About four years ago, the Jamaican label Greensleeves released a double-disc greatest-hits set called From Dubplate to Download: The Best of Greensleeves Records. The label’s been releasing music for decades now, and listening to the set felt like taking a crash course in 30 years of Jamaican anthems, from the the Wailing Souls’ slow, organic roots music to the fired-up high-BPM digital dancehall of recent years. And as compulsively listenable as From Dubplate to Download was, there was enough variety in that long arc that the stuff at the end really didn’t belong to the same genre as the stuff at the beginning. When you look back at Greensleeves’ catalog, you’re looking at a truly varied landscape.
Riddimentary: Diplo Selects Greensleeves, his DJ mix of music from the label’s past, turns out to be a love letter to a very specific period in the genre’s evolution: The early-80s moment when deep one-drop roots reggae was just starting to transform into dancehall. It was a time when all these older stars started to integrate digital drum-triggers and echoey synthesizer lines into their tracks, and when the Barrington Levy/Yellowman style of nonsensical stutter-scatting was blowing up. Riddimentary isn’t a wide-ranging dance party; it’s a mix that maintains a single mood and a single tempo throughout. You could dance to it, if you wanted, but you could also wash dishes or read a book or drive down a highway in the middle of the night.