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South Rakkas Crew: Bionic Dancehall

“I met [producer] Alex G in Canada years ago while I was working security at a rave,” says South Rakkas Crew’s Dennis “Dow Jones” Shaw of the genesis of his team’s musical partnership. “It was during an incident with a naked girl on roller skates, but that’s a whole other story.”

These days, Shaw is relaxing in sleepy Orlando, Florida, home to the miserable NBA franchise The Magic, Disney’s Epcot Center, and lots of evangelical Christians. What there’s not a lot of in Orlando is dancehall reggae–that is, until Shaw and his Jamaican compatriots from Toronto arrived.

Comprised of producers Shaw, Alex G, Riprok, and associate member DJ Ninja Kid (their eyes and ears in Jamaica), South Rakkas Crew is rising to prominence in the dancehall world. In three years, the quartet has completed a trifecta of riddim albums (Clappas, Red Alert, and Bionic Ras) that has obliterated the charts, made their way into DJ boxes from Berlin to the Bronx, and caused major labels to come knocking. In particular, remixes for M.I.A. (“Galang”) and Beck have caused their buzz in tastemaker circles to hit critical mass.

South Rakkas’ unique sound draws not only on bubbling, jump-up Jamaican rhythms and hand-waving, party-time calypso, but also on shuffling, titanium-smooth techno and sub-bass-driven two-step motifs more common to electronic subgenres like grime or microhouse. Their decidedly new school flavor is derived via Macs equipped with Logic and ProTools, and plug-ins galore, all of which gives their music its sharp, digital feel. Clappas–one of Greensleeves’ all-time top selling riddim albums–draws from King Jammy$ Sleng Teng riddim and warps it via a back-and-forth, 3/4-time hopscotch beat with laser beam synths that march in time. SRC’s Red Alert riddim is something completely different: a 120 BPM pop-house monster with just enough island spice to make it a serious crossover contender.

“We are by no means exclusive to dancehall,” explains Shaw. “Prior to SRC, we’ve collectively produced everything from pop to hip-hop to Latin. However, when we are speaking about dancehall we like to keep it separate from anything else going on. We wanted to build the SRC name on our own merits.”

The global interest in their music was enough for South Rakkas to launch their own Riddim Riddin series–it debuted with the surging, techy backdrop of Bionic Ras and spawned Sizzla’s “Spring Break,” which quickly shot to number one on BBC 1Xtra’s dancehall chart.

Even with their meteoric success, Shaw and company maintain a down to Earth perspective. “I was born in Jamaica, but lived most of my life in Canada and now the US,” reflects Shaw. “I have always wanted to produce dancehall music, and being able to contribute to this music’s history is an unbelievable feeling.”

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