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Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

Interview With Jamaican Producer Dakrome: “Listeners’ Ears are Moving”

I sat down to a zoom call with top Jamaican producer and vlogger Dakrome to talk about his life, dancehall and producing. Full of energy, the words came tumbling out of him. He radiates positivity and brings an authentic and energetic vibe that is evident in many of his vlogs. With a formidable catalogue already behind him, he also gives the impression that there are many hits to come. As he says, “listeners ears are moving”, and he is definitely moving as well.

What did you think that being a producer was going to be like, and what did it really turn out to be like?

Honestly, it was about the girls at first…It was about being the cool guy (laughs) It was like you’re this guy and you’re a public figure and you get the girls and stuff. But I mean, it was about the innocence of pure music, and then when you actually get to progressing and you need to make a livelihood of it, because as you get older…I mean quickly you turn eighteen, you got bills and a kid and you say “this aint no joke”. But if I was going to matriculate from the idea of what music is, from where I really want to go, then definitely there has to be some business structure to it. And definitely I had some good advice, because I had a friend that kind of caught a break and introduced us to different people in the industry and we started making relationships and we started to do the work! It’s not about “oh I have to make a good beat today, it’s like I need ten good beats, because people are actually hitting you up and saying “hey I heard you’re making hits. I need a song from you.” Every year for the last 5 years I always had one song that had a street buzz. Compared to most of the other producers in the country, if you look at it I think I have good content but they are way ahead of me in terms of hit songs. You check someone else and they have like 30 hit songs because of their relationships. To answer that last part, it’s really hard work, trying to maintain these relationships and trying to make hit music.


What songs or artists are on your personal playlists? What songs or artists are you feeling right now?


At this point I think the music in Jamaica is pretty much influenced by a lot of different music right? In the local scene as a producer, I’m looking at the young talent like Chronic Law…Tommy Lee…You know Vybz, you can’t leave out Vybz Kartel. He’s like that musical genius, right? You have Shenseea…Jada Kingdom…actually you have some young artists right now that are really getting it in. In the US scene…Da Baby…and definitely Drake. Come on, if you don’t say Drake…


Are you cool with his appropriation of dancehall culture?


I think everybody is being crazy about the culture vulture thing, but I mean if you’re willing to do a hybrid and you pick my culture, man I’m with you man. There’s a lot of eyes on that guy. So that’s value added right there, without even asking.


Talking about both the present and the past, what are or have been your favorite producers and riddims?

Let me just say, for the Old School, I would definitely go with Dave Kelly. You see that pattern, that drum pattern, it’s crazy. And you have Lenky. Lenky had this one beat that I’d never stop playing, it had Wayne Wonder on it, you know the Diwali Riddim? Yeah Diwali riddim was my riddim. The Tony Kelly and Dave Kelly stuff was always programmed for success, the way they programmed their drum patterns and stuff, definitely Dave Kelly. If I’m really to dive into other old bounty killer stuff, like King Jammy’s was always the sound. You had Bobby Digital as well…and Dr. Dre for those crispy drums. And oh, Shocking Vibes had a lot of stuff. their production was pretty much on point. For the new school definitely Stephen, Stephen McGregor I think changed the game, chimney records as well. You have people like J Crazy, he did a lot of stuff for Kartel, and Marcus. Those young people definitely are really good. And then Rvssian, how could I leave out Rvssian? Rvssian is a the pinnacle of the thing.


Talking about your own catalogue now, what are your favorite tracks or riddims and why?


Definitely on a positive note, I would say Vershon, “One More Day”.

Why I say that is because It’s completely positive, the whole riddim was called “One More Day” and it had a lot of positive songs. Dj Ice from zip 103 Jamaica (who is one of their top DJs), we did this riddim called “Wise Up” as well and Jahmiel had a good record on that one and Jim Ladin, Alladin had a good song.

But for the street stuff there is Tommy Lee…I did a song with him called “Forty Ball” with him and it was a real street smash.

