Other reggae musicians may be more famous, but few have been more prolific than Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. It’s been estimated that drummer Dunbar and bassist Shakespeare have played on and/or produced some 200,000 tracks. Even if that figure seems impossible, the influence of Sly & Robbie, as they’re professionally known, cannot be disputed. Not only have their rhythms adorned all styles of Jamaican music from the ’70s to the present day, but they’ve also helped shape several international styles of rock, R&B and EDM through their cutting-edge productions and always-propulsive beats. They’ve played with Bob Dylan, remixed Madonna andBritney, and produced virtually every major Jamaican star besides Bob Marley. Who else can claim that?
Even if their career had ended in the ’70s, Dunbar and Shakespeare would’ve been assured a place in reggae’s history: Their roots style is exquisitely soulful. But their ’80s work with Black Uhuruand participation in the Compass Point All Stars put them on the world map. The former’s 1984 masterwork Anthem snagged the first-ever reggae Grammy, and the latter created pioneering grooves for Grace Jones, which in turn helped change the course of New Wave, dance music and R&B.
We could’ve created a fantastic playlist solely comprised of Sly & Robbie’s work for Taxi, their label. Instead we’ve combined those Jamaican flavors with their rock, pop and soul work. Their sinuous, ever-changing sonics may marvel — and it’s unlikely that they won’t make you move. — Barry Walters