What is a reggae “riddim?”
“Riddim” is the Jamaican Patois term for the instrumental “rhythm” track of a song, also known as the “groove” or the “beat”. Jamaican popular songs, and many other types of Caribbean music, are built on riddims.
Riddims usually consist of a prominent bass line and a particular unique drum pattern and are truly the backbone of dub, reggae, lovers’ rock, ragga, roots, dancehall, etc. Many riddims originate from a hit song and the riddim carries the name of the song, for example I-Wayne’s 2004 hit “Lava Ground” on the Lava Ground Riddim. Or, in some cases, the riddim takes the name of the most popular song recorded on it. For example, the Satta Massagana Riddim is named after The Abyssinians’ original song “Satta Massagana”.
Occasionally, an artiste will voice two completely different songs on the identical riddim. And it’s very common for different artistes to voice over the same riddims with different Satta matka lyrics and different vocal styles, ranging from singing to toasting. For example, Jah Cure’s “Call On Me”, Gyptian’s “Butterfly”, and Tanya Stephens’ “Reminiscing” are all on 2009’s wonderful Good Love Riddim. The success of a riddim is judged by how many artistes “juggle” it, or make their own vocal interpretations of it. Jamaican audiences will judge whether or not the tune is big and, if so, other artistes will write new lyrics to “ride the riddim”.
There can be more than a dozen popular current riddims, but there are usually only a few “hot” riddims at any given time. Artistes have to record over these hot riddims if they want a better shot at getting their songs played in the dancehalls or on the radio. Many times a dance is even created in honor of the riddim, like Pepperseed, or Gully Creeper, or who can forget the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt’s victory dance, “Nah Linga”?!!
The riddims don’t always originate from reggae; some urban contemporary songs may become riddims as well. The instrumental of Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent” has become a popular riddim; many dancehall artists have recorded songs using the track. Other songs have inspired riddims too, such as George Michael’s song “Faith,” which became a riddim of the same name, and R. Kelly’s “Snake,” which became the Baghdad Riddim.
Types of riddims
Riddims are African in origin and are generally one of three types. The oldest, the “classical” riddim, provides the instrumentals for dub, roots reggae and lovers’ rock (well known producers include Sly & Robbie). The “ragga” riddim backs (or used to back) raggamuffin and dancehall songs. And “digital” riddims (e.g., King Jammy’s Sleng Teng Riddim) are created with computers, synthesizers and drum machines; in other words, they are really electronic riddims.