Grime is no different from its antecedents in having a strong Jamaican feel. Many of its biggest names like Jammer, Footsie, Flo Dan, and Riko are of Jamaican descent. And although grime is very much a melting pot music, drawing influences from the history of UK dance music as well as from US hip hop and African high life, dancehall reggae and all of its sonic signifiers will always be a key component of grime.
With all that in mind, here are my top 5 Grime/Dancehall crossover tunes:
1. Spragga Benz- "Forward Riddim"
Dizzee Rascal may have been grime's first breakout star, but Pow! (a/k/a the Forward riddim) by Lethal B was grime's first breakout hits, peaking at number 11 on the British singles charts. Produced by D'Explicit, the track was hypnotically simple: a propulsive chord progression voiced by synth stabs and answered by the rapidfire 808 claps that soon became a grime cliché. The song became infamous in England, being banned in many clubs due to its propensity to lead to fights.
2. Sizzla- I Got Too (MRK 1 Mix)
MRK 1 and the Virus Syndicate crew occupied a weird space in early grime and dubstep. They seemed to straddle both genres, but weren't particularly popular in either. I have never met anyone anywhere ever who claimed to be a big Virus Syndicate fan. They were from Manchester and thus removed from the parochial London neighborhood alliances of early grime. Much of MRK 1's renown stemmed from being included in Rephlex's Grime compilation, where he sat alongside Plasticman (a/k/a Plastician) and Slaughter Mob in a lineup that seemed to take the word "grime" pretty loosely. MRK's music is heavy as shit, but light on hooks. This is probably why this Sizzla remix was the best thing he ever did.
3. Harry Toddler- Donkey Kick
Some people say "Pulse X" is the first grime song, but my vote goes to "Eskimo" by Wiley, just because "Pulse X" feels like a garage song, albeit an extremely lo-fi and stripped down one. "Eskimo" exists on its own planet, a line in the sand that said champagne dances were a thing of the past. Just listen to this pirate tape from 2002: after 40 minutes of garage tunes hear how different "Eskimo" sounds when it comes in around 43:00.
Although the tune was a mainstay for MC's in both radio tapes and live shows, there were no released vocals of Eskimo by a grime MC (Wiley recorded a couple with Roll Deep, but never released them until 2009). The only vocal that came out in 2003 was a showpiece for Jamaican dancehall artist Harry Toddler. Toddler started his recording career in the early 90's and rose to prominence alongside Elephant Man as a member of Bounty Killer's Scare Dem Crew. By the time he recorded "Donkey Kick" his career had peaked, but he certainly rises to the occasion here. His vocal performance is deliciously giddy, making the stark Eskimo riddim sound warm and welcoming. "Eskimo" made a brief revival in dancehall circles in 2011 when Jamaican producer Prodigal modified it into a more streamlined dancehall riddim as "Showa-Eski."
4. DJ Dreddy -Inner Heart (Sub Low Remix)
Interestingly enough, during the grime era, there was a fair amount of Jamaican dancehall that was around the same BPM as grime, like the Summer Bounce or the Global riddim. But the biggest one was the Chrome riddim. Dizzee Rascal even used it in his set when touring circ. 2005, performing "Stand Up Tall" over it. The most famous vocal on the Chrome riddim was "In Her Heart" by Capleton, a massive dancehall hit in the US, UK, and Jamaica. It was such a natural fit for grime that DJ Dreddy of Black Ops was able to make a grime tune out of it just by boosting the bass and overdubbing a synth line. American DJs like Matt Shadetek, DJ Ripley, and myself might have caned this even more then UK DJs because it gave us a way to ease US audiences into grime.
5. Beenie Man- Dude (Sticky Remix)
Sticky started his career off in garage and made some huge tunes in the early days of grime, most notably his own "Golly Gosh" and SLK's "Hype Hype." He was one of the few producers who had success in both the garage and grime eras, which speaks to the versatility of his sound. This particular production is pretty great, taking Beenie Man's worldwide smash "Dude" and putting a very identifiable UK garage stamp on it. It's interesting to note that unlike the other tracks listed, this was an official remix for a major label, which says something about both the success of "Dude" and the status that garage had with major labels in the UK. After a hiatus, Sticky is producing again, and recently put out a jungle-tinged track with General Levy.