Rider’ pays homage to high-cut women’s shorts. His delivery style fused a new-school energy with the sensibilities of older dancehall days and the ability to ‘ride the riddim’ with flair and individuality.
For this 1991 classic, singjay artist Pinchers adopts the persona of a gunslinging Western cowboy with his pistolero. Written with bravado and confidence, this is a soundbwoys favourite. Thirty years on, this anthem produced by the legendary King Jammy is still a big tune in many a DJ’s box.
This is another song notable for the influence that it has had on reggaeton — particularly the drum track and sounds that are used. It has also just recently been used again, including the bassline, by Nigerian singer/rapper Burna Boy for his 2021 track, ‘Kilometer’.
Singing Sweet was 16 years old when he recorded this timeless dancehall karaoke classic. He sounded like his voice hadn’t broken, but this only added to his high-pitched delivery on the song. The backdrop for the tune was the ‘Giggy’ riddim. Even though it’s 30 years old, this song still lights up any session.
One of the biggest hits of the early ’90s on the super popular ‘Giggy’ riddim, which has stood the test of time — it’s still a killer in the dancehalls. The ‘Giggy’ riddim is one of the all-time classic dancehall riddims.
One of Tony Rebel’s signature tunes and an anthem for the whole island. An ode to the amazing gifts that Jamdown (Jamaica) brings, utilising a ’90s version of Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ riddim. This is an iconic track.
Released in 1992, this song screams dancehall, with an infectious loop that doesn’t change the whole way through. The simple, four-bar loop of drums and guitar, and even the simplicity of the video, shows off brand dancehall and brand Jamaica. Produced by the riddim twins Sly & Robbie, this song stands the test of time as a floor-filler even in 2021.
‘Action’ peaked at No.43 in the US charts, but by no means does that tell the whole story. This record introduced Nadine Sutherland to a whole new audience, while solidifying Terror’s position as one of the giants of dancehall in the early ’90s. Still a firm favourite in every DJ’s crates.
The visual for this track brought the tune to a different, new, hip-hop audience; Super Cat took us on a tour of the streets of New York and Jamaica, and the styling and dance moves were classic Yardman style. Records like this were instrumental in crossing over dancehall to a hip-hop market, which was also helped along by the hip-hop remix from Bobby Konders and a young Salaam Remi.
Never to be boxed or caged in, dancehall showed its versatility with this hit in 1992. Mad Cobra is known for his hard-hitting tales of gangsterism, but for ‘Flex’, he showed his softer side. It was part of his album ‘Hard To Wet, Easy To Dry’ for his newly signed deal with Columbia Records. The partnership helped him secure a hit record that peaked at No.7 in the US R&B chart.
This was the handbook to the dance that was running the place and was created by the late, great dancer Mr. Wacky, aka Bogle. There wasn’t a person not practicing this dance in front of a bathroom mirror, as Buju makes mention in the song. At the time, the production of Dave Kelly was groundbreaking and different, and spawned a whole new sound in dancehall.
This is the type of fun that dancehall brought to the clubs in the ’90s. To some, the lyrics may mean absolutely nothing, but the vibe that Shabba delivers on Steely & Clevie’s ‘Giggy’ riddim is nothing short of magical. This song has so many moments to get involved in — who hasn’t done the gunfinger salute when they hear “Booyaka! Booyaka! Afa Shabba Ranking!”?
As digital dancehall began to flourish in the mid-’80s, one production duo stood out from the pack, first working as the house band at King Jammy’s studio and later on their own label: keyboardist Wycliffe Johnson and drummer Cleveland Browne, otherwise known as Steely & Clevie. Here, Grammy award-winning UK dancehall producer Jazzwad talks about their influence:
“Steely and Clevie inspired me in many ways, primarily with their beats. They were making music at a time which was a turning point for the music — when reggae was morphing into dancehall — and their sound was something that became a staple and I got used to. They produced a lot of Shabba Ranks’ Grammy-winning material. Clevie and his drum machine coupled with Steely and his ingenious ways of using keyboard and technology created a new benchmark for the ‘dancehall sound’.”
