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Yellowman

Jamaica's first dancehall superstar, Yellowman ushered in a new era in reggae music following Bob Marley's death. His early-'80s success brought the popularity of toasting -- the reggae equivalent of rapping -- to a whole new level, and helped establish dancehall as the wave of the future. For better or for worse, he also epitomized dancehall's penchant for "slack" lyrics -- that is, casual violence, sexism, homophobia, and general rudeness. Graphic sexuality was his particular forte, reaching levels of explicitness previously unheard in Jamaica. It brought him numerous detractors, but it was also a big reason for his early popularity. There was more to it than that, though; Yellowman was one of the most verbally nimble toasters of his time, with a loose, easy flow, a talent for improvisation, and a definite wit in his wordplay. Plus, all the boasting about his prowess on the mic or in the bedroom had to be over the top to be convincing: true to his stage name, Yellowman was an albino, which carries a tremendous social stigma in Jamaica. His rise to stardom was unlikely enough, but his transformation from untouchable outcast into sex symbol was staggering -- and may not even have taken place without his trademark lewdness. Shocking though it could be, it affirmed him as a sexual being just like his listeners, and was delivered with enough humor to let the audience know that he wasn't taking himself too seriously. Bouts with cancer pushed him into more thoughtful, socially conscious territory in the '90s, but his initial style remains the most influential, paving the way for countless dancehall toasters to follow.

Yellowman was born Winston Foster in Negril, Jamaica, in 1959 (some accounts say 1956). An early target for abuse because of his albinism, he grew up in an institution in Kingston, with little to keep him company besides music. Influenced by early toasting DJs like U-Roy, he practiced rhyming and got a job with the Gemini Sound System as a substitute DJ. Christening himself Yellowman and dressing in a bright yellow suit, he peppered his lyrics with jokes about his skin color and outlandish tales of his sexual conquests. In 1979, he won a landslide victory at the well-known Tastee Talent Contest, and within months he had become one of Jamaica's top concert draws, thanks to a dynamic, humorous stage show in which he often used the microphone to mimic his anatomical gifts.

Yellowman recorded prolifically in the early '80s, at one point flooding the Jamaican market with more than 40 singles. His first full-length album, Them a Mad Over Me, was recorded for Channel One in 1981 and featured the hit title track and the single "Me Kill Barnie," an answer record to Lone Ranger's hit "Barnabas Collins." He also scored with singles like "Operation Eradication" and the infamously slack "Shorties," which Peter Tosh condemned as degrading to women (hardly the first time such a criticism would be leveled at him). Despite this success, Yellowman didn't truly hit his stride on record until he hooked up with groundbreaking dancehall producer Henry "Junjo" Lawes. The 1982 LP Mister Yellowman kicked off their collaboration; released internationally by Greensleeves, it started to break him in the U.K. and U.S., and is still often acclaimed as his best album. It also launched a series of Jamaican hit singles over the next few years that included including "Yellowman Getting Married" (a rewrite of the My Fair Lady number "I'm Getting Married in the Morning"), "Mr. Chin," "Who Can Make the Dance Ram" (a rewrite of "The Candy Man"), "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" (sampled by several hip-hop acts), "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," "Soldier Take Over," "Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt," and "Wreck a Pum Pum," among others. Many of his recordings during this era featured vocal contributions from fellow DJ/toaster Fathead, whose specialty was punctuating lines with animal noises ("ribbit" and "oink" were his favorites).

After 1983's Zungguzungguguzungguzeng album, Yellowman signed a major-label deal with CBS Records, which encouraged him to maintain the stylistic versatility of his previous work. However, his lone album for the label, 1984's King Yellowman, sported mixed results, attempting everything from slack toasts to R&B and pop-tinged crossover tracks, including covers of "Sea Cruise" and "Take Me Home Country Roads," and the much-maligned fusion attempt "Disco Reggae." He subsequently released several albums on Shanachie, including 1984's Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt, 1985's Galong Galong Galong, 1986's Going to the Chapel, and 1987's Don't Burn It Down. The latter found him delving more into social consciousness; the title cut was a pro-marijuana protest, while "Stop Beat Woman" condemned domestic violence, and "Free Africa" criticized apartheid. Around the same time, he suffered a bout with throat cancer, but fortunately recovered. He returned to action with the hit Fats Domino cover "Blueberry Hill," and moved to the Ras label to record the well-received Yellow Like Cheese album with producer Philip "Fatis" Burrell.

