Entertainment

Two decades of Playground

Birthday Club

BY KEVIN JACKSON
Observer writer

Sunday, June 18, 2017



Producer Jeremy Harding hit pay dirt with the infectious Playground rhythm in 1997. Released on Harding's 2Hard Productions label, the beat shone the spotlight on several unknown acts including Mr Vegas, Lexxus (now Mr Lexx), Dutty Cup Crew, and Kid Kurrupt.

The Playground rhythm gave Harding his first hit on the Billboard charts. In an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Harding recalled how the idea for the beat came about.

“My background in production at the time was based in hip hop. I was living and studying in Canada before returning home to Jamaica. I was deejaying on radio and in nightclubs while producing local, Canadian hip hop acts. Even though I was a trained musician, guitarist and a graduate of the Jamaica School of Music (known today as Edna Manley College), I had also learned the art of sampling sounds from vinyl records and pitching them across the keyboard, as well as chopping up sections of music and re-pitching and playing them in a different order,” he said.

“So the idea was, why not try and apply the same principle but make a dancehall record instead? So, I got bits and pieces from a couple jazz and hip hop records, spread the chops across the keyboard, and replayed my own original melody lines and basslines. The version of the 'riddim' that I used to record all the songs has a sample from an instrumental called Section by The Roots. I had to share publishing credits and everything, but it was worth it,” he continued.

Recording and production of Playground took place at Harding's 2 Hard studio in Jacks Hill, St Andrew.

“If I remember correctly, the first artiste to voice on it was Mad Cobra with a song called Pet and Pamper. As far as the project was concerned, at the time, the last artiste I believe was Mr Vegas, who was an unknown singer at the time and being mentored by Don Yute. He introduced Mr Vegas to me, and at the time the riddim was so full already, but he managed to convince me to record him anyway. That song was Hands in the Air (Nike Air) and it was his breakout hit record that jump-started his career. However, after the initial release when the riddim started gathering momentum in the clubs like Mirage and Cactus, Beenie Man had heard the songs juggling in the street and found his way to my studio one morning declaring that he had: “Come for the riddim. So, I recorded one more song after the officially released batch, and that was Who Am I (Sim Simma), and the rest as they say is history,” said Harding.

The songs on the Playground were released commercially on 45 rpm in the summer of 1997. In addition to Who Am I (Sim Simma), by Beenie Man, Hands in the Air (Nike Air) by Mr Vegas and Pet and Pamper (Mad Cobra), they were Slip Through Your Fingers (Swade), Infiltrate (Sean Paul), Fade Away (Lexxus), Strong Performer (Spragga Benz), Scream (General B), Work Dem (Merciless), Trendsetter (Kid Kurrupt) and Stick Up (Dutty Cup Crew, featuring Looga Man and Mossy Kid).

Harding recalled how receptive radio was when the songs were released.

“I called disc jockey Jerry D (Jeremiah Davy) who had a radio show on RJR I believe at the time, and it just so happened to be on a Friday night I believe, a couple nights after I recorded the Beenie Man record. He was the first disc jockey anywhere to play that record on the radio. By Monday morning, my distributor Jason Lee from Sonic Sounds called me to say all the record stores where calling him for that Beenie Man record, I need to get the DAT to him immediately so they could start the vinyl 45 production. In a matter of days he pressed up, I think, an initial 5,000 copies or so, and then I could hand them out to all the other disc jockeys on the radio, plus selectors and club deejays as well.”

Who Am I made an impact stateside and gave Beenie Man one of his biggest hits in the US and in the UK. It reached number 10 on the UK pop chart, number 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, number six on the Rap Singles chart, and number 14 on the R&B Hip Hop Songs chart.

The success of the song, and by extent the Playground riddim, opened numerous doors for Harding.

“It landed me distribution deals for my label with VP Records and Greensleeves Records. It got me a publishing deal as a writer with EMI music Publishing (UK). It allowed me access to work with almost any artiste I wanted to in reggae. It also brought attention to my young artiste at the time who I was trying to break, Sean Paul Henriques, who scored his first major radio hit with the song Infiltrate,” said the producer.

Harding later followed up with rhythms including Medina, Thunder, Lightning and Liquid (Liquid gave him another international hit with Tanto Metro and Devonte's Billboard charting single Give it to Her).

He spoke about lessons learnt from the success of the Playground.

“Probably just to trust your instinct and try and be original. I know there's a need to follow trends sometimes and you should be aware of the market, but you're never going to break away from the rest of the pack by playing it safe and trying to do what everyone else is doing. I used hip hop production techniques to create an original sound for dancehall. I recorded lots of young talent that nobody had ever heard of, and I pushed their records with the same intensity as I did the bigger artistes. Believe in talent, your own as well as the people around you, not hype,” he said.

The Playground rhythm has been sampled by a number of hip hop acts in recent years. Most recently, Krept and Konan from the UK sampled the beat in their 2015 UK Top 10 hit Freak of the Week.

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