Before he became “King Jammy,” Lloyd James served as an apprentice to King Tubby in the ’70s, working as the legendary Jamaican producer’s chief engineer. James soon struck out on his own, restarting his sound system from the ’60s and throwing himself wholeheartedly into production, helming many of the first singles to be filed under the “dancehall” category.
As the ’80s began, music around the world was changing due to the increased accessibility of electronic instruments, especially inexpensive keyboards and advanced versions of the drum machines heard on ’70s R&B songs like Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together,” Shuggie Otis’ “Aht Uh Mi Hed,” and Sly & The Family Stone’s “Family Affair.” Lloyd James was arguably the first reggae producer to see the creative possibilities of the new machines, realizing that the heat of an emotional performance can overcome the coldness of what are obviously digital rhythms.
James, then calling himself Prince Jammy, was still indebted to his former King. One of his earliest successful rhythms (aside from adaptations of the Darker Shade rhythm and the classic Stalag) was the unabashedly digital “Tempo,” produced by King Tubby and voiced by Anthony Red Rose. Jammy enlisted Johnny Osbourne and Dennis Brown to sing over the same hypnotizing track, accomplishing the double task of proving that electronic reggae can have musical emotion while bringing the two Studio One veterans into the digital age.
Prince Jammy earned his present title of King by creating the droning, head-nodding Sleng Teng rhythm. While Wayne Smith’s “Under Me Sleng Teng” and Tenor Saw’s “Pumpkin Belly” were big hits on the rhythm, Johnny Osbourne’s fast-chatting “Budy Bye” became an instant sing-along favorite. Though rejected by most reggae purists as being too “sterile,” Jammy’s infectious, innovative new digital sound became enormously popular among the youth of his Watertown neighborhood and soon spread to hardcore dancehall communities in Jamaica, New York, Canada, England, and beyond.
Jammy’s follow-up to Sleng Teng was a rhythm named after Admiral Bailey’s hit “Big Belly Man.” Many argued it was just a fattened-up version of Sleng Teng, but after Pinchers’ celebration of a woman’s orgasm, “Agony,” exploded internationally, Jammy’s claim to the throne of the dancehall world was undisputed. With the digital sound now established, Jammy followed with several rhythms based on Studio One standards, including the Far East rhythm—blessed by Cocoa Tea on “Tune In” and further sweetened by Sanchez on his favorite concert opener “Here I Am.” As for Jammy’s originals, there are few keyboard riffs more delightful than his backing for Frankie Paul’s version of “Sara.”
Although Jammy’s jumpy Magic Moment rhythm is named after Leroy Gibbons’ cover of the Drifters hit, the key hits included Tiger’s roaring “Bam Bam,” Frankie Paul’s pleading “Casanova,” and Admiral Bailey’s appropriately entitled “Jump Up.” And Jammy’s versatility is easily demonstrated by comparing/contrasting the melodic finesse of Home T and Cocoa Tea, who help out Shabba Ranks on “Who She Love,” with the raw energy of Tiger’s “Boombastic” over the same rhythm. Alternating with such hardcore hits as Admiral Bailey’s “Think Me Did Done,” Jammy’s lover’s rock continues to shine with gems like the venerable John Holts’ cover of “If I Were A Carpenter.”
PARENTAL ADVISORY: While King Jammy did not invent dancehall’s “slackness” sub-genre (the use of explicitly sexual lyrics), he certainly contributed to it. His greatest rhythm—after Sleng Teng—is entitled Punany: the patois term for a woman’s private parts. Admiral Bailey’s song of the same name set the standard, but Shabba Ranks went several steps further with “Needle Eye Pum Pum.” Over the same rhythm, Johnny P admires a woman sitting on the back of a bike (motorcycle) while on “Babylon Boops,” Major Worries warns all men that although it ma