Originally recorded by Jamaican group the Folkes Brothers, Shaggy sampled the track for this single, which also featured on his debut album ‘Pure Pleasure’ in 1993. This was the introduction of Shaggy to the mainstream, as it spent two weeks at the No.1 spot in the UK charts. He would follow this with another huge hit in ‘Big Up’ with long-time co-star Rayvon later in ’93, further cementing a young Orville Burrell — aka Shaggy — with the core dancehall audience. Both tracks were produced by Sting International. Shaggy’s descriptive lyrics and comical style made him popular with DJs and audiences alike.
Terror Fabulous had an incredible run in the early ’90s, and this track was very popular in the dancehalls. Sexually explicit, and loved by both men and women alike,‘Position’ was a certified smash.
The fourth entry for Super Cat. His original style during this period made him a massive influence on future generations — from Apache Indian to Damian Marley. ‘Don Dada’ was a popular moniker for Super Cat, and even after a long hiatus from music, his influence on the genre as a whole cannot be questioned.
Cutty Ranks was at the cutting edge of badman lyrics in dancehall in the ’90s. Having done his time on the soundsystems alongside some of the greats, Cutty was ready and prepared when he got his break early on in the decade. ‘Limb By Limb’ is one of his standout moments from that time, with hard-hitting, gangster lyrics over the chopping, energetic ‘Fever Pitch’ riddim.
‘Champion’ was already buzzing in the streets by the time it featured on Buju’s fourth studio album, which is a classic in the dancehall market. The ‘Till Shiloh’ LP was surprising at the time of release, as it was a different side to Buju — a deeper, thought-provoking, more conscious Buju. But ‘Champion’ was still reminiscent of the younger Mr. Mention. This record also brought Buju to a wider audience, with a hip-hop mix that was just as potent as the original.
Ini Kamoze was already a name that the roots reggae scene knew for his work with Sly & Robbie, but it was this hip-hop remix of his 1990 track ‘Hot Stepper’ that scored his biggest hit, topping charts worldwide.
When this song was released in 1994, Capleton was hot like fire and was in his transitional period to the artist he is now. Released on the African Star label, it also had a second version on the same riddim called ‘Chalice’, which was a ganja anthem at the time. ‘Tour’ was the anthem, however, and still is. When Lil Jon’s hip-hop remix utilised Slick Rick’s ‘Children’s Story’, it certified this as a classic.
‘Boombastic’ catapulted Shaggy to superstardom, and he hasn’t looked back since. The track topped the charts worldwide — most notably the UK and the US Billboard charts — and its success was not limited to there: the song was even used for a Levi’s jeans advert.
White Canadian pop dancehall artist Snow was introduced to us by his super catchy — but also super cheesy — ’90s classic ‘Informer’, but when ‘Anything For You’ got the Jamaican remix treatment, both he and it were catapulted to another level in 1995. The remix — featuring Nadine Sutherland, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Terror Fabulous, Louie Culture and Culture Knox — became the biggest selling single in Jamaica that year.
This was one of the biggest records of 1995, when the General was making hit after hit. It was a team up with Steely & Clevie on their Studio 2000 label, where the riddims were known for their precision and attention to detail in beat construction. This had all those elements, with melody coming from a stabbing keyboard clav and vocal samples that somehow add to the bounce in the track.
Generations intertwined when Barrington met Bounty on this timeless classic. This was a golden period for dancehall, and Levy’s sweet vocals and the gruff, gravelly Bounty Killer lyrics complemented each other perfectly.
Originally recorded on the ‘Punanny’ riddim for his label Shocking Vibes in the mid ’90s, this was released at the same time as ‘Romie’, which was on the same riddim and equally as big in the core and mainstream. But it was ‘Girls Dem Sugar’ that got the remix treatment by super-producers Pharrell and Chad of The Neptunes, with added sugar from R&B star Mýa, landing another hit in 2000.
