Dancehall.mobi has the scoop today on a lawsuit instigated by producer Dave Kelly —
In Jamaican dancehall culture, “re-licking” a riddim has undoubtedly been a way of life. Almost monthly there seems to be a remake of a dancehall, reggae or rocksteady riddim that originated anywhere from just a few years ago to decades ago, often with no thought, care or compensation being made to its original composer or creator.
One veteran dancehall music producer however is not taking the re-lick of one of his creations so lightly. Dave Kelly, owner of Madhouse Records and producer of numerous classic dancehall riddims (including the Joyride, Bruk Out, Bug and Eighty-Five riddims) has reportedly sued for royalties off Linton ‘TJ’ White’s Unfinished Business riddim which was released last year. Notably, Dancehall.Mobi posted about the Unfinished Business riddim when it was just released, and highlighted that it sounded remarkably similar to Dave Kelly’s Showtime riddim which was released circa 1998.
The Unfinished Business riddim has spawned several local hits, and two international hits in Mavado’s “So Special” and Serani’s “No Games”, and White has acknowledged that the royalties from the riddim are presently tied up in litigation. It’s not known exactly how the proceeds from the sale and licensing of songs on the Unfinished Business riddim would be shared, but there are rumors that Kelly has claimed as much as 45% of the rights to the riddim.
Here are the two riddims in question, made available by Dancehall.mobi for the sake of comparison —
Showtime vs. Unfinished Business Riddims
To my ears, the only thing the two riddims have in common is the admittedly obvious and distinctive “hey” sample. I can’t recall any examples right now, but I don’t think Unfinished Business is the first riddim to re-use that particular sound. I wonder whether Kelly was even the first to use it — or where he sampled it from. As central and important as that little sample is, asking for 45% of the rights seems far too greedy, and dangerous.
The layers of hypocrisy run deep on this one. Plenty of Kelly’s riddims are themselves re-licks or employ recognizable (and presumably unauthorized) samples. The Eighty-Five riddim — which underpinned Cham’s huge hit “Ghetto Story” — quite clearly versions (and samples) the Sleng Teng.
Another of Kelly’s famous productions, the Playground riddim, centrally employs a sample from the Roots’ “Section.” [Oops: the Playground riddim was actually produced by Jeremy Harding, who I often confuse with Kelly for some reason.] And the Joyride riddim is audibly indebted — check that offbeat organ stab — to the riddim underlying, among others, Conroy Smith’s 1988 hit “Dangerous” (which, notably, is the first track in this bit of “Joyride” juggling posted to YouTube, showing how listeners/selectors connect Kelly’s riddim to the earlier production by Hyman “Jah Life” Right). [Hmmm: Gabriel rightly points out in the comments that the Jah Life version of “Dangerous” was produced later — 1996 it turns out — and hence is a re-lick of Joyride rather than vice versa, so I guess I will have to temper my criticisms here somewhat. Still, the overall thrust of my argument remains the same.] Indeed, it’s a wonder that Kelly hasn’t yet sued Christopher Birch over the similarities between Baddaz and Joyride, but maybe that’s because Baddaz has yet to produce equivalent hits to Mavado’s “So Special” and Serani’s “Playing Games.” So, the question for the suddenly litigious Mr.Kelly is: are you willing to give up similarly large chunks of the rights to your riddims to — among others, no doubt — King Jammy, the Roots, and Jah Life?
Hope so. Because if people start litigating around re-licks like this, the whole riddim system — which has for decades propelled the most prolific music industry in the world — is in danger of collapsing in on itself.
As I’ve argued (along with Peter Manuel), the riddim method has long operated as though rocksteady and reggae recordings were a creative commons from which musicians draw (relatively) freely. The adoption of international/US copyright law by Jamaica in the 1990s has thrown a wrench into what was an otherwise pretty organic cultural system (sure, it has its flaws, such as exploitative producers taking credit from day-laborer musicians, but that’s another issue; producers still get the spoils under current copyright).
