While Atlanta was still in its funk era in the 1970s, reggae and dancehall music began to gain popularity in New York, where they would be infused with round-the-way rap to form hip-hop.
For example, DJ Kool Herc (née Clive Campbell), a founding father of hip-hop, is a Jamaican immigrant who invented the breakbeat—the sonic blueprint from which hip-hop music is built—while DJing a back-to-school party for his sister. According to DJ Herc, the idea of the breakbeat came from the reggae dubplates that Jamaican sound systems played at parties throughout the island. Afrika Bambaataa—another founding father, known for delineating the four elements of hip-hop as rapping, DJing, break dancing, and graffiti writing—is of Jamaican heritage as well.
Reggae’s influence quickly swelled beyond New York. In the 1980s, Caribbean migrants moved south to Atlanta en masse, bringing with them their patois, cuisine, and music. Reggae clubs such as the Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue booked sound systems like Bass Odyssey, Kilimanjaro, and DJ King Waggy Tee and international reggae acts like Dennis Brown, Barrington Levy, and Burning Spear. Today, local reggae bands and sound systems like One Drop Sound, DJ Chigga, DJ Inturn, and others still rock clubs and festivals around the city.
Elsewhere in the city’s soundscape, Lil Jon (Jonathon Smith), hip-hop artist/producer and the “King of Crunk,” used to spin dancehall records on WRFG 89.3, a community-based radio station. He eventually produced a remix of dancehall artist Capleton’s hit single “Tour.” Later, he’d incorporate dancehall into his own music, most notably, in the remix of Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz’ “What U Gon’ Do.” His friend and fellow Atlanta producer Jermaine Dupri also used dancehall stylings on the bridge of his group Kris Kross’s megahit “Jump.”
Atlanta hip-hop’s Caribbean roots run deep. Ghetto Mafia out of Decatur is credited with pioneering trap music; Nino, one-half of the duo, hails from the island of St. Croix. His claim to fame was introducing ad-libs to the genre. These ad-libs, which artists like Young Jeezy later emulated, were inspired by dancehall DJs such as Cutty Ranks and Burro Banton. Big Cat Records, the label that launched Gucci Mane’s career, was cofounded by a Jamaican named Marlon “Big Cat” Rowe. Also, rapper 21 Savage’s parents are from Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, by way of London.
But perhaps the clearest example of the Caribbean’s influence on Atlanta hip-hop is OutKast’s classic song on its third studio album, Aquemini: “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” described by Andre 3000 in the second verse as a fine, bow-legged girl . . . fine as all outdoors.
I was at the now-closed Doppler Studios, interviewing the duo for a cover story for Rap Pages magazine, when I first heard the funky, reggae-tinged track.
It announces itself with a six-second drum roll by Atlanta native Omar Phillips. Then the beat blends into a drum pattern called “one drop rhythm,” a style popularized by drummer Carlton “Carly” Barrett of Bob Marley and the Wailers. It’s a backbeat with a strong snare drum stroke and/or rim shot combined with a bass drum hitting the third beat of every four while the first beat is left wide open. This rhythm leaves the listener anticipating the beat on the one count—hence the name “one drop.”
Rhythmic guitar strokes or strikes played throughout the song, and the majestic horns played by Horns Unlimited, further solidify the reggae vibe. There’s also the echo effect on Andre’s voice chanting “damn James” as the drums beat in a frenzy and the song moves from stanza to stanza. This echo technique is a hallmark of reggae dub edits used by producers like Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Big Boi told me, “‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ has a reggae vibe to it because both of us are big fans of reggae, especially Bob Marley and the Wailers.” In fact, he and Andre had spent time in Jamaica before making Aquemini. Big Boi calls the song’s contemplative, spoken-word style “smoking word,” which is akin to a DJ speaking poetically, rhythmically over an instrumental—a technique known in reggae and dancehall as “toasting.”
“The way she moved reminded me of a brown stallion horse with skates on . . .” Big Boi toasts about his “SpottieOttieDopaliscious angel” in the final verse.
Smooth, like a hot comb on nappy-ass hair . . .
I walked up on her and was almost paralyzed . . .
Her neck was smelling sweeter than a plate of yams with extra syrup . . .
Go on and marinate on that for a minute.
Cue the horns.
Bonus: Check out Braxton’s Spotify playlist of classic reaggae jams.
Read the full feature: Atlanta’s Caribbean Vibes
This article appears in our May 2023 issue.