The importance of having a calling card in dancehall is not to be downplayed. As you hit a stage, your catchphrase is usually your first forward. Red Rat’s “Ohhhhh noooooo!” has to be in the top 10 catchphrases of all time in dancehall. But he knew how to make songs that were catchy too. In 1996, his debut album ‘Oh No... It’s Red Rat’ featured two particularly infectious tracks: ‘That Girl (Shelly Ann)’ and ‘Tight Up Skirt’. If you want to get dancers whining in a party, get the latter in the mix. ‘Tight Up Skirt’ finds melody mixed with comedic timing, marrying perfectly with the authentic dancehall bounce that the ’90s is known for.
Frisco Kid’s biggest hit came on the timeless ‘Joyride’ riddim, produced by the Mad House camp (including the legend Dave Kelly, one of dancehall’s most consistent hit-makers), who spawned many big, hit riddims, including ‘Showtime’, ‘Fiesta’ and ‘Stink’.
The one-time undisputed Queen of Dancehall, who is now a church minister, had one of her biggest hits with another cut of the ‘Joyride’ riddim. Her raunchy, no-nonsense attitude and delivery made her a match for any of her rivals, and the respect for her was unequivocal. ‘Sycamore Tree’ is one of the ‘Joyride’ cuts that must be played when juggling the riddim.
Red Rat returns with his trademark call sign of “Oh No!” ‘Dwayne’ was part of a run of tracks with himself and the Main Street camp. In this track, the skippy riddim and Rat’s advice-filled flow combine perfectly. Produced by another artist, Buccaneer, who was the man behind the Opera House label.
From the Queen to the King; in the mid-’90s, Beenie Man had the ultimate big hooks and a slew of tracks that saw him reign supreme, including 1996’s ‘Old Dog’ and ‘Who Am I’ the following year. Legend has it that Beenie Man heard the ‘Playground’ riddim and went to the home of the producer Jeremy Harding at six o’clock in the morning to record this, the biggest hit of his career. Beenie Man at the time was already a star of dancehall music, but this song made his stock value skyrocket.
This is a sing-along classic from the duo that brought us many hit songs during the ’90s dancehall era. This was recorded for Donovan Germaine and his Penthouse label in 1997.
The title track to the international movie of the same name, which celebrated the experience of a Kingstonian dancer who lives a double life as a dancehall queen. A big international hit.
‘Heads High’ was part of Mr. Vegas’ onslaught on the dancehall space, and also the name of his debut album for Greensleeves Records. This single was heads above the rest of his huge singles in terms of popularity, no pun intended. The song found success in the UK and US charts, and the album reached No.5 in the US reggae chart, which enabled him to capture the coveted Best Reggae Act at the MOBO Awards in 1998.
Dancehall has reached all corners of the globe in its long, storied history, conquering charts and gaining followers in some perhaps-unlikely places. Mattia, aka Warrior Sound, is one such adherent. Based in the small city of Wuppertal, Germany, he’s won numerous reggae and dancehall soundclashes across the world over the past two decades. Here, he speaks about how both genres have affected his life:
“Dancehall and reggae have allowed me to travel the world and meet many people who share the love and the passion that I have for the music and the culture. The influence of Jamaican music and culture on the world is undeniable. At a very young age I heard my first reggae record and fell in love with it. Since then, the music has changed my life, because what started as a hobby and a passion has now become a central part of my existence, as well as being my job.”
Produced by the prolific Sly & Robbie, with hypnotic sax and piano lines and a slight salsa tinge. Beenie’s ability to ride a variety of different styles of dancehall riddim is what has given him the incredible longevity that he has maintained for over four decades.
The man who takes the title of the “Poor People’s Governor” steps up with an anthemic track. The hook line to this can be felt through the garrisons of Kingston and across the world. Bounty Killer (credited as Bounti Killa here) at his very best.