Responses to riddim re-licking used to be more creative. As I wrote back in 2005, referring to David Katz’s oral history of reggae during the lawsuit between Scientist and Greensleeves —
perhaps it was better when these things, in lieu of any kind of laws in place or in practice, were simply settled musically. with no legal recourse available, sugar minott and coxsone dodd would simply stay one step ahead of the competition [note: for those unaware of the “ethnic” dynamic in jamaica, think of yellowman’s “mr.chin” as a kindler, gentler, perhaps more insidious “black korea”; which is to say, there’s a similiar dynamic happening there, but accented differently; note also, however, that minott dismisses such attitudes as immature–an important qualification]:
Though the advent of rockers stole the fire from Bunny Lee’s flying cymbal, the Revolutionaries’ habit of adapting Studio One rhythms naturally caused most offence at Brentford Road, particularly after many of Coxsone’s artists defected to Channel One. Coxsone’s greatest weapon in the war of styles turned out to be Sugar Minott, a man with his ear constantly on the pulse of Jamaica’s dancehall scene. ‘It was a living war with Channel One,’ laughs Minott. ‘They used to call me “Coxsone’s Boy.” When they made “I Need a Roof” for Channel One, I immediately knew what it was, because I’m an expert in music and rhythm [i.e., riddims] from [when] I was a kid. So I went to Coxsone and said, “Look, it’s “Mean Girl.” We went to buy a flask of rum, so I was hyped up, did over “I Need A Roof.” Me and Tabby them was friends, but I didn’t care because I was like “Channel One? I hate Chinese.” That was my thing in them times–I was young that way: “I’m not singing for no Chinese.” There was a next one called “Woman Is Like A Shadow.” Coxsone called me and said, “I want you to sing this music, listen that tune,” so I thought it was an old song from some old group that never came out and he wanted me to do it over, but I didn’t know it was a Meditations song that never even came out yet. I did over “Woman Is Like A Shadow” and it came out before the original, because the original used to play on the sound. When my version drop in, the whole of Baktu was looking for me–it was a war with Channel One. Every time they try to do a Coxsone song I go and tell him, so they came and fling bottle and stone to mash Coxsone’s studio. They had the force–everybody was following the Chinese. Somehow Coxsone and Joe Joe got in some fight and that was that.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, Joseph Hoo-Kim contests Sugar’s version of events. (p.227)
In short, lawsuits such as this one threaten the very vitality of Jamaican popular music. I hope Dave Kelly, who himself stands on the shoulders of giants, reconsiders. And I would urge the Jamaican government to reshape their IP laws in a manner that attends to distinctive local creative processes.
24 thoughts on “Showtime (for Lawsuits), Unfinished Business (for Lawyers)”
As always, good thoughts, Wayne. This is just depressing.
completely agree Wayne, there was a facebook discussion the other day generated by a video of a Japanese ‘dancehall’. some of the commentators raised the question of ownership and copyright instead of realizing that it can only benefit Ja music if a taste for it spreads far and wide.
and would Jamaican music exist today if the US had imposed draconian copyright laws on the music that trickled thru here in the 50s and 60s and was covered by singer after singer?
ehh, i think your lengthy quote from self/Katz demonstrates also that re-licking has always been contentious. shouldn’t law step in when all other recourses have failed? throwing bottles and stones at studio one is hardly sounds like things were “settled musically”, though given the way elections were settled in jamaica in the 70s, i’ll concede the point.
i get the vitality bit and that dave kelly is as much as a bandit as anyone else.
but the real issue i think you gloss over, ie “exploitative producers taking credit from day-laborer musicians, but that’s another issue” – in terms of producer vs. producer, yes, it’s another issue, but it is certainly *not* another issue to a musician. kelly claiming copyright infringement on a riddim cuts musicians out of the conversation entirely, and further legally establishes the producer’s exclusive right to the royalties, even if for many post-slengteng riddims, the producer often *is* the musician, though i sort of wonder if that’s what the lawsuit is really about.
also, 45% sounds hilariously arbitrary. he could have gone for 46!
