Making Sense of Skinhead Reggae, part 1

Breaking a two weeks or more-long silence in which this zine unwritten is actually being written again, today’s post will [attempt to] thoroughly discuss the phenomenon of skinhead reggae, how it developed, and what it developed into [but will not be able to finish itself in this single post].

Of course, there will be YouTube links to various track uploads, to color what I’m talking about and explore the many variations of related things that and how they are connected.

If you’ve been following my music column (or just generally the postswritten to this zine thus far), you’ll notice my current interest in a variety of aspects of Jamaican music, dancehall culture, and language; and, from varied time periods, from ska, to rocksteady, roots reggae, and the dancehall music of today, I have written about these eerily similar sound system crazes — all connected, very much similar in ways so much that they are sometimes seen as being indistinguishable (easily described by the word reggae, for example) while also nothing remotely alike in any form.

I’m excited about this post because it inherently involves the story of how and why I have hated skinheads since I was 15 years old, not as someone who is ignorantly only aware of the existence of a skinhead as synonymous with a white nationalist, but as someone who has seen their effect on a subculture I was once very a part of — that is, Bush-Era street punk in South Texas — and resisted the threat of what they represented at what were places I went to and considered my spots to hang out, where the music was a form of street punk I could relate with, and the people were all mostly, more or less like minded enough to have peace; until the resounding and in unison war cry surrounded you.

“Oi!” That’s when you realize they are massive, you are alone, and if you are not aligned with them (and you’re god damned right we fucking weren’t), then you have to resist the pressure that is placed on you to be like them — to transmogrify for the sake of a so-called unity and join in crews they will never admit are very much like gangs. If you will not do this, you are on fragile ice. You can either run or you can fight them, and there is never just one of them. They are massive or they are not at all. If you’re a fifteen year old punk rocker, you keep your head down — or you don’t, you know, because you’re a punk rocker of fifteen years — and you will either run from a beat down or you receive them. You might even decide to engage in violence yourself, because you have a zero tolerance policy for fascism in your scene, and you kill it wherever you see it the same as they would kill you.

I’ve thus far only introduced and outlined the things I need to discuss to illustrate the points I want to make clear and the things I want to connect, acknowledge, and use to hold the conclusion I can finally make about the skinhead phenomenon, which at fifteen years old, not knowing the distant history and how far the skinhead had traveled and how it had molded him, I could never make but finally can. So, I’m going to split this into thee parts as this is quite complex.

On Skinheads, Their Good Taste in Music, and the Folly of their Utter Ignorance
(is that really the title I’m using? Whatever… that’s the title.)

1.) The Spirit of ’69 – This portion will require many of us to pretend that we have never heard of a skinhead and understand how the origins of the culture are quite interesting, seemingly harmless enough, and little known to most people today who associate the word with white nationalism — which for this portion, we’ll have to hold off on talking about to explore skinhead reggae (which I happen to think is actually great music), and how the blending of the Jamaican diaspora with British, cockney people resulted in a seemingly positive racial exchange and a “reggae fever” marked by shaved heads and otherwise very particular, uniform, and sharp dress style.

2.) If the Kids Are United… – Next, I’m going to have to explain how skinhead culture crossed paths with punk rock after 1969 had passed and how neither culture would ever be the same after that, resulting in a list of new genres that come about from an unintentional recipe for hatred and violence laid out when the skinhead and the punk rocker will unfortunately take politics to the streets, and experience a less positive attempt to assimilate together. Also, this will address why skinheads may have been less like-minded with Jamaican diaspora as the 1970’s came closer to the 1980’s.

