July 13, 2024

What is a reggae “riddim”?

“Riddim” is the Jamaican Patois term for the instrumental “rhythm” track of a song, also known as the “groove” or “beat”. Jamaican folk songs and many other types of Caribbean music are based on riddims.

The beats generally consist of a prominent bassline and a particular and unique drum pattern, and are truly the backbone of dub, reggae, lovers’ rock, ragga, roots, dancehall, etc. Many riddims originate from a hit song and the riddim is named after the song, for example I-Wayne’s 2004 hit “Lava Ground” on Lava Ground Riddim. However, in some cases, the riddim is named after the most popular song recorded on it. For example, Satta Massagana Riddim is named after The Abyssinians’ original song “Satta Massagana”.

Occasionally an artist will voice two completely different songs on the same riddim. And it’s very common for different artists to perform the same riddims with different lyrics and different vocal styles, ranging from singing to toasting. For example, Jah Cure’s “Call On Me,” Gyptian’s “Butterfly,” and Tanya Stephens’ “Reminiscing” are all on 2009’s wonderful Good Love Riddim. The success of a riddim is judged by how many artists “juggle” him or do their own vocal performances of him. The Jamaican public will judge whether or not the tune is great, and if so, other artists will write new lyrics to “ride the riddim”.

There may be more than a dozen popular current riddims, but there are usually only a few “hot” riddims at any given time. Artists have to record over these red-hot riddims if they want to have a better chance of getting their songs played in dance halls or on the radio. Many times a dance is even created in honor of the riddim, such as Pepperseed, or Gully Creeper, or who can forget the victory dance of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, “Nah Linga”?

Riddims don’t always originate from reggae; some urban contemporary songs can also become riddims. Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent” instrumental has become a popular riddim; many dancehall artists have recorded songs using the track. Other songs have also inspired riddims, such as George Michael’s song “Faith” which became a riddim of the same name, and R. Kelly’s “Snake” which became Baghdad Riddim.

types of riddims

Riddims are of African origin and are generally one of three types. The oldest, the “classic” riddim, provides the instruments for dub, roots reggae, and lovers’ rock (best-known producers include Sly & Robbie). The backs riddim “ragga” (or I used to do it back) raggamuffin and dancehall songs. And “digital” riddims (for example, King Jammy’s Sleng Teng Riddim) are created with computers, synthesizers, and drum machines; in other words, they are really electronic riddims.

The advent of technology changed the entire business. You no longer need to pay for studio time and hire musicians! This opened up the business to a whole new generation of producers, musicians and performers. Today, most of the riddims that support dancehall and Soca are digital. Digital riddims, along with the global reach and popularity of dancehall, have also led to the creation of increasingly popular riddims outside of Jamaica.


“Versioning” is the term for recycling or rejuvenating old riddims using computers and samplers, and expressing them with new artists. Jamaica has been covering since the 1960s. Some of these riddims are decades old, with many coming from Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s renowned Studio One studio in Kingston. Some great riddims came out of Studio One in the ’60s and ’70s, and you’ll still hear them covered in constant rotation by sound systems today.

However, version control can be controversial because many of those who produced the original classic riddims never received payment for the riddims themselves. It would be nice to get some “royalties”! But today’s artists argue that they are inspired by these classics and respect them by covering and repopularizing them. Many Jamaican producers rely heavily on covers although, in the last decade, we have seen less of this practice with the release of hundreds of new creative riddims.

The explosion of dancehall in recent years spawned a lot of great new beats. But some are already being versioned as well. The Unfinished Business Riddim, popular in 2008, was a cover version of the 1998 Showtime hit Riddim. So it seems old riddims never die!


Of course, creating a new and original riddim is much more difficult than covering an old one. Here are some of the best original riddim producers past and present: Black Chiney (sound system, DJ, producer), Bobby “Digital B” Dixon (producer), Clement “Coxsone” Dodd (producer, Studio One Records) , Donovan Germain (producer, Penthouse Studio), Joe Gibbs (producer), King Jammy (dub mixer, producer), King Tubby (dub mixer, 1960s-1980s producer), Duke Reid (producer, Treasure Isle Records, dominated the 1960s), Sly and Robbie (producers, Taxi Records), Steely & Clevie (producers).

Two of the hottest young producers of the new millennium share a last name but are not related. Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor, son of veteran singer Freddie McGregor, can boast one of my favorite dancehall riddims of recent years, Tremor Riddim (2007), voiced by Mavado (“Amazing Grace”), Sean Paul ( “Watch Them roll”), and others. The riddims of this talented musician are so popular that more than a dozen people can express each one of them.

The other star young producer is Kemar “Flava” McGregor, responsible for some of the hottest hits in recent years and, in my opinion, some of the best roots reggae riddims to come out of Jamaica (or the world, for that matter). ). in years, for example: 2005’s Triumphant Riddim (“Gyptian’s Mama Don’t Cry”), 2007’s 83 Riddim (“Ah No Me Dat” by Richie Spice and Queen Ifrica’s “Daddy”), and 2010’s Classic Riddim ( “Thinking About You,” Duane Stephenson and Ras Shiloh’s “Soon As We Rise,” and Sweet Riddim (“Etana’s Happy Heart,” Beres Hammond’s “See You Again,” Ginjah’s “Prayer”). variety of artists voicing their riddims, veterans and newbies alike, definitely something to appeal to everyone.These two producers are at the forefront of today’s Jamaican hit makers!

For me, it’s the smooth rhythms of reggae that make me dance and sway; for others it’s the harsh bass lines they enjoy on the dance floor. No matter what your preference is, riddims are the foundation of reggae music! Enjoy!

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