The late ’90s belonged to Bounty and Beenie — they upped the levels of dancehall by trying to better each other with every release. ‘Hypocrite’ was a firm favourite with a strong, positive energy. This track was on the ‘Showtime’ riddim.
One of the most powerful and memorable Bounty tracks. A sounding call, letting people know that he cannot be harmed, regardless of his opponent’s intentions. From the excellent ‘Next Millenium’ album.
At the time of this release, Sean Paul was super hot and so was the riddim that was the backdrop for ‘Get Busy’. The ‘Diwali’ riddim, produced by Lenky Marsden, was fresh, exciting and different. Wayne Wonder, Elephant Man, Bounty Killer and TOK all had big songs on the riddim, but this was one of the last to be recorded and sealed what was already a major riddim.
The ‘Bellayas’ riddim, created by Ward 21, is firmly in the history books of ’90s dancehall. The crisp, clinical punch of the drums was Ward’s trademark sound at the time. This juggling was packed with heavyweights of the period: Elephant Man, Harry Toddler and Beenie Man all had big songs, but none had the impact of this version. Capleton owns the riddim from the intro of the song, and if you listen carefully, you will even hear he lets out a belch.
Bounty is a master at conveying the feelings and emotions of those who are having a hard time in life. This ability to express those feelings has enabled him to tell many stories from a perspective that is rarely heard. ‘Look’ is a perfect example of this.
Another DJ and singer combination — both artists were starting to have a light shone on them in the international market, and this combination (complete with its trademark dancehall cuts) helped to further establish them both in the scene.
No genre does explicit like dancehall does explicit! This track has a difference, though — the Queen of Dancehall gives as good as she gets. The true essence of a big driving riddim and two MCs going back and forth at each other without relenting. A classic tune.
As Sean emerged from the pack at the turn of the century, his musicality came to the fore. The melodies and sing-along nature of his tracks meant they reached a wider audience than just the core. 2001’s ‘Like Glue’ was a perfect example of that — one of the biggest hits on the popular ‘Buy Out’ riddim — but it was ‘Give Me The Light’ (renamed ‘Gimme The Light’ when it went out internationally via VP and Atlantic in 2002) that made Sean Paul a household name worldwide. The funny thing is that the song is part of the riddim compilation ‘The Buzz’, and was one of the least-played cuts — compared to Sizzla, Mad Cobra, Beenie Man and Elephant Man — in the underground parties. However, once the mainstream caught on to it, the rest became history.
Another cut on the groundbreaking ‘Diwali’ riddim, what was so special about this record was the way keyboardist Lenky Marsden stripped down the riddim and added R&B elements to the production. This helped Wayne peak at No.11 in the US Billboard charts.
Probably the most famous version of the iconic ‘Answer’ riddim, which was recorded and mixed in the UK courtesy of Blacka Dread. The ’80s veteran Super Cat reimagines a dancehall party, but with the party attendants being fruits and veg.
Dancing is an integral part of dancehall music, and this dance captured everyone’s imagination in 2003. Elephant Man was the main man in dancehall, and making hits seemed like light work for him. Many of his songs that topped dancehall charts were about dancing — like ‘Signal The Plane’ and ‘Higher Level’ — but this was the pick of the bunch. This was once played for 45 minutes non-stop in Asylum Nightclub in Kingston, Jamaica. It’s a sight to see the whole club “Gi dem a run!”
Finding a hit song on a riddim that has so many giants on it — like Beenie Man, Sean Paul and Mr. Vegas — is not an easy task, but that is what Sasha had to do. The ‘Bookshelf’ riddim is one of those riddims that will go down in the history books for defining moments in dancehall. The moment you hear the intro from Sasha, you know exactly what this song is about to do. There isn’t a Saturday night anywhere in the world that this song doesn’t get played.
