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Pioneering the sounds of dancehall, Yellowman was a hugely popular Jamaican DJ, who also took toasting to new heights with lewd and sexually explicit ‘slacker’ lyrics that made him into an unlikely sex symbol.
Born Winston Foster, Yellowman grew up in Negril, Jamaica, suffering from a difficult childhood due to his albinism, to which he found solace in music. Having gained a job with the Gemini Sound System as a backing DJ, Yellowman began to turn heads through his colourful outfits (wearing a bright yellow suit) and his humorous yet outrageous lyrics of sexual conquests. Entering the Tastee Talent Contest in 1979, Yellowman walked away with a landslide victory, soon becoming a household name across Jamaica, becoming notorious for his live shows that would often see him gesticulating to the audience with his microphone.
Delivering release after release, Yellowman’s recording output was prolific at the start of the decade, dropping more than 40 singles on an eager audience. In 1981, his debut album, “Them a Mad Over Me,” was released on Channel One, scoring a number of hits. With 1982’s “Mister Yellowman,” the young artist teamed up with producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes, offering a fresh dancehall sound, with many considering this to be his best album. Despite this success, Yellowman did garner criticism for his lyrics that often were degrading to women.
After 1983’s “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng,” Yellowma gained a record contract with major label, CBS Records. The mishmash sounds of “King Yellowman” failed to impress and it wasn’t log before he was dropped. Moving to Shanachie, his following releases garnered more positive acclaim, through which he tackled social issues such as domestic violence, South Africa’s apartheid regime and pro-marijuana protests.
Yellowman’s growing momentum was set aback after he was diagnosed with throat cancer, an illness which resulted in a portion of his jaw being removed. Changed after recovering, Yellowman completely dropped his former person of controversial, lewd lyrics, instead dedicating his lyrics to positive spiritual and social matters. With “Prayer” in 1994, “Message to the World” in 1995 and “Freedom of Speech” in 1997, the title’s speak for themselves, evidence of Yellowman’s changing direction. “New York” (2003) and “Round 1” (2005) continued to keep Yellowman in the charts, whilst he also travelled internationally to perform.
Yellowman’s music has being sampled on a number of hip-hop tracks, most notably of his hit track, “Zungguzungguguzunngguzeng.” From Backstair to KRS-One to Notorious B.I.G., they have all utilised Yellowman’s hit for their own music. He has also collaborated with Run-DMC on the track, “Roots Rap Reggae.”