From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Riddims are the instrumental backgrounds of reggae, lovers rock, dub, raggamuffin and dancehall compositions. Also, rare cases in reggaeton, which itself is largely based on the Dem Bow riddim from the early 1990s, feature a riddim, such as Ivy Queen and Sasha's "Dat Sexy Body", which is a variation of the Bookshelf Riddim first created by Beenie Man. In other musical contexts, a riddim would be called a groove or beat. In most cases the term "riddim" is used in reference to the entire background track or rhythm section, but in older roots riddims, "riddim" is used to reference a certain bassline and drum pattern. Often a melody is associated with the riddim, and occasionally an artist will produce two different songs with the same riddim (e.g. Elephant Man's "Ele Melody" and "Father Elephant" were both produced using the Kopa, produced by Supa Dups).
Drums and other percussion
A standard drum kit is generally used, but the snare drum is often tuned very high to give it a timbale-type sound. Some reggae drummers use a separate additional timbale or high-tuned snare to get this sound. Rim shots on the snare are commonly used, and tom-tom drums are often incorporated into the drumbeat itself. From the mid-80s onward, electronic instruments such as synthesizers and samplers have been used for the same purpose, especially by reggae artists who write in the Stepper and Dancehall styles.
Reggae drumbeats fall into three main categories: One drop, Rockers and Steppers. With the One drop, the emphasis is entirely on the third beat of the bar (usually on the snare, or as a rim shot combined with bass drum). Beat one is completely empty, which is extremely unusual in popular music. There is some controversy about whether reggae should be counted so that this beat falls on the 3, or whether it should be counted half as fast so that it falls on the 2 and 4. This article follows the convention of placing the beat on the 3. Many credit Carlton Barrett of The Wailers as the creator of this style, although it may actually have been invented by Winston Grennan. An example played by Barrett can be heard in the Bob Marley and the Wailers song "One Drop". Barrett often used an unusual triplet cross-rhythm on the hi-hat, which can be heard on many recordings by Bob Marley and the Wailers, such as "Running Away" on the Kaya album.
An emphasis on beat three is in all reggae drumbeats, but with the Rockers (pronounced like "raucous") beat, the emphasis is also on beat one (usually on bass drum). This beat was pioneered by the prolific innovative duo of Sly and Robbie — Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare — who later also helped create the "Rub-a-Dub" sound that greatly influenced Dancehall. An example of the Rockers beat is in "Night Nurse" by Gregory Isaacs. The Rockers beat is not always straightforward, and various syncopations are often included. An example of this is the Black Uhuru song "Sponji Reggae."
In Steppers, the bass drum plays four solid beats to the bar, giving the beat an insistent drive. An example is "Exodus" by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Another common name for the Steppers beat is the "four on the floor".
The Steppers beat was also adopted (at a much higher tempo) by some of the 2 Tone ska revival bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Examples include "Stand Down Margaret" by The Beat and "Too Much Too Young" by The Specials.
An unusual characteristic of reggae drumming is that the drum fills often do not end with a climactic cymbal. A wide range of other percussion instrumentation is used in reggae. Bongos are often used to play free, improvised patterns, with heavy use of African-style cross-rhythms. Cowbells, claves and shakers tend to have more defined roles and a set pattern.
Types of Riddims
Riddims can generally be categorized into three types. The oldest type of riddim is the classical riddim providing roots reggae, dub and lovers rock with instrumentals, e.g., Bam Bam produced by Sly & Robbie. The second type is the ragga riddim backing raggamuffin and dancehall tunes, e.g., Juice produced by Richard "Shams" Browne. The third type is the digital riddim, e.g., Sleng Teng produced by King Jammy.
So-called digital riddims refer to riddims created around the time that Jamaican producers incorporated drum machines and synthesizers into reggae-music production. Nowadays, however, most dancehall and Soca riddims are created by electronic instruments, so, in essence, most are digital.
Different producers often develop their own versions of the same riddim, such as the Punani riddim, which has distinct versions crafted by Steely & Clevie and by Ward 21, and different artists often perform on top of the same riddims with different lyrics and different vocal styles, ranging from singing to toasting. As an example, Beenie Man's song "My Wish," Mr. Vegas' song "Go Up," and T.O.K.'s "Man a Bad Man" are all based on the Juice riddim. Many riddims are named after the song that was recorded on that instrumental track for the first time (or, in some cases, the song that becomes the most popular on a given riddim). For example, the Satta Massagana riddim is named after The Abyssinians' original song "Satta Massagana."
Several notable producers include
- Black Chiney
- Rugged & Prez
- Bobby "Digital" Dixon
- King Jammy
- Dave Kelly
- King Tubby
- Steven "Lenky" Marsden
- Henry "Junjo" Lawes
- Joe Gibbs
- Donovan Germain
- Steely & Clevie
- Bost & Bim
- Stephen "Di Genius" McGregor
- [Vybz Kartel]