Dancehall is a polular  type of  music originated in the late 70s in Jamaica, as a result of varying political and socio-economic factors. It is also known as bashment.

Dancehall is characterized by a deejay singing and toasting (or rapping) over danceable music riddims. The rhythm in dancehall is much faster than in traditional reggae, sometimes with drum machines replacing acoustic sets. In the early years of dancehall, some found its lyrics crude or “slack”, because of its sexual tones. Like its reggae predecessor, dancehall eventually made inroads onto the world music scene.

Dub poet Mutabaruka maintained, “if 1970s reggae was red, green and gold, then in the next decade it was gold chains”. As was indicated in the article on murder music, there is furious debate among purists as to whether it should be considered some sort of extension of reggae music.


Dancehall is the mother of hip hop and owes its name to the spaces in which popular Jamaican recordings were aired by local sound systems and readily consumed by its “set-to-party” patronage; commonly referred to as “dance halls”. Dancehall, the musical genre, is long considered to be the creation of Henry “Junjo” Lawes in 1979. The production of dancehall music was further refined by King Jammy in the early 80s, during the transition from dub to dancehall, and original attempts to digitize “hooks” to “toast” over by Jamaican deejays.

Dancehall’s predecessor; reggae music, was influenced heavily by the ideologies of the Rastafarian culture and was further goaded by the socialist movements of the era. Many became embittered by the movements and the harsh economic realities they brought the island to bear. It was during this time that the neo-liberalphilosophies of greed and covetousness began factoring into the lives of many Jamaicans, which subsequently spawned this original “bling bling” form of entertainment.

Typically, dance halls are found in more urbanized areas of Jamaica, i.e., Kingston, but can also be seen in more rural locations. Furthermore, the term ‘dancehall’ alludes not only to a musical genre or venue, but on a grander scheme, it suggests the institution of an entire culture in which music, dance, community and politics collide.

As an evolution of first reggae, then rocksteady, dancehall draws upon its roots with regard to its stylistic rudiments. However, that, some say, is where the similarities end. The subject matters of dancehall music tend towards profanity, misogyny, violence and most recently is the cause celebre of homosexuals and and by members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered community (GLBT) who are opponents of dancehall lyrics – a stark contrast from the so called songs of acceptance and social progression sung by reggae pathfinders. Its caustic tones, which are referred to in the region as “slack lyrics”, have been rigorously criticized – most notably by artists and followers of classic reggae music.

Such a drastic change in the popular music of the region generated an equally radical transformation in fashion trends, specifically those of its female faction. In lieu of traditional, modest “rootsy” styles, as dictated by Rastafari-inspired gender roles; women began donning flashy, revealing – sometimes x-rated outfits. This transformation is said to coincide with the influx of slack lyrics within dancehall, which objectified women as objects of pleasure. These women would team up with others to form “modeling possess”, or “dancehall model” groups, and informally compete with their rivals.

This newfound materialism and conspicusness was not, however, exclusive to women or manner of dress. Appearance at dance halls was exceedingly important to acceptance by peers and encompassed everything from clothing and jewelry, to the types of vehicles driven, to the sizes of each respective gang or “crew”, and was equally important to both sexes.

Dancehall Music


Major artists and milestones

Dancehall emerged in the early 1980s, and most of the creative output can be credited to studio musicians Steely & Clevie, along with the handful of producers they collaborated with. They created the music for many of the riddims that the genre was based on. The decade saw the arrival of a new generation of deejays, most distinct were the harder edged, such as Ninjaman, Flourgon, General Trees, Tiger, Admiral Bailey, Super Cat, Yellowman, Tenor Saw, Shelly Thunder, Reggie Stepper, Shabba Ranks, Johnny P, Peter Metro, Charlie Chaplin, Cutty Ranks, and Papa San to name a few. To complement their sound, a “singjay” vocal style evolved out of roots reggae and R&B, with proponents like Pinchers, Cocoa Tea, Sanchez, Admiral Tibet, Frankie Paul, Half Pint, Conroy Smith, Courtney Melody, Carl Meeks, and Barrington Levy.

The genre was so popular that established reggae singers like Gregory Isaacs, Militant Barry, Beres Hammond, Johnny Osbourne and U-Roy transitioned into dancehall.

In the early 90s, songs like Dawn Penn’s re-issue of “No, No, No”, Shabba Ranks’s “Mr. Loverman”, Patra’s “Worker Man” and Chaka Demus and Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote” became some of the first dancehall megahits in the U.S. and abroad. Various other varieties of dancehall achieved crossover success outside of Jamaica during the mid-to-late 1990s and in to the new millania such much so that everyone from hardcore rappers to established singers are now teaming up with deejays to create a unique blend of music.

The years 1990-1994 saw the entry of artists like Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw, Shaggy, Diana King, Spragga Benz, Capleton, Beenie Man and a major shift in the sound of dancehall, brought on by the introduction of a new generation of producers.

