U-Roy (born Ewart Beckford, OD, 21 September 1942, Jones Town, Jamaica is a Jamaican musician, also known as The Originator. He is best known as a pioneer of toasting.
U-Roy’s musical career began in 1961 when he began deejaying at various sound systems. This included a stint operating Sir Coxsone Dodd’s Number Two set, while King Stitt “The Ugly One” ran the main set. U-Roy eventually worked with King Tubby at Duke Reid’s Sound System in the late 1960s. Around this period, King Tubby had started to experiment with his studio equipment in an attempt to create new effects and sounds, which would eventually lead to a new style of Reggae called dub music. With U-Roy as his most prominent deejay and with access to some of Treasure Isle Studios’ finest rocksteady rhythms, King Tubby’s new sound became extraordinarily popular and U-Roy became a local celebrity. However, his first single “Earth’s Rightful Ruler” was not a King Tubby collaboration; it was recorded with Peter Tosh for Lee “Scratch” Perry.
He recorded Dynamic Fashion Way (his first successful release) for Keith Hudson in 1969, and then went on to work with almost every major producer on the island: Lee Perry, Peter Tosh, Bunny Lee, Phil Pratt, Sonia Pottinger, Rupie Edwards, Alvin Ranglin and Lloyd Daley. In 1970, Jamaican singer John Holt who was the lead vocalist of The Paragons became a fan of U-Roy’s technique. Working with Duke Reid, U-Roy’s fame grew through a series of singles, including “Wake the Town” and “Wear You to the Ball”.
U-Roy’s success continued throughout the 1970s, perhaps most famously with the album Dread in a Babylon, produced by “Prince” Tony Robinson and propelled by the album’s skank smash hit “Runaway Girl”. The album cover features an iconic picture of U-Roy disappearing in a thick cloud of cannabis smoke while holding a chalice and included the song “Chalice in the Palace”, which in a satirical manner he imagines smoking ganja with Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in Buckingham Palace. U-Roy had become one of Jamaica’s biggest stars by the early 1980s, also garnering significant acclaim in the United Kingdom.
His most recent album was 2000’s Serious Matter. U-Roy was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer on October 15, 2007. The music of U-Roy was frequently played on Joe Strummer’s ‘London Calling’ (BBC World Service) radio show.
Calling himself, “your ace from outer space”, U-Roy revolutionized the musical style of reggae in 1969. Even though U-Roy was not the first microphone artist, he was the first to gain recognition through recording this style. U-Roy popularized and gained a wider audience for “toasting”; rapping over “versions” of popular songs remixed by dub music pioneer King Tubby. This style of vocals was a major influence on the early rap scene (Disco/Electro/Break Beat) and the later American hip-hop movement. Considered one of Jamaica’s first Deejay stars, “U-Roy raised the art of toasting to new heights. He didn’t just spit a few phrases here and there, he rode the riddim from the starting gate to the last furlong”. U-Roy working with Duke Reid created a “version” of the Paragon’s “Wear You to the Ball” which became the first “toast” record to make an impact in 1969.
U-Roy’s legacy is one of the corner-stones in the history of rap music. He is a pioneer of a style of vocal delivery that is now found in the music of many cultures all over the world.