Law should step in when bottles and stones (or worse) come into the picture, but musical battles don’t seem to call for that sort of intervention. Plus, i think the sticks-and-stones bit is more a lively detail than anything else, a way to underscore the seriousness of musical competition. (I mean, sheeeeet, the guys throwing the rocks had only been scooped on a riddim they were about to version/tief from Studio One! They weren’t actually the ones being “infringed,” to use an anachronistic term.)
I do think that the labor exploitation question is a central question. It’s a sidenote in the post above because, as you note, the distinction between musician and producer in this case is immaterial. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s right. I believe Dave Kelly plays/programs his own riddims, as do the other producers discussed here. Sure, sometimes there are “apprentices” of various sorts who receive too small a share of credit/capital/cash, though plenty of once hired-hands — incl, e.g., Lenky, Steely & Clevie, even Sly & Robbie — have often later enjoyed the opportunity to become producers in their own right.
All the lawsuit is about, IMO, is Kelly trying to cash in on a riddim that, after many months of unmolested success in Jamaica and the dancehall diaspora, is now finally showing itself to be a major money maker, climbing up US radio charts (with two hit songs, often medley’d), settling into heavy rotation on MTV (and, nd, BET too, soon as they get over the “careless use of women as writhing set dressings”). It just seems crass and opportunistic, claiming ownership over that “hey” figure. I mean, it’s great; it’s iconic; but it also feels like a collectively-owned gesture at this point, some funky-drummer filigree.
It’s an interesting development this one. I haven’t yet read the comments in full and I may write some more later and even do a post on it if/when I get time but just a few quick thoughts to throw in for now:
– While 85 clearly references Sleng Teng I don’t really buy that it’s a relick – for one thing it doesn’t employ the Sleng Teng bassline, which is both the most distinctive thing about the Jammy’s version (and in fact itself a borrow from Eddie Cochrane I think) and also from what I understand about what ‘defines’ a ‘riddim’ is the key thing. e.g. the key thing about Real Rock is its bassline – Real Rock versions like Cocoa Tea’s Rocking Dolly are thought to be on Real Rock because of the bassline only; Rocking Dolly has no references to the Real Rock horn or keyboard parts if I remember rightly
– The original Redman-produced 1980s version of Conroy Smith’s Dangerous is not on the Joyride riddim and doesn’t really sound like Kelly’s Joyride. I’ve always thought that the Jah Life Joyride (which presumably Smith revoiced Dangerous on in the 90s) was an acknowledge relick of Kelly’s production
– A lot of Studio 1 relicks (e.g. Warrior King’s Virtuous Woman, based on a John Holt song I can’t remember the name of) list C. Dodd as the composer and presumably the collecter of publishing/writing royalties (though of course this jumps the question of whether Dodd or the musicians should own the rights and collect the money!)
– Similarly, I’ve always assumed that Jammy is credited with ‘writing’ the multitude of Sleng Teng relicks (though what about Bobby Digital Dixon, Wayne Smith and Noel something or other who were involved in the Sleng Teng creation?) and certainly Lenky and Scatta were paid for Lumidee and Lil Jon’s usage/recreation of the Diwali and Coolie Dance riddims respectively
– TJ did the Show Off riddim in 2006 which I considered to be a relick of Showtime; the name also implies the link. When I heard TJ’s Unfinished Business I took the name to refer to the fact that he wasn’t done with relicking Showtime and was having another crack at it
– It’s not just the ‘hey’ sample in Unfinished Business but also the bassline which is very similar/the same as Showtime
Actually that wasn’t so short in the end was it? LOL
Ultimately I guess my feeling is Kelly is justified on this really.
