is this the stuff that's covered in that lloyd bradley book? my mate lent me a copy about 4 years ago, made it sound really interesting, but i havent got round to reading it yet. said it talks a lot about social, economic and political background.Fuck it. May as well go all in.
Digital laid the ground for a break from the studio system that had been in place since the late 60's by stripping away barriers to entry. Once you could lay down a riddim on a $50 keyboard the jig was up. Its no coincidence that Jammy's was the last big studio to have an overarching dominance. So what happens then is that you have assistants, engineers & musicians who take the opportunity to set up on their own. Bobby Digital was one of Jammy's guys, Steelie & Cleevie were his house band, Collin 'Bulbie' York started at Roy Francis' Mixing Lab label, Tony Kelly was an assistant engineer at Tuff Gong, Dave Kelly was a producer at Penthouse for Germain before setting up madhouse. You even get deejays and singers producing tunes, Ninjaman & Tiger both broke through with self produced records, 'protection' and 'no wanga gut'. Low costs also led to a proliferation of new operations, Patrick Roberts' Shocking Vibes, Lloyd Dennis' Pickout, Crat Recordings (reportedly financed by the Gullyman Posse), and dozens, maybe hundreds more...
So, only a couple of years after Sleng Teng you suddenly have a ton of new studios & new producers who can put out tunes with just drum machines, synths and keyboards. You have people experimenting with different rhythms and styles; there's the pocomania craze of '89 based on the tresillo with Gregory Peck's pocoman jam leading to a mini trend, there's the bhangra influence, and then there's the son clave which (via mento) is more or less the basis for the riddim that led to ragga & the dancehall bum-bum-tisch - 88's Punaany. Punaany changed the game completely, it reduced the bass to individual pulses rather than full basslines & had a sparser, more predictable (and easily replicated) drum pattern which gave more space to the deejay. Even though this became the dominant rhythm in dancehall from the mid 90's on, perhaps the most important aspect of Punaany was its minimalism - strip out the marimba sound and you basically have just kick, bass and snare - and this sparseness was exploited brilliantly by Dave Kelly in the early 90s.
WRT deejays, I dont think you can overestimate the influence Shabba had, not lyrically, but in terms of success. Suddenly you could win Grammys and be a huge star by deejaying about guns & girls. Shabba was the template for almost everyone that came after and his achievements became the benchmark at a time when US labels were hoovering up Jamaican talent, Supercat, General trees, Patra, Tiger, Lieutenant Stitchie, Capleton, Mad Cobra - all got deals with US majors. This coincided with demographic, socio-economic and political factors. The birth rate in Jamaica peaked around '68-'69 and stayed high until the mid 70's, so by the late 80's there would have been a peak in the number of 18-25 year olds. In 1983 commonwealth immigration into Britain was basically stopped dead. Around the same time there was a crackdown on gangs in JA after a decade of political sponsored violence and CIA and World Bank interference. There was already high immigration to the US in the 60's and 70's but in the 80's about 210,000 Jamaicans travelled to the US (and presumably many more illegals), the vast majority to New york and the East Coast, and a significant number of these were political gunmen and gang members who become involved in the drug trade, using political and gangland contacts in Jamaica to establish new cocaine shipping routes into the US. With a new, ready made audience, the New York dancehall scene blossoms providing a new avenue to success for dancehall artists. NY based Addies, along with Jaro and Saxon become one of the most successful soundsystems of the late 80s and early-mid 90s, shifting away from the predominant mode of 80s soundclash (live deejays and singers over 45's) to international juggling and dubplate based clashes. The dubplate economy quickly becomes one of the most lucrative sources of income for deejays, who now have the prospect of making thousands of dollars in a single dub cutting session.
Dubplate money, stageshow bookings, access to the US, potential stardom, no real musical skill required... All in all, this makes for a very attractive proposition for young Jamaican men. Deejays flood the market, slackness becomes mainstream, every lyrical niche is filled and within three or four years the face of dancehall has changed dramatically...
Obv there's much more to all this, and one thing I would stress is that there were many overlapping and contradictory currents, in fact one of the best things about the period is the fact that Conroy Smith, Major Mackerel and Buju could all have hits at the same time, or that Dennis Brown and Sleepy Wonder could share a riddim (in fact that lack of diversity is the biggest hole in modern dancehall) but the trends are there and we all know where they led.