When it comes to releasing new music, reggae is unusual. Artists in rock, hip-hop and so forth usually release singles or albums that feature original musical compositions -- their own rhythms, melodies and songs. But with reggae, you've gotta dive into the compilation section to get the most up-to-date selection of reggae releases classified as "riddims."
Riddim is the Jamaican patois term for "rhythm"; it simply refers to a song's instrumental accompaniment. Riddim compilations are produced by bands or independent production houses, and feature a dozen or so vocal tracks by different artists, all over the same instrumental. Same song, different singer. The resulting mix of well-established stars and unknown up-and-comers presents a great opportunity for producers and fans to reconnect with old favorites and discover a few new ones.
Many artists will lend their vocals to tracks on riddim compilations for years but only release a few full-length albums in their careers. Digitally crate-digging for these riddims is music discovery at its finest, so search for your favorite star and see what kind of gems you can find. Within roots reggae and dancehall, hundreds of riddims are released every year; here are some of my favorites from 2011.