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. 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 is 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. 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 recorded prolifically in the early '80s, at one point flooding the Jamaican market with more than 40 singles. After 1983's Zungguzungguguzungguzeng album, Yellowman signed a major-label deal with CBS Records 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.
After an early-'90s bout with skin cancer,Yellowman was 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.
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