By Jodee Brown—–
The recent passing of legendary pop songstress, Whitney Houston truly shocked all walks of music life as her angelic voice captivated millions of fans worldwide and inspired many of today’s premiere artists, including within the Dancehall/Reggae fraternity.
Having died at a relatively young age (48), Houston’s death triggered memories of many other iconic artists who passed while enjoying the fruits of their prime like Amy Winehouse or adjusted to the latter stages of their careers like the ‘King of Pop,’ Michael Jackson. It also offered of similar instances within the Jamaican music industry where fans were left to wonder “What If?” when an artist’s life was taken away while still perfecting their well-regarded craft.
As a measure of remembering the fallen who’ve made contributions, whether small or large, to the evolution of Jamaican music into a global phenomenon, he’s a list of 10 artists whose impact on music forever resonates with those they’ve left behind.
10. J.O.E – Born Alty Nunes, J.O.E was regarded as one of the premiere upstarts in Dancehall/Reggae after his smash hit, Nah Nuh Mercy earned strong acclaim in 2009. The son of renowned dancer, Patsy Ricketts, J.O.E (Jah Ova Evil) seemed to have a promising career in front of him after having previously performed at Reggae Sumfest and St. Mary Mi Come From.
2011 was poised for J.O.E to stamp his authority on the local scene as the Equiknoxx Music recording artist unveiled two well received singles, Tonight and Rasta Chant. However, J.O.E’s life and career were suddenly cut short after the 25-year-old singjay suffered a rupture blood vessel in the head, shocking fans across the industry. His death came just hours after performing a live rendition of Rasta Chant, which was later released in his honor.
9. Copper Cat – Just two week prior to J.O.E’s death, a fellow young cultural artist, Demar ‘Copper Cat’ Graham was shot and killed outside the home of his adopted father, Richie Stephens.The former Jamaica College student had garnered a buzz after the release of his first mainstream single, Mek It Stay in 2008.More success followed in 2010 after unveiling popular songs such as Friend Murderer and Life Goes On, encouraging fans with his upbeat, conscious lyrical tone.
After Copper Cat’s senseless killing in January of 2011, his final recording, Since You Came In on the Penthouse Records produced, OMG Riddim was released; reminding fans of what could have been for the young star, who was only 22 when he died.
8. Simpleton – ‘A jus di Coca Cola Bottle shape, ah it a run de place,’ was the famous lyric from the classic single, Coca Coca Bottle Shape by Christopher ‘Simpleton’ Harrisonin 1992. The St. Andrew native had a really bright future ahead of him thanks to the single as it earned international acclaim for a Dancehall genre that just began taking shape as a popular form of music. Noteworthy singles such as ¼ to 12 and Drive Me Crazy followed for the promising deejay. But any hopes of recreating similar success to his 90s string of hits were dashed after Simpleton suffered a heart attack at just 33 years old in 2004, ending his career in its prime.
7. Natasja Saad – Many Dancehall/Reggae fans might raise an eyebrow seeing this name on the list. However, if you remember the chart-topping single, Calabria and the girl who repetitively sang ‘Easy now, no need fi go down,’ the name might sound more familiar.
Natasja Saad was born in Denmark but had a particular taste for Dancehall music and in 2006, became the first non-Jamaican to win the IRIE FM sponsored, Big Break competition which allowed her to work at that year’s staging of Reggae Sumfest. The following year, she recorded vocals for Calabria (featuring Enur) which later topped the Billboard Charts, earned her international acclaim and was remixed featuring Dancehall mega star, Vybz Kartel.
But Saad never got the opportunity to enjoy her overwhelming success after dying in a car accident in Spanish Town during the summer of 2007. She was 33.
6. Oneil Edwards – A cherished member of universally regarded Dancehall group, Voicemail, Oneil Edwards gained fame for his smooth vocals and dance moves. Alongside, Kevin Blair and Craig Jackson, Edwards scored several hits while a part of Voicemail such as Wacky Dip, Nuh Behavia and Ready To Party amongst several others.
On May 10, 2010, Edwards was robbed and shot several times in front of his Duhaney Park home and underwent several surgeries in an attempt to regain consciousness. However, two weeks later, Edwards was pronounced dead, leaving a major void in the highly acclaimed group whilst saddening the Dancehall community which later held a vigil in his honor. Since then, Blair and Jackson have carried on Edward’s legacy by continuing to perform as they ensure his music forever lives on.