I think Masicka as well, Masicka did a song with me called “Squeeze”.

I think Squeeze kind of shined a light on me where people said “Yeah he’s bad. His stuff is good.” And some other stuff, Rocket Riddim with Shenseea, I had a song “Bruk Man”

I got a lot of international buzz from that too…and Ding Dong gave me a song too:

But we’re definitely trying to get more songs out now so you know the story continues.

How have you developed as a producer? How would you define your style?


Man…(smiles) Dark at first, and then I tried to transition into the international stuff. I have other stuff that I would love to get into the hands of international people cuz I’m like, the sound on this is crazy! I could see this succeeding in the Caribbean and still being accepted in the US and Europe. But definitely started dark, and now I’m trying to be more commercial. Because that’s where it is, because Jamaica can support you for so long. I mean even the core of our artists, their lifestyle is based on flying, and doing shows overseas, and making deals overseas to really live that luxury lifestyle that music can provide, other than that you’re pretty much a local entity, so hats off to those people.


You said in one of your videos that producing is about the driver and not the car.


Definitely, man.


But wait a minute, can you really get that far if you have a bad car? What makes a good car, and how does it get you where you need to go as a producer?


So definitely for me a good car is talent mixed with business. Now where I see the bad car can still keep up with the good car. The good car is going hit the button on the connections, on the business relationships, on the packaging, right? Because really and truly the bad car is a talent. You’re a talented guy to even keep up with the good car. You gotta have that talent. So if you’ve got that talent, then I’m like, what if he really did have a good car? So what happens in Jamaica is there’s just a plethora of raw talent. There’s talented people! You’ve got writers and musicians, they’re just talented! But when it comes to handling the business, negotiating contracts, reaching out to people, having conversations to take things to the next level, a lot of people in Jamaica don’t have that. So either you can’t speak well, or you can’t find anybody to represent you properly but guess what? This guy’s got talent! And that’s my definition of good car/bad car. I think I’m a middle car though. I’m no Ferrari, I think I’m one of those high end Hondas going up to that BMW kind of thing, but you know, I’m working.


What is your workflow like? What happens in your production videos before you turn the camera on?


So I was aiming for, presenting the concept properly. So the previous videos would be, I would make a beat, you know people like this beat, so me and my team, so we just dissect it to see what was the thought process was. Then I noticed, cuz I slowed down over the last few months because of Covid. I’ve been doing other things and trying to make other things work, and I had to step away from the Vlogging because it was a little bit time consuming. So I started doing cook ups: Ok screen record me and see this is what I would do uncut. There is no program, nothing. This is purely on the fly. It’s me trying to find some kind of energy, some kind of vibe. So with that we normally get the beat done before, cook it up in stages, and then we video it and put it up and this is the idea but we’re trying to get people to say what’s your sound selection like, what is the vibe, what am I really aiming for. Cuz sometimes you go in the studio, not knowing what you’re gonna do. It’s like playing on that keyboard, I found that snare…and the ideas just start poppin, yeah so my process is really like that now.


What’s something that you learned as a producer that you wish you knew a long time ago?

Man! The business! I could have shaved maybe five years off of development by knowing the business. I think programming music comes naturally to me but solidifying relationships, knowing what move to make in the right time, being brave…was just not there. If I had my team, the lawyers…the people that negotiate all these contracts, this guide to say “hey don’t make that move. Don’t do that. Hold off first.” I would have been five years ahead now compared to back then, definitely.


What advice would you give to someone trying to level up their game?


I would say to any young producer that if you have a talent, and you know you have a talent, keep on developing new sounds. Because the game changes so quickly. Even look at danchehall right now: trappy kind of flirty sounds vs. the boom bap sound we know dancehall as drum and bass, so keep on always trying to find new stuff. I beat myself up a lot about that because I get complacent about what I use sometimes. I get different kits from time to time…I mess around with splice. But definitely I would tell them though, please organize your team properly. Everybody knows the business is shady. The business is crazy. And any way someone can take advantage of you they’re definitely gonna do that. I mean how are you gonna have a lawyer and retain him. I mean even knowing the lingo of the business, I mean what’s “work for hire”? What is three percent royalty? What is three points on a record? What does it mean to exploit you in the musical sense? You need to understand the jargon when people are talking to you, and if you can level up real quick, try to get someone on your side. Try to get someone to negotiate for you, and don’t talk for yourself sometime, unless you can.