Couple more things:
– I’m not sure TJ plays his own riddims; certainly the Beauty riddim (which is also heavily indebted to one of Kelly’s productios, the Bad Gal riddim) was played by Teetimus and Daseca.
– I don’t see Kelly as “just as much of a bandit as anyone else” – the only relicks of his I’m aware of are the Gangster riddim (http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=o7Iusv7S0pM) which uses a variation on the Real Rock bassline (but so does the Far East riddim in that all three basslines are based on the 1st and 5th of a scale) and a production for Terror Fabulous & Gary Minott called Yaga Yaga which is a hip hop beat with the Real Rock basssline. I’d be interested to know if Dodd or any Studio 1 musicians are credited with ‘writing’ Yaga Yaga?
“- It’s not just the ‘hey’ sample in Unfinished Business but also the bassline which is very similar/the same as Showtime”
Have to agree with Gabe on this one, and to maybe mention as a qualifier that whilst dancehall producers re licking big reggae/rock steady riddims is common, straight relicks of 90s+ era electronic dancehall riddims is perhaps less ubiquitous.
That said, whilst I think that Gabe makes some good points, particularly since IP today is much more zealously protected than it was say 40 years ago, I do agree with the overall thrust of your piece Wayne.
Thanks for the comments, Gabe and Droid. You raise some great points, a few of which I’ll try to address (before I have to get to class).
I see the point with regard to the basslines of Showtime and Unfinished Business. They both accent that ol 3+3+2/”bomp-bomp” beat with an emphasis on the tonic, dipping down to the flat seventh to affirm the tonal center. There are a few interesting differences, however: for one, the Showtime actually dips down to the 4th & 5th every four bars to provide a little more harmonic movement (and expectation for the return to the tonic), while the Unfinished Business simply cuts the bass out every four bars. Also, although this is but a superficial difference, the riddims are in different keys (Showtime is in D; Unfinished Business is in B), which might make them a little difficult to juggle as “versions” of the same riddim.
So between the “hey” figure and the bassline, I can certainly see Kelly’s claim that it’s a relick. At the same time, I could find you quite a number of riddims, esp from the 90s and 00s, that employ the very same, basic alternation between tonic and flat seventh. So Kelly would be hard-pressed to convince a judge/jury of Showtime’s originality on that point, bringing it back to the “hey” sample, which, far as I’m concerned, has been bequeathed to the dancehall lexicon at this point (though I don’t expect a judge/jury to go along with that interpretation necessarily).
With regard to riddim identity and basslines, Gabe, I think you’re only partly right. A riddim is definitely a (shifting) complex of features, often including basslines (perhaps even primarily), but also, as you note, melodic riffs, chord changes, and even distinctive timbres. These can change over time, as attending to the decades-long travels of any particularly popular riddim will attest. Any one re-lick might emphasize certain features, or drop some elements and add others, without losing an audible connection to the original riddim.
In that sense, although I think you’re right to sat that the Eighty-Five is not quite a version of the Sleng Teng (in the way that, say, Steely&Clevie’s version is), for me it definitely versions (as it samples) the Sleng Teng, for we can hear not only the deeply distinctive timbres of the Sleng Teng bubbling up through the Eighty-Five but we also hear bits of the melodic contour of the bassline too (though, significantly, these are filtered and muted rhythmically in such a way as to emphasize a 3+3+2 rhythm instead of the more continuous, rolling bassline for which the Sleng Teng is known). This may be an academic distinction, however. I guess you’d have to ask Jammy in this case (not to mention the musicians — and technologies — involved in producing the original).
Finally, Droid, you’re right to point out that relicks of 90s and 00s dancehall riddims have not (yet) become as common as relicks of classic reggae and rocksteady riddims. On the one hand, Unfinished Business and other “retro” riddims from the last few years testify to an emerging trend whereby even relatively recent dancehall riddims will be swept into the musical commons that so far has centered on riddims from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. On the other, it’s quite possible that new laws, new forms of crossover success, and newly litigious producers and musicians will nip all of that activity in the bud*. And what a sad story that would be for a musical culture that has truly thrived on allusion, creative reuse, and “derivative” works of all kinds.
