Jamaica's first dancehall superstar, Yellowman ushered in a new era in reggae music following Bob Marley's death in 1981. His success in the early '80s 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. He 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. True to his stage name, Yellowman is an albino, which carries a tremendous social stigma in Jamaica. However, neither that stigma nor his bout with cancer in the '80s have impaired his success or his huge influence on successive generations of dancehall toasters.
Born Winston Foster in Negril, Jamaica, in the late '50s, Yellowman got his first job with 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. He recorded prolifically in the early '80s, at one point flooding the Jamaican market with more than 40 singles. 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 that kicked off their collaboration introduced Yellowman to reggae fans 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 "Yellowman Getting Married," "Mr. Chin," "Who Can Make the Dance Ram," "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng," "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," and "Soldier Take Over."
After a brief stint signed with CBS Records, Yellowman was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1986 and was given six months to live. After surgery and an extended leave of absence from the record industry, the toaster restarted his career with the song "Blueberry Hill." He moved to the Ras label to record the well-received album Yellow Like Cheese (1987) with producer Philip "Fatis" Burrell. Although his work in the '90s and beyond has veered more toward a socially conscious style, to this day his witticisms are as cheeky, spirited, and intelligent as ever, delivered with his customary sharp, melodic style.
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