Introduction to Jamaican Dancehall Music

Sean Paul performing at Kaya Fest
Sean Paul.

John Parra / Getty Images

Dancehall music is a genre of urban folk music which came out of Jamaica in the mid to late 1970s and is generally considered to be the direct predecessor of rap. Dancehall music is, in its most basic form, a deejay toasting (or rapping) over a riddim. Dancehall is also known as bashment, a term which can refer to either the music itself or a large party where dancehall music is played.


Dancehall gets its name, predictably, from large halls or street spaces where deejays were setting up their sound systems. As the idea of toasting, rather than just playing pre-recorded songs, became popular, many of the best deejays became household names in Jamaica and eventually throughout the music world. Some of the more popular early deejays were King Jammy, Shabba Ranks, and Yellowman.

Several dancehall musicians and deejays have achieved worldwide success, particularly chart-topper Sean Paul, as well as Elephant Man and Buju Banton.


Dancehall music is by far the most popular music in Jamaica and has been for quite some time. Though there are a wide variety of artists and sub-genres present in the dancehall arena, "slack lyrics"—with R to X-rated content—are very popular. Additionally, many deejays are violently homophobic and misogynistic in their lyrics, which has caused dancehall to sit on the back burner in the world music scene, while its socially conscious cousin, reggae remains the genre with which most world music fans associate Jamaica.

Starter CDs

  • Yellow Fever: The Early Years - Yellowman
  • Greensleeves 12" Rulers - Henry "Junjo" Lawes
  • Dutty Rock - Sean Paul