Dancehall – reggae's spazzed-out (yet still spliffed-out) little brother. The evolution of reggae has been as extensive as that of rock, with nearly as many distinct sub-genres. Dancehall was spawned in the late '70s, and has enjoyed a heyday that has lasted to the present (seriously, go to Jamaica – you'll be hard-pressed to find anyting else on de radio). Some of the rapid-fire lyric-spitting certainly rivals that of the finest MCs in rap – which makes sense, as early hip-hop drew heavily on the sound-system clashes from the streets of Kingston. JAH!
Michigan & Smiley – "Eye of Danger" (1979)
Horn-heavy and laid-back, this early dancehall cut quotes Horace Andy's 1972 Jamaican smash "Skylarking" and is based heavily on the Paragons' 1976 hit "Danger in Your Eyes." Like folk, blues, and rock 'n' roll, anything's fair game in dancehall.
Sister Nancy – "Bam Bam" (1982)
Women still struggle with rights issues in Jamaica, but there's never been a lack of great female reggae artists. From Dawn Penn and Phyllis Dillon to Rita Marley, music has been one place in Jamaica where women's voices can be heard. Sister Nancy's lyrical voice softens the hard edge of this great track to achieve perfect balance.
The Lone Ranger – "Barnabas Collins" (1980)
A dancehall version of the great fictional vampire story. "Lock your door tight, me come in around midnight for just a pint of blood!" "EEEEE!"
Dignitary Stylish – "Jah Send Me Come" (1986)
This Rasta-consciousness synthed-out digital track feels like a superball bouncing around a sweaty Negril nightclub around 3 a.m., as Dignitary Stylish barely takes a breath between verses.
Yellowman – "Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt" (1984)
A dancehall list wouldn't be complete without everybody's favorite albino dancehall practitioner. As with much of dancehall, the lyrics alternate between social consciousness and "slack" (read: dirty) content.