3.) Post-Skinhead Ignorance – This will be a final conclusion, in which I consolidate my experience with American skinheads as a punk teen in the 1990s/2k into my adulthood, well-read self who happens to currently be pretty into first wave ska music, which… only the skinhead can be said to still feel that way about first wave ska in the same way. In the homeland of ska, ska music is outdated. And I mean, it’s been outdated since before I was born. It’s hardly even referred to as itself by many, because it’s just early reggae that hasn’t for a long time been done without being more reggae than ska (not probably since about… 1969). That said, I will ultimately have to conclude how skinhead culture has always been intrinsically predisposed towards a development into a complete militancy powered by an embrace of ignorance… about everything; and why skinhead culture should not be celebrated just because they understand ska music, (which is amazing, [and much better without skinheads in it.]).

And yes, I have totally just published a postwritten where I outline the post yet unwritten. I know. I’m utterly insane. If I were a professional writer, or if I had the desire to produce myself in the way that one does, I would set this document aside and use it as a rough draft and outline to do the piece, which I will say is big enough to warrant this kind of outlining if not this kind of editorial.

But I don’t do that. I don’t edit or manufacture myself. I don’t enjoy doing it. I don’t want to. Often times the typos you find are ones that I overlooked in the drafting of the document and have become well aware of and have intentionally left them as is.

I suppose I don’t sound like a too stereotypical obsessive or compulsive person, do I? If you’ve read the psyche column at all, you might follow what I mean from there. I sort of do have the capacity to spend my entire life editing a document for no reason, in which no amount of corrections or do-overs will ever produce a thing that doesn’t require further editing or abandonment.

Choosing to leave myself manufactured, raw, as-is, one take to get the shot, whatever happens type of “artist” has never been an easy decision to make. I wanted at one time to leave a masterpiece on the world. I no longer do. I want to leave myself, flawed as I am, content and happy to die with my imperfections.

So I made a typo. Shrug. It most likely doesn’t matter, and so… if I’ve lost you and you aren’t following this foreword into the next posts that will come. So be it. I will gladly have you read, or listen, or watch; I’m not afraid to show myself. But… I’m not willing to destroy the beauty of the world’s ugly things left as they are, so that you lot can be the celebrated artist that is all you really care about anyway isn’t it?

That’s okay. Social acceptance and approval is a natural human thing to seek out to some degree if you are a healthy enough person, I should think. But… it is of little interest to me in terms of my non-art, which I will continue to create in a long winded way for the sake of itself — shamelessly.

It’s kind of getting to the point where all the columns (categories) that I’m using seem to intersect, even if they focus on one topic more than the others. Part of me would like to redesign the organization, stop using the categories the same way, but…

Logic tells me there is no need for that.

Otherwise, I have an outline of what I’m going to write. I have several albums in mind to share as I talk about various things. I want to continue writing this zine, even if it takes me a long time to come back to it sometimes.

If I save this as a draft, it will become lost forever. I will forget that it was important maybe, or that it was ever a thing I planned to do. The organization of it will prevent it from ever being published at all.

Maybe taking my time between entries isn’t so bad. Maybe it will be more manageable for me to actually read them again, and have it as such that of the many points I wish to make, the fewest of them will in the end be unmade entirely. My early LiveJournal blogs of daily postings suffered from an overflow of ¬†things that were never worth organization. There was less management of any thought that I had, which is why I was never able to write anything but of my sadness and my glory like a teenager with a diary.

I don’t want to write for a sense of daily therapy. I want to say specific things in a highly unconventional way. I want to make my points, and I want to leave them at least in the open to be unmade.

I’m going to make a point to get back to this project in the next few days — not weeks or more.

I will ever have to apologize for the fact that… if you are interested in me at all, you will always have to wait for me to come back I’m afraid.

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bloodclaat selassie

So… This post is going to talk about music (specifically, the change from reggae to modern dance hall). After all, I can only obsess about so many things {read – one thing} at a time), but the aspect of the music that it will address is also somewhat heavy and polarizing. I would hope that if you disagree with me, that you are not put off from reading my thoughts. However, I am familiar with your ilk, and I know that some of you will be put off.

So be it.

