The grimy streets of New York City’s outer boroughs – Brooklyn, the BX, Queens, Shaolin, even parts of Strong Island – ran red hot throughout the 1980s. Between Reaganomics, AIDS and the crack epidemic, Gotham society’s cellar-dwellers had all the pressure they could handle. In those bygone days, Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 track “Planet Rock” expressed a trans-global Zulu Nation with just one urgent agenda: to rock, rock… don’t stop. But Bam and company’s sonic shockwaves were not the only ultra-low-frequency vibrations blasting through the ghetto ether. Alongside Planet Rock rumbled the Real Rock, AKA dancehall reggae.
Dancehall had been a consistent presence in the New York City soundscape since the early 1970s, when an influx of Caribbean immigrants seeking economic opportunities brought their sound-system culture with them. One of those to make the journey from Jamrock was a young studio engineer and record producer named Philip Smart, whose New York pilgrimage would prove a fateful development in the evolution of NYC’s musical landscape. “Philip Smart is the man who made the whole New York reggae scene really come alive,” says Shaggy, the world’s biggest-selling reggae artist, who was a teenage Jamaican immigrant living in Brooklyn when he made his first hit single at Smart’s HC&F studio.
I love my people, man. Dancehall! A clip from the video of Sean Paul’s version of “I’m still in love with you.” (YouTube link)
Some people (usually not Jamaicans) claim you can’t possibly top the original in popular music generally or specifically in the case of this song.
That’s fine. But that concept of not revisiting classics isn’t taboo in the Jamaican way of approaching music. Many of the cats that built ska and rocksteady, later becoming reggae, were cover bands covering Jazz standards anyway.
Versions (wikipedia link—just to sketch an idea, research for the concepts of versions/versioning are available on Google Scholar) are as critical a part of dancehall and Jamaican music culture as wining one’s hips.
It’s not going anywhere and nothing is untouchable.