International Reggae Day to celebrate Jamaica’s influence on hip hop

Jamaican DJ Kool Herc is regarded as the father of hip hop music. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)

The continuing impact of Jamaican culture on hip hop’s evolution will be the key focus of International Reggae Day (IRD), set for July 1, 2020.

The annual 24-hour media festival will be celebrating the seminal figures responsible for marrying the musical streets of Kingston with those of New York, where the birth of hip hop is credited to sound system icon, DJ Kool Herc. The Trenchtown native migrated to the United States in 1967 at age 13 and rose to become one of the most sought-after DJs in the mid-1970s. Herc created the prototype for hip hop music by employing the toasting style of Jamaican sound systems and isolating and looping the breaks (danceable sections) of funk records.

‘We want to add our voice and spotlight to the story of the creators and innovators who were integral in that journey.’

— Andrea Davis

IRD principal Andrea Davis told BUZZ that 2020’s theme resonates with the increased visibility of Jamaica’s connection to hip hop, as well as Herc’s 65th birthday. “We want to add our voice and spotlight to the story of the creators and innovators who were integral in that journey. The evolution has not been just now, it moves not only from the introduction of the sound system format but in the attitude, style and fashion that Jamaica continues to influence on the hip hop culture,” Davis said. “We are definitely working towards doing something special with Herc. The year will be filled with a number of activities, even here in Jamaica to highlight his contribution to hip hop music, and so I expect Jamaica will hear a lot about him in the coming year.”

Herc, whose given name is Clive Campbell, was a graffiti artist and dancer before spinning records in the South Bronx as a teenager. He withdrew from the music scene after being stabbed at a party, a move which crippled his opportunity for mainstream success. His contribution to hip hop music is, however, recognised by the genre’s community, and created a template for other DJs like Grandmaster Flash to further develop.

Davis is keen on highlighting both past and present game changers in the cross-fertilization of Jamaican and hip hop culture. As per custom since its inaugural staging in 1994, IRD is partnering with media across the world to orchestrate activities rooted in the festival’s theme.

‘We’re looking to partner with a number of entities in Jamaica to create a presence and activity schedule here.’

— Andrea Davis

 “We have already been engaged partners overseas and are in the planning process for events in London, Lagos, Nigeria, and we’re working on something special for New York,” she said. “We’re looking to partner with a number of entities in Jamaica to create a presence and activity schedule here, and we’ll be announcing those early next year.”

Nicki Minaj is among rap artiste whose music has been influenced by reggae.

Among the activities are the yoga dub sessions (from Bali to Honolulu) and Reggae 360 network which offers retail specials on “things Jamaican”. While the sound system culture helped to weave the relationship between Jamaica and hip hop, it is upheld by the constant sampling of reggae and dancehall music, and the use of Jamaican song-writing construction by hip hop acts.

Nicki Minaj’s 2019 single Megatron is one such example, sampling Danny Browne’s 1997 Filthy rhythm. Then there are works by Drake, Rihanna, Justin Beiber, Beyoncé et al, which also fit the profile. Davis hopes the occasion will be illuminating in pushing Jamaican popular music commercially. “Hip hop is viewed as a lifestyle culture, the same can be said about Jamaican music. In this moment of celebration, we want to highlight some of the best practices and lessons learnt so we can continue to tweak our strategies, and explore how we maintain our visibility in the market as an industry, harnessing and translating it economically…much the way hip hop has done for the Jay Z’s of this world,” Davis added.