Sly & Robbie
Ever since its incarnation it’s been an uphill battle for reggae to make serious inroads in the mainstream music pantheon, largely because it has faced below the belt criticism that has claimed all reggae sounds the same and suffered infantile stereotypes that propagate the notions that reggae is first and foremost the product of stoner culture, and is largely a feel-good novelty genre not fit to sit on par with serious music. Enter Sly and Robbie. Here’s a duo that has made it their mission to see to it that the reggae beat does not remain stagnant, to break stereotypes and constantly move the goalposts of reggae music. Sly himself is quoted as saying that if a drummer plays the standard reggae beat — the one drop — every night, eventually he’s going to get bored and change the beat. Sly and Robbie must have been getting bored a lot over the last 30 years because they’ve furiously changed the beat and style of reggae so many times that many people ceased to call what they were doing reggae, using names like drum ‘n’ bass, dancehall and ragga to explain what was going on between intro and coda. They’ve injected everything from funk, folk, heavy metal, avant-garde, disco, hip-hop and techno into reggae while still looking to its roots of ska, mento, Kumina, and Rasta Burru drumming. They’ve helped to write the soundtrack to the political, social and religious lives of Jamaica’s sufferahs. What’s more, after a bad experience with ganja onstage with Peter Tosh they gave up the herb — talk about busting stereotypes. The only reggae backing musicians whose names are known by even the casual fan of Jamaican music, Sly and Robbie’s constant innovations and tireless work ethic have enabled them to have more influence over the direction of the last 30 years of Jamaican music than any other single artist, duo or band. It would be harder to name the reggae artists that Sly and Robbie haven’t played with than to spend the weekend it would take to list off the ones they’ve either backed up or produced. Such is the ubiquity of their names on the Jamaican music scene that one statistician estimated they’ve played on approximately 200,000 tracks, and that doesn’t count remixes, versions, and dubs, and Sly himself estimates that he probably played on half the sessions in Jamaica in the late 70s. 2006 after recording on what some estimate being over 200,000 sessions Sly and Robbie still keep a breakneck pace and demanding work ethic. Besides the production of Michael Franti and Spearhead’s new Yell Fire! album the duo release another solo production called Rhythm Doubles on Taxi and start another album where they will both share the vocals for the first time since the 1970s. Never content to rest on their accomplishments, they continue to work with new collaborators and work towards new innovations. Robbie’s philosophy of always trying something new causes him to look with dismay on the current state of music: “A from B everything sound the same to me right now and I hate it. It fuck up the music. I always try to come up with new ideas.” And new ideas no doubt, they will hatch.