The drum intro caves after just one bar, unleashing this ‘computerized riddim’ full-force. While Wayne Smith’s famed “Under Mi Sleng Teng” has a subtle sense of reservation with its rolling bass line, “E20” cranks both the pitch and bpm upwards, resulting in dance hall devastation.

Of course, the musical and cultural impacts of these two tracks could not be more different, despite both appearing on the somewhat belated 1986 Greensleeves Sleng Teng LP (with “E20” at A1 and “Under Me Sleng Teng” at B1). The seminal riddim – as the oft-repeated digital reggae origin story goes – was played at a late-1984 Jamaican sound clash to an epic response from the crowd. Further notable voicings from Tenor Saw and Johnny Osbourne, “Pumpkin Belly” and “Buddy Bye,” respectively further cemented the new computer sound.

The Sleng Teng riddim came about after Prince Jammy recorded a Wayne Smith and Noel Davey Casio keyboard experiment; however, Jammy first slowed down their initial effort: “It was too fast, no rhythm section, just drum and bass going at 100 miles per hour. So I said: ‘I like the sound, but it’s not the right tempo for reggae music.’” This implies that “E20” is closer to the initial digital vision of Wayne Smith, albeit one that got a bit lost in the flurry of post-Sleng Teng computer riddims [yes, revisionist history such an assumption may be].

The chorus, “It’s a hard road to travel, and a mighty long way to go. I know that the strength of the father, is gonna guide me along the way,” is arguably typical Biblical -> Rastafarian fare, visited by Jimmy Cliff in 1969 amongst others, but Smith’s passion and fervour on the mic is not to be overlooked as he blisters right along with the riddim. He’s a high-speed singjay sparing nary a breath until after the fadeout. The power of early digital really lies in the experimental sonic platform it created, a sharp contrast (at times literally) to traditional analog instrumentation; “E20” successfully seizes the heady energy of invention.

There are few other versions on the E20 riddim – Sammy Dread’s tough cut “Warrior” for example – plus a few recent reconfigurations including the engaging low-bit approaches by Tapes on “C20 Riddim” and Helgeland 8-bit Squad on “E-Tjue Riddim.”

The long shadow of Sleng Teng is likely inescapable, particularly in light of Smith’s recent passing in February 2014, but this makes “E20” that much more of a gem: a familiar voice on a powerful riddim that still sounds fresh. Recently re-released by Dub Store Records (vinyl and digital), with the version available as a download separately, this track stands strong 30 years after its original 7″ release.

The Groove Thief
ClockenDUB: The Groove Thief & Loki Dolo ft. LëKSs Live @ Clockenflap Festival 2014 *
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