The Evolution of American Reggae
From Rasta to Cali-Reggae
Reggae has a rich history rooted in the oppression of the Jamaican people during the 1960's and is historically associated with the Rastafarian culture. However, today there is another "brand" of reggae which many have coined white boy reggae. Although this description is often times painstakingly accurate, the more important piece of the puzzle is that people from various backgrounds are drawn in by the socially conscious messages which many of these "white boy reggae bands" still write about today.
There is most certainly some level of inherent irony between a musical genre rooted in black oppression, being played by Caucasian people. However, the uplifting messages and socially conscious lyricism is still a staple of modern day American Reggae.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due: Ska Bands
Ska was the fore-father of reggae in Jamaica, and bands like The Skatalites laid the foundations for the music that would day become the slow and heavy hitting grooves in American reggae. Many of these American reggae bands today use synths, and drum pads to get a more "hip-hop-esque" type of feel rather than the dance-able grooves of ska.
Ska music became widely popular in the United States in the 1980's as band like The Toasters, The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones, No Doubt, and Operation Ivy hit the scene. There was a fair amount of bleed-over from the punk scene in the 80's into the ska scene and this was reflected in the heavier and mosh pit inducing songs written during this time frame. Fishbone is another band who spanned the gap between ska and the movement towards reggae-rock. A band came along that took both the influences of 80's ska and punk and fused it with the slower tempos of traditional roots reggae, and in 1988 Sublime was born. From '88-'96 Sublime grew in popularity, therefore their LBC flavored reggae did as well. Throughout the time that Sublime was touring, many other bands started to adopt this style of sloppy punky reggae. The most notable of these bands was Slightly Stoopid. Shortly before Bradley Nowell's death in 1996, he signed Slightly Stoopid, who has been another major player in the growth of the reggae-rock genre that we know and love today.
The Stoopid Snowball Effect
Throughout the '90s into the early 2000s, American reggae took many forms and ranged from Big Mountain (with their hit Baby I Love Your Way), to 311 and everything in between. There were offshoots of the reggae rock movement with bands like OAR and Dispatch who drew on the reggae influences but didn't label themselves as a reggae band. These band gave rise to the surf rock music of artists like Jack Johnson and Ben Harper and were extremely influential in the acoustic surf music arena. Even though they aren't reggae artists, they deserve a shout out in the conversation about american reggae music. As the turn of the century came and went, bands like The Expendables, SOJA, Rebelution, Groundation and more emerged and gave birth to the California Reggae Style which we hear today.
In the early 2000s many bands emerged from garages in college towns and beyond. A lot of the ska and reggae fans also bled over from punk music, skateboarding, and other counter-culture scenes which went against the grain of the status-quo. During the 90's and early 2000's the genre attracted all around reckless kids who were influenced by the energetically wild energy of Bradley Nowell and the likes. Today the genre still attracts the weekend warriors, and people who love to party hard, but there are many fans who just enjoy the music for the uplifting messages and the community surrounding the live reggae music scene and don't care much for the booze hound lifestlye.
Current State of the American Reggae Scene
As the reggae-rock genre grows in popularity and is more and more widely emulated and re-created, the sound will undoubtedly continue to evolve and bands will transcend genre lines. Many bands have a similar sound to Rebelution, Iration, Tribal Seeds, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Sublime etc. However, there are a plethora of bands who have branded their own unique sounds that are rooted in the classic offbeat driven style of reggae music, but are heavily influenced by other style. One great example of this is Passafire. They are an act who draws heavily on progressive rock and complex melodic breakdowns. They are often described as "musician's musicians". Another artist who has created their own unique sound, and created a fan-base in that niche is John Wayne and The Pain. They have long been dubbed "road warriors" and gained popularity through lots of time on the road and in the festival circuit.
More honorable mentions of bands to check out include: John Brown's Body, Stick Figure, The Late Ones, Red Sage, Tatanka, Fortunate Youth, Pacific Dub, Bumpin Uglies, The Hip Abduction, Seedless, Katastro, Mike Pinto, Thunder Body, and more please leave more in the comments for others to check out!