What makes something Dancehall?


I think the vibe. The chill. That laid back vibe. Sometimes it’s about the pattern though. If you notice dancehall music, it has a certain beat. And definitely you would identify a dancehall beat from hiphop, from country western, just by the beat. So it’s that vibe, you know, it’s that beat, it’s that sequencing, so pretty much that’s how dancehall is derived.


Do you think that’s getting watered down through trap dancehall and things like that?


That’s a dangerous question, and here’s my delicate answer. But to say diluted and watered down, my answer would be I think music MOVES, like energy. But! Are you maintaining the core? Are you maintaining the core of this music? If you’re not maintaining the core of the music, that would be diluting it. If you’re maintaining the core, then I think it’s perfectly fine.


The core is that vibe? That beat? That’s the core?


Yeah. I think listener’s ears are moving. I mean trap is this big thing, all around the world. And the young people these days are so in to trap, it’s influencing so many other musics, probably even country music, god damn you have triplet high hats…What?! How does a drummer even play that live?! So I call Jamaica a state in the US. It’s like a little USA. You know what I’m sayin it’s like a little Miami area, New York or whatever. So defintely the music is being influenced. Is it being diluted? I wouldn’t say that. But it’s definitely taking a turn.


So what do you say to someone who says that all dancehall music sounds the same?


Man..that’s crazy! You know why? You listen to ska….You listen to Rocksteady, and let me tell you something…. that is the SAME groove, bro! All that stuff? Nobody talks about that though. Certain beats come up, and it’s the same type of groove. They may have a different type of singer. You might have a guitar that’s different or maybe a different key, but it’s the same type of groove. So I think that talk is pretty crazy though. And people like to create competition but it’s pretty crazy.


So what’s harder? Being a producer or an artist and why?


Ok I look at it like this. I look at the producers as coaches, and I look at the artists as players. And the coach will always outlast the players. So I think each of them has their own merits, but I think being an artist is harder. The reason being you are consistently in the public eye and you need to entertain. Your job is entertaining. A producer can be hot this year and not be hot next year, and comes back the third year hot. It’s hard for artists to do that. If you’re hot now you’ve got to be hot for five years. You solidify that brand and then you can live off that brand. A producer can be hot this year, have a couple songs, take a break and skip a year, then come back next year hot. But now producers are being more upfront though and being almost like artists these days. Nothing’s wrong with that, but I still think being an artist is tougher.


Ultimately what do you want your legacy to be?


Man…if it was left up to me, definitely my family and my daughter comes up and folowing the path, being that forerunner for me when I’m on these crutches, so definitely I would like to have most of my music international and getting recognition, so that’s why I’m trying to build these relationships. So definitely for the long haul…that glory. I would be like Drake saying hit these pinnacles I’m trying to reach but day by day man saying I’m trying to get to that status But the brand is established and we could walk away from it or we could keep it like the Marleys…That stuff’s crazy to see how that works. That’s definitely it.


What projects are you currently working on?


So right know there’s a lot of big names. So I recently got a call about somebody from Kartel’s camp. You know I’m always working with certain people like Sheba or Gage. But funny enough I’m working on something for myself. It’s a contradiction, but I rap and I’m a dancehall producer. That is crazy. I’m trying to grow businesses as well. In my community we’re trying to… I mean music is a real tool, and I think one tool can help the other tool out . Like if you have a shovel with a shovel it’s hard to build a house. I’ve always been partly a promoter. We’re trying to make some of these businesses a reality. We started our own music videos. It’s a struggle but we’re getting there because the aim is to officially do a production house. An artist just walks in, and we have an idea and we actually have you on radio. We’re definitely working on some business stuff. It’s hard to get everything to work so we’re keeping focused.


