Reggae rock exists as a subgenre of reggae that started in Southern California and rose to popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bands like Sublime and Slightly Stoopid became the leading forces of the reggae rock movement, whose lyrical focus on consciousness, love, and daily struggles incorporates elements of punk, rock, hip-hop, and root reggae. Artists within this genre were able to cultivate a movement that is both a reflection and combination of all these elements. Ultimately, the reggae rock movement exemplifies a type of cultural exchange that has gained popularity throughout the world.
Root Reggae, the most distinct form of reggae rock, found its footing in the most altruistic of ways. What makes reggae music distinguishable from other genres is its fusion of bass and drums (known as “dub”), as well as threads of traditional elements, such as rhythm and blues, jazz, and rural folk music. Lyrically, root reggae concerns itself with the everyday struggles of the people and social commentary.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Jamaica underwent an enormous amount of political and social change that resulted in both violence and revolution. Since its independence in 1962, Jamaica has been ruled by a white political structure; this led many Jamaican reggae artists, like Bob Marley & The Wailers, Peter Tosh, Junior Reid, and Dennis Brown, to pen songs about oppression and that defy the political establishment, such as Bob Marley’s song, “ Get Up, Stand Up” with lyrics, ‘ Get up, stand up! (Get up, stand up!) // Don't give up the fight! (Life is your right!).’
Many reggae rock bands recognize the significances root reggae played in their musical expression. Many reggae rock artists tour with legendary reggae artists. For example, Slightly Stoopid have toured and collaborated with reggae artists Don Carlos and Damian Marley, among others, in the past.
The Rastafari movement was another influence on root reggae. The Rastafari movement combines Protestant Christianity, mysticism, Pan-Africanism, and political activism, and rose to popularity with Ethiopian King Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in the early 60s.
The main concept of Rastafari preaches following a natural way of life. ‘I and I’, a unique term to Rastafarianism, refers to the connectedness of Jah (God) and all people. This idea, that we are all one, coupled with Rastas wearing their hair in dreadlocks and smoking marijuana for religious purposes, are some of the cornerstones of Rastafari.Today, the rules are not strictly obeyed by those who identify with the Rastafari movement. However, they mostly focus on its particular mindset.
Punk music is another key player in reggae rock’s origins. Sublime and Slightly Stoopid both cut their teeth as punk bands, covering bands like Bad Religion and The Descendents, before drawing inspiration from reggae in the 1990s.The punk movement first originated in Great Britain in the early 1970s, and like reggae, was a reaction to economic and social upheavals. It evolved as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister, passed legislation that affected the welfare of Great Britain and made it difficult for young Brits to find jobs.
A uniquely symbiotic relationship grew from these two genres--punk rockers leveraged the anti-establishment attitude of reggae, while reggae was afforded a broader platform to reach new audiences and become more mainstream. One instrumental figure in introducing reggae to the punk scene was Don Letts, a renowned Jamaican DJ, who spun reggae records in between sets at the Roxy, a popular punk club in London.This inspired punk bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols to use elements of reggae in their own music, to speak against the racial and economic/class divisions in Britain. Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon has always been firmly rooted in reggae music, stating, “I heard it growing up in the council flats [the U.K’s low-cost government housing]. It was a way of life, it’s not entertainment.” Reggae came to offer a gentler, more positive way to critique the oppression affecting people. It served as a relaxed alternative to the dangers of sticking it to the status quo.
Latin American Reggae
Having gained popularity outside the U.S. mainlands, reggae rock is especially popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Latin-reggae relationship in root reggae is intertwined with cultural, racial, and social dynamics with Latin America. Latin- reggae artists recognize their African roots and express that through the reggae music.
Unlike American bands, which draw oblique connections to reggae in their music, Latin reggae has direct cultural roots. Latin reggae artists self- identify with reggae, whereas American bands, often mostly composed of white members, express mere appreciations for this genre.Spanish artist Manu Chao, for example, uses their lyrics to target socio-economic problems like in his song, “ Clandestino [ illegals]” with lyrics, “ To escape the law// Lost in the heart// Of the great Babylon// They call me clandestine [ illegals] // For not having any papers.”
Slightly Stoopid and Sublime
The most recognizable band to emerge from the reggae rock movement is Sublime. Unable to gain mass recognition because of their unique sound, Sublime did what diy punk bands do-- created their own record label, Skunk Records, in the late 1980s. They toured Southern California with Ska bands like No Doubt and Smokestacks for several years, playing clubs and local parties. Sublime gained national attention with their first single, “Date Rape,” released in 1991, which incorporated reggae, punk, and rock elements.
Slightly Stoopid, another Californian reggae band, signed while they were still in high school, gaining fame with their excellent fourth album, Closer to the Sun. Slightly Stoopid and Sublime’s take-life-easy attitude quickly garnered a cult following. Unlike grunge, which dominated the airwaves during the 90s, Sublime and Slightly Stoopid offered a brighter outlook on life through their positive lyrics, which still resonate among adolescents today. Sublime and Slightly Stoopid have also paved the way for other reggae rock artists, like Iration, Rebelution, 311, The Dirty Heads, and Soja.
Reggae rock music
A combination of rock and reggae, reggae rock speaks to the struggle of the African Diaspora. In spite of this, the reggae rock community is largely dominated by a white population. Perhaps the real issue many people have with reggae rock is whether or not reggae rock artists are culturally appropriating reggae music. Some critics claim that white reggae rock bands who use local Jamaican patois are offensive. Bands, like the Expendables and Tribal Seed, do use Jamaican patois in their music. However, The Expendables often explain before every show that the use of the patois is out of respect and honor for the reggae culture.
Festivals like California Roots are designed for and cater to a specific audience; however, the atmosphere that reggae concerts and festivals exude cater to everyone. These festivals act as refuges for fans who enjoy reggae music, without making them feel as if they are appropriating the culture. Fans of Slightly Stoopid have expressed their experiences at shows and festivals as “friendly” and “judgement- free.” Many who identify with the Rastafari movement are not people of color, or from the islands, and may feel scrutinized for wearing dreads, smoking weed, or spreading love and peace outside of reggae events. It is in these very places that anyone can express individuality.
Reggae music and its musicians are not solely defined by whether or not they come from Jamaica. Most of the successful reggae bands and artists that surface today are neither Jamaican nor from the Caribbean. This only exemplifies reggae’s attitude of cultural acceptance.
The cultural exchange that occurs through reggae rock is a spiritual one. Reggae rock enables listeners to go beyond their physical form and transcend how we communicate with each other. It opens up a conversation of how we view race and music in their purest forms.The creation of reggae itself made it possible for many different subgenres to explore their own spirituality in various ways.
Reggae music taps into human themes of life that enable us to explore our identities and spirituality; it opens doors and helps listeners embrace the need for peace, love, easy living, and the understanding we are all connected. Freddic McGregor, a reggae singer, states, “It’s just music, and the love of it. So whoever plays it and sings it, it’s a blessing.”