To date, reggae has had an underrated rap. Out of all categories the Recording Academy credits for their annual GRAMMY Awards, Reggae only gets one slot – which is simply a travesty! Anyone who follows the genre knows that a myriad of subgenres exist that have fractured the larger Reggae umbrella over the years – seriously, there are plentiful new denominations. There is roots reggae, reggae rock, rocksteady, pop reggae, hip hop reggae, ska, dancehall, dub… heck, there’s even metal reggae, such as the likes of Shinobi Ninja and Skindred. Just to illustrate how one of these subcategories splinters even further, let’s examine ska for a second: there’s modern ska reggae (like Bumpin’ Uglies), Jamaican ska reggae (like The Skatalites), UK ska reggae (like The Skints or Gentleman’s Dub Club) and lest we forget, the most successful subsection of them all, ska punk (Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, et. Al.). Within the realm of musical acclaim, reggae is the most recognized worldwide and the least represented. The GRAMMYs give out three awards for video game music, just to put this in perspective.
Reggae, as a whole, is alive and well around the world.
Reggae, as a whole, is alive and well around the world. The Marleys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. One particular avenue that remains a grass roots project to this day is Reggae Rock, or ‘Cali Reggae’. Birthed in the early 1990s by Sublime, Long Beach became the mecca of the ‘new noise’. Sublime, fronted by the late Bradley Nowell, combined samples of old-school reggae songs with original punk instrumentals. This, in turn, landed Sublime some underground fandom for their 1992 40 Oz. To Freedom and 1994 Robbin’ the Hood LPs. During this time, Nowell enlisted two high school prodigies by the names of Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald (alongside drummer friend Adam Bausch) to play live at the Foot Hill Tavern in Long Beach. Shortly thereafter, the duo got a record deal through Nowell’s newly-formed Skunk Records. Before Bradley could reach the height of his prime, he met his untimely death in 1996, two months before his self-titled Sublime album was released and went multi-platinum with over 6 million units sold.
Nowell’s heroin overdose might have been tragic, but his last recorded work stands as one of the best albums of the decade, “redeeming” rock in the post-grunge era according to Spin Magazine. Later that same year, Doughty and McDonald unleashed their own debut album, Slightly $toopid, going on to record 12 more full-length to date as Slightly Stoopid and become the biggest reggae rock band the world has ever seen. Despite their lengthy breadth of work, Slightly Stoopid was largely overshadowed through the 2000s until one single caught the mainstream media’s attention around the world in 2010. Out of Huntington Beach rose a hip hop-meets-reggae rock group by the name of Dirty Heads; the song was “Lay Me Down”, featuring Rome Ramirez who would go on to become the new lead singer in the Sublime revival effort known as Sublime With Rome. It all came full-circle. With renewed interest in the genre, bands that had already recorded great works became widely popular, such as Rebelution, Collie Buddz, Iration and The Expendables… all of which had a bangin’ 2007 releasing full-length albums that cemented their career forever, by the way.
As Dirty Heads climbed the charts, one entrepreneur in northern California saw dollar signs…
As Dirty Heads climbed the charts, one entrepreneur in northern California saw dollar signs in the business of hosting a festival catering to this rising trend. That man was Jeff Monser who, Memorial Day Weekend 2010, hosted the premiere California Roots Music & Arts Festival at the Monterey Fairgrounds. Now in its 11th year, Cali Roots (as it’s known familiarly) incorporates reggae rock, roots reggae, world music and hip hop in its three-day trajectory, welcoming travelers far and wide to the sold out event. Cali Roots paved the way for reggae rock festivals around the world to pop up, from domestic east coast ventures like Reggae Rise Up Florida to Costa Rica fiestas like Jungle Jam to corporate entities embracing novel lineups, like KAABOO Cayman. You can find a reggae rock gathering globally throughout the calendar year, all thanks to the efforts of Monser over a decade ago.
And, reggae rock isn’t slowing down any time soon! Literally thousands of bands exist today, specifically aimed to promote the reggae rock movement. Countless of talented groups have also fallen throughout the years; only fond memories exist of the days when Seedless, Reeform, The Veragroove, HB Surround Sound and 80 Proof rocked stages. With so much potential and unconditional support from its fans, it’s only a matter of time that Reggae Rock takes over the mainstream radio waves. But, perhaps we wouldn’t want that… it’s charm is in its humble status.
Photography by Sean McCracken