A producer and artist combination that has created many dancehall favourites. Producer Dave Kelly holds the highest rank among people who have shaped the music over the years, with so many hit productions; ‘Showtime’, ‘Brukout’, ‘The Bug’ and the riddim in question, ‘Fiesta’, have all been his creations. But he also has to get extra props for his ability to write and produce, and easily get the best out of any artist he works with. This is just another of the many bangers he has recorded with the King of the Dancehall, Beenie Man.
The undisputed leader of the dancing songs in the early millennium years, Ele’s tracks proved to be the soundtrack to many parties, and ‘Signal The Plane’ is at the pinnacle of that selection. The association between the street dancers of Kingston and the new creations they made in the dancing world was phenomenal.
The Gully God burst onto the scene with a vengeance; his style resonated with street audiences, and his profile was catapulted to the point where the likes of Jay Z and DJ Khaled recognised his true potential and worked alongside him. This track has boundless energy.
Cham paints the story of a youth growing up in the inner-city garrisons of Jamaica for this Dave Kelly-produced classic on the ‘85’ riddim. Chams’ catalogue is very impressive, but by far this has to be his biggest in the bag. The magic in this song has to be in the chorus: “Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah!”
Fresh from winning the Grammy with the album ‘Halfway Tree’, Damian Marley knew he had to produce something special to continue the traction he’d gained. Cue drum roll, and the iconic sample from Ini Kamoze: “Out in the streets they call it murder”. There was no way that Damian could miss with his vocals about the real Jamaica many don’t know about, over a roaring bassline that rattles any venue it’s played in.
Since the Empire Windrush first docked in Tilbury in 1948, the Caribbean influence on British music and culture has been profound — from ska, reggae and dancehall to jungle, dubstep and beyond. The UK has had homegrown dancehall success stories dating back to Smiley Culture and Papa Levi, but the vast majority of the genre’s top artists still come from Jamaica. The UK scene is growing, though, thanks to a new wave of young acts. One of them, Big Zeeks, talks about what’s going on in British dancehall right now:
“The dancehall scene has grown rapidly in the UK over the last three or four years. I signed my single to BrukOut/Polydor Records about four years ago and since then you can see many new artists and opportunities coming through. The likes of myself, The Rara, Stylo G and Don Andre are pushing the boundaries. We are collaborating together and [moving] into different areas to widen the scope of the music and who can listen to what we are making. I can see the movement getting stronger and moving upward.”
‘Temperature’ was part of a riddim series called ‘Applause’, produced by Jah Snowcone. Anything Sean Paul touched during this period went straight to the top, and this was no different. This riddim was already in club territory due to its four-to-the-floor hand-claps and tempo being in the 120bpm region. It was also already popular due to songs by Sizzla, Assassin and others, but once again when the Sean Paul song landed, it was game over.
Tony Matterhorn has been one of dancehall’s biggest selectors since the ’90s. He has always been known for his crazy, quick-thinking skills that whip parties into a frenzy, but who would have thought that he would have one of the biggest classics in dancehall? ‘Dutty Wine’ is a dance that sees women spinning their heads round, and the likes of Beyoncé have used it in routines. Nicki Minaj even shouted out the dance and Tony in her verse on ‘Monster’ — and rightly so, as it is a monster hit.
Mavado and the producer of this badman anthem, Stephen ‘Di Genius’ McGregor, were both on the brink of being the hottest names in the streets of Kingston. He was the new artist everyone was interested in, and this song certified the rumblings in the street. In the heat of the dance, this getting dropped at the right time was a guaranteed four-corner-forward, with the ravers singing this word for word as the DJ cuts the music.
“I’m so special, so special, so special!”— the ultimate dancehall refrain. This is still a big record in the dances now. Produced by TJ, it has that classic musical dropout before the hook, coupled with the “Hey! Hey!” refrain throughout. Mavado’s importance to the genre went hand in hand with his musical rivalry with Vybz Kartel, known as “Gully vs Gaza”. The battle was not too dissimilar to the era of Bounty Killer vs Beenie Man. Everyone knows that there isn’t a genre like dancehall for vibes, and when Jay Z decided to jump on a remix of Mavado’s ‘On The Rock’ later in 2008, the certification was set.