Let’s talk about Rastafari, which we often imagine when we think of Jamaica over here in the States. But you didn’t know, in the ska era, this dread head culture was not as popular or yet established. When the 70’s came and ska fell out, roots brought a lot of new themes. Many of them were positively aimed, with less commentary on criminal violence, but… I will argue that not all of the themes are positive. There is often commentary made with a different kind of violence; that is, the constant objective superiority and moral elitism inherent in all Abrahamic religions and most of the reformations that is asserted to the extermination of other ideas.

To be honest, the songs about bloodclaat Selassie would be fucking laughable if not for the fact that it’s so sad, that Abrahamic religions were brought to slaves on colonies where they were deprived in education and placed in positions of spiritual desperation.

I mean like, as a modern atheist of Britain’s spread of white people into the world, I just can’t help but see ¬†those religions as ideas that are not needed and unnecessarily negative when the benefits of religions, spirituality, and the lack thereof are possible without it. If you can’t wrap your mind around that one, let me know and I’ll give it a second thought. But I’ve pretty consistently and strongly felt that way for a while.

And so, I can overlook a song that’s about coping with poverty and invoking the name of a story meant to help them only because… I do not blame them for their lack of educations. I blame my ancestors and how greedy the human race (of all colors, one) is, seen in its alphas males and females.

Of course people of the Americas, England, Australia, Canada (and all people who are inside whatever else, still British) do not receive the same understanding in the appreciation of their arts. If you’re from London or from NYC and your music is produced in 2017, then you cannot praise the name of Yahweh and earn my respect.

The word Christ is a huge deal breaker that makes you basically like… (and this is not hatred of you, but for your ideas that you cannot let go of and burden others with) …you’re faced with not looking at yourself as the chosen holy righteous who get love from the wonderful god that all others are wrong and Satan worshipers to be burned with their books so that any possibility of our god not being thrust down your throat is impossible.

That vile book that you call, “the good book,” is like a book of death and horrible things to illustrate that god intentionally made you so that he could watch you fuck up and then be forever in debt to him as the little bitch who better do what I say or… it won’t be good. Then… Because that makes so much less than zero sense, over time the religions had to reform so that now God is a guy who’s totally changed and feels like you’ve died and suffered enough for petty, petty shit. Shit that makes you be like, “Do we really even want this guy in charge?” No.

Thankfully, life is much better than made somehow okay with God to say so. No, life is good because man (and woman) have the power to make their life mean whatever they would make it be. That no man is correct is the blessing we all have. We can live our lives ourselves and not disturb the integrity of our ideas or anyone else’s ideas.

And so, I do enjoy the themes of reggae that express positive vybz and an outlook on life that feels good about it self… because I truly feel that way, but I don’t have to place myself in a light of goodness that must be cosmic or the world is too painful to endure. I can seek out “good” things, things that benefit mankind, like the reform of your religions again to admit there are usable parts and other parts to be omitted. (See, unlike you, I wouldn’t exterminate your culture. But you’re going to allow mankind to progress in science, philosophy, and the possibility of non extinction without smoking out the world with your ignorance — and pitifully weak spirits).

But… I say this as a white person who knows that we need to remember that… our educations, even our working class educations, and our history of “whatever it is we do that’s so great”, does not make us more correct in how we live or think than others who we see as wrong. This includes the three unholy religions of Abraham (as I affectionately call them). See, what’s correct, true, holy, or righteous are all concepts that are not necessarily unquestionable. See, in the interest of positive vybz, it’s better to force yourself to experience things that you are unfamiliar with and possibly make you uncomfortable, permit them, possibly take interest or not, and live without offense taken or made on others of different values, for the understanding that… none of us are correct, we could never possibly know for certain any thing. The Socratic admission that one is not wise is somehow wise, similar to how…. evil doesn’t exist and only things that proclaim they are most good are the most awful.

