77klash: Punking Up Dancehall

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As the son of a noted Rastafarian poetess and the cousin of former Shabba Ranks musical director Dr. Paul, Mikkel “Gize” Burrowes (a.k.a. 77klash) was born into reggae. By the age of 12, he was even playing percussion with Junior Reid’s One Blood Band. But when the Brooklyn-based deejay and producer returned to Kingston in 2005 with a post-genre rhythm called Scallawah, he may as well have been from another planet.

“Everybody told me this sound would never pop in Jamaica,” Klash says. “But I was seeing from how [Jamaican] kids were dressing, they were open to this whole [punk] vibe but weren’t being exposed to it.”

While Scallawah didn’t exactly change the game, it gave Jamaican singjay Turbulence his biggest hit to date with the sublime “Notorious,” and confirmed Klash’s hunch that progressive, punk-inspired dancehall could translate inna yard. Back in the States, he turned his attention mic-ward, linking with grime-influenced NYC production unit Team Shadetek for the ’06 single “Brooklyn Anthem.” While “Brooklyn Anthem” received underground love, dancehall audiences slept on the track until it appeared in Madden NFL ’08.

“It was too weird–DJs weren’t feeling it at all,” Klash says. “But after [noted producer] Stephen McGregor changed the tempo of dancehall, people accepted it. It became a staple at teen parties in Brooklyn. There’s kids on YouTube dancing to the rhythm who have more hits than me.”

Having scored his second breakthrough rhythm last year with The Swarm (the basis for Aidonia’s “Ah You”), he recently dropped his first artist release, Code for the Streets, on his own Klash City label. The EP finds Klash spitting on beats from Federation Sound and Matt Shadetek as well as his own understated tracks. “I call it dancehall but it’s not really dancehall until the vocals touch it,” Klash says. “I try to keep [the rhythms] as minimalistic as possible and use sounds effectively.”

In addition to recent production work for Ari Up of The Slits and a new project with Matt Shadetek and “Brooklyn Anthem” singer Jahdan Blakkamore called Iron Shirt, Klash is working on tracks for his upcoming debut LP with John Hill, the producer behind Santogold.

“People who are coming out with new, different sounds all gotta stick together and appreciate and love what each other’s doing,” Klash says. “’Cause we’re changing the sound of music, basically.”