Look, we get it. Listening to reggae as a stoner is so stereotypical. Unless you’re Jamaican, being obsessed with the genre and weed is enough to make people eye roll and tell you to go back to your freshman dorm. It doesn’t matter how pure your intentions are. But, there is a way of avoiding the Reddit-stoner stereotype and that’s to mix up your listening! You can’t keep playing the same six Bob Marley tracks and expect people to take you seriously. That’s why we’ve decided to help you expand your reggae listening palette with three essential albums that might have flown under your radar. We have everything from outer space dub to quirky recording habits and a velvet voice that quietly influenced the world of Jamaican music. Or, you know, you can forget about impressing people, roll your biggest tribute and enjoy some great music. Your choice.
Scientist Scientist Meets the Space Invaders
Scientist began his career building amplifiers in Tubby’s Dromilly Avenue studio in Kingston before the young engineer mastered the controls for himself. By 16 he was mixing hits for artists like Barrington Levy and the True Persuaders. While no doubt indebted to Tubby, he would slowly move away from that sound and started stripping down rhythms and splicing the track with extraterrestrial sound effects. Most reggae albums feature Rastafarian imagery but for Scientist Meets the Space Invaders, Scientist is instead depicted as a cartoon space hero with laser guns and attacking alien ships. This 1981 classic features songs like “Time Warp” and “Super Nova” that seek the capture this otherworldly feel. The most prominent feature of Scientist’s music is his use of space. While many dub tracks by people like Lee “Scratch” Perry fill the empty space with quirks and sub bass lines, Scientist is content with letting his beeps and whirring machinery breathe and speak to you. It’s a short album at just 32 minutes, but this record would go on to inspire digital dub of the eighties and beyond. A great listen if you need something to space out to at 3 a.m. with a fat one.
Marcia Griffiths Naturally
To many, Marcia Griffiths is the undisputed Queen of Reggae and there’s not much room for debate. Since the early 1960s, she’s been heralding Jamaican music with her distinctive voice. Originally a back-up singer for Bob Marley and the Wailers, some might even say she’s just as popular as Bob in Jamaica. I’m positive you’ve heard her voice before even if you didn’t realize it because she’s the voice behind the never-ending wedding hymn, “Electric Boogie” a.k.a. The Electric Slide. It’s her 1978 album Naturally (later called Dreamland when reissued), that highlights the breadth of her voice, composition and musical talent. The album begins with the resissue’s title track “Dreamland,” a microdose of the Rastafari movement’s philosophies, represents the desire for a history that doesn’t involve African people ripped from their homes and imagines the continent at its full uninhibited capacity. Naturally is the kind of music that both romanticizes and humanizes Jamaica, a balance that’s necessary to show its rich cultural history. It also shows the command Griffiths had over her voice and how she could manipulate it to whatever end she pleases. There’s a comfort to the record as you hear her sing about everything from career highlights to spirituality, fellowship, love and loss and rebirth. Her voice is always stunning, whether joyful or tinged with sorrow. Despite being released in a male-dominated industry, Marcia Griffiths’ album immediately became canon for an entire genre of Jamaican music.
Lee Perry and The Upsetters Super Ape
This 1976 essential, first titled Scratch the Super Ape, comes to us from the mind of legendary engineer and producer Lee “Scratch” Perry and his studio band The Upsetters. Originally recorded in his iconic Black Ark studio, Super Ape meets Perry at the apex of his interdimensional sound. Commonly referred to as “the dub wizard”, Perry used everything at his disposal to tweak and perfect his lo-fi magic for the world. Super Ape’s atmosphere is hazy but not bogged down by his use of effect; every piece is in proper order. Perry would live record his dubs while reworking existing rhythms, creating a swirl of effects that still surprises engineers to this day. The mixes are musky, strong, and spiraling whether they include vocals, bass, horns, or some combination of the three. If you’re looking for a master class in dub, the Jamaican art of mixing, and want to learn from the man who gave Bob Marley the sauce to entrance a generation, spin Super Ape. But please, don’t let your love for Lee Perry stop there.