Lloyd Bradley’s Bass Culture is still the definitive history of reggae (2001)

As the late ska icon Prince Buster writes in the intro: “Jamaican music at last has the book it deserves”.

I read Lloyd Bradley’s bulging history of reggae around 10 years ago and it’s one I go back to for the odd delve – most recently to brush up a bit for an interview with Don Letts, who gets a few entries in the index, along with hundreds of other artists.

Bass Culture was the first book of its kind and it must be the one essential reference for lifelong fans and half-assed enthusiasts like me. It traces reggae from the 1950s ghetto soundclashes in Kingston to the hallowed studios of Clement Dodd, King Tubby, Lee Perry and all other greats from roots, ska, dub, dancehall and beyond, featuring interviews with Prince Buster, Horace Andy, Bunny Lee and dozens more.

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Lloyd Bradley

It’s a scholarly work but like Simon Reynolds, Bradley tells it with a fan’s reverence, filling it with first-person patois accounts from the main innovators and a social and political history of Jamaica.

It takes ages to get through – 500 pages and you’ll be multitasking on YouTube at the same time, searching for all the killer tracks you probably haven’t heard yet.

Bradley is a Londoner so there’s a big focus on the UK scene and sound system culture. My edition is from 2001 so I guess it’s been updated to include a few enthusiastic passages on dubstep and grime, and plenty of other genres in debt to the great Jamaican soundclash.