TEXT: THE GROOVE THIEF
Arising out of the increasingly slack dancehall scene found in mid-80s Jamaica, the Punanny (also spelled Punaany and Punany, amongst other possible iterations) riddim is a much-versioned up-tempo digital shuffle. Named for the original vocal from Admiral Bailey, a slack anthem that helped to usher vulgarity into the digital era, the catchy instrumental has provided the foundation for additional hits from the likes of Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Elephant Man, Junior Cat, and Shabba Ranks.
Just how crucial is this riddim? Admiral Bailey’s “Punaany” was released virtually alongside Super Cat’s “Mud Up,” leading journalist and DJ Edwin ‘Stats’ Houghton to argue in Pitchfork that the two “songs can share the credit for rearranging the sound of Jamaican music for the following 10 years, at least.” Houghton astutely adds that Punanny “has a surprising amount of space in its beat and four-note bassline, closely imitating the mixing board action of a live clash.” There are literally hundreds of tunes to choose from, so here are some choice selections to begin with, from the original forward to today:
#1. Admiral Bailey – Punaany [Jammy’s Records, 1986]
Cut first for Jammy’s Records as a 7” and later as a 12” in the UK on Live And Love – along the way it was retitled and rewritten to get past radio censorship. While clearly inferior, Bailey’s “Healthy Body” is actually fairly clever in one key way: while featuring obligatory banana, mango, and potato references, in general it’s more hummable than singable; this allows the song to fully capture the catchiness (though none of the bawdiness) of the original, which seems to have been the intent.
The original is therefore far more known and influential, as its raw crassness and energetic vibe has excited the dancehall ever since. So has the riddim – an early computer driven production from eventual digital production dons Steely & Clevie – a style that Kevin O’Brien Chang and Wayne Chen describe in Reggae Routes as “deceptively simple… [yet] hypnotic and strangely comforting.”
Admiral Bailey certainly shows his prowess here as well, offering a prescient understanding of where dancehall (and hip-hop) music was headed – in some ways this tune is rather ahead of its time. Featuring the blatant chorus call of “gimmie punnany, waan punnany,” it is up to the listener to listen past such overt sexuality to find the egalitarian admission that “any punnany a di same punnany.”
In Vibe Merchants: The Sound Creators of Jamaican Popular Music, author Ray Hitchins provides both context and impact: “the drum machine, in conjunction with the new recording participants and recording model encouraged the exploration of these new beats and sounds that dancehall music proved especially receptive to… the [Punanny Riddim] drum beat, created by Cleveland Browne, was based on a dotted crochet rhythm played by the kick drum. This riddim would achieve hyper-riddim status and derivative interpretations, employing the same drumbeat would be heard on numerous recordings during the course of the following two decades.”
#2. Junior Cat – Anerexol Body [Killamanjaro, 1987] & Shabba Ranks – Needle Eye Pum-Pum [Jammy’s Records, 1987]
Presumably influenced by Eek-A-Mouse’s similarly-titled track out several years earlier on the Real Rock riddim, Junior Cat’s ode to thin ladies sits on a tough-yet-basic take of Punanny. The urgent dub is rather choice, reflecting the changing vibes within the dancehall. This is Junior Cat’s very first recording as well, making it a rather intriguing cultural snapshot all around.
Another early recording comes by way of Shabba Ranks; on “Needle Eye,” he is in full-on slackness mode with a lengthy discussion of just how tight he likes his sexual partners. Was Joe Mannix’s 1988 release “Needle Point Penis” a direct response? Perhaps that is better left unknown…
#3. Cocoa Tea – Sonia Come Home [Steely & Clevie Records, 1990]
By 1990, the riddim had moved beyond its slack origins, with Cocoa Tea’s pleading vocal an excellent example of how love lost could still move records and dancers alike. Several years after ghost-producing the original, here Steely and Clevie tighten up the rhythm section, with the melody line merely serving as an intro. Cocoa Tea’s heartful style pairs well with the raw riddim, making for a memorable classic. Another noteworthy release again comes from Shabba Ranks – “Caan Dun.”
Plenty of other producers tackled Punanny around this time, with Jammy’s revisiting it for Admiral Bailey & Chaka Demus’s “This Is We;” Shocking Vibes kept things slack with artists like Tumpa Lion and Chris; Gussie P provided Cutty Ranks with the instrumental platform for the unrelenting “The Stopper;” influencing Vybz Kartel, the Dragon-produced “Benz Punaany” by Grindsman managed to add transportation to the lyrical possibilities!
#4. Beenie Man – Girls Dem Sugar & Romie [Shocking Vibes, 1996]
Eventually re-released as a 12” by VP Records, these two anthems helped Beenie Man’s stock rise to ridiculous heights by the decade’s end. The riddim’s key stabs are worthy reappearing elements, yet it is ultimately the powerful vocals riding proper atop the raw shuffle that created such musical magic. That said, outside of reggae circles it’s the 2000 hiphop remake featuring Mya of “Girls Dem Sugar” – which also includes elements of the equally massive “Who Am I (Sim Simma)” – that is the most widely known, albeit over a very different beat crafted by the Neptunes.
#5. Various Artists – Greensleeves Rhythm Album #5: Punanny [Greensleeves, 2000]
The turn of the century saw another freshening of “Punanny,” with Greensleeves setting the pace. This early release in the label’s decade-long riddim series is essentially a split between contemporary tracks and highlights on the original Jammy’s riddim. Over a turn of the century recut from Ward 21, the melody teases, but the focus is on the pulsating beat. On a clear standout, Lady Saw takes the original’s sexual fervor and redirects it to wealth: the hyper-capitalistic “It’s All About The Cash” is exactly that. Set to the same churning update are also contributions from Elephant Man, Beenie Man, and Mr. Vegas. A lot of heavy hitters, from the Admiral on down.
#6. Buju Banton – Adult Rated / Beat One [Studio 2000, 2006]
While Youngblood’s 2004 release has a few intriguing cuts, Studio 2000 made much more of a mark with two takes from Buju Banton, with additional tracks featuring Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel. On this 7”, the A-side definitely commands attention, though the reverse is no less worthy.
#7. Dub-Stuy Presents Punanny Riddim 2016 [Dub-Stuy Records, 2016]
Replacing the Casio with an 808, producer DJ Madd provides a proper bass-focused update to the riddim. The launch of Dub-Stuy’s riddim series – which has also revamped the sound system favorite Kunta Kinte – this five-track presents four different vocal styles as well as the heavyweight instrumental. Turbulence, Mikey General, Miss Red, and Kurry Stain all turn in memorable takes, making Punanny an easy riddim to juggle in most any era.
Other fresh interpretations, for the deep diggers, include:
– “We Action Pack,” a nice take by Australia’s 28 Engine Sound ft. General Trees
– “Punany Bow Riddim,” a lo-fi 16-bit remake by Radio*Clandestina
– “M.E.H.V. (Punaany riddim),” an Italian-language version from La Sonidera Garbanza
– “Hurricane Irma,” an intriguing yet unknown vocal