Questlove Heralds the ‘Unparalleled Production Riddem Prowess’ of Robbie Shakespeare

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Robbie Shakespeare - Credit: Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Robbie Shakespeare - Credit: Frans Schellekens/Redferns

Questlove praised Robbie Shakespeare for pushing the boundaries of reggae without sacrificing vision or integrity in a tribute to the bassist, who died Wednesday, Dec. 8.

The Roots drummer heralded Shakespeare and his longtime creative partner, drummer Sly Dunbar, writing, “You might have seen the name. You might not know the legacy by heart but believe you me their production riddem prowess was unparalleled.”

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Questlove peeled off a handful of the “gazillion rhythm beds we have collectively made the epicenter of our joy,” which Sly and Robbie were behind. Their “Bam Bam” riddem for Chaka Demus and Pliers, he said, “singlehandedly took dancehall to the mainstream,” while he also highlighted the duo’s work with Black Uhuru, Toots and the Maytals, Dennis Brown and other reggae greats. And then there were all the other artists outside the genre, Questlove continued, who tapped Sly and Robbie for their singular sound (Bob Dylan, Serge Gainsbourg, Madonna, Mick Jagger and Grace Jones, to name a few).

“Their sound helped modernize reggae from its raw launch into a sexier sleeker sound without compromising the vision,” Questlove wrote. “That last part is crucial. It was just lat week that I put 2&2 together that Go-Go did have its moment in the sun via New Jack Swing — but got lost in the filter sauce … in S&R’s hands, reggae got an upgrade, but never lost its way back home.”

Shakespeare’s death was announced by Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia Grange. An exact cause of death has yet to be revealed. Speaking with Rolling Stone, Black Uhuru’s Michael Rose said, “Big, big loss. Nobody sounds like Robbie. He had the wickedest bass. You’ll never find nothing like that again.”

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