This is a topic I think about a lot because I listen to not just ska or reggae. I also listen to modern reggae dance hall, which is basically just a more hip hop version of reggae with what I would call more often less “roots” themes. Modern dance hall artists are more produced in the way of all modern pop music genres everywhere — they have several faces, they’re very manufactured, and based around capitalism — in almost exactly the same way as the American rapper, but with a history of roots reggae that is… well, modern dance hall might like to think it was still pretty roots, but nuh. It ain’t as roots as say… the roots, for what that’s worth. But it’s still characterized by reggae riddims.

For example, these are two songs by Popcaan — a very yute-ful sort of yute — and, one of them coming from 2016 and the other 2017, you will pree what I mean to say about the stereotypical dance hall prince (as I call them). There would be argument in Jamaica about who was the dominant dance hall artist after the fall of the World Boss, but as far as to who is the king of spreading Dance hall out of Jamaica, it is undeniably Popcaan.

This is most likely due to his association with the artist, Drake, who mi a tell you dis straight up: I’m not sure if I’ve ever once listened to one of his songs. I just know he’s popular I guess? I don’t know, man, I listen to strange shit too much to have time to waste on top40 on purpose (which, isn’t always bad or anything. … but yeah, nuh time fi that inna real life. If I’mma listen to shamelessly manufactured pop music, it’s at least going to be from an interesting island somewhere else.

[That is of course what I like about Dance hall — it’s foreign qualities. Rude boys, ska people, and and 70’s skinheads might drop their haw to hear me say that I liked modern dance hall and ska in the same sentence, but… I have an open mind, and that’s what I’m trying to really get at in this post as I criticize what you possible believe about your own cosmic correctness]

Anyway, in Never Sober and in Where We Come From, you’re going to notice more similarities to a rapper than to Bob Marley, in the ideas expressed. This is how I mean it’s not roots.

But I will say for it… that it’s what made me fall in love with Patwah speech in songs. I find that it’s far more pronounced than I’ve ever heard coming from Jamaican music, which I still cannot understand why that is, Maybe it’s in my imagination because I can think of no reason for that that makes any sense. For example, you can follow the thoughts of Bob Marley easily. Were you able to follow Popcaan below? I definitely didn’t understand a word he said at first. It’s possible that Bob was just a bit more educate than Poppy (lol).


Interestingly enough, modern dance hall and ska dance hall are similarly unlike reggae in the same way; the rude boy is now the badman. The Rasta is somewhat less commonly seen emphasized if at all. Most go for a look that says, “I have money,” not, “I am close to God.” And, in ska and in modern dance hall, the needing (or having) of money and the possibly (and certainly) going to jail and narrowly avoiding death and how difficult it is to get by with so much violence going on are all the most common themes.

(Although I would say, in the ska days, there were less fake ass little bitches pretending to be bad and it was more real ass people addressing the real problem where rude boys and police were a constantly dangerous combination at any sound system)

When a dance hall artist names god or whatever, it’s usually to express that he has the favor of that god by virtue of his money. It’s very rarely ever more spiritually complex than that, like in roots.

And lastly, what’s really odd… is the track by Prince Buster called 10 Commandments

Either one of two things are happening in this sort of joke track, and possibly both: 1) Prince Buster, in 1967, was framing Christianity in a comical absurdity that was intended to make one ask, “How is it that we even take this book seriously” ; or, 2) He was using the “good book” to validate his militant sexism and belief that man should utterly dominate the woman in every way possible.

And the latter is most possibly my least favorite characteristic of Jamaican men. And I’ll conclude that, I think it’s for the best that we stop celebrating the dangerous, destructive religious ideas of Abraham. Case in point. I will not tell you what good is, but I can tell you what it is not. This is not good.

And though I feel that way, I still enjoy the music that celebrates the ignorance of the “Holy Land,” because I must not make the mistake of being as forceful with an idea of my correctness as they have been and still are.

A beautiful song and some inspiring notions… and yet, invoking the name of that awful entity from the old books.