In the late 1990s, many practitioners like Buju Banton and Capleton returned to the Rastafari movement and changed their lyrical focus to “consciousness”, a reflection of the spiritual underpinnings of Rastafari.

Like anything the “popular cuilture views as out side of the law or outlaw, Dancehall is forging major inroads into the listening spaces of people around the world to the point where even those who realize the extremeness of the lyrics contained in the music, can’t help but rock to the beat and rhythm.

Lady Saw – Chat to mi back

24 thoughts on “The origin and culture of Dancehall

  1. Thank you for all this information I am doing a speech in my communication class on two dancehall icons in Jamaica and I found this site very informative


  2. Hey, Good Night, I’m doing a research on the negative impacts of dancehall on students in Jamaica and I’d like to use this as a source of information in my literature review, may I please have your name? So I can cite the information appropriately by recognizing your work. Thank You.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I say dance hall was before the the 1970’s king Pruff was before 1970’s he use to operate at two miles across from Gooden bakery on Spanish town road

      then and Forestal Hall was a famous dances all. my mother told me before she became a christian, the beat and music change


    2. I am sure if you visit the inner city out spanish town road and speak to helders over sixty if they will tell you of their pass dance Hall life and if the are a christian the will tell you God change them, Or at a dance seek the very old person if they are origin from kingston to east you will learn of the real dance all and its origin it did not start with reggea, reggea was born from that grandaughter is to do this project but I am finding is crap


  3. Hello, Im doing a college based assessment on whether Dancehall has evolved in a positive way over the years or if it has changed for the worst. This bog has helped me to understand how Dancehall came about. However i am interested to know your take on the development of Dancehall. Also would like to know information about the author as its needed for referencing. I personally love Dancehall and listen to it everyday and am taking this course to learn how to create and produce dancehall. Much appreciated. Thank you.


  4. Great source of secondary information on the dancehall genre. This blog provided a major source of information for my school based assessment, thank you. I need the name of the author and other relevant information, thanks in advance


  5. hello, im doing a school based assessment on the effects (negative) of dancehall music on youths, and i would like to use some of the information on this page. However, i need to produce a credible source for my information. If information about the author of this blog can be provided, it would be much appreciated. thank you in advance


  6. hello, im doing a school based assessment on the effects (negative) of dancehall music on youths, and i would like to use some of the information on this page. However, i need to produce a credible source for my information. If information about the author of this blog can be provided, it would be much appreciated. thank you


  7. Well I have most definitely learnt a great deal for my Internal Assessment and I just wanted to say thnx for the info n kp up the work.


  8. Congratulations on providing such a well informed and accurate article on the Dancehall genre. This was a fabulous read, that gave me a very detailed insight, somehting which is hard to find even when your at the mercey of a computer with an internet connection. Again, congratulations, i would be interested to see if you will add to this article in the near future, maybe touching on some other associated issues within the dancehall industry and possibly go in to finer details about the dancehall industry as a business.


    1. Thanks

      Glad you read it. I wanted to do another article on passa passa, but I had gathered materials on a lot of things and ended up prioritzing some and put that on the back burner. I will put it together soon though.



  9. Leroy G…

    Besides the fact that i briefly mentioned URoy but was remiss in not mentioning the others you mentioned (my bad), I do not want you to confuse the phenomena of the dance hall movement, with djaying as a singular entity. While many of the dances in the sixties for example, were held in halls, backyards, blocked off streets, they were not styled has dancehall…even with some of the earlier djays.

    That being said, if you have constructive criticism, do so in a mature fashion or fuck off! Nothing pisses me off any more than bitches coming up in here throwing shit out, as if they know something!


    1. Hello,
      Hope you are having a great day !!!!!!!!!!!!
      You have some fantastic information to pass on. There are always going to be people who disagree with what you write, especially if its information that different from their belief system. Don’t sweat it you are sharing information and educating. Go with the flow and have loving exchanges in differences of opinion. It will hurt you more than the intented target to be mean spirited
      Personality research suggests that people who swear more, not surprisingly, score higher on traits such as extraversion, dominance and hostility
      Just a constructive criticism from one who thinks you have more to offer than swearing.


      1. Thanks! I hardly have a logical reason for the cussing. But…sometimes it does concisely convey the emotion of the moment. Your point is valid and I will endeavour to practice restraint.


  10. This is Wack, Wack, You need to do some more checking of your source because people like U Roy, Big Youth, I Roy, King Stiche, King Tubby and many more was ruling Dance Hall in the late 68 – 70s so check your fact again.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. hello, im doing a school based assessment on the effects (negative) of dancehall music on youths, and i would like to use some of the information on this page. However, i need to produce a credible source for my information. If information about the author of this blog can be provided, it would be much appreciated. thank you


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