Yellowman's recording career continued apace, as his sexual boasts and gay jokes kept getting raunchier and nastier. His popularity had slipped after 1985, due in part to less consistent material, and also in part to the emergence of a legion of new dancehall artists, many of whom harked back to his early material for inspiration. Things changed, however, after an early-'90s bout with skin cancer. Greatly shaken after this second life-threatening illness, Yellowman completely rethought his approach to music, and thereafter devoted himself almost exclusively to spiritual and social concerns. 1994's Prayer album (still on Ras) was the first effort in this new direction, and it was followed quickly by Message to the World in 1995. 1997's Freedom of Speech continued in a similar vein, after which Yellowman switched over to the Artists Only label. His first effort was 1999's Yellow Fever, which concentrated on conscious reggae but also featured some good-natured party tracks. New York followed in 2003, and Round 1 in 2005. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

King mellow yellow. Just listen a tune. Bless up rasta
Long live king yellow
stullis1
Yellowman greatest symbol of perseverance , , ,
King Yellow!
21 gun salute to the king, king Yellow, been listening to him since 3rd grade in Ghana and his music still moves me. All hail the king.
Yellowman... . . . . t h e best!!! IRIE.
Yellowman always my favorite artists from a young boy up to a day like today.
Damn I remember when I first heard this guy I was just brought home from the hospital and my evil nurse put him on her ipad and played him for over 2 hours and ever since then I have been listening to him
submarineche f
Ruthless Records had to have paid a grip for this sample on Eazy-E's track.
Damn this guy creeps me the f**k out
nicko252008
Yellowman is a REAL reggae sound.
luosan
Strong me Strong!
u nu fi jump fi happy r joy u nu fi call yellow man no bwoy
Never heard of this guy! Quite awesome when your f**ked up! F**kin epic
Nobody move
mikedaddy2g
King yellloooowww w w w
Ya hearrrrd me Idren.?
yellow man rewind pull up gunshots bow , bow ,bow yellowman run tings!!!
King Yellow is the best
King Yellowman ruled the dancehall
yellowman is awesome on stage,r band open up for him in naples,an fort.myers fl. an i tell ya,mon.em put on a show.2hrs.no n - s t o p . & b a c k s t a g e , h e one of the most humblest persons you ever want to meet..jah lov..yellowm o n , j a h lov.
jahblaza
king yello
Yellowman was great live! I saw him in the late 80's at a small club in California.
Love, love, love to listen to real music. Really enjoy the great selections
Saw him play last night in Sebastopol, CA. Good show; his energy is still there and was bouncing all around the stage.
A true natural creation BIG-up TO Dance Hall "ahh true dat!
Bush-tah Say Dat.
A true pioneer "yaa maan"
angeloriley
The true king! King Yellow! My man.
bcncb11
My # 1 for many reasons.
mauro390
YELLOW LIKE CHEEESE ! :D
Must Like!
THis dude got skillz. True verbal showmanship
Yellow like cheese seen I mon in 1988, ire.
gskeamu
HE'S GREAT
mike.burns8
Dryhead adassa!
mbahoo1
yellow mannnnnn!
ajhinvest
wow hes cool
love king yellow
bbendemann4
No two to six supermix?
astewart1920
must be a duppy or a gunman!!!
shoewho1
first caught my attention in 90s riding on locals boat in anguilla.
The reason why I came across Bob Marley.
College tunes
alerickcampb e l l
mr.chin is my favorite song.
alerickcampb e l l
respect yellowman.
This man played a significant role in my early arousal of consciousnes s .
myhk51
LONG LIVE KING YELLOWMAN!!!
Artists and DJ's come and go but Yellowman is legend. Baaadnesss!!
very good music i love it very much
The best of all jamaican dancehall DJ'S.
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