Though it is common practice for writers and music lovers to codify some Jamaican music and artistes as ‘dancehall’, the reality is, dancehall hasn’t stopped by the musical genre BBQ in over a decade. The sound that has been generated and produced beyond Kingston studios in the past 10 years musically defies what dancehall is and has instead transcended to a new genre called ‘one beat’, which has steadily popularised.
While the term, ‘one beat’, may be foreign to some, the sound is familiar to all. Coined by ethnomusicologist Dr Dennis Howard, ‘one beat’ is an umbrella term for the genre-defiant sound that has represented Jamaican music since 2009, blending afrobeat, reggae fusion and Anglo-American styles with dancehall elements.
Pause for a cause, think Koffee’s Toast. The 2018 song is labelled ‘reggae’ by Itunes, but defies the one-drop beat that has made reggae identifiable since the late 1960s. Toast does not fit into dancehall either, as foundation instruments like the Casio MT-40 and Yamaha DX100 are replaced by the dense clap and bass signature of the Roland TR-808. The afrobeat and pop influence also pervade, making Toast a one beat song.
Without getting too technical, here are some ways in which one beat music dominated the local music scene this decade.
More genre-defiant artistes rose to the fore
Popcaan isn’t just the ‘unruly boss’, he is also the ‘one beat boss’, according to Howard. Since doing his initial recordings 12 years ago, Popcaan has built a genre-bending catalogue, primarily working with producers Notnice and Dre Skull. Everything Nice (2014) is a perfect example of this, as the ‘chill’ track sees Poppy finessing a sing-rap style over a beat which is as emo as it is genreless. He escapes the dancehall label again on other tracks like Addicted, Silence, Way Up, I’m in Control (with AlunaGeorge) …even his new EP, Vanquish, rides the one beat wave. Then there are artistes like Alkaline, Konshens, Shenseea, Jada Kingdom, Vybz Kartel and Kranium who contribute to the space, some of whom continue to top streaming lists each year with one beat records.
Supported new producers
New sounds are made possible by new technology and sometimes new producers. The decade saw the rise of many producers who incorporated more of that 808 sound in their productions. Rvssian saw success locally making one beat songs like Straight Jeans & Fitted and Hi recorded by Kartel, to this year’s Blessed recorded by Shenseea and Tyga. DASECA and Chimney Records experimented with big, orchestral-inspired starts as heard on Dexta Daps’ Shabba Mada Pot and Jah Vinci’s Guide Me. There is also Shabdon Records and Hemton Music, who have prided themselves on being the Mecca of trap dancehall for the past five years. So Unique Records, TJ and even Romeich Entertainment have also helped to generate the one beat sound.
It stirred debate
When the term ‘reggae revival’ emerged in 2013, it created international interest as news media from across the world wanted to zero in on this new genre coming from Kingston’s music scene. Its frontmen included Protoje, Chronixx and Kabaka Pyramid, and this ‘revival’ was explorative beyond the one-drop aesthetic of reggae music which can be heard in Gyptian’s Serious Times (2005) and Dennis Brown’s To the Foundation (1981).
Reggae revival, or reggae fusion, raised debates on the relevance of reggae, equally the case with the rise of trap dancehall in recent years. Described by its performers as a marrying of dancehall and trap music, trap dancehall also falls under the one beat umbrella and is heavily rooted in the 808 sonic. The genre has stirred debate in the past five years, with some producers like Danny Browne labelling it knock-off hip hop, and artistes like Bounty Killer blasting its frontmen for the audacity of associating the sound with dancehall.
Now, it must be said that when dancehall was dubbed a genre in the 1980s, some folks blasted the name as dancehall was a space. Others also criticised the genre for promoting slack, uneducated and talentless artistes. Despite the noise, dancehall has birthed some of our favourite performers and songs which are still being sampled by the megastars of the world. It’s fair to say that history is repeating itself with the uproar one beat music has caused this past decade, and one can only imagine where the genre will reach in another 10 years.