Kingston, Jamaica born-and-bred vocalist Ewart Beckford, better known as the reggae artist U-Roy, died on Wednesday, February 17 at his home in Jamaica. He was 78 years old.
An influential singer of gently melodic reggae, his conversational rapping was also known as “toasting.”
“As we mourn the loss, we have the memories of this amazing talent,” wrote producer, studio operator and U-Roy collaborator Mad Professor on Facebook. “We have the stories. Without him, there would be no Dancehall, no Hip-hop, no Rap, no Afrobeat.”
The Professor wasn’t just boasting.
As a travelling sound system DJ in the 1960s and ’70s, alongside the legendary likes of King Tubby (for whom he rapped, famously), and Coxsone Dodd, U-Roy lent his often lovely and mellifluous conversational chatter — rapping with a flow and an intuitive feel for the rhythms — to sparsely arranged reggae, dancehall and dub tracks in a live setting. Not only did this make him one of dancehall’s toasting innovators, but U-Roy also crafted some of the earliest forms of rap, for which he won sobriquets such as ‘The King of Toasters’ and ‘The Originator’.
Dancehall producer Duke Reid and ska king/Paragons singer John Holt put U-Roy behind the mic for early rocksteady singles such as ‘Wear You to the Ball’ and ‘Rule the Town,’ before releasing now-classic albums such as 1970’s ‘Version Galore,’ 1975’s ‘Dread in a Babylon,’ and the global inspiration likes of 1976’s ‘Natty Rebel,’ and 1978’s ‘Jah Son of Africa.’
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Along with toasting on albums by Lee Scratch Perry, Ziggy Marley and Peter Tosh, as well as being gifted with a Grammy for his toasting on Toots and Maytals’ 2004 album True Love (2005 Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album), U-Roy was famed for creating his own sound system, Stur Gav, which birthed future toasting superstars such as Josey Wales and Ranking Joe.
“Today we lost one of our heroes,” wrote Boombastic dancehall hitmaker Shaggy on Instagram of U-Roy’s inspiration and innovation. “U Roy was a master at his craft. Rest Well daddy Roy!! R.I.P. walk good.”