Reggae Sub Genres

The term was thought to have been coined by Frederick Hibbert of ‘Toots and the Maytals’ in a song entitled ‘Do the Regay’, 1968. Rege meaning ragged! Since then, reggae music has been used as a rather broad term to encompass such a wide range of spin-off genres and I wanted to introduce you to the more popular sub-genres that have now become so entwined with the name Reggae.


The documentary I posted on Reggae History offered a great insight on how Reggae music was born from ska, itself a Jamaican derivative of American Jazz and R & B. Ska is characterized by the leading horns and the ‘Skank’ guitar upstroke on the offbeat while the drums keep a 4/4 beat. Following Jamaica’s Independence from the UK in 1962, great Reggae artists such as Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan, Desmond Decker, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, The Skatalites and the Ethiopians produced something that took the country by storm.


Dub is a genre of reggae music that is high, if not totally, instrumental. It is usually built around the use of electronic remixing equipment to add a number of effects to existing tracks and playing mixing them with a low pitch bass guitar. Dub was very influential in modern dance music and artists the world over will often have a dub version of at least one of their tracks. Important names to know in the world of Dub are King Tubby, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Scientist, Sublime and Augustus Pablo.

Roots Reggae

Roots Reggae, is undoubtedly the most popular form of reggae today; it is arguably my favorite. With lyrics carrying positive messages, mostly recognized thanks to Bob Marley, roots reggae also speaks of marijuana and Rastafari. Other highly admired roots reggae artists are Peter Tosh, Horace Andy, Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs, and The Abyssinians.

Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock was popular in the late seventies to the mid-eighties and can be characterized by its soft, quiet and somewhat tender musical style, infused with a smooth reggae beat. With Origins highly tied to south London, lovers rock is also known as British lovers rock and was essentially Jamaican reggae artists doing reggae versions of popular love songs. Here are some good examples of Lovers Rock Artists – Janet Kay, Ken Booth, Trevor Walters, Boris Gardener, Sugar Minott, John Holt and Dennis Brown.


Dancehall is a more electronic form of reggae music, with heavily synthesized rhythms or ‘riddims’. Otherwise known as ‘bashment’, dancehall usually involves some highly controversial lyrics and is widely accepted as the predecessor to modern Hip-Hop. Artists to look out for include Elephant Man, Buju Banton, Shabba Ranks, Super Cat, Shaggy, Vybz Kartel, Capleton, Beenieman and Bounty Killer.

Reggae Culture

Reggae Culture is a more modern form of Roots Reggae, with notable artists including Morgan Heritage, Freddie McGregor, Tony Rebel, and Sizzla. It is a mixture of methods from both dancehall and reggae, giving emphasis on the singing than the more electric sounds of the dancehall. The message is still that of socially conscious issues and Rastafari practices.