Roots Reggae usually refers to the most recognizable kind of Reggae, popularized internationally by artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, which dominated Jamaican recordings from around 1972 into the early 1980s. While there are distinct musical characteristics to this era of Reggae music, the term "Roots" often implies more the message of the music than specifically its musical style and is still often used today to refer either to a musical style/subgenre or to give context to an artists music that may, in fact, cover several subgenres of Reggae. Roots Reggae, in this descriptive sense, can be typified by lyrics grounded in the Rastafarian movement's "Back to Africa" message, equation of colonialism and slavery with the Biblical captivity in Babylon, and, of course, the belief in one living God, Jah, manifested as Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie. Recurrent lyrical themes include poverty and resistance to economic and racial oppression as well as more poetic meditations on spiritual or topical themes.
Musically, the "Roots" sound and era have a number of distinct features. Drummers developed more complex kick drum patterns based around the "one drop" of Rocksteady and incorporated influences from Funk and R 'n' B. The guitar, piano and keyboard patterns in the music were refined from the creative explorations of the early Reggae era into the patterns most recognizable as Reggae throughout the world. Simple chord progressions were often used to create a meditative feeling to compliment the lyrical content of the songs. This refining of rhythmic patterns and simplification of chord progressions brought the bass guitar entirely to the forefront, helping to make bass one of the most definitive features of Reggae as a genre. Producer/engineers like King Tubby, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Prince Jammy (before he became a king) also played a large role in the development of the Roots sound, with their heavy use of tape delay and reverb effects becoming one of the most recognizable features of the music. The Roots sound can be best identified in the Jamaican recordings of the late 1970s by artists such as Burning Spear, Max Romeo, The Abyssinians, Culture and Israel Vibration.