If you had to quarantine again and couldn’t leave your house, what 3 things besides food and necessities would you want to have?


The studio…my girl…and my daughter. That’s the support system right there. My studio for creation. My girl is there and my daughter. That’s all. That’s all I need.

Many thanks to Dakrome for making himself available for this interview.

Check out his Youtube Here: https://www.youtube.com/user/DAKROME20/videos

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Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

From Cult to Dancehall: Poco Man Jam

Today, we are going to look at one of the most recognizable and important riddims of all time. Through its various iterations, it has spawned a number of hits and even bigger than that, one of its forms has singlehandedly generated a whole genre of modern music. I’m talking about the Poco Man Jam Riddim, created by Steely and Clevie.

According to Encyclopedia.com, “Pocomania or Pukkumina (possibly from Span., ‘a little madness’). Afro-Jamaican cults descended from surviving forms of African religion mixed with Protestant elements from the time of the Great Revival in Jamaica in 1860–2.”

Supposedly one of the folk rhythms from pocomania worship made its way into dancehall in the form of Steely and Clevie’s Poco Man Jam riddim. Pocomania was played with a single drum and a fife but was rooted in African rhythms. The riddim swaps synths for the traditional fife but keeps the African rhythmic elements

Below is an example of pocomania revivalist chanting. Listen to the rhythm, especially around 1:37.

Now listen to the original “Poco Man Jam” song, that was a hit for Gregory Peck on one of the first voicings from 1989.

Notice any similarities? If you want to hear more pocomania recordings you can listen to the following album on Spotify:

The Poco Man Jam Riddim has had over 95 voicings including a 2014 revival that included Mr. Vegas’ “Okama”.

The Dem Bow Ridding and the Bully Beef Riddim are two other main examples of “sub” riddims that the Poco Man Jam riddim is credited with. The Bully Beef riddim is credited to the late producer Bobby Digital in 1991.

Riddim ID credits King Jammy as the main producer of the Dem Bow riddim in 1990. But, it also credits Bobby Digital with probably the most famous voicing of Dem Bow, Shabba Ranks’ “Dem Bow”. This is the track that inspired (and was copied) time and time again so that most people credit it as the entire foundation of Reggaeton music.

Here is a recent Daddy Yankee (reggaeton) track:

There is no question that Poco Man Jam has had a huge impact on Dancehall, importing this folk music/African beat into the modern dancehall vocabulary and subsequently Dem Bow inspiring the entire genre of Reggaeton.

Poco Man Jam was one of Steely and Clevie’s (many) superb riddims including Punaany, Street Sweeper and Bagpipe. Their contribution to dancehall reggae music can not be underestimated. They were one of the early masters of drum machine programming. They deserve a blog entry all to themselves. Sadly, Steely died in 2009 from health problems but Cleveland “Clevie” Browne continues to produce and also serves as the first chairman of the Recording Industry Association of Jamaica.

Finally this voicing on the Money Mix Riddim (2017) by Vybz Kartel shows how influential the Poco Man Riddim continues to be:

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Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

Hiphop is Getting to the Truth

This series from the University of Rhode Island examines why Hiphop matters. The second installment (track 2) includes James Haile III, a professor of Philosophy and his writing on Kendrick Lamar and identity:  “Lamar gets us out of the politics of our identities and more to something significantly true.”

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Wicked (Good) Vibes Blog

What is a “Riddim” or Where Do I Get That Song?

I want to address some basic issues that, as a DJ, people have asked me in regards to urban music in general, and specifically to what is generally called “dancehall” music. I’m not going to go into what really defines something as dancheall at this point, because it can get a little messy, depending on whose definition you are using. I’ll leave that for a future entry.