*Or not, for despite the encroachment of copyright, the riddim method does seem to continue unabated, within and outside of Jamaica, with a lot of activity happening, as it will no doubt remain, under the radar. Hence, we come back to a situation where rich people sue other rich people, & why should we care about that?
my dissertation is being written without me, folks, wait up! Oh wait, it will be a relick of this discussion. heh.
I’d just like to echo wayne’s point about rich people suing rich people. That is really when the law gets involved. I’m a bit suspicious about liberal rhetoric relying on law to even up the score between rich and poor. It can happen, but I’m afraid law is just as well suited (or better) of being the tool of those who can afford lawyers. Given that there are as far as I know zero entertainment lawyers in Jamaica, the number of Jamaican artists who can benefit from the law directly seems worth examining. Even if we assume that entertainment lawyers themselves benefit musicians..
Also, producers in Jamaica are also likely to be ‘ripped off’ by artists who get a riddim produced, take it overseas and then register it with ASCAP under the artist’s name (or a label will do this).. once again, the explanation appears at least partly to be who has the power in the situation. Who has the international name recognition, or the access to lawyers and a legal infrastructure.
If labor exploitation is the question – then to me the answer would be as much about organization of labor as it would be depending on law to give individual laborers more rights (rights-in-principle at least)… am I showing my colors too much?
Just to clarify: “Gangster”, or as this version is mostly called, “Gangsters Anthem” isn’t a variation of real rock, but rather – bassline-wise – a 50/50 mixture of two riddims, Full Up and Rope In. Still, and even if you wouldn’t consider this one a relick, someone like Dave Kelly is obviously aware of the relick concept (i reckon he did a lot of the production work at penthouse in the early nineties before setting up Madhouse and X-Tra Large, and Penthouse obviously released their share of relicks); the real question would be if and how he went about licensing the riddims he re-worked.
By the way, concerning the “hey” sample: I think Kelly was the first to use it (at least in Dancehall), but it popped up fairly often since; the first one to re-use it, with a twist, was actually DK’s brother Tony for Bookshelf.
The real issue to me is the incredible drop of quality from Showtime to Unfinihsed Business. To take a iconic riddim like Showtime and turn it into something so flat and boring is really speaking volumes about the state of todays productions. If I were Kelly i would be insulted my name was in any way associated with this…
riddimbase in the haus!
Good points all. I’m not sure I necessarily agree about a quality drop-off, but that is one of the more interesting things to debate about this — and about derivative works in general (which are best when they justify their own existence, usually via some sort of originality). I guess I just find that kind of critique to be all too common in reggae discourse, like roots purists decrying anything post-sleng-teng.
One thing to note about Unfinished Business is that, like many (post-Diwali?) riddims, there are different synth lines and other kinds of embellishments added to various voicings (e.g., giving Serani’s “Playing Games” that lilting r&b line, or those ominous chords and organ smears to Mavado’s “So Special”). So it’s not really for lack of effort if it seems lacking. It works for me. I don’t find myself wanting more when I hear the full riddim+voicing combo.
& I also really like Showtime.
knutinho – yeah sorry you’re right it’s full up that i’ve heard people call gangster/gangster’s anthem – the mix with rope in explains why it doesn’t sound fully like full up (or like real rock LOL)
obviously kelly is well aware of jamaican relick culture (how could you not be as a dancehall fan or producer?) but i still don’t think there’s anything in his career that makes him a hypocrite for pursuing the unfinished business action. yes, donovan germain and penthouse are among the prime relickers in the business (and very good at it they are too) and yes kelly was involved with penthouse for a time. but the way kelly’s career has gone since he left and the stark contrast with penthouse really just shows how much an originator he is.
