The Sleng Teng Riddim

The Sleng Teng Riddim

The Sleng Teng Riddim was the riddim that revolutionised digital reggae music back in 1985. To know the importance of digital riddims, we need to go back to the pre-digital era.

The birth of a riddim used to be initiated by an artist bringing lyrics to a producer. Most studios had their own resident house band, which the producer would use to make a musical arrangement to fit the lyrics and the preferences of the artist. Once finished, other artists would often be inspired to record their own tune over the riddim. Understandably, this was an expensive and time-consuming method.

The rise of synthesizers and drum machines ushered in a new, computerised way to create riddims. House bands were no longer needed, and instead of waiting for an artist to show up, producers would now create riddims on their own initiative. After a riddim was finished, the producer would look for artists to record over it. It also changed the way a riddim received its name. A riddim used to be named afterwards, often after the biggest hit recorded over it. Most digital riddims are named by the producer before there are any tunes recorded over it.

Lee “Scratch” Perry started experimenting with digital riddims in the early 1970s, but the groundbreaking Sleng Teng Riddim would be the riddim that changed reggae music overnight.

In late 1984, Wayne Smith crossed paths with Noel Davey, who owned a Casio MT40 keyboard. Messing around with it, they created a rudimentary riddim based on the rock and roll preset. Wayne Smith had already written some lyrics inspired by Barrington Levy’s 1985 hit “Under Mi Sensi”. Wayne Smith and Noel Davey brought the riddim and the lyrics to King Jammy, who used them to create the Sleng Teng Riddim and the first tune recorded over it; Wayne Smith’s 1985 hit “Under Mi Sleng Teng”.

The riddim proved to be a massive success. Between 1985 and now, more than 420 tunes were recorded over it, making it one of the most used riddims ever.

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