Reggae Music News

When the majors came a-courting

LOCAL music insiders usually agree that the 1990s was dancehall’s finest era. Many of the genre’s top artistes were signed by major American record labels.

shabba ranks

The first big signing was deejay Shabba Ranks to Epic Records, home to Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross.


His first single, Trailer Road, was released in 1991 and set the pace for other songs like House Call, his collaboration with Maxi Priest.

The latter was co-produced by Mikey Bennett and Clifton ‘Specialist’ Dillon. It was a top 20 hit and shot Shabba Ranks to international stardom.

As Raw as Ever and Xtra Naked, his opening albums for Epic, sold gold and won Grammy awards in 1992 and 1993, respectively.

Shortly after Shabba’s signing, Super Cat, Tiger, Diana King and Cobra got hitched to Columbia Records, while Epic signed Bounty Killer and Patra.

Beres Hammond, Shinehead and Red Fox joined Elektra, while Shaggy went to Virgin. Producers were also in on the deal as Bennett and Dillon got production contracts with RCA and Epic, respectively.

There was considerable success for Cobra, King and Super Cat, but albums from some of their colleagues floundered.

“Although the major labels had a love affair with reggae music, some were not necessarily knowledgeable about how to manage and market our local acts,” said music consultant Clyde McKenzie.

“The fusion of reggae music and other genres didn’t work, and then they (record labels) blamed it on reggae. They are not signing reggae acts as they used to, and one of the reasons is that, back in the day, the possibility of sales could be made from records,” he added. “Another reason is that the record companies are not flush with cash as back in the days, so they stay closer to home.”

Only a few dancehall artistes have attracted major label attention in recent years.

McKenzie argues that an artiste’s success should not always be measured on chart success or securing a record deal.

“One of the things we should take into consideration is touring. An artiste may not be current but is relevant, as he/she goes on tour regularly,” he explained.

“For instance, Madonna and the Rolling Stones have longer tour dates than Justin Beiber.”

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