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Big Youth

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Big Youth

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Real Name: Manley Augustus Buchanan
April 19th, 1949
Place of Birth: Kingston, Jamaica
Official website: not known

A stylistic and artistic innovator of the highest order, Big Youth started adult life, following a youth of extreme poverty, as a cab driver. He subsequently found employment as a mechanic working in the Skyline and Sheraton hotels in Kingston. He practised while at work, listening to his voice echo around the empty rooms, and would sometimes be allowed to take the microphone at dances and thereby gain some experience. His popularity grew steadily until Big Youth became the resident DJ for the Lord Tippertone sound system (one of the top Kingston sounds in the early 70s), where he clashed regularly with other top DJs and gradually built a reputation. It was not long before he was approached by record producers. Unfortunately, his early attempts, notably the debut cut "Movie Man", released on Gregory Isaacs' and Errol Dunkley's African Museum label, failed to capture his live magic. Further sides such as "The Best Big Youth", "Tell It Black" and "Phil Pratt Thing" gradually helped to enhance his reputation. However, his first recording for Keith Hudson in 1972 changed everything. Hudson was a producer who understood DJs and knew how to present them properly, and was one of the first to record U-Roy and Dennis Alcapone.

Big Youth's memorable but wrongly spelt single "Ace Ninety Skank", with Keith Hudson's All Stars, stayed at number 1 in Jamaica for many weeks. Celebrating the West Kingston cult of the motorbike (the S90 was a Japanese Honda), it opened with the sounds of an actual bike being revved up in the studio, and continued with Youth proclaiming, "Cos man if you ride like lightning then you'll crash like thunder'. For the next few years he did indeed ride like lightning and Bob Marley was the only artist to approach his popularity. Even the latter could not lay claim to Youth's unique distinguishing feature, front teeth inlaid with red, green and gold jewels. Representing the authentic sound of the ghetto, Big Youth set new standards for DJs to say something constructive on record, as well as exhort dancers to greater heights. The stories he told offered penetrating insights into the downtown Kingston ghettos and the minds of the Rastafarian youth. His debut set featured rhythms from previous Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs recordings, though by Hit The Road Jack, Youth had moved on to covering soul standards in his distinctive style. Hit followed hit and while he always gave his best for other producers, his self-produced records were even better.

He formed his Negusa Nagast (Amharic for King of Kings) and Augustus Buchanan labels in 1973 for greater artistic and financial control of his career, and many of these records" stark, proud lyrics, set against jagged, heavy rhythms, sound just as stunning over 20 years after their initial release. He held little appeal outside of the Jamaican market, perhaps because he was too raw and uncompromising, but his innovations continue to reverberate through reggae and rap. Though his records and live appearances are now few and far between, Youth has remained at the top for longer than any other DJ apart from U-Roy, and he is still respected and revered by the reggae cognoscenti.

Encyclopedia of Popular Music
Copyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 2005
Source - BBC Music Profiles

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