Deadsplinter Up! All Night: Dancehall

Dancehall reggae started in Jamaica during  the 70’s as a stripped down version of reggae but by the 80’s was its own super popular type of reggae in both Jamaica and internationally.   It evolved during the government transition away from socialism and towards capitalism as inner city Kingston residents were not allowed in the dances uptown.  Many of the older rhythms of the 60’s were recycled with new voices and lyrics. Much of the rhythms came from King Tubby who was a sound engineer and would create vocal-less backing tracks that toasters/singers would use.  Sugar Minott, who was working as a studio musician at Studio One would put his own voice and lyrics over old rhythms and is believed to be the originator of this style. 

By ’81 a new generation of dancehall toasters had taken over the Jamaican music scene and toasting was more popular than singing.  Digital recording took this to another level as sampling and musician-less rhythms became easier to achieve.  Battles (think rap battles) with head to head deejay competitions took place at dancehalls sometimes ending in violence as loyal followers clashed over their favorites.  One of the most successful artist to come out of early dancehall was Yellowman.  He became the first Jamaican deejay to be signed by a major American label and at his peak was as big as Bob Marley in Jamaica.  He was the most unlikely of stars, being abandoned by his parents due to being born an albino and grew up in an orphanage being shunned by his fellow orphans.  Much of his earlier music like much of the dancehall of the time was about his sexual prowess like his huge hit Zungguzungguguzungguzeng.

I saw him after his King Yellowman album, a much lesser known act at the time Shabba Ranks opened for him who would go on to become a huge international hit. 

But my favorite “Ranks” of the time was Nardo Ranks.

The genre is not all men though, acts like Sister Carol, Lady G & Shelly Thunder were also extremely popular.

I could go on, this genre doesn’t lack colorful characters but on with the show…  Thank you for your continued support of DeadSplinter.



  1. I remember the first time my friends and I heard Yellowman. Holy hell, he was something else. One of the things that appealed to me was the number of women toasting instead of just singing back up like most reggae. Sister Nancy was one of the biggest dancehall stars.
    Bam Bam

  2. Awesome stuff. I guess I was introduced to dancehall when I saw Sister Carol sing her amazing Wild Thing cover at the end of the movie Something Wild. That made me a huge fan of hers and got me seeking out more of that stuff.

    Sister Carol – Love in the Morning

  3. Got new masks for work. Huzzah!
    The side of the box sez made in Hubai province. Hubai… where Wuhan is located.
    Not so much huzzahs.
    Basic principle of leadership is “Leader first.” Put on my mask (with great reluctance.)
    Still not crazy about it, but I doubt I’ll get sick wearing it.

  4. David Bowie – Let’s Dance

    Two interesting bits of trivia about this song:

    1. SRV was super pissed when the video came out showing Bowie playing to SRV’s solo.
    2. Nile Rodgers (who produced the Bowie album) was asked to play guitar on Mariah Carey’s debut album. When he got to the studio he asked the producer what he wanted and was told to play what he did on Let’s Dance. So, they ran a track and he played his part. Then the producer asked him to play the other stuff. Rodgers asked him what other stuff he was talking about. The producer said, “the blues stuff”. Rodgers had to point out to him that he neither played, nor could he play, it because that was Stevie Ray Vaughan.

    • I love the Beat! Saw what is left of them about 5 years ago, never got to see them in the day. They did a great dancehall type tune with the great Pato Banton.

  5. A local dance fav with a slight reggae beat with Akon who was in every song it seemed a decade ago.

    A friend of mine looks like Shaggy. I tease him about it from time to time. One time a couple of guys at work and I “sang” this song to him. He was only slightly amused.

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