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Remembering U-Roy, Jamaican Dancehall Icon

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Legendary Jamaican vocalist U-Roy has died. He was 78. Born Ewart Beckford, he helped inspire the birth of rap in the U.S. His death on Wednesday in Kingston, Jamaica, was announced by the label Trojan Records. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has this appreciation.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: U-Roy was an innovator in toasting, creating suave rhymes over instrumentals and rhythms. His singular dancehall style was documented on hundreds of Jamaican records in the 1970s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR ACE FROM SPACE")

U-ROY: (Unintelligible).

TSIOULCAS: He started out as a DJ in 1960s Kingston, doing a bit of vocal patter while he flipped LPs between songs. Soon, U-Roy was the top DJ for another pioneer, King Tubby. By 1970, he had his first big hit, "Wake The Town."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE THE TOWN")

U-ROY: Now, wake the town, and tell the people I've got a musical disc I can't afford to delay.

TSIOULCAS: U-Roy nurtured another generation of artists, including Shabba Ranks, who paid tribute to his elder on the song "Respect." Years later, he literally crowned U-Roy, calling him the godfather of the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RESPECT")

SHABBA RANKS: (Rapping) Cool, cool, U-Roy done rule. U-Roy the godfather of the DJ school. Cool, cool.

TSIOULCAS: U-Roy also had an enormous influence on early rap. Several of the most notable artists in the Bronx, the home of hip-hop, had Caribbean heritage. They included DJ Kool Herc, who was born in Kingston just like U-Roy. Kool Herc loved U-Roy's flow. In 2013, both artists did an interview with Whatz Up TV in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DJ KOOL HERC: When I left Jamaica, this is the music I was listening to back in the days. This is U-Roy, my king.

TSIOULCAS: And Kool Herc kneeled at U-Roy's feet.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly say that the Whatz Up TV interview with U-Roy and DJ Kool Herc took place in 2013. It was actually recorded in 2004.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 22, 2021 at 9:00 PM PST
In this report, we incorrectly say that the Whatz Up TV interview with U-Roy and DJ Kool Herc took place in 2013. It was actually recorded in 2004.