Text by Anderson Muth

Birthed by the great Jackie Mittoo as the 60s began to give way to the 70s, the Hot Milk riddim, aka Murderer, has been the source of hit records ever since. The initial Coxson 7” led to the Studio One era and then into deejays, rubadub, dancehall, and sound system: like so many well-rinsed riddims, it has moved effortlessly between decades. Johnny Osbourne, Carlton Livingston, Yellowman, Sugar Minott, and Shabba Ranks have all cut killers, never mind Barrington Levy’s powerful take (and re-take with Beenie Man).

Jackie Mittoo’s skill and talent is rather hard to overstate, which does much to explain the continued relevance of his composition, as Dr. Karen Anita Eloise Cyrus observes in her dissertation on the Jamaican Canadian: “There are jazz elements in Mittoo’s music. Many of his instrumentals are formulaic with predictable patterns that seem jazz derived: introductions taken from another piece; jazz frameworks of 12 or 32 bar forms to build his arrangements; rag piano shuffles that seemed to support the strum of the organ; and piano figures and passages similar to vamping and comping in jazz.” From there, the Hot Milk riddim wove its way through the evolution of music in Jamaica, generating these gems amongst others:

#1. Jackie Mittoo – Hot Milk [Coxson, 1968]

“Mittoo wrote the melody and bassline of ‘Hot Milk’ (’67)” notes Brian Keyo in his annotation from Tribute To Jackie Mittoo, one of many for Coxson Dodd. He elaborates on how unique a partnership it was: “Dodd’s basic employment arrangement with Jackie was payment to compose five new rhythms a week. This arrangement went on for over five years and among the thousands of compositions he produced and arranged for Dodd, it’s sometimes difficult to assess the exact contributions of each session man… Mittoo was the driving force behind hundreds of classic riddims.”

Though not all of those riddims have reached the heights and breadth that “Hot Milk” has, it was hardly a guaranteed outcome. Despite its potency, Dodd seemingly sat on the riddim…

Tommy McCook & The Sound Dimension ‎– Tunnel One [Coxsone Records, 1976] & I-Roy – Drum Sound [Virgin, 1976]

… until “another instrumental, ‘Tunnel One,’ which is a fine duet by Tommy McCook and an unnamed trumpet player,” explains reggae historian Ray Hurford. That same year found I-Roy releasing a very fine deejay cut, chatting freely on love and nature, over a heavier recut of the rhythm by The Revolutionaries.

Dub Specialist – Cairo [Studio One, 1980] & The Ethiopian – Empty Belly [Studio One, 1980]

And a dub cut did not appear until African Rub ‘A’ Dub’s 1980 release, under Dodd’s Dub Specialist moniker, as “Cairo.” Nor a proper vocal, “but it was worth the wait as it featured the great voice of Leonard Dillon, the Ethiopian. ‘Empty Belly’ is a classic song from a great album – Everything Crash,” continues Ray Huford. Moving into the early 80s, the riddim was clearly becoming a success…

Lone Ranger – Can’t Stand It [Grade One, 1982?] & Ranking Joe – Can’t Stand It [Kingdom Records, 1982] & Yellowman & Fathead – I Can’t Stand It [Greensleeves Records & Volcano, 1982]

Though arguably made famous by Yellowman and Fathead in combination, both Lone Ranger and Ranking Joe dropped loose deejay versions of “Can’t Stand It,” the latter backed by the Roots Radics band on the UK-released Armageddon LP. Lone Ranger’s take is bubblier, and still in the hands of Dodd, whose credit is on the 7”; in contrast, the Ranking Joe is darker, even grimmer. Yet Yellowman & Fathead recorded the most memorable take, their polished back-and-forth results in some wicked rub-a-dub – vintage dancehall vibes!

Sister Nancy – I Am A Geddion [Techniques, 1982] & Johnny Osbourne – Time A Run Out [Studio One, 1983?] & Sugar Minott – Fight Against Dread [Uptempo Records, 1983]

From ’83 onwards, the floodgates were open as vocalists seemingly lined up to perform future classics. Overshadowed by her work on Stalag, Sister Nancy’s rousing “I Am A Geddion” deserves a second listen, likely with a rewind. Johnny Osbourne also struck with “Time A Run Out,” not to mention Sugar Minott on “Fight Against Dread.” Surely based on the dubwise percussion, Ray Huford theorizes “that Sugar had access to dub plates of Studio One recordings which he used for the tunes” on that show case 10”.

