Legends: Sly & Robbie
Sly & Robbie were a two person powerhouse, drum and bass masters as well as producers, songwriters, dub innovators and label owners. With their cutting edge label, Taxi, and band, the Taxi Gang, Sly & Robbie were at the forefront of dancehall, reggae, dub and sonic experimentation from the ’70s onward, with Shakespeare’s partner Lowell “Sly” Dunbar ushering in a new synthesized drum sound in early ’80s reggae—predating the all-digital “Sleng Teng” by a few years.
Getting their start in the first half of the ’70s in crackerjack session bands, The Aggrovators (under the tutelage of producer Bunny Lee and engineer/mixer King Tubby) and Skin Flesh & Bones, the duo then went to the top Jamaican studio, Jo Jo Hookim’s Channel One in the ’70s, where they laid down impressive riddims as The Revolutionaries. Creating the militant “rockers” style, the duo ventured out on their own with an even heavier propulsive drum and bass approach and started their label, working with singers Gregory Isaacs, Junior Delgado, rocksteady crooner Jimmy Riley and groups Black Uhuru, The Viceroys and The Tamlins.
The early ’80s were unstoppable for the Rhythm Twins. The two became veritable dancehall innovators, producing hits for titans Sugar Minott and Dennis Brown. Their powerful “Revolution” riddim for Brown was later versioned by Barrington Levy on his equally seminal “Here I Come.” The duo also worked with conscious singer Ini Kamoze with his impeccable (and oft-versioned) “World A Music,” featuring the legendary refrain “Out in the street, they call it murder,” which Damian Marley memorably sampled on “Welcome to Jamrock.” They of course kept on with Black Uhuru (and singer Michael Rose’s solo projects) effectively joining the group and winning the first-ever reggae Grammy for 1984’s ‘Anthem.’
During this time, they became the core of the Compass Point All Stars: the session band set up by Island records founder Chris Blackwell at his studio in the Bahamas. There, they recorded Black Uhuru but also moved a bit away from trad reggae backing up Grace Jones, Gwen Guthrie, Joe Cocker and others. And Sly even managed to release his own solo album in 1982, ‘Sly-Go-Ville,’ featuring the hit single “Hot You’re Hot.” Starting in 1983, they were the rhythm section for Bob Dylan on two records, including ‘Infidels,’ and in 1985, they were the rhythm section for Mick Jagger on the Stones’ singer’s debut solo, ‘She’s the Boss.’
The innovation continued by the next decade, and the duo’s “Bam Bam” riddim became ubiquitous; Chaka Demus & Pliers used it for their Toots and the Maytals cover and for the even more famous “Murder She Wrote.” That alone would have made Sly & Robbie legends in dancehall, but it didn’t stop there. Yami Bolo, Buju Banton, Anthony B., Sizzla, Mr. Vegas, Shaggy, Romain Virgo, Ne-Yo and many others worked with them in the ’90s throughout the 2000s – and, they even wrote the music for the deep-referenced parody “Ras Trent” on SNL by Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island comedy trio.
Without further ado, here’s Sly & Robbie, the Dynamic Duo, the Rhythm Twins! All Hail Taxi!
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