obviously, whether that makes his claim on unfinished business any more legitimate is another matter, i just thought it important to clarify that kelly is not your average dancehall producer who is constantly being accused of pirating, being derivative and ruining the music by lacking innovation etc.
i don’t agree about the quality drop off at all either, though i do agree that unfinished business sounds a bit flat and empty. the cuts i like and play out are mavado, serani and assassin all of which have a lot of extra synth business on them
wayne – with regard to riddim identity and basslines – yeah, I wasn’t saying that the bassline is the only important thing, but that there are examples where the bassline is the only thing that a relick version shares with the original, and that this is enough for it to still be considered a relick. as you say, the addition of other elements to a an old riddim don’t generally mean that suddenly the new version is considered not to be a relick of the original e.g. aren’t the horn parts on tristan palmer’s entertainment not featured on the original (don drummond?) heavenless? I may be wrong about that particular example but I’m sure there’s other instances of this kind of thing; indeed often the later additions become as recognisable as the earlier elements of a riddim and are used by producers doing even later relicks.
ripley – it’s interesting what you say about producers being ripped off by artists who register their riddims with ASCAP overseas. there was a dispute over tony matterhorn’s Dutty Wine where it happened the other way round – the producer supa hype sold the whole riddim to VP Records and when dutty wine became a hit, vp were able to feature it on their compilations etc and matterhorn had no say in it (I’m not sure about where the money went in the end)
on the wider point of whether getting lawyers etc involved and the fear that these kinds of actions might stop producers from relicking riddims and therefore mess up such an interesting and (paradoxically) creative part of dancehall/reggae culture – I’m agreed, I definitely don’t want to see that happen.
however, like wayne mentions with the baddaz/joyride riddim (and there’s loads of other examples – a german label relicked pepperseed a while back and I bet kelly doesn’t even know about it) – unless tunes are international/crossover hits, producers generally don’t seem to know, care or act upon it, which to me seems kind of fine.
it doesn’t seem to me wrong or unfair that there are different rules for what is under the radar and what gets massive. it’s true that it makes kelly look kind of greedy rather than a principled defender of his intellectual property, but if there is a load of money to be made from No Games and So Special becoming international hits, it seems that Kelly has a legitimate claim to part of hit.
another interesting point I think is that – ignoring the musical theory as to whether Showtime and Unfinished Business are related – among dancehall fans/djs it seems to be unanimously accepted that the latter is a relick of the former. and given that showtime was a MASSIVE hit – usually rated the ‘best’ riddim of one of dancehall’s most lauded producers, voiced countless times and used all over the world as a dubplate riddim – it’s easy to argue that a contributing factor in UB’s success in dancehalls is because of its association with Showtime. I doubt that’s an argument that holds any legal water though!
Great points, Gabe. I think it’s really important to be precise when we’re discussing this stuff — and to carefully qualify the ways in which Kelly has participated in relick/riddim culture. I didn’t mean to imply that he was as much a “bandit” as anyone else. There are clearly differing degrees of banditry/originality put forward by different producers. (And as my strikethroughs in the post above show, I was a little too eager to criticize Kelly for being just as “derivative” in his productions — that may not be true.)
I’m also glad that most of us are in agreement about what producers should “leggo” for the most part — that is, relicks/tributes that might move the diasporic dancehall massive, but as long as they’re under the (pop crossover) radar shouldn’t be the target of litigation. Of course, what do we know? That is, what could even an international consensus around this sort of thing do when such a strict interpretation of copyright is the current law?
Which brings me to another interesting/important point that emerges in our analyses — and I’m quite willing, despite my hedging in the comment above, to acknowledge that Unfinished Business is pretty clearly a relick of Showtime — that is: the difference between what might be understood as the connection between two versions by dancehall artists/audiences and what might be understood as too derivative a work by a judge/jury.
