The Los Angeles Post-Examiner newspaper featured an interview by Stephen Cooper with Jamaica’s dancehall legend King Yellowman in which he spoke of his life, musical career, and overcoming discrimination and other obstacles. The interview took place after the musician’s performance at the 8th annual Reggae on the Mountain festival in Topanga Canyon, California.
King Yellowman has personal experience with discrimination. He was born with albinism in 1956 and, rejected by his family as a baby, he was found in a trash heap at a Kingston supermarket. Raised in orphanages, he faced ridicule, abuse, and name-calling because of his color. However, he had musical talent and a strong will, and he overcame these early obstacles to become one of the world’s biggest dancehall stars.
King Yellowman’s career has been long and historic. He was the first dancehall artiste to sign an international recording contract, as well as the first to join with a rap musician, Run DMC, in a performance. His influence has been felt by many other musicians world wide, and although he has experienced many health challenges, he never considered quitting because he loves the music. “This is my purpose. I don’t do anything else but music,” he told the interviewer.
King Yellowman has seven children – he will be on tour in Japan with his daughter Kareema Foster in August 2017 – and has always been involved with their lives. He and his wife Rosie have stayed together, and he has lived a clean lifestyle, not smoking, not drinking alcohol, and not eating red meat. Away from his stage performances, the artiste lives a quiet family life, and the contrast between his stage and real-world persona has sometimes cost him to lose some endorsement and sponsorship opportunities. Misinterpretation of his “slackness” style has even caused some of his music to be banned from radio airplay.
King Yellowman has always spoken his mind about social issues and discrimination, and his music reflects how he has transformed hate and what he has suffered into art. In a 2013 interview, he criticized some dancehall lyrics, calling them the biggest problem facing the genre at the time. “What I mean about the lyrical content [is] the violence and the separation. They are getting in a lot of trouble with the law also.”
He has been particularly outspoken about discrimination against gay people in Jamaica and how the country suffers because of what this does to its image in the world. Portions of Jamaican society still view gayness as a sin, and the country’s legal system continues to criminalize homosexual acts. King Yellowman believes this is because many Jamaicans don’t know any people. He said, “They don’t know that gay people are normal people. They don’t know that gay people are nice people. Just like any other people. And [gay people] love reggae music. Yeah. And [gay people] love Jamaica. Yeah mon.”
Photo Credit: Instagram @_king_yellowman