US rap and Jamaican dancehall music have had a compelling relationship. Although hip-hop was undoubtedly a derivative of established African-American genres such as funk and soul, Caribbean Americans influenced how the music was spread. Many of the pioneers of hip-hop had Caribbean roots. Whether it’s DJ Kool Herc’s Jamaican roots, Grandmaster Flash’s Bajan heritage or Kool DJ Red Alert’s Antiguan parentage, it is impossible to refute the vast contribution Caribbeans made to hip-hop.
Many argue that the increased presence of sound systems in the Bronx and Harlem was a direct consequence of West Indian immigrants settling in those areas respectively. Furthermore, many Jamaicans argue that ‘toasting’ is what inspired African-Americans to start rapping. However, this has always been a highly contested theory, with foundational Black Americans insistent that practices such as scatting and rhythmic preaching have always existed within their culture.
Irrespective of who created rapping as there really isn’t a sole creator, the fact that the Caribbean and hip-hop’s birthplace New York have had a connection since its inception has meant that, over the years, artists with West Indian heritage have sought out features from dancehall artists. More often than not the features are for remixes. However, sometimes they are for the originals.
Akin to the way that often American (particularly New York) artists seek out Caribbean features, the same is done in reverse and frequently MCs from the West Indies look to America for features. There have been a multitude of amazing dancehall and rap collaboration tracks. However we have picked out what we believe to be the five best rap-dancehall tracks ever made.
The five best rap-dancehall tracks ever made:
5. ‘What They Gonna Do’ – Jay-Z ft Sean Paul
Featured on Jay-Z’s 2002 album The Blue 2 this collaboration was both surprising and refreshing at the same time. Although, Sean Paul was one of the biggest artists in Jamaica at the time and seemed the obvious choice for a mainstream collaboration, it shocked many as Jay-Z didn’t seem to be the kind of artist that would dabble in the dancehall genre.
Highly invested in the sonics and lyricism of mafioso rap, people naturally assumed the Brooklyn rapper (real name Shawn Carter) had asked Sean Paul to feature on a fairly standard East Coast rap beat. However, it turned out that he hadn’t. Produced by Timbaland, Jay-Z had crafted his flow around a minimalistic dancehall inspired beat and delivered exceptional flows. A classic collaboration.
4. ‘Wine & Go Down’ – Busta Rhymes ft Vybz Kartel
Born to Jamaican immigrants who settled in Brooklyn, an area rich with imported Caribbean culture, it is unsurprising that Busta Rhymes has always been extremely capable and skilled at delivering quality dancehall hip-hop fusion tracks. As a result of his experiences growing up with a Jamaican mother, the rapper has always loved throwing patois slang into his rhymes and his willingness to collaborate with West Indian artists has never waned.
Unlike a lot of collaborations between the two cultures, Busta went for a straightforward classic new-school Jamaican dancehall beat for this 2012 track. Produced by Dready for the Brooklyn artist’s album Year Of The Dragon it is undoubtedly one of the most potent collaborations between a dancehall artist and US rapper to be released in recent times.
3. ‘Get Low (Remix)’ – Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz ft Busta Rhymes and Elephant Man
A remix of what was an extremely popular crunk song, Lil Jon called upon not only Jamaican-American rapper Busta Rhymes but also Kingston’s very own Elephant Man. Elephant man was most definitely the perfect artist to feature on this track. An emcee known for his high levels of energy and love for dancing, Elephant Man had just released two extremely commercially successful tracks.
Released in 2003, this remix was one of the Jamaican’s first musical appearances since the release of his anthem ‘Pon De River’. He had also received acclaim for his track ‘Signal De Plane’ although this was more of a hit in the West Indies than globally.
2. ‘Rebel Music’ – Busta Rhymes ft Sizzla
‘Rebel Music’ is somewhat of a hidden gem. Featuring Sizzla, commonly referred to as Sizzla Kalonji, the track was released on an unofficial project that Busta recorded in the lead-up to his album The Big Bang, which featured the hit song ‘Touch It’. Released as a 12″ vinyl, ‘Rebel Music’ features what Busta named The Prelude To The Big Bang.
Similar to how Kanye had his G.O.O.D Friday series of free downloads in the lead-up to his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this four-track EP from Busta Rhymes was released to keep fans on their toes and maintain high levels of anticipation for the album. Other tracks from the EP include ‘Cannon’ featuring DJ Drama and T.I as well as ‘Blow His Head Off’ featuring Ghostface Killah.
1. ‘Fresh From Yard’ – Beenie Man ft Lil Kim
‘Fresh From Yard’ is undeniably the best rap-dancehall track ever made. Not only is Beenie Man the undisputed king of dancehall but he is one of Jamaica’s most successful musical exports after Bob Marley. Sean Paul may have had more success in America. However, he was not simultaneously a big artist globally and a big artist within Jamaica.
Sean Paul was a prolific artist. However, once he was picked up by a major label, he lost his sense of allegiance to his country of origin. Sean Paul sold music in the US, conducted business there and lived in the country as well. He also did not continue participating in the long-running live events held in Jamaica. While achieving international success, Beenie Man performed annually at the legendary Sting festival in Portmore and without fail continued to appear at important events such as Reggae Sumfest and Passa Passa.
‘Fresh From Yard’ was featured on the emcee’s fifteenth album, Tropical Storm, released in 2002 by Virgin Records. The track was produced by the legendary New York producer DJ Clue who was (along with the likes of Kay Slay) a DJ who provided the city with the best and most well-curated underground mixtapes. The track features Brooklyn female rapper Lil Kim, who herself spent a lot of time around Jamaicans and Jamaican-Americans such as Biggie Smalls and his mother Voletta Wallace.
Tropical Storm peaked at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is extremely high for a non-American artist, and naturally topped the Billboard Reggae Charts. The album’s lead single ‘Feel It Boy’ featured Janet Jackson and was certified gold. However, ‘Fresh From Yard’ is hands-down the best rap-dancehall track of all time.