The “One Drop” rhythm was created by Winston Grennan but made popular by Carlton Barrett who played drum for Bob Marley and the Wailers.
In One Drop, the backbeat is characterized by the dominant snare drum stroke and bass drum both sounding on the third beat of every four, while beat one is left empty. Thus, the expected hit on beat one is “dropped,” creating the one-drop effect. Dropping out the bass on the “one” of the measure further accentuates the downbeat of the drums creating the rhythm.
There are other styles of reggae rhythm that came directly from the One Drop. The most popular one drop offspring are “Rockers” and “Steppers”.
The rockers rhythm is essentially the one drop with a steady bass drum on every eighth note, though one drop is slower than a ska pattern, and rockers is often slower than one drop.
The steppers rhythm is essentially the one drop with a steady bass drum on every quarter note.
The best way to really get a feel of the One Drop rhythm is to listen to the Bob Marley song by the same name.
Examples of songs using the one drop from Bob Marley and the Wailers’ album Legend, with Carlton Barrett on drums, include: “No Woman, No Cry”, “Three Little Birds”, “Get Up, Stand Up”, “Waiting in Vain”, “Stir It Up”, “One Love/People Get Ready”, and “I Shot the Sheriff”.
Examples of songs using the steppers from Legend include: “Is This Love”, “Exodus”, “Buffalo Soldier”, “Satisfy My Soul”, “Jamming”.
The one drop style has also been remastered and referenced in numerous non-reggae songs, including “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” by Frank Zappa, “The Spirit of the Radio” by Rush, and “You Enjoy Myself” by Phish all placing their own twist on the one drop rhythm.