Stage Show Excerpt & Counter Canonical Discourse

If we’re listening for the presence of Jamaica in hip-hop (and hence in NY/US/worlwide), we could attend to such a thing on any number of levels: 1) the occasional 3+3+2; 2) the influence of dub engineering on hip-hop mix aesthetics (e.g., echo, layering, lowend); 3) double-time, flip-tongue, fast-chat flows; 4) accents, cliches, Rasta mantras, and various textual/lyrical references (incl cover songs and interpolated hooks); 5) actual allusions via musical motifs, sampled and sung (a la the Zunguzung meme) —

Another way to get at such a thing would be to take stock of the specific reggae records that have become staples in the crates of hip-hop DJs — the sorts of sides one hears, almost as a matter of course, at hip-hop events across the US. With the exception of the odd Bob Marley joint, these records are mostly dancehall reggae, esp from the early 90s and around the turn of millennium (see, e.g., this tracklist). This alternate oeuvre offers an interesting representation of reggae, departing significantly from the core repertory for, say, reggae selectors (in the US or elsewhere, bashment or roots). In that sense, given the difference with respect to what might be thought of as a more authoritative position on reggae, hip-hop’s reggae selects a special slice of the genre — and speaks volumes about hip-hop.

It also says a lot about canons. What makes the reggae selector’s reggae canon, for example, any more legitimate (or revealing about reggae’s character) than the hip-hop DJ’s reggae canon? What might hip-hop’s take on reggae tell us not only about hip-hop but about reggae? What would we lose by overlooking hip-hop’s “counter canon,” if you will? I’m not crazy about the term — or about perpetuating canonization — but what I like about the idea of the “counter canon” is the way it decenters canon’s commonplace claim to truth about greatness, calling attn instead to the role of perspective, to (contextual) differences in aesthetic values, to the subjective rather than objective nature of what comes to define a genre.

I’m not prepared to offer an in-depth treatise on hip-hop’s reggae “counter canon” on this humble blog at the moment, but I bring all of this up in order to throw it out there — I suspect there are parallels to other dialectical if asymmetrically interpenetrating formations (to coin a phrase), and I’d love to hear some ideas along those lines — and because last night’s gig proved no exception.

Typically Zebo, Hess, and Chump tend to keep it pretty hip-hop-centric on Monday nights, if with the occasional dip into reggae, bmore, and general clubb eclectica. For my guest visit, tho, they decided to devote the night to reggae. Although I was impressed with the range and depth of the reggae selections they pulled out, including plenty of tracks I’d never heard, I was also happy to hear lots of the classics I figured I would hear (and which I therefore left out of my own set — for the most part — lest I be scooped): Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam,” Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote,” Mad Cobra’s “Flex,” Shabba Ranks’s “Ting-a-Ling,” and so on.

Toward the end of my set, which otherwise mixed 80s digi dancehall (via Jammy’s, Tubby’s, Winston Riley, George Phang) and a fair number of early 90s classics (Super Cat, Cutty Ranks, Buju, Shabba), I started dropping in some more recent reggae/hip-hop remixes, which perhaps point to another (emerging) area of activity in all of this overlap. If nothing else, they offer yet another way to play reggae to a hip-hop crowd, familiar acapella as anchor.

During one mini-set within my set — jugglin riddimcentric as reggae mixes often do — I dropped a number of tracks on Dave Kelly‘s relatively recent Stage Show riddim. If the dancehall tracks themselves weren’t already replete with references to contemporary hip-hop (check Cham’s verse, e.g.), I segue into a couple remixes putting hip-hop pellas ‘pon top. So after the official voicings by Cham, Assassin, and Spice & Pinchers, you’ll hear Ross Hawg — whose been cooking up a slew (stew?) of specials along these lines — walking it out, followed by DJ C mekking you know why we ot, as Junior Reed puts it. At the end of the segment I couldn’t resist dropping a DJ Funk-produced juke remix (via) of that ubiquitous Mims track, which lasts almost as long as the preceding dancehall/hip-hop medley. Sound for thought —