Big up the Truck Back Production team — this track was for the dancers and the boasty party goers. This ran 2008 with its trademark “No look” click pose that every dance-goer had to do when listening. As Erup himself says, it “represents to the worrrrrrld!”
Producer, beatmaker and artist, Serani scored big with ‘No Games’. From the intro of the song, you are hooked, and as a DJ you are guaranteed to hear the whole club singing. The melody is hypnotising.
Also known as ‘Ramping Shop’, this huge hit saw Kartel and Spice ‘borrow’ R&B artist Ne-Yo’s dancehall-infused ‘Miss Independent’, which was already a massive song. Not only that, but they ended up spending 15 weeks on the US Billboard chart with this sexually explicit dancehall classic, which also helped Spice transition from stage show artist to recording artist.
Vybz Kartel’s intro of “Wha Gwan Popcaan” was an introduction for many to the name of his protégé. Kartel showed his love for the popular British footwear brand Clarks, which has a long-standing relationship with reggae dancehall music.
Mr. Vegas took us to church in 2009 with this gospel-inspired club banger. Vegas has had a sterling career, and this is one of his biggest certified hits. Put this on in a festival setting and wait for the sing-along crew to be in full, sparkling voice.
The riddim for this anthem is called ‘One Day’, as all the songs were recorded in one day by producer Seanizzle. It was one of the strongest jugglings at the time, but this song stood out by far due to the simplicity of the chorus, adding another anthem to Beenie Man’s vast catalogue.
Produced by New York-based producer Ricky Blaze. This simple but effective song, with its even simpler piano riff, attracted the attention of Nicki Minaj to drop a verse for the remix. Gyptian once said, “Imagine, a song that I freestyled has ended up to be the biggest song of my career.”
The infectiousness of the chorus made it really hard to get away from this song in 2011/12, and earned Popcaan his first entry into the Billboard charts. Popcaan came of age with this, after being under the wing of Vybz Kartel.
Released a decade ago, ‘Summer Time’ is still a big song in the clubs. This piano-led dancehall gem is packed with feel-good vibes and pure fun, as the World Boss takes us on a journey to a beach filled with ladies ready to party. Summer isn’t complete without this.
Unfortunately the rising star J Capri’s life was cut short in 2015 due to a fatal car accident, but before her untimely departure, she cemented her legacy with this modern-day dancehall banger produced by Rvssian. A slamming 808 bassline gives this female-favourite a reggaeton vibe, and Charly Black continues to deliver the simple message of ‘Whine & Kotch’.
Making a good “gyal song” is very high on the must-do list in dancehall. Konshens ticked that box with ‘Bubble’. This song is all about whining skills. Released in 2012, it hasn’t left the crates and probably never will.
This raw, uncut, sexually explicit song encouraging infidelity behind closed doors is loved by Kranium’s loyal fanbase. This was the introduction to the Jamaican-born artist living in New York, and his brand of dancehall-infused R&B. The traction of this song in the streets ended up with Kranium inking a deal with Atlantic Records.
Busy Signal is easily one of the most versatile dancehall artists — he knows his way around any kind of music genre. It’s not a surprise to see the Turf God showcasing his witty melodic bars on Afrobeats, flipping a hip-hop song, or taking it back to the source with a reggae gem. He definitely didn’t waste the opportunity when the call came to work with Grammy-winning outfit Major Lazer. Busy complemented this dancehall-infused EDM track, taking it from being a festival banger to being used by Pepsi in a commercial the same year.
The burgeoning talent of Chronixx in the early 2010s made him a firm favourite among reggae and dancehall fans, but also for those with just a passing interest in the genre. The military drum pattern and dancehall-style stabs on the riddim made this popular across the board, and it was one of the early tracks that set him on the path to stardom.
