Thursday, May 14, 2009

Run De Riddim!: The Best Of Riddim Driven

The 'riddim album' or 'version album' as it is known is an album which features one (or however many) backing track as the single musical unit around which several different artists add their vocals. It has been popular and widely used through the history of releasing Reggae albums and continues to this very day. VP Records' Riddim Driven series has redefined the entire sub-genre of riddim albums as, even those which aren't in the series will often be referred to as 'Riddim Drivens' by fans. Throughout its near decade of activity the series has seen some of the finest riddims from some of the finest producers in the game and DEFINITELY most of the top artists have voiced MANY times on the Riddim Driven series. And with credits like those and the fact that the Riddim Driven series now has 130+ installments, it can be VERY difficult sifting through to find the best it has to offer. Thus, I submit for your approval, the very best of the Riddim Driven Series to date.
{note: NOT the best riddims alone. The best riddim ALBUMS. And to all of you crazies who watch everything I say entirely too carefully, remember that the Lalibella wasn't an edition of the Riddim Driven series, but in a category in its own for VP}

#10. Throwback Giggy - Left Side & Esco (2005)

Remember Me? From back in 2005, the Throwback Giggy was a remake of the original Giggy riddim by Steely and Clevie from the early nineties and it was perhaps the height of the relicking of old school riddims which virtually FLOODED the Dancehall for two years or so. It was probably the most popular riddim of its time as well as it boasted a tune in Tuck In U Belly from producers Left Side & Esco which RAN the Dancehall world for about a year. When it made it to an album it was a natural for VP to pick up but unfortunately there weren’t a lot of big songs here. Standouts included Vybz Kartel, Roundhead, Calico & especially Ce’cile (and no, I didn’t like Too Bad from Buju and still don’t). What it lacked in consistent quality, however, it made up by simply being one of the most FUN releases the Riddim Driven Series has EVER seen.

Big Hit: Tuck In U Belly by Left Side & Esco
Best Tune: Hot Like This by Ce’Cile

#9. Cry Baby - Birchill (2005)

Christopher Birch’s Cry Baby riddim was downright DIVINE. The riddim could lay claim to the single finest clean version on this list and I couldn’t counter argue very much at all. It could also, in my opinion, lay claim to being the most underrated riddim on this list, despite a roster which sported big names like Sizzla, Morgan Heritage, T.O.K, Buju Banton and even Shaggy. It didn’t do much damage in retrospect, but with a cast like that it wasn’t a shock when VP decided to release it (it also had names like Elephant Man, Assassin and Junior Kelly, all of whom have released VP albums) (Voicemail too) (unfortunately). For me it ranks right up there, even if I’m the only one who thinks so.

Big Hit: Thanks & Praise by Sizzla
Best Tune: God Nah Sleep by Assassin

#8. Juice - Call Me Shams (2001)

I used to LOVE the Juice riddim! Still pull it out occasionally because the riddim has such an ADDICTIVE bounce to it, looking back I’m pretty surprised it didn’t have more of a following than it did, but it did actually do quite well. The Juice came way back in 2001 (the first year of Riddim Driven) when VP was still trying to build up the series and releasing more and more pieces but a glance at the tracklist reveals why this one may STILL be a choice. Boasting names like T.O.K, Bounty & Beenie, Mr. Vegas, Elephant Man and Mad Cobra, you still had so many high class names here and it even drew the best out fthe likes of Goofy and Desperado of all people. All these years later and it remains one of the series’ best and THE best from Richard ‘Shams’ Browne, the Juice’s creator.

Big Hit: Man Ah Bad Man by T.O.K & Bounty Killer
Best Tune: My Wish by Beenie Man

#7. Dreaming - Daseca (2007)

You’re talking about a BEAUTIFUL mid-tempo Dancehall riddim with the sublime Dreaming which is arguably STILL Daseca’s greatest creation to date. The Dreaming simply had a mind of it’s own: It served so many purposes to so many different artists without REALLY changing too much, making itself a virtual ‘chameleon’ of a riddim. Playing backdrop from some of the top notch bad boys of the Dancehall like Vybz Kartel, Busy Signal, Assassin and Mavado, the Dreaming definitely got a pretty nice spin and bit of attention also, which probably explains why VP chose to include it as a Riddim Driven. They couldn’t have been too disappointed: I know several people who claim it’s the best they’ve ever selected for the series altogether.

Big Hit: Dreaming by Mavado
Best Tune: Lover’s Prayer by Alaine

#6. I Swear - 5th Element (2004)

Remember the not too long ago glory days of the 5th Element camp? Before virtually fading away (although I believe they are still OFFICIALLY in business today) the label, ran by one Devon Wheatley helped to launch/re-vive the careers of both Richie Spice and Chucka Fenda as well as Anthony Cruz (YUCK!). And, were that not enough, later on down the line, 5th Element would also be essential to bringing future SUPERSTAR Etana to the world’s attentions as well. Their best tangible music contribution (besides the artists) was DEFINITELY the KNOCKING Roots piece, the I Swear riddim. The electrical one-drop riddim played on HARD for more than a year and obviously attracted VP’s attention based on the star power. Besides the aforementioned 5th Element trio, also here was Sizzla Kalonji, Luciano, Junior Kelly and Jah Cure (and Chezidek and Natural Black, who also spent time at the label). Although not the most CONSISTENT of installments in the series, the I Swear was an easy highlight with its top class offerings.

