Jamaican born musician, DJ Crooks, is a Los Angeles DJ and music producer known for both reggae and dancehall tracks. In the spirit of a true music connoisseur, Crooks has been vocal on social media in exploring the differences between two well-loved genres: reggae and dancehall. The question he has posed to his followers is simply, what is the difference? That really got us thinking. We know what the difference is on the surface, but what is the philosophical difference for music lovers all over the globe?
Both genres are Jamaica's music. Jamaican millennials, who became acquainted with the dancehall scene in the late '80s, consider the genre the number one music for parties and street dances. Reggae can be considered it's older cousin, with many baby boomers enjoying tracks from early pioneers such as Desmond Dekker, Gregory Isaacs and, of course, worldwide reggae music proliferator Bob Marley. Today, it seems as though the island has room for both music genres; as they equally dominate the sound systems of Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Vogue magazine recently covered Jamaica's roots-reggae revival, highlighting the rise of conscious artists such as Protoje, Chronixx, Jesse Royal, Kelissa McDonald, Addis Pablo and Kabaka Pyramid. The youthful infusion of conscious lyrics backed by a full band has sparked a renewed interest in the genre with many millennials; who originally considered reggae their parent's music. But besides the tempo, the delivery, the language and the philosophy behind the music, what is the difference between reggae and dancehall, from an artists' perspective?
KingstonToLA recently caught up with DJ Crooks and several musicians to continue exploring the question.
What is the difference between reggae and dancehall?
"In the beginning, it was all reggae, or ska, or mento or whatever was going on at the time. The dancehall was (the name of) the party spot. Evidence can even be gathered from lyrics of the era, when artistes would claim they came to "ram dancehall," meaning they came to pack out the venue. As music in general evolved, dancehall became branded by the energy level, the rhythm, the content and several other things, but more so ... it became (Jamaican) Caribbean party music.
I find it similar to the evolution of house music, which now falls under the broad EDM category. House music got categorized by big warehouse parties in Chicago. The DJs would bump disco, garage, electro pop and other dance music, that stuck to the high tempo and four to the floor vibe. So house music became the kind of music you'd play at a warehouse party... just like dancehall music is the music you'd play at a dancehall party. If reggae is Jamaican music, dancehall is Jamaican club music ... club reggae if you will. Fast forwarding from the 70s ... the difference in reggae vs dancehall, some say its tempo, some say it's lyrical content.
In 2016, dancehall music is all about high energies, merging into EDM like tempos and sounds, sticking to its party culture; it went on to be its own thing though it still falls under the reggae umbrella. Reggae music in 2016 has found its own fusions, drum and bass driven, live instrumentation with a modern feel that's similar to a merge of DUB and hip-hop with positivism and knowledge," says DJ Crooks.
"Really and truly, dancehall is the child of reggae music just like reggae is a child of ska & rocksteady. Dancehall might be an unruly child but it is still a sub-genre of reggae. Nuff reggae artistes still dabble in the dancehall world, like Sizzla for example, who was the top artiste in both reggae and dancehall, with other artistes such as Capleton.
Dancehall is still a sub genre of reggae but to me dancehall is more of a classification. Reggae music is in the scope of consciousness, righteousness, inclusion and having fun. Dancehall introduced certain ideas such as the "skin out gyal" ting and "badman ting." It still has its roots in the reggae music as you still have artistes crying for peace and addressing social injustices, so there's still social commentary within the dancehall music," says Hannah.
"Dancehall and reggae music are father son genres. Reggae music being the father which was evolved from ska and mento. Both can be identified by the core structure of Jamaican music the one drop, difference would be in tempo and progression. Dancehall has a more aggressive progression structure and faster tempo, but at the end of the day, drum and base is what sets the tone and vibe for both. Reggae music has a more international appeal solely due to Bob Marley and The Wailers.At the end of the day the world needs to identify reggae and dancehall as Jamaica's music. We invented it, it's God's gift to us no different from oil or gold being a gift for other countries," says Vision.
"Dancehall, much like hip-hop, was influenced by DJ parties. Just like hip hop, it is berthed from DJS playing segments of songs. Loops. Thus, when you are segmenting music, rather than creating whole pieces of music, you create a more short, hard sound, which is how dancehall is different from reggae," says Old Habits.
"Regarding the difference of reggae and dancehall, in my point of view, there a few aspects where differences can be seen, starting with the musical aspect. Tempo wise, reggae is normally within the bpm range of 75-80. While dancehall lies within 95-110 or even more. Reggae is more or less played by live instruments starting from guitar, keyboard, trill brass, trumpets etc, and of course drums n bass. While dancehall started with the introduction of electronically or via computer programmed beats.
Topic wise, reggae is highly influenced by the Rastafari movement. So, therefore, a huge range of reggae songs considering topics that focus on Rasta's beliefs, Jah, The system (babylon), ganja consumption, ghetto life, etc. While dancehall also covers topics like violence, gangster image, sexuality (slackness), material stuff like clothes, shoes, money etc...
Also the look, the styles of listeners or fans of the corresponding music genres varies. While the majority of reggae fans grow dreadlocks, wear beige, khaki and similar colored clothes, wearing tams etc...dancehall fans wear name brand shoes, bling, ear pieces and rings etc... its more about the style, lookin sharp n criss," says Jami Dread.
"Inna di foundation days ... there was reggae music and the dancehall was a location where you played reggae music. As time went on, reggae more classified with that slower 'One Drop Sound' and dancehall is now the sped up version. Personally i don't really see a big difference, a one music same way," says Jah Malo.
As Jah Malo so eloquently puts it, the feeling we get from the music is what matters most. Defining two well loved genres from one island, may be counter-productive for both movements, as each take from the other and give back so generously. Yes, dancehall is slack and vulgar for some, but to each their own, and it serves its purpose of giving revelers a one of a kind experience in the club or street for that matter. Reggae music is conscious, uplifting music, known for promoting positivity and love.
Some people believe reggae and dancehall is the “same thing.” It is not. Reggae is pure and wholesome. Dancehall is sexual and provocative. The two are their own, and loved for different reasons.
Listen to one of our favorite DJ Crooks roots reggae mixes here:
And DJ Crooks' recent dancehall mix alongside DJ Courtesy here:
Featured image of DJ Tom Chasteen at The Dub Club shot by Amanda Holmgren.