A “gallis” in Jamaica is someone who has girls all over town. With its memorable intro, which sees Vegas being confronted by his “baby girl”, this track on the ‘Triple Bounce’ riddim is an anthem for the mandem.
With over 100 million YouTube views to date, this is the song that took Spice to the next level. Core fans would have known her name from her electric stage show performances or the 2008 hit song ‘Romping Shop’ with Vybz Kartel, but it was this song that made the rest of the world wake up.
How Ding Dong isn’t a massive superstar by now is a mystery. He has the songs, and he has the performances to go with them. In the UK, this has to be his biggest hit, shutting down any party, club night, festival or carnival. As long as there is space, there will be gassing! Just make sure you’re not in the way of the crowds moving from left to right.
The former selector from legendary soundsystem Bass Odyssey scored big with this crossover soca dancehall hit. The popularity of this song first started to take hold in South America, before catching light worldwide and gaining Charly over 200 million views on YouTube. Produced by Kurt Riley, the son of another legendary Jamaican producer, Winston Riley, who produced Sister Nancy’s ‘Bam Bam’.
Released in 2016 on the album ‘King Of The Dancehall’, despite him being imprisoned for 35 years for murder, ‘Fever’ took Vybz Kartel back into the Billboard charts. This song dominated 2016 and beyond.
Aidonia owned the summer of 2017 with this record. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the cries of “Yeah, yeah, yeah...” on a night out, whether it was a dancehall or regular club night. The frantic, energetic ‘Genna Bounce’ riddim was created by German-born producer Emudio, who now lives in Jamaica and works out of the Big Ship Studio, owned by legendary reggae artist Freddie McGregor.
There is nothing like a good old sing-along song. ‘Family’ tells of the love Popcaan has for his family, and his recollection of harder times coming up. But it’s when it gets to the pre-chorus that the song really comes alive. Popcaan flips the commentary to tales of misplaced trust and envy, and you can’t help but sing along and join the football chant.
This was always going to be a hit from the off. The pianos are reminiscent of Gyptian’s ‘Hold You’, and the danceability of the drums is perfect for the instructions Konshens gives in his lyrics.
Produced by Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire and also introducing producer IzyBeats, this is one of the genre’s last certified hits. Koffee’s name was already buzzing in the industry, and her freestyle performance in Jamaica was critically acclaimed. She didn’t disappoint when this was released in 2018, as part of her ‘Rapture’ EP (full release, 2019), which earned her the prestigious Best Reggae Album Grammy in 2020, making her the youngest ever recipient and also the first woman to win the category.
Jada Kingdom already had a solid fan base online, and had seen success selling her own swimwear line by the time a slew of singles caught everybody’s ears. The blend of Caribbean vibes with jazzy notes was hard to ignore. ‘Banana’ — and the Banana Remix Challenge — cemented Jada as a serious name to keep an eye on.
On her first release, this budding Jamaican star was joined by major label artist Tyga. Signed to producer Rvssian’s Rich Immigrant imprint, everyone has high hopes for Shenseea. She has the look and the voice, both of which were on full display on ‘Blessed’. Released in 2019, this became an anthem for women across the globe.
Not exclusively dancehall, but the artist in question embodies the dancehall Jamaican vibe 100%. When you see Lila Iké stepping, she steps into the new era as a soldier on the battlefield — with confidence, energy and a surety, especially in her stage show performances. This song brings the solid bottom-end of roots reggae into a deeper digital space, adding elements of hip-hop production to create a refreshed sound; the backdrop to her giving thanks to the hard work that has brought her here.
When a New York rapper jumps on your song, you know that it has crossed that line into a different arena, away from dancehall. This happened for the hottest name out of Jamaica this year, when Nicki Minaj dropped a verse on the hottest song of 2020, ‘Crocodile Teeth’, and featured it on her latest mixtape, ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’.
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