I’ve been involved with a few copyright cases, and the arguments that musical expert witnesses make can get extremely ridiculous insofar as they marshal musical minutiae while ignoring the cultural context that actually makes particular figures salient and meaningful. Thus, while it’s enough for us to hear the bassline, the “hey” figure, and the empty space in every 4th bar of Unfinished Business as all clearly nodding to Showtime, an expert witness for TJ would probably foreground such relatively meaningless features of Unfinished Business as its different key and its lack of a 4-5 turnaround in every 4th bar, while noting that riddims such as Bookmark have also used the “hey” figure, making it seem more like a common dancehall gesture than a particular sound copyrightable by Kelly.
Another example of what you describe, Gabe, with the way that new riffs can be added to old riddims (which might otherwise maintain their IDs via basslines, etc.) comes from my favorite example, the Mad Mad / Diseases. In particular, I’m thinking of the Golden Hen instantiation, which most selectors hear as connected (and hence jugglable) with Mad Mad / Diseases, but the new horn line gives Golden Hen a distinct identity as a version. Of course, that horn line, like the guitar riff more commonly associated with the Mad Mad, then becomes one of several elements that producers/musicians can pick and choose from in order to create yet another version within this riddim complex. (Sometimes I think the term “complex” can really help to understand the more-or-less loose constellation of musical figures gathered around a particular riddim, or a set of related ones.)
Really enjoying this discussion. Thanks to all!
One more thing that I remembered was Terror Fabulous’ “Yaga Yaga” LP, produced by Kelly and stuffed with relicks. Still, i get what Gabriel is saying, and i do think that the (artistic, not legal) judgement should also be based on what you are doing / have done as a producer. I think it’s definitely true that while Dave Kelly has done his share of relicks, his output is in no way dependent on them, and he did not make a name with them. They’re more side aspects of his work, but he is way more the producer of Bogle, Pepper seed, Joyride, Showtime, the Bug, Fiesta, Eighty Five and countless others, than he is a ripper-offer / “updater” of older riddims. (He also happens to be my favourite Dancehall producer, but nevermind ;)
Contrast that with a guy like Bobby Digital, who did a LOT of relicking in his early years and who is way more known for that than Dave Kelly would be, but also created his own, riddims (increasingly, as time progressed, although he still will throw out relicks today) like, for example, Peanie Peanie, Bulldozer or Kette Drum, which are, and, more importantly, were from the beginning probably just as much part of his output / legacy as his relicks. Steely & Clevie are another example in this vein – masters of relicking, but also (and even more than Bobby Digital) known for their own stuff.
And then contrast it with someone like TJ, whose claim to fame, at least for now, is Show Off / Unfinished Business, while the others I know from him – Bill Back and Scandal Bag (which is, by the way, one of the very, very few recent Bashment riddims I liked) went rather unnoticed. It’ll be interesting to see, what he does in the future (and i wonder if the success of Unfinished Business vs. this controversy makes him reconsider his plans, whatever they were).
Another aspect of this I find interesting, and wayne mentioned it, is that the whole thing is another sign of the 90s riddims being gradually added to the canon of “relickable” riddims; I think that started with Throwback Giggy and Inspector around 2005/2006, the former going back to the start of the nineties, the latter reaching back only 5/6 years to Bounce, produced by (sic!) Dave Kelly. Before that, everything from ~91 onward seemed to be off-limits (although I’m almost certain I’m leaving out some exception that proves the rule).
Indeed. And not just the 90s riddims now but also the 00s ones before the decade is even over!
Martial Arts -> Self Defense
Chrome -> Mercury Overdose
TJ’s Beauty is certainly similar to Kelly’s Bad Gal if not definitely a relick
and Brick & Lace did a new voicing on Diwali last year (which may even have been done by Lenky himself, I’m not sure).
Yeah, Scatta blew my mind with that rather minimal “version” of Martial Arts less than a decade after it first came out!
