The cause of his death has not been made public
Legendary Jamaican toaster U-Roy has died at the age of 78, Trojan Records have confirmed. The cause of his death has not been revealed.
Before there was grime and drill… before there was hip-hop or ragga… before even The Last Poets… there was U-Roy. The man born Ewart Beckford in Kingston, Jamaica wasn't the first Jamaican deejay to pick up a microphone to lively up the dance, but he pushed the 'toasting' style to new heights – and, crucially, was one of the first to get what had until then been a purely live phenomenon in Jamaican dancehalls down on record.
First making his name with the Sir George The Atomic soundsystem, U-Roy then moved over to the Sir Coxsone Down Beat sound, later briefly returning to Sir George before hooking up with King Tubby on Duke Reid's soundsystem in 1969. Tubby's work with Reid in the studio as well as on the sound gave U-Roy access to limited dubplates of Duke Reid productions, which he would toast over – often answering the sung verses of the original production.
It was his thus-styled take on The Paragons' rocksteady hit Wear You To The Ball that propelled him to reggae stardom. In his wake would follow a legion of imitators and emulators, including such seminal figures as Big Youth, Dillinger and Dennis Alcapone, while U-Roy himself would remain a giant of the reggae world right up to his final years: his last album, Talking Roots, was released in 2018 and another called Gold, featuring collaborations with Sly & Robbie, Youth, Shaggy, Ziggy Marley and The Clash's Mick Jones, was recorded in 2019 and is due to be released this summer.
Had U-Roy's influence stopped there, he'd still be a bona fide musical giant – but it didn't. Because when a young Kool DJ Herc moved from Jamaica to Queens a few years later, he took with him not just his soundsystem but the whole concept of having an MC talking over records. In New York, though, they renamed this phenomenon rap…
A lifelong Rastafarian, in 2007, U-Roy was awarded Jamaica's Order of Distinction, in recognition of his services to music. And quite rightly so: it's no exaggeration to say that every MC and rapper on the planet is forever in his debt.
RIP one of the most seminal figures in music over the past 50 years.