To many, especially the younger generation, dancehall music is perhaps the most popular Jamaican music genre, and certainly the longest living one, having its birth in 1983 and surviving to the present day. By comparison, the others were relatively short - ska for five years, from late 1961 to late 1966; rocksteady for two years, 1966-1968; and reggae for 14 years, 1969-1983.
In our deliberations, one has to be careful not to confuse the current dancehall music with Jamaican music of the late 1950s and 1960s, that sometimes go by that same name and used to be played in enclosed spaces or Lodge Hall buildings, also called dancehalls.
Current dancehall music owes a lot to the works of one Lincoln 'Sugar' Minott, who pioneered an approach that would be central to the emerging dancehall style.
During the mid-1970s, Minott, while with Studio One, developed a remarkable talent for writing new songs to fit over existing rhythms, and he found certain Studio One rhythms ideal.
The songs provided the first glimpse of what would become known as dancehall music. With a style that struck a medium between deejaying and singing, Minott at times produced hits that equalled or surpassed the originals.
Utilising the rhythm of the Tenors' classic rocksteady piece, Pressure and Slide, in one of his earliest and most popular recordings for Studio One, Minott related an encounter with a lawman:
Coming from the country with a bag of collie,
I buck upon a DC, him want to hold me.
Don't you run now, youthman, you won't get away,
If you slip you will die,
And if you run you can't hide,
For I've got my dick stuck in my hip.
Oh, DC, don't you take my ishence, don't you take my collie.
Mi children dying for hunger, and I man a suffer,
So you've got to see,
It's the collie that feed me.
This and other quality recordings at Studio One gained for Minott a huge following at a time when there was stiff competition from Bob Marley's Island Records albums, Catch A Fire, Burning and Natty Dread.
In his earliest outings, Minott leaned heavily on nursery rhymes to help reinforce his lyrics. One such was This Ole Man, a popular cut which rode on the original rhythm cut of Alton Ellis' Get Ready To Do Rocksteady, while he rode on the rhythm of another Ellis cut, titled I'm Just A Guy to produce Vanity (Ole King Cole).
In the recording, he warned:
Don't put your trust in vanity for it will let you down
And you'll be on the ground.
Like Humpty Dumpty sat upon a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All of his friends and the money they spend,
Couldn't get Humpty together again.
Minott was born in Kingston on May 25, 1956, and grew up there under tough conditions. His close association with those conditions, no doubt, inspired the altruism he exhibited in later years. Showing an interest in music from an early age, Minott got his first exposure as a selector on the Sound of Silence Keystone sound system, before operating his own.
Soon after (about 1969), he launched his singing career as a member of the African Brothers, a group which released several moderately successful singles in the early 1970s.
There were early signs of the direction in which Minott was heading. It was after recording Mysterious Nature for producer, Rupie Edwards, that Minott and the group moved to Studio One in 1974 and recorded No Cup No Bruk, before breaking up and leaving Minott as a solo act.
His precocious talent was immediately recognised, and he was employed as a studio apprentice, doubling up as guitarist and percussionist, and sometimes singing when necessary.
In the meantime, Minott developed this remarkable talent for writing songs that fit comfortably over already-made rhythms. His debut album for the label, Live Loving, and its follow-ups, Showcase and More Sugar Minott, reinforced his popularity.
Dubbed the Godfather of Dancehall Music, it was the sweet honeyed quality of Minott's tone that earned him the name 'Sugar', which somehow eclipsed his original name, Lincoln.
Minott's desire for independence, however, led to his departure from Studio One in 1978. He formed his own Black Roots record label, and Youth Promotion organisation, the latter aimed at helping to promote young singers from the ghetto.
His Youthman Promotion Sound System gave added exposure to many young performers.
These projects produced several successful DJs and singers, including Tony Tuff, Barry Brown, Junior Reid, Tenor Saw, Jah Stitch, and Captain Sinbad.
Minott's hits became very popular in the United Kingdom (UK) by the turn of the decade, and suddenly Minott was a bigger star there than in his homeland. It led to him relocate there in the early 1980s.
Following close on the heels of Bob Marley's demise in 1981, Minott suddenly became one of reggae music's brightest hopes, attracting the attention of a myriad of fans, producers and music lovers throughout Jamaica and the world.
The hits kept coming throughout the 1980s, encompassing various styles from rough roots, sweet lovers' rock, to classic dancehall, which proved his ability to work comfortably in any of the popular Jamaican genres.
Although having his own label, Minott still worked successfully with various producers, doing classic hits like Herbman Hustling, Jumping In The Street, Rub-A-Dub Sound, Buy Off The Bar, No Vacancy, Run Come, In A Dis Ya Time, and Good Thing Going, which climbed to No. 4 on the UK charts in 1981.
He returned to Jamaica in the mid-1980s, concentrating his efforts on his very popular Youth Promotion sound system, while contributing immensely to the dancehall phase of reggae and unearthing new talent.
Recording over 50 albums and hundreds of singles, Minott continued to record on his own and for other major labels towards the end of the 1980s.
He would perhaps be a more dominant force in Jamaican music, but for his prolonged absences from the local scene. In May 2010, he began complaining of chest pains which resulted in several cancelled performances. His condition worsened in early July and he succumbed on the 10th, at age 54.