One thing to note here: although dancehall producers throughout the 90s and 00s continued to embrace the relick method with regard to well-worn riddims (e.g., those from the 60s-80s), it’s interesting that they’re also the first generation of producers to come up within a copyright system, so we might be seeing — perhaps unsurprisingly — some patterns emerging: among them, 1) producers primarily relicking their own riddims (which is nothing new, but perhaps we’ll see this to the exclusion of “rival” versions — but do we really want a world without rival versions?); and 2) producers suing other producers when a relicked riddim of their own makes enough money for it to be worth litigating for a cut.
Remains to be seen what sort of system emerges from those type of interactions.
Coming into this late and far, far too many tangents or points of conjecture to even begin on… but briefly.
Having interviewed Donovan Germain and Dave Kelly at Penthouse in their boomtime early-mid 90s period I was told by Germain himself that often his involvement in a rhythm was nothing more than walking into the studio and suggesting what would be good to re-lick (no small thing given Penthouses strike rate at the time). Given his considerable industry experience and the way that Penthouse churned out scorchers on those rhythms (but in their own distinctive style) I felt, then and now, that this showed considerable (and frankly untypical) humility from a studio owner/producer to not be claiming he was responsible for everything. Many (if not most) others that I interviewed were only too keen to claim credit for everything right down to vocal hooks and all sorts (and for a few like Danny Browne for example, I witnessed that that was definitely actually was the case, at least sometimes). It should also be remembered that Kelly and other Penthouse ‘engineers’ were coming up with their own highly inflammable (and versionable) original rhythms at that time too, something that Germain was also keenly generous in acknowledging.
I have long contended that Kelly is one of the few amongst the recent breed of producers whose rhythms are so distinctive and unique that they deserve re-licking, and that has proven to be the case. I think he is an exception in some ways too as he releases a fraction of what his contemporaries do, and yet manages more impact and quality control with almost every rhythm (i have always been bitterly disappointed by the stink rhythm, though stephen mcgregor liked it enough to basically do it over it as the ‘beehive’) that he releases. Knowing a little about how he works (then and now) I dont think that is by chance or taking the easy, well trodden route.
There is a lot else in the excellent discussion above I would love to comment on but ultimately I reckon his exceptional and unique status and refusal to churn out the rhythms with whomever was this weeks flavour or hanging around in the compound, gives him more leverage than most could claim.
Finally having interviewed King Jammy and Bobby Digital (a hard man to get many words out of!) about the birth of Sleng Teng they both credited Noel Davey as the main originator with a doff of the cap to Eddie Cochran (though Jerry Capehart gets written out of that one). After that you get into the tricky scenario of what a ‘producer’ is in Jamaica, and I have heard at least ten different version of that one from all sorts of horses mouths!
As ever thanks to Wayne for hosting such informed and worthwhile discussion.
Wow, Jim! Thanks much for dropping the knowledge gems. I’m really happy with how deep and rounded this conversation has grown. Let’s hope the lawyers are listening in ;)
Have you published any of these interviews anywhere?
Cheers Wayne, my pleasure. Bits and pieces from the interviews appeared in the short lived Planet magazine and a couple of other long gone publications. Mainly they were run on my radio show back then. Somewhere I should still have some handwritten transcriptions of some of the interviews (there were a lot) and somewhere else there are the (probably decomposing) original tapes. I’d love to say I’ll get them up on my StinkiInc but it’s probably wishful thinking. However in the next couple of weeks I’m hoping to start chucking up some more pictures from one of those trips (the one with a proper photographer!) with appropriate audio and comment.
yes, really good discussion here… big up wayne and all contribuitors…
only to add a point on sleng teng…
it was not really wrote by jammys or any other jamaican musician…
it is built in the casiotone keyboard.
drum and bassline was already done as rock rythm preset.
they only pressed play on the rythm, slowed it down and overdubbed some reggae keys chops, syndrums, etc…
so in fact, if there is copyright to this bassline, its for casio :-P
of course they used their creativity to transform a rock rythm on a dancehall reggae and change the reggae sound forever….
Yes good discussion. Stinky Jim is that you in N.Z.? :)
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