Everything You Need to Know About Dancehall

Updated: Sep 20, 2021


Everything You Need to Know About Dancehall
Everything You Need to Know About Dancehall

Jamaica is one of the biggest contributors to the global music industry. It is the birthplace of some of the most widely played music genres, such as reggae, riddim, rocksteady and Dancehall. Each sound varied and diverse in its delivery. Today We'll take a deep dive into one of the most well known Jamaican music genres called Dancehall - Which refers to the music as well as a dance style. We'll also fill you in on the most popular artists in this space as well as the dance styles to match. So, without any further ado, let’s get into it.


History and Evolution of Dancehall Music


· Early 1970s

The genre first appeared on the mainstream radar from the mid to late 1970s, although it has been around since the 1940s. It was named after dance halls in Jamaica which were very popular at the time and was initially referred to as Bashment music.

These halls were known to play upbeat and diverse dance tunes and featured some well-known names Yellowman, King Jammy, and Shabba Ranks.


· 1980s – 1990s

Although the genre was still budding and growing in popularity globally, It became widely played in Jamaica. In the 1980s-1990s, some of the notable artists of this genre were Ninjaman, Buju Banton and Papa San. These artists evolved the genre by bringing in the use of heavy synthesizers with a traditional touch.


· Early 2000s

This evolution in sound paved the way for new artists to expand and refine the genre. In 2003, Sean Paul released “Get Busy,” which became the first single of the genre to reach number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. At this point, Dancehall music had a very different sound from its earlier versions. It had incorporated elements of mainstream pop music which influenced the genre's chorus, lyrics and beat production. Sean Paul was a perfect example of how much artists in the genre had matured which is why he was understandably one of the most successful artists at the time, along with Elephant Man, Mr. Vegas and Spice. This built up the mainstream appeal of Dancehall music and that leads us to the modern era of the genre.


· Modern Era

Many well-known mainstream artists started making Dancehall music. Drake’s One Dance, released in 2016, garnered a lot of recognition and awards, as well as Rihanna’s single 'Work' also released in 2016 and is one of her biggest hits till date. Dancehall music gained the attention of many Hip-Hop and R&B artists, who further changed the genre. Major Lazer, one well-known name in the electronic music genre, Produced tracks, such as “Lean On”, “Light it Up”, and “Run Up”, all heavily inspired by Dancehall music. Additionally there have been a few notable global collaborations with dancehall artists case and point, Beyonce and shatta Wale on 'Already', Davido and popcaan on 'Story', Stefflon don and French montana on 'Hurtin' me' including features from huge names in the UK like J Hus, Skepta and Chip.


Notable Artists and Songs


There are a variety of notable artists in the Dancehall genre.

  • Sean Paul

  • Popcaan

  • Beenie Man

  • Spice

  • Bounty Killer

  • Vybz Kartel

  • Shatta Wale

  • Mavado

  • Buju Banton

  • Lady Saw


And some of the most popular songs of the genre.

  • “Get Busy” by Sean Paul

  • “Work” by Rihanna

  • “Romping Shop” by Vybz Kartel ft. Spice

  • “Who Am I” by Beenie Man

  • “Under Mi Sleng Teng” by Wayne Smith

  • “One Dance” by Drake

  • “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus

  • “Heads High” by Mr. Vegas

  • “Champion” by Buju Banton

  • “Dem Bow” by Shabba Ranks


Reggae and Dancehall Music


A few people tend to confuse Dancehall music with Reggae and you can somewhat be forgiven for doing so. This is because both originate from Jamaica, reggae and dancehall artists sometimes make music together and both have some similarities in sound. With the excuses out the way, let’s look at some of the key differences in both music genres.

Reggae is related to Rastafarianism, a religion developed in Jamaica during the 1930. The main characterisation of Reggae can be summarised with percussive rhythmic guitar, close vocal harmonies, and a heavy baseline, which is considered the signature of the genre. Reggae is considered as a slow and mellow music style. It is not a party-style music; instead, it is more uptempo. One can even say that it is a kind of rock music, but with smooth and mellow vibes. The most popular Reggae artist is Bob Marley. Others include Peter Josh, Jimmy Cliff, UB40 and Burning Spear.



Dancehall music, on the other hand, is much louder and faster. It is what you play at parties to get you dancing. The lyrics of this genre are not that well-thought out, and the sound leans towards electronic music. It does not rely on smoothness; rather, it is all about having fun and at times sensual dancing.



Controversies surrounding Dancehall Music


While the genre is quite famous, it has its fair share of controversies. The main backlash is about the lyrics of the Dancehall music. People have mostly complained that the lyrics are misogynistic and homophobic. However, as the genre has evolved, these controversies surrounding lyrics seem to have faded . Recently, most artists tend to avoid writing provocative and abusive lyrics.


What is Dancehall Dance?


Now that you know everything about Dancehall music, let's find out about the genre’s dance. In simple words, it is a type of African retention dance, combined with a modern and youthful touch. It is so popular in the region that it has become a signature to represent Jamaican and Caribbean culture.


History of Dancehall Dance

Dancehall dance has been around about the same time as the music genre, i.e. the 1970s. and was developed as a response to the fast paced and exciting nature of dancehall music. It was crafted from a combination of the following traditional Jamaican dance styles.

  • Myal a.k.a healing dance

  • Maroon a.k.a Koromanti