Reggae Pioneer U-Roy Dies Aged 78

We’re saddened to hear of the death of reggae trailblazer U-Roy, a giant of the scene whose influence permeates through the genre. Born Ewart Beckford in Jonestown, Kinston, Jamaica, he is regarded as the Godfather of ‘toasting’, though he was not the first to use the distinctive vocal style, he was the first to break through on record. Beginning his musical career in 1961 as a Soundsystem DJ, his idiosyncratic style, sharp lyrics and distinctive voice ultimately helped to give birth to hip-hop. However, it was when he teamed up with dub genius King Tubby that he was hailed as a hero in reggae circles and was catapulted into the wider music media.

Hugely prolific, he release countless singles throughout the 70s, many with Bunny Lee, as well as iconic albums such as Natty Rebel and Dread in a Babylon on the Virgin label. While active as a performer in the 1980s, U-Roy scarcely recorded again until 1991 – by which time he had moved to LA – when the British producer Mad Professor invited him to appear on the album True Born African. It spawned another lasting creative partnership. U-Roy’s last album, 2018’s Talking Roots, was also produced by Mad Professor. His legacy will live on through not only reggae artists but those in hip hop and beyond who recognise his genius for adapting to existing sounds.

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