One of the more popular dancehall DJs of the '90s, Mad Cobra was the first reggae artist to top the Billboard rap singles chart. He initially made his name with a series of tough, hard-hitting singles aimed at the hardcore crowd, filling his lyrics with the requisite slackness and gun talk. However, he achieved international crossover success by incorporating elements of R&B and hip-hop. Mad Cobra was born Ewart Everton Brown on March 31, 1968, in Kingston; he was raised in the province of St. Mary's, but moved back to the capital city during his teens. He took his stage name from the villains in the G.I. Joe comic book series, and performed with several sound systems while still in school. His uncle, Delroy "Spiderman" Thompson, worked as an engineer at the Tuff Gong studios and produced Mad Cobra's debut single, "Respect Woman," in 1989. The follow-up was a duet with Tricia McKay, "Na Go Work," which brought him to the attention of producers Carl "Banton" Nelson and Captain Sinbad. Ninjaman-style gun talk was the dancehall trend of the day, and Mad Cobra soon built a following with similarly minded singles like "Shoot to Kill," "Merciless Bad Boy," and "Ze Taurus."
Those initial hits landed Mad Cobra a shot with producer Donovan Germain's high-profile Penthouse label, where he teamed with resident engineer/songwriter Dave Kelly. "Yush" and "Gundelero" were enormous hits in 1990, breaking Mad Cobra into the big time; he also scored with a Beres Hammond duet, "Feeling Lonely." His first album, Bad Boy Talk, appeared in 1991 and sold briskly; meanwhile, he continued to record for a variety of top producers over 1991-1992, landing hits like "O.P.P." (for King Jammy), "Tek Him" (Bobby Digital), and "Be Patient" (Sly & Robbie). He soon became a phenomenon in the U.K. as well, topping the country's reggae singles chart five times during the period and working with some of that country's top dancehall producers. Even a storm of controversy over the stridently homophobic lyrics of "Crucifixion" failed to slow his momentum.
Mad Cobra's success earned him a major-label deal with Columbia, which had just watched Shabba Ranks cross over to R&B audiences in America. Cobra's label debut, Hard to Wet, Easy to Dry, aimed for similar territory, especially the lead single, "Flex." A slinkier number built on a version of the Temptations' "Just My Imagination," "Flex" was a major crossover hit in 1992; not only did it top the rap singles chart, it reached the Top Ten on the R&B charts, and nearly did likewise on the pop listings. The follow-up single, "Legacy," flopped, however, and Mad Cobra returned to recording chiefly for the Jamaican market over the next few years. Amid hotly contested rivalries with Ninjaman and Buju Banton, Cobra scored two major hits in 1993 with "Mek Noise" and "Matie Haffi Move." 1994 found him back at King Jammy's studio for the Venom album and a series of hits that included "Fat and Buff," "Length and Bend," and his first foray into culturally conscious material, "Selassie I Rules."
Mad Cobra continued to record steadily over 1995, and the following year signed with Capitol for his second major-label album, Milkman. The salacious "Big Long John" was a minor crossover hit in America, though not on the level of "Flex." The album also featured a good-natured clash cut with Ninjaman, "Sting Night." In the years that followed, Cobra's output slowed down substantially, though he did make some international noise in 1998 with "Guns High," a duet with Mr. Vegas. Several compilations of his Jamaican recordings appeared over the years, often on VP, and he returned in 2001 with Cobra, an album of new material for Artists Only. ~ Steve Huey