The Jamaican government’s encouragement of ‘happy-go-lucky’ reggae combined with the advancement of technology after Marley’s death in 1981 changed the public face of the music. Though hip-hop had been influencing reggae since its conception, the advent of new, cheap turntables in the 1980s opened the door for poorer artists to fuse crude rhythms into reggae songs without need for
complex musical talent. While this enabled many talented reggae artists to create their own music for the first time, it opened the door for foreign artists to repurpose reggae rhythms in their own music. This new cultural exchange, along with the explosion of hip-hop in the western world in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to the creation of offshoot styles such as Dancehall and Reggaeton. Increasingly, reggae music became more about making commercialized catchy beats and less about challenging established social norms and empowering Afro-Caribbean people through the message of Rastafarianism.
‘Reggae’ Hits aren’t Reggae anymore
The commercialization hit new levels in 2015 when a touted ‘reggae/dancehall’ hit took the world by storm. Caucasian United States–
native producer Diplo, known by his stage name ‘Major Lazer’ released a song called ‘Lean On’ that topped US and international charts overnight. However, upon closer investigation, this ‘reggae’ song bears few ties to Jamaica or Rastafarianism. A collaboration with French artist ‘DJ Snake’ and Danish singer MØ, the entirely electronically produced song is in English with a music video filmed in India, Bangalore, and Stockholm. The vaguely romantic lyrics say nothing about traditional Rastafarian themes, with a chorus of “blow a kiss, fire a gun; we need someone to lean on.”
Major Lazer ft. DJ Snake, MO- Lean On