Jamaica is one of the epicenters of music and culture. With more artists emerging on the scene, it’s important to note the names of the Jamaican music producers who have pushed artists into newer, and dare we say, more uncharted territory.
In 2020, Jamaica reclaimed its tastemaker status as one of the epicenters of music and culture. Jamaicans are now playing to a more international audience and pushing beyond the barriers of the genres they have been pigeon-holed into: dancehall and reggae. So extensive is this metamorphosis that many key industry players have clamored to create a name for these emerging sounds as the current categories don’t seem to do them justice. From Grammy Award-winning producer of Major Lazer Walshy Fire coining the term “Reggae Vibe” to numerous news outlets describing the sounds as neo-Reggae, one can easily see how steadily this new wave of sounds has staked its claim.
Artists have encouraged this shift, as well as the producers who, these days, have become the drivers of a lot of these new sounds emerging from the country. While much has changed in how Jamaicans consume new sounds — the shift from “riddim projects” which would see five plus artists on one signature beat to a more tailored approach — we can still see the evidence of the producers who curate their beats to aid in pushing the new sounds we are hearing. With more and more prolific artists emerging on the scene and making massive names for themselves and the genre as a whole, it’s important to note the names of the rising producers who have been championing and encouraging these new sounds. We have observed how these producers have pushed the artists themselves into newer, and dare we say, more uncharted territory.
Natural High Music
This Grammy-nominated production duo comprises of producer Jordan “TallMan” Armond and engineer Blaise “Binghi” Davis. They have risen to prominence from their work on songs like “Black is Beautiful” by Chronixx, “Where I’m Coming From” by Lila Ike, and “Glory to God” from Wayne Marshall. Influenced by the foundation sounds of Reggae and Dancehall, they have also looked to other genres like vintage soul, R&B, psychedelic rock, trap, and EDM in creating their work.
“It’s important to keep your ears and mind open to different sounds. Sometimes we look up artists that some of our musical heroes listened to growing up just to see what they were influenced by,” Jordan said. “Kind of like how Bob Marley & the Wailers would study Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.” During these sessions, they place an emphasis on pushing the unexpected from artists while still ensuring they stay true to themselves. “We do put a great effort into producing records that might not be the expected sound from a particular artist but at the same time we truly love the authentic sound of traditional reggae and dancehall,” Jordan said. “We are actually in the process of doing a few instrumental records that have the sweet sound of 1960s, ’70s Jamaica.”
Mario Dunwell, known as Dunw3ll, went from teaching himself Fruity Loops as a hobby to becoming one of Dancehall’s most prolific young producers. Working with Vybz Kartel, Popcaan, Alkaline, Rvssian, and more, Dunw3ll has contributed to a number of the mid-2010 Dancehall hits, including the now gold-certified “Fever” by Vybz Kartel.
His process is manifold, as he could go into the studio with an exact direction in mind or play around with various sounds before he is inspired. He grew up in and amongst music lovers which is where his interest in music first formed. “I listen to a lot of different genres of music. This has been my way of consuming music from a young age,” Dunw3ll said. “I think all the different sounds, arrangements, and rhythms I have been exposed to, have in some way influenced my sound and my taste.” Despite his varied musical influences, however, he also acknowledges that it’s important to stay true to the original Jamaican sound and build out from that. “I believe our music is constantly evolving and I just try to play my part in influencing that,” Dunw3ll said. I personally, however, still try to keep some ‘traditional’ elements in my sound. We can’t reap the fruit without the root.”
Though rising to more prominence for his recent work on Popcaan’s “Numbers Don’t Lie” and Koffee’s “Lockdown,” producer and artist Waldane “Dane Ray” Hampton has been making his mark in the industry since 2011. Credited with his work for numerous Jamaican acts such as Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Demarco, Elephant Man, and others, his love for music, like others, started very early on. At age 17 he began to explore his passion for music, building his talent as an audio engineer and composer. He comes from a family of musicians, with his father and grandfather being Drummers. It was the exposure to these instruments that has largely influenced his style. “In general, I like different sounds and music that gets to the point,” Dane said. “There’s a specific drum pattern I like that I’ve used over the years.”
Dane Ray’s ultimate goal is to create what he describes as “world music” — music that is relatable to all audiences. Though there has been much debate surrounding artists moving away from the grass roots of Jamaican music, Dane Ray believes that the diversity is necessary. “I wouldn’t say we’re moving away from that sound,” He said. “I just think we like to try different things and explore different options and styles. I could do a rhythm that’s really Reggae, in terms of the instrumentals and we just do something different with the vocals. It can be one way or the other. ”
J.L.L., born Jean-Andre Lawrence, is known for creating sounds that are familiar but unique. His inspiration comes by listening to music or it may just come to him. “I try my best not to think on a genre basis. I create based on a groove, feeling and melodies.” He said. “Similarly when choosing beats for artistes, I usually have an idea of what groove and feeling an artiste might vibe to. It can always be a hit or miss but I’ll say that I’ve had some good luck with pairing artists with a sound that challenges them.” J.L.L. has worked with numerous local and international artists such as Masego, Chronixx, Popcaan, Sizzla, and more.
J.L.L. believes that all music comes from a feeling first, before any label is placed upon it. “A lot of the genres that we’re familiar with now are partly just references to the culture they emerged from,” he said.
Born in Pembroke Pines, Florida to Jamaican parents, Alaric’s early years in music were colored by his cultural background. He developed a love for classic Dancehall and Reggae productions during his stint as a DJ and, when he graduated from high school, began creating remixes to mixtapes and composing custom beats, leading him to produce his own rhythms. His very first production in 2008 was a Dancehall rhythm project called Intercept featuring singles from Aidonia, Einstein, Bramma, and Matik.
