10 Songs, 37 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Yellowman’s appeal isn’t just that he's rude or funny or sings about sex with a frankness that borders on clinical, but that—eccentric though he is—he comes off as more or less a regular guy. Released within a year of Bob Marley’s death, Mister Yellowman was one of the first albums to signal where Jamaican music was heading in the post-reggae era. Whether it was running out of stout at the grocery store (“Mister Chin”) or figuring out how to divide domestic labor (“Me fry the chicken and you boil the rice,” he suggests on “I’m Getting Married”), he pared down the heavy mysticism of roots for music that reflected the daily realities of everyday people.

The world was more specific, too, trading biblical allusion for references to stuff like Vicks medicine (“Two to Six Super Mix”) and local morning show hosts (Fae Ellington, whom Yellowman fantasizes about on “Morning Ride”)—a slice-of-life approach to storytelling that echoed parallel developments in American rap. Most striking, though, was the way the songs didn’t seem so tightly bound by structure, slipping between shaggy-dog narratives, percussive ad-libs, and passages of singsong chat that felt—and often were—riffed out on the spot, held delicately in place by Henry “Junjo” Lawes’ dubwise production and the vamping of the Roots Radics band. That stream-of-consciousness vibe makes the album feel less like a set of songs than a bath in Yellowman’s deeply entertaining imagination. And while his politics were often pretty impolitic—“Mister Chin” is a racist caricature, and Yellowman’s attitude toward women got worse before it got better—Mister Yellowman remains a defining document for digital dancehall.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Yellowman’s appeal isn’t just that he's rude or funny or sings about sex with a frankness that borders on clinical, but that—eccentric though he is—he comes off as more or less a regular guy. Released within a year of Bob Marley’s death, Mister Yellowman was one of the first albums to signal where Jamaican music was heading in the post-reggae era. Whether it was running out of stout at the grocery store (“Mister Chin”) or figuring out how to divide domestic labor (“Me fry the chicken and you boil the rice,” he suggests on “I’m Getting Married”), he pared down the heavy mysticism of roots for music that reflected the daily realities of everyday people.

The world was more specific, too, trading biblical allusion for references to stuff like Vicks medicine (“Two to Six Super Mix”) and local morning show hosts (Fae Ellington, whom Yellowman fantasizes about on “Morning Ride”)—a slice-of-life approach to storytelling that echoed parallel developments in American rap. Most striking, though, was the way the songs didn’t seem so tightly bound by structure, slipping between shaggy-dog narratives, percussive ad-libs, and passages of singsong chat that felt—and often were—riffed out on the spot, held delicately in place by Henry “Junjo” Lawes’ dubwise production and the vamping of the Roots Radics band. That stream-of-consciousness vibe makes the album feel less like a set of songs than a bath in Yellowman’s deeply entertaining imagination. And while his politics were often pretty impolitic—“Mister Chin” is a racist caricature, and Yellowman’s attitude toward women got worse before it got better—Mister Yellowman remains a defining document for digital dancehall.

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