Getting to Know Riddims

It takes skill to be real
Time to heal each other

—2Pac, Changes

If you had a pulse during the 90’s, chances are you heard 2Pac’s “Changes” and “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy. Something these two tracks have in common is that they are both based entirely on successful tracks by other artists. In the case of the former, you have Bruce Hornsby’s soft rock hit, The Way It Is and when it comes to the latter, there’s no mistaking the pensive, introspective guitar riff from Every Breath You Take by The Police.

Puff Daddy – I’ll Be Missing You

Neither of these tracks attempts to hide its origins and, in fact, both of them even go so far as to use the same chorus as the original, nearly verbatim. Those familiar with hiphop’s tropes understand that this form of mimicry, while something distinct from mere sampling, is as endemic to the genre as call and response.

To understand this phenomenon of borrowing wholesale, it helps to understand the parallel and influential phenomenon of the reggae riddim. Reggae backing tracks, known as “riddims” are circulated widely in the Jamaican music industry with multiple artists recording their own original vocals over the same track and releasing it as their own.

Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is

While the circulation of riddims is mainly concerned with the reuse of an instrumental it is not unheard of for an artist to also make reference to other songs with his or her vocals or even go so far as to reuse a whole chorus. Take, for example, Junior Reid’s remake of “This Why I’m Hot” by United States rapper, Mims. In our next installment, we’ll be breaking down some examples of this pattern of appropriation, but Dutty Artz‘s DJ Ripley did a far better job than we could in this talk she gave at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society:

Larisa Mann on Decolonizing Copyright: Jamaican Street Dances and Globally Networked Technology


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