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Rhythm Twins Sly & Robbie
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Rhythm Twins Sly & Robbie

‘Rhythm Twins’ Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare are inseparable like drums and bass in Jamaican music. But where to start when summarizing the decades-long legacy of the drummer and bassist?

By DannyVeekens
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4:43

According to several estimates, Sly & Robbie played on 200.000 tracks since the 70s, excluding remixes & dubs (“But I hope it reaches two million, probably three,” as corrected by Robbie in a 2008 interview). Big talk or not, their impact as a rhythm section is huge: they’ve worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Herbie Hancock and from Bob Dylan to Serge Gainsbourg, won 11 Grammy’s, helped Grace Jones to find a new reggae-tinged direction with Nightclubbing… And the winning streak goes on and on till this very day, as they’re still making music and performing around the world.

Sly & Robbie have been sampled by Pete Rock, Notorious B.I.G., Heavy D & The Boyz, Public Enemy, Dilated Peoples, El-P, Busta Rhymes & many more

Sly & Robbie embody the influence of dub and reggae music on popular music. From the small island of Jamaica, those genres had a huge impact on music production in rock ‘n roll, hip-hop, punk, and electronic music. Producers in dub and reggae innovated the idea that music production is not per se a reproduction of a live studio situation. The use of reverb, echo, delay, and dubbing snippets of original recordings turned the studio engineer into an artist. As much so—or even more so, in some cases— as the musicians in the booth. This way of working set a new standard for music production, mixing, mastering, and sound engineering as we know it today, an influence echoing all the way into 2020 and beyond.

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8:14

Sly & Robbie started off in a similar vein: making an impact from the background. “Even before we were producing ourselves, we were producing other people, not knowing we were producing,” tells Robbie in a Red Bull Music Academy session. “When we were in the studio we’d arrange the song for them, ‘This sounds good and that sounds good… Singer, sing this song instead of that one.’ We’d arrange and produce, not knowing we were producing for the producer.”

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5:21

The Sly & Robbie tracks on Tracklib are the instrumentals of their Livin’ It Up album, recorded in 2007 together with influential roots reggae vocalist Horace Andy. Who, on his turn, was sampled by the likes of Massive Attack (leading to collaborations on all their studio albums), Pete Rock, KRS-One & Action Bronson.

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7:12

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