Barrington Levy – Murder(er) [Jah All Mighty, 1984] & Carlton Livingston – 100 Weight Of Collie Weed [Greensleeves, 1984]

1984, in this case, was a year of evolution, as Hot Milk became better known as Murderer due to the tremendous impact of the Barrington Levy tune. Only the initial 7” seems to bear “Murder” alone, picking up the ‘er’ on all subsequent releases. Deadly Dragon Sound System pulls no punches in their support: “You can’t be a selector without this tune in your Box.”

Obviously cut as a Hot Milk relick, Levy was not alone in smashing the Hyman Wright & Percy Chin production. Carlton Livingston’s “100 Weight Of Collie Weed” is an instant herbalist anthem, covering the perils of driving ganja to the city from the Jamaican countryside.

Around this same time, Lone Ranger revisited, resulting in “If Life Was A Thing,” as did Mittoo himself on the expansive 1985 LP Version Studio, devoted entirely to “Hot Milk.”

Dica & Big Vern – Murderer [Boogie Beat Records, 1992] & NINO – Reality [Production House, 1993]

It’s necessary to mention the success of Levy’s “Murderer” within the UK’s hardcore/jungle scene, with break-laden cuts emerging in the early 90s. Dica and Big Vern’s direct take as well as NINO’s interpretation, proto-jungle to varying degrees, with elements of breakbeat and rave mixed in as well. Makes Hot Milk sounds like a nod to Anthony Burgess.

The trend was still alive and well over a decade later, with Jacky Murda’s 2007 skanking drum and bass injection; then Jonny Dangerously’s pitched up 2010 endeavor; and Foks’ bootleg in 2019, showing the perennial popularity.

Shabba Ranks – Respect [Shang Muzik, 1993]

An appropriate way to escort Hot Milk into the 90s, Shabba Ranks gives his respect to elders of the dancehall U-Roy, King Stitch, Admiral Tibet, Papa San, Super Cat, and more, emphasizing their impact with lines like ‘mic and equalizer are the DJ tool, and people come a dance like children going to school.’ Cool, cool.

Barrington Levy & Beenie Man – Murderer (aka Murderation) [Jah Life, 1994]

Crucial update to the original, the tough duet decries street violence and saw wide release on a slew of labels – notably the Madhouse Version on Priority Records. There are versions aplenty, appropriately so. Worth checking out as well is the white label 12” from RSD, of Smith and Mighty, remixed in a heavyweight dubstep style.

Johnny Osbourne – Rock With You [Digital-B, 1994] & Cocoa Tea – No Threat [Digital-B, 1994]

Interestingly at the same time, a more subdued interpretation of Hot Milk emerged out Bobby Digital’s studio, giving Osbourne’s soaring vocal plenty of space. Likewise for Cocoa Tea’s cruel condemnation of idiot sounds: ‘them sound they are no threat, them sound they are no threat; them sound as if fi dey aya they listen mi cassette.’

Gyptian – Murderer [VP Records, 2013]

Gyptian pairs surprisingly well with Barrington Levy, their voices just a notch apart as they move the well-known tune forward. A bit more emotive thanks to Gyptian’s part, there’s more story here as well atop a thoughtful instrumental. Thirty years on, and Levy continues to retread wisely every time.

Jahdan Blakkamoore – Absolutely [Dub-Stuy Records, 2019]

With DJ Madd twisting the melody and low-end into late-night territory, Jahdan Blakkamoore serves up a modern sound system weapon. “Absolutely, we come to ram up the dance; absolutely, free up and give the skankers a chance.” With a blend of braggadocio and pacifism, there’s freshness still in Hot Milk.

As usual, here are some more obscure finds for those still with cravings:

– “Smile Mi Friend,” a cool collaboration with an uplifting message between Nepalese singer Cultivation and British Arrival Sound System

– “Rolê” feat. Horseman & Earl 16, vibe-laden medley off the Prince Fatty feature of Monkey Jhayam

– “Sister Nancy vs Dub Specialist,” a mashup of epic proportions from Vullaka

– “Murderer” (Jeep Remix), a 1993 version featuring Rakim – what could go wrong?

– “Rise Di Gun Finger,” a celebration of dancehall culture from T.O.K; sample-slayer

– “Warning,” a banger with Uncle Murda going in on a certain sample