In promoting and playing dancehall and other music, besides the usual “what song did you play?” questions, one of the biggest questions I hear is “where do I get that”?  Though Shazam does work for a lot of music, there is a lot it doesn’t seem to work for and to be able to navigate the world of dancehall music, it helps to understand some basic principles.

The Jamaican record industry works on principles that are a little different from the US.  Here in the US most artists release songs or “singles” that come out by themselves or as a preview of a number of songs that form an “album”.  Most of the time the instrumental or backing track of a song is unique, meaning it is separate and copyrighted and different from other artists songs.  Artists frequently do “cover songs” where an artist redoes another artist’s song in their own special way, but usually the lyrics and melody are very similar to the original, even if the artist gives it their own flavor.

Here is the original version of the Nine Inch Nails Song “Hurt” and a cover version by Johnny Cash. The similarities should be obvious. Johnny Cash did not take the backing music and write new lyrics, he put his own spin on them.

However one prevalent aspect of the Jamaican record industry is that a producer will either make or acquire an instrumental backing track and record several different artists who write DIFFERENT lyrics using the same instrumental backing track. The instrumental backing track is called a “riddim”.

Here is one of THE most massively successful riddims ever produced, the Diwali riddim produced by Steven “Lenky” Marsden (follow him on twitter @LenkyMarsden) This is the instrumental version of it with no one singing or speaking over it.

And here is Sean Paul’s “voicing” or lyrics added to that Diwali instrumental backing track to make his hit single “Get Busy”.

Don’t get fooled by the introduction. Producers will sometimes alter the introduction or certain other elements of the riddim for a particular artist. We don’t have time to get into the whole issue in this blog post but a number or riddims are “refixes” or reinterpretations of previous riddims. Some are inspired by older riddims or songs and some actually sample elements, melodies etc. from previous ones. Here is Wayne Wonder’s song, “No Letting Go” that has a different intro from the Sean Paul voicing, but then goes right into the Diwali instrumental at (0:38).

And here is Lumidee’s voicing called “Uh Oh” with the basic riddim stripped down and slightly altered:

And here is the artist Bounty Killer’s voicing on the Diwali riddim called “Sufferer”

So as you can hopefully see, the original instrumental riddim is “voiced” over by a number of artists. There are a number of other artists who voiced on this riddim as well, as you can see by the “cover” of the riddim including Tanya Stephens, Beenie Man and T.O.K. All of these artists wrote their own lyrics to the same riddim and recorded them as separate songs with the same instrumental backing track.


Understanding what a riddim is and how they work is key to understanding “Where Do I Get That?” Riddims are usually released with all the voicings a producer has recorded together under the name of the riddim. And riddims are named after pretty near anything you could think of. Most of the time the “album” title of a riddim recording album is just the name of the riddim. So for example the album name of the riddim we just heard is the “Diwali Riddim”. If you type “Diwali Riddim” into the search field on Apple Music the album, released by Greensleeves, will come up. (Interestingly if you do the same thing in Spotify you will get a bunch of playlists that feature songs from the Diwali Riddim but the actual Greensleeves release isn’t on there.)

This is one reason why a song can be hard to find. Also a DJ or selecta may juggle (mix together) several voicings on the same riddim and it may sound like one big song. If they are doing a good job mixing, it may sound seamless. Here’s an example of a produced mix of the Diwali voicings by DJ Easy Mixmaster.

It’s important to note that not all songs are released in dancehall on riddims. Singles with their own unique backing tracks are also very popular, and a number of artists also release regular albums. A song could be a song on an artist’s album or be a unique stand-alone single or a release from a riddim album. If you are at a dance or hear on the radio different voicings on the same backing track, odds are good that it is a song from a riddim album. To locate it you’re going to need the name of the riddim so you can look it up on Apple Music or Spotify if Shazam doesn’t work. A real selecta (DJ who selects the songs to play) will chat constantly throughout the music and at times give out names of riddims, but if they don’t you can always ask. Just please wait til your DJ finishes a mix so you don’t interrupt them!

We’ll talk more about riddims in future entries.