Paid and Played
In 2002 the face of reggae was irrevocably changed. America was introduced to undiluted dancehall reggae via Sean Paul's hit song "Gimme the Light." The song helped shed light on a slice of Jamaican dance culture called the "riddims," a beat created and then used as a backing track for a number of different artists. Since the early Eighties, a riddim creation has been as imperative to a song's success as the artist who records over it. Often a riddim will be used by up to twenty artists before the individual songs are pressed into vinyl singles and released to the streets. This process has been refined a bit, particularly with reggae distributor VP Records collecting popular riddims into compilations for sale.
Throughout, it has always been implied that Jamaicans are responsible for a riddim's success. The uniqueness in "Gimme the Light," then, is that the Buzz riddim used for the song was created by a Miami-based dancehall producer: Troyton Remi, owner of Black Shadow Records.
While dancehall records by producers outside of Jamaica aren't usually embraced, many of Remi's riddims have been welcomed by reggae radio shows and trend-setting journalists. Ironically his career is the result of an unnamed "personal tragedy" in 1997 that left him with limited mobility and ample time on his hands. While convalescing, Remi began dabbling with an MPC sampler, practicing for hours. Later that year, he started his own company, Black Shadow Records; his first release was the Black Shadow riddim, which was used to create songs by Elephant Man, Goofy, General B, and other dancehall artists. "I just knew I had it in me to create riddims!" he says enthusiastically.
Others followed, including 1999's Get Mad Now (used for Capleton's hit "Ready Fi Bun"), and a reworking of Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid in Full" for Sean Paul's "Look So Appealing." "The Get Mad Now riddim was inspired by a hip-hop vibe I had," says Remi, who says the beat for the track is a "reverse" of a punchy kick, an apt metaphor in his quest for acceptance from the dancehall scene. "It was very personal as early on I questioned myself," he says. "It's very hard to make it as a label coming from Miami. When it comes to dancehall reggae, people want to know you're coming from Jamaica."
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Despite functioning in a genre where Jamaican artists and producers are held in high esteem, he continued to pour out riddims. For his Buzz track, he turned to Paul again. "I'd been talking to Sean Paul a lot during this period and he was a little frustrated at the lyrical content of some of his material, feeling producers always wanted 'girl tunes' from him," he explains. Remi says he and Paul sat together and wrote "Gimme the Light" for the Buzz riddim. "I gave him the punchline and hook," Remi asserts.
The resulting compilation, The Buzz, was issued in 2001, selling in respectable numbers. Knowing a stronger push was required to achieve the level of success many of The Buzz's cuts were capable of, Remi sought out assistance to get the grassroots-favored "Gimme the Light" wider exposure. "We promoted it and believed in it from the beginning and all of a sudden it seemed to blow up," Remi recalls. Brooklyn-based reggae giant VP Records got involved and made a video for the song, which was used for Paul's album Dutty Rock. The hit single eventually helped VP barter a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. "I knew from the minute I recorded him, that was gonna be a big song!" says Remi. "It just took time to get it into the streets and promote it properly."
The success of "Gimme the Light" has brought Remi new respect for his talents. His latest riddim, the Surprise, has already been pegged by Buju Banton ("Paid Not Played"), Wayne Wonder ("Enemies"), and Lady Saw ("Tek Her Man") for their respective albums. Like the Paid in Full riddim, the Surprise is inspired by hip-hop. "I was listening to an old JT Money record and I liked the way the kick and the snare hit in a slow-motion version with a heavy bass line," he says. The beat revisits those days when dancehalls were ruled by men and women who sweated it out in almost scandalous gyrations, simulating sex. "It's like when you see a girl in the club and you want to convince her to go home with you -- you have to first set it up and press her against the wall with a slow whine," he says.
No matter the track, Remi always takes his art seriously. His struggles and eventual triumph as a reggae producer living in Miami have taught him to follow his heart, not the music industry. "Whether you start in your room, in a studio -- music comes from within the heart," he says. "If you stick to what you want to do and work hard at what you're doing, you'll make it in life."
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