5. Delroy Wilson – One of foundation Reggae’s pioneers, Delroy Wilson mastered variations of his genre from the age of 13 when he recorded several ska and rocksteady singles. Wilson’s career soared in the 70s releasing classics such as Dancing Mood, Raining from the Sky, Better Must Come and Footsteps From Another Man. Wilson’s partnership with prominent Reggae producer, Bunny Lee helped Wilson enjoy chart success in the United Kingdom while his collaboration with fellow Reggae icon, Bob Andy produced another chart-topper, Last Thing on My Mind in 1976.
However, Wilson’s soothing voice and tender lyrical touch soon faded thereafter as releases became less common in the 1980s while his health slowly deteriorated. In 1995, a year after receiving a special plaque recognizing his musical contributions, Wilson died from cirrhosis of the liver at only 46 years old. Since his death, several dub plates and covers of his singles have been released in his honor and a remix of Raining From The Sky was recently released featuring his daughter and upcoming Reggae singer, Shana Wilson.
4. Dennis Brown – A prolific singer with over 75 albums to his credit, Dennis Brown helped set the standard for Reggae music in the 1970s and 80s. Dubbed the ‘Crown Prince of Reggae,’ by Reggae icon, Bob Marley, Brown mesmerized audiences with classics such as Promised Land, Revolution and Money in my Pocket; earning him acclaim in the United Kingdom and Canada. Brown’s singing exploits and occasional ventures into deejaying made him a legend as he teamed with fellow foundation Reggae pioneers such as Bunny Lee, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Sonia Pottinger, Brown’s consistency elevated him to legendary status before turning 30; amassing a slew of top 10 hits as well as a pair of Grammy Award nominations in 1994 and 2001 respectively.
By the late 90s, Brown’s health deteriorated after years of cocaine use and later died in 1999 after suffering cardiac arrest at the age of 42. Over the last decade, many tributes have been paid to him, including an honorary concert in 2000, the formation of the Dennis Emanuel Brown Trust in 2001 and several remakes of his songs, most notably, Land of Promise by Reggae stalwart,Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley and American hip-hop superstar, Nas.
3. Peter Tosh – Renowned for several years as Bob Marley’s right-hand man whilst with the The Wailers, Peter Tosh became a superstar in his own right, writing many of Marley’s hits such as Get Up, Stand Up, No Sympathy, amongst others. After leaving Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1974, Tosh became a successful solo artist with singles such as Legalize It, Rumours of Warand Mystic Man whilst also becoming a strong voice during the turbulent political era in the 1970s.
Just months after winning a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album, Tosh, 43, was murdered during an attempted robbery at his home in Kingston. Despite having his career shut down shortly after his greatest achievement, Tosh’s contributions of music were impeccable; prompting calls by his daughter Niambe Tosh and fellow industry players to make him Jamaica’s eighth National Hero.
2. Garnett Silk – If there was ever a Reggae artist who could have been next in line to become a local legend, Garnett Silk personified that sentiment. With a divine voice and smooth persona to match, Silk gained popularity with Hello Mama Africa in 1992, a debut single that topped the United Kingdom charts. His thought-provoking lyrics and conscious vibe was somewhat reminiscent of a young Bob Marley as he teamed with fellow Reggae star, Tony Rebel and iconic producer King Jammy to record a slew of hits that immediately elevated him to top-draw status including, Fill Us Up With Your Mercy and Watch Over Our Shoulders.
In 1994, Silk signed a major record deal with American label, Atlantic Records as he looked poised to capitalize on his international success. However, a major void in the future of Jamaican music was soon left when Silk died after attempting to rescue his mother from a house fire. At just 28, Reggae music lost its ‘chosen one.’
1. Bob Marley – Though he died in 1981 of cancer at the tender age of 36, Bob Marley may still go down in history as the greatest musician ever, in any genre. Though his over 20 number one hits and countless chart-topping albums captivated the world during his life, Marley’s shocking death somehow enhanced his legacy, most notably when the popular 1984 compilation, Legacy became Jamaican music’s most successful album, with over 25 million copies sold worldwide.
Marley’s brand, image and lyrics remain strongholds within society, not only because of his abilities as a musician but also his desire to fight and stand up for social causes which made him a revolutionary. His birthday is posthumously celebrated like a holiday across the world and with sons, Stephen and Damian Marley becoming universal successes in their own rights; the appreciation for Marley’s legacy may have its strongest impact nearly 31 years after his passing.