Sleng Teng is the name given to one of the first fully computerized riddims, influential in Jamaican music. The riddim, which was created by the collaboration between King Jammy and Wayne Smith, was titled “Under Mi Sleng Teng” in 1984.
Wayne Smith found the computerized sound in Noel Davey’s keyboard, and together he and Davey arranged the riddim, slowed it down, matched it to Smith’s key, and rehearsed on it with lyrics inspired by Barrington Levy‘s “Under Mi Sensi” and Yellowman‘s “Under me fat ting”, before taking it to Jammy’s studio in late 1984. The riddim is based on a pattern found on the Casio MT-40 home keyboard. The synthesizer pattern itself has been speculated to be an attempt to recreate Eddie Cochran‘s 1959 rockabilly song “Somethin’ Else; The pattern’s creator, Casio’s Product Development and Music Engineer Hiroko Okuda has denied the Cochran song to be the source, saying instead that it was based on a 1970s British rock song she declined to identify, but has been suspected to be the David Bowie song “Hang On to Yourself“.
After the riddim was brought to the studio and Jammy heard it, he then slowed it further and placed piano and a clap on it. Jammy recorded a number of other artists on the original backing track including Tenor Saw (with “Pumpkin Belly”), and Johnny Osbourne (with “Buddy Bye”). The tunes were first unleashed at a now legendary soundclash between Jammy’s own sound system and Black Scorpio at Waltham Park Road on February 23, 1985.
Some of Jammy’s productions based on the rhythm were released on the albums Sleng Teng Extravaganza and Sleng Teng Extravaganza 95.
Scholars Peter Manuel and Wayne Marshall argue that Sleng Teng “was seminal in various ways … [it] further consolidated the trend toward the new production of riddims based on short ostinatos, rather than reliance on vintage B-side tracks, with their occasionally problematic chord progressions”. Secondly, it sounded thoroughly novel and different from the “overused Studio One classics”. Third, its success promoted the wide use of digital production methods, where “a keyboard synthesizer, sequencer, and drum machine, or access to these, could generate a new riddim, without having to spend money on studio time or studio musicians”.
Sleng Teng is among the most versioned (rerecorded) of Jamaican riddims, listing around 450 versions. The riddim was updated by Jammy in 2005 (slightly speeded up, with added horn riff) and this variation is known as “Sleng Teng Resurrection.” Several new cuts on the original Sleng Teng were also released by Jammys in 2005 in celebration of the riddim’s 20th anniversary.
King Tubby, who had originally taught Jammy how to produce music, was inspired by the track to create his own “Tempo” riddim.
Jammy recorded a number of other artists aside from Wayne Smith on the original backing track artists including Tenor Saw (with “Pumpkin Belly”), and Johnny Osbourne (with “Buddy Bye”).
Notable reggae/dancehall kings Super Cat, Ninjaman, and Yellowman, as well as many more have sampled their own versions of the Sleng Teng riddim.
American rock band 311 also quote the lyrics in their song “Who’s Got the Herb”.
American dub reggae band TATANKA also did their own 2 different unique takes of this riddim. One being a instrumental dub version called “Show me love” dub as well as a full on instrumentation version complete with their own originally written lyrics and vocals.