Big Hit: I Swear by Chuck Fenda
Best Tune: I Swear by Chuck Fenda

#5. Guardian Angel - Fresh Ear Productions (2007)

DIVINE! 2007 was a big year for the Riddim Driven series with three of it’s installments making this list (and a next which would have been #11) and perhaps NONE of the others would have as great of a claim as being the most beautiful on this list than the aptly titled Guardian Angel from Arif Cooper’s Fresh Ear label. It also marked a brief time of NEW AGE sounding one-drop riddims where it was one of the, if not THE, most high-profile addition of that time. Originally released under Fresh Ear’s own wing for the Japanese market (dubbed the “Advent Of The Ultimate One Drop Riddim by Cooper and co.) VP eventually came around to their senses (sense of hearing of course) and picked up the riddim (after cleverly adding recent signee Jamelody to it’s tracklist) for the RD series. And why not? Besides being AMAZING, the Guardian Angel featured the likes of Jah Cure, Wayne Marshall, T.O.K, Richie Spice and Da’Ville, all of whom have released albums for the label (and did I mention that it was BEAUTIFUL!).

Big Hit: Rise In Love by Alaine
Best Tune: Rise In Love by Alaine

#4. Liquid - 2Hard Productions (2001)

Does the name Jeremy Harding ring a bell? Of course it does but not as it maybe did around a decade ago as simply one of the WICKEDEST producers in the Dancehall game, owning to his credit the Playground riddim, amongst others, which backed one of the most important Dancehall tunes EVER voiced, Beenie Man’s Who Am I. Well, while now you’ll probably know him as the mastermind behind Dancehall SUPERSTAR Sean Paul’s successes, you may have forgotten altogether the SPARKLING Liquid riddim. This thing, as a version alone, has to be considered one of the best riddims of all time in the Dancehall as it served just that purpose -DANCING- better than probably 99.9% of the riddims before it and since. It was a no-brainer for VP back in the RD series’ first year as it helped along names like Elephant Man, Wayen Wonder, T.O.K, Tanto Metro & Devonte, Mad Cobra and of course Sean Paul.

Big Hit: Log On by Elephant Man
Best Tune: Can You Do The Wuk? By Sean Paul & Ce’Cile

#3. Hard times - Gibbo Records (2004)

What a FANTASTIC gift to leave the world with. After a lifetime of serving Reggae business the LEGENDARY Errol Thompson made his transition in the same year as the SCATHING Hard Times riddim dropped back in 2004. This thing was one of the best riddims I have EVER heard and I was definitely not the only one as I recall the Hard Times, produced by Thompson and Stephen Gibson (son of Joe Gibbs), was vying for the title best riddim of the year alongside the Drop Leaf riddim. I-Wayne, Richie Spice, Chuck Fenda, Luciano and most famously Capleton all blessed the Hard Times which seemed RIPE for VP’s picking at the time. The Hard Times STILL wreaks havoc when it is played as it was simply BRILLIANT and remains so.

Big Hit: That Day Will Come by Capleton
Best Tune: That Day Will Come by Capleton

#2. Jam Down - Danger Zone (2007)

The word CONSISTENCY comes more and more into play when you get to the top two on my list and one could make a MIGHTY fine argument that the Riddim Driven series has NEVER produced a more consistent album than the Jam Down riddim. The same could be said for the label from which it is birthed, Danger Zone which currently houses the infamous Jah Cure, one of the most impressive artists of the modern era and has shown themselves to be upward and outward reaching and venturing in their brief time with us. In that same time, they’ve made no greater contribution AT ALL than the Jam Down riddim which, on paper seemed like a good addition to Riddim Driven by VP as it came with artists like the Cure, DZ’s other top act Ce’Cile, Morgan Heritage, Capleton, Lutan Fyah and Buju Banton. When you actually played it? The SWEET vibe this one pulled and continues to pull is just so damn addictive you can’t escape it.

Big Hit: I’m Waiting by Ce’cile
Best Tune: Sticky by Jah Cure

#1. Rub-A-Dub - No Doubt Records (2008)

Let me say it and I’ll tell you that when Kemar ‘Flava’ McGregor came up with the Rub-A-Dub riddim and voiced who he chose to voice with it, he IMMEDIATELY forced VP to pick it up for the Riddim Driven series. Why? If you include Fantan Mojah and Anthony B (who released for Greensleeves, owned by VP), there are no less than FIVE artists on the riddim whom would have album releases out for the label within twelve months or so and four of them (Etana, Richie Spice, Morgan Heritage and Mojah) are official VP/Greensleeves artists. Add to that the fact that two of them (the Morgans and Spice) would record tunes which would be lead singles from their albums AND Capleton also voiced the riddim (another VP artist). They had NO choice, they had to release it. Now, were the riddim rubbish, it wouldn’t have made this list, but it was LOVELY. The Rub-A-Dub riddim was my favourite of 2008 and it continues to be one of my favourite to date as it just featured so many nice tunes. Besides those big names, it also included nice up and comers like I-Octane, Teflon, No Doubt’s own Nesbeth and the late Eloquent also. Pretty much everyone who reached the simple brilliance that was the Rub-A-Dub scored with it also. It was the best Riddim Driven EVER and exactly what you might expect from the best Reggae producer in the world. Period.

Big Hit: The Plane Land by Richie Spice
Best Tune: The Most High by Fantan Mojah


  1. Awesome review - many thanks. Definitely will help me to get stuck into these riddims!

    If you ever feel like doing something equally helpful to help people sort their way amongst the million greensleeves rhythm albums that would be really appreciated too!