Reggae had dominated much of the 1970’s and there were many stars who, did well in the music business in those days too. The people were more spiritually conscious as they chose between Christianity and Rastafarianism, so they wore modest clothes. But slowly the styles changed as more attention was paid to sexuality, money and ‘bling’. A word that originated in the hip hop culture, it was invented by Lil Wayne. Artistes would spend a lot of their money on jewelry, fancy cars and fashionable clothes and it is convenient to have one word for all that.
So it is clear that the Jamaican dancehall has been influenced by the American culture.
Jamaica’s leading rhythm producers Sly and Robbie, have been challenged by Stevie and Clevie and there have been dejay’s like Mad Cobra, Ninja man, Bounty Killer and Buju Banton who have focused on violence. While Elephant man kept his focus on songs about dancing and Mr. Wacky or Bogle would create new dances that he would sing about. That is why there were dances like the ‘Butterfly’ or music like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8nDoGHHAiY
The early Dancehall era was dominated by big stars like Yellow Man and Eek-a- Mouse their lyrics were about relationships and simple everyday jokes that people would laugh about. And there were new producers in the music business at that time. There was Linval Thompson, Gussie Clarke and Jah Thomas. But in the 1980’s more digital instrumentation was incorporated in the music and this caused a lot of change in the rhythms. The music was not just about drums, bass guitars and organs anymore. Musicians started using drums and machine sampler synthesizer organs. The new Dancehall music had faster rythms and there were some new words, created by the Dancehall artistes.
One of these words was “Bashment” they started using it in the 1990’s. It was used to describe a good dance in those days, but now it is used to describe fashionable clothes and even shoes. Now Dancehall has it’s own language as many other words have been created over the years and it can be a bit difficult to keep up with them.
Dancehall came about during a time when there was a change in Government, the People’s National Party was replaced by the Jamaica Labor Party . There was also a shift in the type of music Jamaicans wanted to hear. The Down Town Jamaicans didn’t want the same music the uptown ones had, as they started enjoying themselves in their own way. They moved away from the type of Reggae that was loved by foreigners and the uptown crowd and embraced their own music, which was more about social injustice, repatriation and more of what the Rastafarians spoke about. Before the lyrics were changed to dance , sexuality and violence.
Chaka Demus and Pliers were the first Dance hall artistes to become mega stars abroad. There have been other Jamaicans who have done well abroad since then. Shawn Paul and Shaggy had major hit songs being played on the radio in America and in Europe since 2000, and there are other successful artistes in the business since then. These artistes have been very popular as their music has been well received by fans both locally and abroad. Artistes like Elephant Man, Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel, Konshens, Busy Signal, Mr. Vegas, Sizzla, Bounty Killa and others have done well as they have made hit songs.
Even though Buju Banton had a song “Boom Bye Bye” in the early 1990’s,that was seen as Homophobic music, by some foreigners and Dancehall artistes came under a lot of pressure because of it. Their performances were cancelled , making it harder for them to earn, as Gay rights activists have come out against them and promoters had stopped inviting them to perform at their events. There has been artistes like Shabba Ranks whose career was badly damaged after he did a tv interview and he had mentioned that “God didn’t make Adam and Steve, he made Adam and Eve”.
There has been an on going debate about the difference between Reggae and Dancehall. Dub poet Mutabaruka said “if 1970’s reggae was red green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains”. It should not be considered as an extension of Reggae as it is far removed from reggae’s gentle roots and culture lyrics. And now the violence that is seen in the Jamaican society is being linked to the Dancehall music. As there has been some artistes who have created different sides, like the Gully and Gaza phenomenon and there has been songs about flying marrow as artistes feud from time to time. It is believed that Reggae should not be linked to Dancehall as Reggae is all about love and unity. As it is known that an international super star like Bob Marley would not have been able to have his album ‘Exudos’ being picked by Time Magazine as the album of the century as his song “One Love” has such a great message, it was chosen by BBC as it’s song of the century. It is clear that, if he had songs like the ones that have been done by the Dancehall artistes, he would not be as popular as he is. And it would have been good if more Jamaicans could have followed in his footsteps. But the music that is being done by most of these Dancehall artistes are not even worthy of air play. Like the songs done about ‘Daggering’, which was banned and there has been talk of women being seriously hurt because of “Daggering”, as it went from being a song to being a dance and then something that couples did in bed.