When Jamaican Reggae Met Miami Bass
When Jamaican Reggae Met Miami Bass
Hip-hop’s deep foundation in Jamaican toasting is well documented, but the mixing of music between the Caribbean island and the States reaches further south than the Bronx. Throughout the 70s and 80s, artists who contributed greatly to the rise of reggae in Jamaica, including Joe Gibbs, Ernest Ranglin, Inner Circle and Noel “King Sporty” Williams, were playing a role in the development of music in Miami. These influential reggae pioneers were involved in Miami recordings that varied from rap, funk, disco and electro. And the role of Jamaicans and other Caribbean people in the music business of South Florida in many ways contributed to the success of the region’s homegrown genre of Bass music.
As a reggae producer, Joe Gibbs was behind many of Dennis Brown’s most notable hits, including “Money in My Pocket.” The founder of the Amalgamated label and other imprints, Gibbs got his start in the rocksteady era, working with Lee “Scratch” Perry and Bunny Lee, before going on to contribute to reggae’s development producing for the likes of Gregory Issacs, Jacob Miller, Freddie McGregor, Culture and Beres Hammond.
Gibbs set up his Joe Gibbs Music outfit in the Opa-Locka area of South Florida after leaving Jamaica in the 1970s. Most releases on the label were strictly reggae, but a couple from an act called Xanadu stand out as early examples of female rap. “Sure Shot” is a “Rapper’s Delight” type of track complete with “Mary, Mary, quite contrary” nursery rhymes, while “Rocker’s Choice” smoothly interpolates Chic’s “Good Times” with a reggae skank. It’s a sound that may very well have been rocking parties in late 70s Miami, where the Caribbean influence was steadily rising during a wave of immigration from Jamaica and other islands.
The leading Miami-based label during the 60s and 70s was Henry Stone’s disco and soul based TK Records, which released and distributed seminal hits from KC and the Sunshine Band, George McRae and Betty Wright, to name a few. (The influence of junkanoo from the Bahamas on TK’s early disco sound is also worth noting–many of the musicians who played on the label’s releases, including the original Sunshine Band, were Bahamian). Around the time of TK Records’—and disco’s— decline, King Sporty’s Tashamba and Konduko labels were among the imprints keeping Miami’s dance music flag waving with a plethora of eletro-funk/dance/disco releases.
The Jamaican-born King Sporty’s contributions to reggae prior to his arrival in Miami have been noted on LargeUp previously –among other things, he was the co-writer of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier.” Some Sporty-produced tracks like Der Mer’s “Fall Out” were typical of the early Miami Bass sound that was gaining popularity in the mid ’80s for its ability to rattle trunks around town. Harris Mazyck’s “Hang On” has the feel of a lot of 80s era synth-heavy R&B. Two more notable tracks on Konduko or Tashamba produced by King Sporty prominently featured rap: Youth MC’s “Funky Fresh Beat” (1986) and Classy III’s “Live & Let Die” (1985).
Miami is also where King Sporty and Ernest Ranglin collaborated for a half-reggae, half-funk album in 1983. King Sporty produced the From Kingston J.A. … to Miami U.S.A. album for Ranglin on his Konduko label, with the “Kingston J.A.” side of the album being roots reggae based, and the “Miami U.S.A” side containing disco and funk.
Ernest Ranglin is widely considered to be Jamaican music’s greatest guitarist. He played on seminal records (including Theophilus Beckford’s “Easy Snapping”) for Jamaican recording behemoths including Federal Studios and Studio One in the ’50s, and on many of Chris Blackwell’s early releases on Island Records, including Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop”, which he arranged. Decades and numerous classic recordings later, in the late 1980s, he found himself in Miami. In 1988, Rooney Records released what might be the most unlikely track of his long and storied career: a collaboration with Miami electro/bass producer James MCauley, aka DXJ of Maggotron. (Maggotron is considered a creative pioneer in Miami Bass, though it gained popularity, mainly overseas, well after the decline of Miami Bass).
“Phantoms of the Bass” is pretty typical of the Maggotron sound at the time, with an 808-bass heavy sound accompanied by vocal sampling. But it also has some quirky guitar riffs in Ernest Ranglin’s signature style sprinkled throughout. A year later, Ranglin would release an album We Want to Party on Rooney Records that was focused more on his usual jazz-reggae sound.