Whenever Jamaican music comes up in international spaces, there is often mention of reggae, and little or no acknowledgement of other genres. Sean Paul makes the musical distinction between reggae and dancehall in a recent interview with Pitchfork, and even discloses his top dancehall tunes of all time.
Hits from the 80s account for the bulk of Paul’s list, including Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam, Wayne Smith’s Under Mi Sleng Teng and Johnny Osbourne’s Buddy Bye. Tenor Saw’s 1985 sound clash classic Ring the Alarm also made the cut.
“Tenor Saw was 19-years-old when he started to control Jamaican music and what we started to call a dancehall singer,” Paul said. “It was the movement just coming out of what reggae is, different style of riddim, so it’s definitely a more reggae-oriented rhythm but the stuff he’s doing on it was uniquely different.”
Another youngster, Koffee, makes his list with Toast.
“Every few years in dancehall someone comes out with a vibe, a voice… Tenor Saw back in 1981, he came in with a force and so did this young girl… Big up to you Koffee, you just won a Grammy, salute.”
He even identified a commonality between their lyrical flow.
“What’s very unique about Koffee is, I’ve been one of them who likes to try and twist my rhymes up so people kinda listen two times like, ‘what?’… And she does it amazingly in this song and many songs that she does, the wordplay.”
The 90s are represented too, and Super Cat’s Ghetto Red Hot is another favourite of Paul’s. The track was produced by Tony Kelly who also produced Paul’s Deport Dem and Like Glue.
“I call him (Super Cat) my father in the business, especially because every time I heard his songs I was always full of euphoria, his voice has something about it,” he said. “People in my school would be telling me, ‘You sound like Cat’, so I looked up to him very much in the business.”
He also cites Shabba Ranks as an inspiration, and included Twice My Age (featuring Krystal) in the mix.
“Shabba Ranks is one of my favourite artistes, just for his heavy barreling voice. I always wanted to command people with my voice the way he did. Shabba Ranks not only sang this song but many different hits that led me to want to deejay. He would embrace things that people at the time didn’t want to embrace about themselves. He’d come on and say, ‘I’m ugly’… I didn’t think he was ugly but he would say it. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and he’s a very great character, someone who mi just rate.”
Other tracks on his list include Dawn Penn’s No, No, No, Murder She Wrote by Chaka Demus and Pliers, and his 2002 hit, Get Busy.
“It’s been one of my biggest songs, I open most of my shows with this song,” he said. “I was using terminologies like ‘get busy’, I think I learned that from hip hop. At the time I was so enthralled with the mixture of those two music, hip hop and dancehall.”