These days, he continues to work with artists who fall within the Reggae, Dancehall categories. He was also awarded a Grammy for his work on “Throne” by Koffee. He is influenced by what Jamaicans call “foundation producers” King Jammy, Steelie & Clevie, Bobby Digital, Dave & Tony Kelly, Jazzwad, and more. He describes his style of creating as being “vibe-based” as he very rarely approaches his productions with the expectation of creating one specific thing. “I like to let it happen organically,” He said. “I’ll go through different sounds and samples until I hear something I like and continue building from there. Depending on the sounds I’m using, that will steer the beat in a certain direction.”
With writing and production credits for big names like Sean Paul, Nicki Minaj, Protoje, and Romeo Santos, Sean “Ziah” Roberts has been charting his path in the industry as an accomplished composer, musician, vocalist, and writer. He started his musical journey in 2009, working with local super-producer Don Corleone — an experience that allowed Ziah to broaden his musical horizons. He cites Don Corleone as one of his biggest influences, as well as Pharrell. He is also heavily influenced by Grammy-nominated star Protoje who he also works closely with.
Having played the violin, guitar, and drums for numerous years, it is the mastery of these instruments that play a large role in his creative process as a producer. “A huge part of my process has to do with getting to know the artist and trying to understand what their intent is creatively,” Push said. “Most of the time I literally go into the studio with my drum machine and instruments and start from a drum pattern with a simple guitar progression and then build from there.”
His most recent work has been with the InDiggNation Collective, spearheaded by Protoje. There, his credits are with Protoje’s latest album, In Search of Lost Time — specifically with “Same So,” “Like Royalty,” and “Strange Happenings.” These tracks are indicative of Ziah’s unique style, a combination of different sounds that find it way outside of the “norm” of the genre he majorly creates beats for.
King BNJMN is a Canadian-born rapper and producer who has been credited with work for Future, Stalk Ashley, Dave East, and more. He has hip-hop music as his core but is influenced by anything Caribbean, African or Latin-based. “Very deep on French and Japanese soul as well,” he said. “I think ’70s cop film type content is really dynamic.” In fact, when creating his beats for himself in his capacity as an artist, he tends to draw from whatever he’s feeling at the time. “Sometimes this isn’t always the case because some situations call for you to be able to pull on a mood immediately. Sometimes I’ll clear out a block of time in the month to work on a specific sound. Sometimes I’ll spend a month making samples, so it’s a very random process.”
He describes himself as one who is always willing to push the needle. “I love Reggae music and I plan on making a push into that market but I also believe in not boxing myself in,” BNJMN said. “There’s an entire world of music out there.” He has been focusing more of his energy on dancehall music which he is currently working on fusing with his core hip-hop sound. “The music being pushed out of the island right now is more diverse than it’s ever been,” he said. “And the number of young musicians coming up getting label looks is rising steadily. It’s not always readily apparent but the patterns are showing. Hip-hop and reggae/dancehall are making a kind of mesh I haven’t actually seen before in history, so it’s really an exciting time and a lot of people are paying attention.”
This 22-year old artist is slowly gaining notoriety in the field by producing and writing for both local and international acts. He’s worked with Protoje, Lila Ike, Jah 9, Runkus, Royal Blu, Zac Jone$, and more. He cites his influences as everyone from Bob Marley to Nas to J. Dilla to Led Zeppelin. Born Iotosh Poyser, this young artist also has his own independent record label, Sound Ting, where he works alongside Kyraxx — who is also his label partner — to release several projects including the Watching Over EP. When creating for the aforementioned artists, his approach is either to have a goal in mind and set out to achieve that or operate with no set direction at all. “Creating with no goal in mind is enjoyable but when you need to get something done, you have to have an idea of how to get there,” he said. “The same goes for pitching beats to artists. Depending on the relationship you have with them, you can either play the ones that you think they would fit best or would be the easiest for them to make a full song on, or you can play them the ideas that you think are crazy and hope that they love it. The latter feels more rewarding but at the end of the day you want to have a song that will get released.”
Nicholas “Zimi Nick” Mahfood, through his brand Zimi Entertainment, has accumulated his own cult following for the past few years as the go-to for all things entertainment within the Jamaican and diasporic space. Since his official start in 2014, Zimi Nick has operated off the mantra of “cultivating culture” through events and, more recently, through music. He has worked with Baker Steez, Konshens, Quada, Tommy Lee Sparta, Jahvillani, Jahmiel, Chi Chi Ching, Teejay, Chronic Law, Quada, and more.
Zimi Nick and his team curate beats that are dependent on the style of the artiste he’s working with as well as the vibe created in the studio. His aim is to always produce hit-worthy sounds that are uniquely suited to the artist he’s working with. “Our goal, honestly, is to work with everyone and produce different types of music,” he said. “I definitely feel like genres are blending though and it’s getting harder and harder to put music in categories as nowadays, they are combining sounds from various genres both on the riddims and the lyrics.” He also attributes the majority of what he knows in the musical realm to a keen interest in the business of it as well as learning from key players in the industry. By doing this, he has also observed where the industry, while moving in a better direction, needs improvement. “I’ve only been in the business for about three years; however, based on research and experience I have realized the business needs a lot of fixing and restructuring if we really want to get Dancehall/Reggae back on top.”
Abigail Rowe is a rising Music Publicist and CEO of her own PR firm, (The PR Rowe Agency) from Kingston, Jamaica. She has over three years experience in the field and is passionate about not only telling the stories of her clients but of the Caribbean music history and experience. She does not represent any of the artists listed here.