U-Roy Dead At 78

David Corio/Redferns

U-Roy Dead At 78

David Corio/Redferns

U-Roy, the legendary reggae toaster, has died. As The Guardian points out, the Trojan Records label confirmed on Twitter this morning that U-Roy died yesterday in Jamaica. No cause of death has been reported. U-Roy was 78.

U-Roy, born Ewart Beckford, grew up in a religious, musical family in Kingston. As a young man in the early ’60s, U-Roy became a soundsystem DJ, just as that culture was exploding in Jamaica. He didn’t start releasing music on his own until years later; his debut single “Dynamic Fashion Way” came out in 1969. Instead, U-Roy’s style was more oriented toward dances. As a vocalist, U-Roy wasn’t a singer. He was a toaster — someone who would chant, melodically and rhythmically, over records, hyping up the crowd and praising the soundsystem. That style would prove massively influential on dancehall and on early hip-hop.

In the ’70s, as reggae styles changed, the toaster became more of a viable recording artist. U-Roy released Jamaican hits like “Wake The Town,” and he collaborated with many of the island’s best producers. Working with producer King Tubby, U-Roy became an massive figure in dub reggae as that style took hold. Starting with the 1975 album Dread In A Babylon, U-Roy’s records found followings in the UK and in Europe.

U-Roy also founded his own soundsystem Stur Gav in 1978, and he mentored younger toasters like Shabba Ranks, Tenor Saw, Josey Wales, and Ranking Joe. Jamaica awarded U-Roy an Order Of Distinction in 2008. U-Roy kept up a busy recording schedule in his later years; his most recent album, Rebel in Styylle, came out in 2019. He also reportedly recorded an as-yet-unreleased album called Gold: The Man Who Invented Rap, which will feature collaborations with people like Sly & Robbie, Santigold, Shaggy, Ziggy Marley, and the Clash’s Mick Jones. Below, check out some of U-Roy’s tracks.

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