Hip Hop’s Reggae Roots (No Dreadlocks)


Hip Hop is a beautiful genre, always evolving and always incorporating the entire history of recorded music, and particularly Afro-diasporic genres, into itself. While even a casual fan can readily identify the jazz, soul, funk, and R&B influence in his or her favorite Hip Hop songs, one important genre’s impact is often ignored

Reggae differs from the aforementioned styles in one important respect — geography. The feel and sound of the music is tied to the development of one country and one religion

The history of Jamaica is endlessly fascinating — a melange of slavery, colonialism, resistance, struggle, depression, and more. The country’s black presence, which began with the 17th century slave trade, ensured that African influence in the island’s music would be overwhelming. That, mixed with the heavy impact of the indigenous Rastafari movement, brought a unique sound to the island

The genre doesn’t have much to do with hip-hop in terms of sound. What is similar, though, is the lyrical performance of the styles. Jamaicans.com describes the history of the delivery style that came to be known as “Toasting”:

Contrary to what many may say, Rap can trace its origins directly from Jamaican Dub Reggae & Jamaican style toasting. It is a fact that isn’t talked about by many in the main stream media but many of the early pioneers (DJ Herc) and newer rappers (Busta Rhymes, Notorious B.I.G and Redman) in the American rap era are Jamaican immigrants or children of Jamaican immigrants in NY…Jamaican dejaying came out of a form a rhyming and talking over music called “Toasting”. Rapping began as a variation on the toasting.

The man mentioned above, DJ Kool Herc (real name Clive Campbell), isn’t simply an “early pioneer”. By many accounts, he invented the genre. He was likely the first DJ to extend the “break” of a record, thus setting the stage for hip-hop as we know it

DJ Kool Herc, NYC

While Herc’s favorite Jamaican jams were quickly abandoned for more popular funk and soul breaks at his early 70’s parties, what he didn’t change was Toasting. He would emcee the parties he threw — exhorting people to dance, praising the crowds, and so on. Soon, he was outsourcing these duties to a crew who took the name The Herculoids. This group included Coke LaRock, who is often credited as hip-hop music’s first rapper

One of today’s more popular Hip Hop songs with obvious Reggae flair: Kanye West — Mercy