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Tracing the Dancehall-Hip Hop Lineage

The histories of Hip Hop and Dancehall have long been intertwined, both being borne out of urban black communities in Jamaica and later the USA.

Origin stories aside, the two genres seemed to be like twins separated at birth, one toughing it out on the streets of Kingston while the other was fortunate enough to migrate to 'farrin' for a better life.

Although coming from the same place, it seemed for some time that Dancehall, and Reggae for that matter, could never penetrate the black American market. As internationally successful as the Jamaican music forms had been, black America was always seen as the Holy Grail. Even as it seemed that Bob Marley was finally on the verge of realizing that dream, he died of cancer in 1981.

The road to reunion has been long and winding and full of seemingly insignificant moments. That road is certainly not at an end, but there certainly has been some progress made. Here are five songs that stand out as important Dancehall/Hip Hop mashups that paved the way for bringing Jamaican music into black America.

Hard Core Reggae - Fat Boys (1985)

From their sophomore album, The Fat Boys Are Back; the Fat Boys were the first major Hip Hop act to perform a Reggae-themed song. The song features all three group members saluting a music genre trying to re-establish long-lost family connections, name-dropping so many of its icons (Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Yellowman, etc.), in their best attempts at a Jamaican accent.

All this while churning out a Wild-West themed music video that made Jamaicans clap and cringe at the same time.

Produced and co-written by Kurtis Blow, the song peaked just outside of the Billboard Top 50 US Hot R&B/Hip Hop Singles Charts, but the album itself was certified Gold by the RIAA, giving it enough rotation for other Hip Hop acts to sit up and take notice.

The Bridge is Over - Boogie Down Productions (1987)

Released in the height of the Golden age of Hip Hop, The Bridge Is Over is considered a Hip Hop classic diss song. Coming out of the Queensbridge-South Bronx wars to establish the origins of Hip Hop music, BDP, led by KRS-ONE, did a scathing number on MC Shan and the Juice Crew.

More importantly for this article are the dancehall-like rapping by KRS-ONE in the song and its classic piano riff, sampled from Boops by Super Cat (popularized by 54-46, That's My Number, from the Maytals).

This helped to further that climate that would allow the fusion of Reggae and Hip Hop.

Unity - Shinehead (1988)

Born Edmund Carl Aiken in Kent, England, Shinehead took the next step in Reggae-Hip Hop fusion with his 1988 album Unity.

Growing up between Jamaica and the Bronx seemed to have given Aiken the best of both worlds, as he was one of the first major artists to deliver lyrics in both styles with a real sense of authenticity not seen before.

With releases such as Gimme No Crack, Chain Gang and the title track, he was also one of the first Reggae-Hip Hop acts to have a regular rotation on Yo! MTV Raps.

(I'm In The) Mood For Love - Heavy D & the Boyz (1989)

A seemingly innocuous track on a mega album, this was a cover of the Pat Kelly & Techniques hit of the same name on the 1989 album, Big Tyme. This was the most successful album for Heavy D & the Boyz at the time, making it all the way to number 1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums in 1989.

Born Dwight Arrington Myers in Mandeville, Jamaica, Heavy D takes this as practice, as it becomes the catalyst for him to release a string of collaborations with numerous Reggae and Dancehall acts.

Beginning with Super Cat and Frankie Paul on Big And Ready in 1991, and Hotness, with Buju Banton, in 1993. This helped open the door for other Hip Hop acts to collaborate with more Dancehall acts throughout the next three decades.

Housecall - Shabba Ranks featuring Maxi Priest (1991)

There had been no authentic Dancehall acts to fully break into the US market until that time. That all changed in 1991 when the Hip Hop mix of Housecall was released. From the As Raw As Ever album, the song peaked at number 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums and spent 15 weeks on the chart. Not only did it lead to the first Grammy award for a Dancehall artiste for Shabba in 1992, but it led to a slew of Dancehall acts being signed to major US record labels and the breakthrough of Dancehall into black America in a meaningful way.


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