Big Youth's Beginnings
Big Youth was born in the Rae Town area of Kingston, Jamaica on April 19,1949, and christened Manley Augustus Buchanan. His mother was an avid church woman with a passion for owning her own church and as a result the family moved around considerably. They would settle in Matthews Lane, downtown Kingston where he was called “Big Youth,” a nickname he earned because of his size.
He arrived on the music scene in the wake of U-Roy, Dennis Alcapone, and I-Roy, but quickly established his own style, threatening to eclipse them all. The consummate cultural toaster, the DJ ruled the dancehalls across the '70s, and although his career flagged in the next decade, he returned with a vengeance in the '90s, and continues to have an impact on both his own nation and beyond.
Big Youth was an avid follower of the local sound systems in the downtown Kingston area, particularly Lord Tippertone Hi-Fi. He eventually he took the chance of picking up the mic at a few area sessions and following on the enthusiastic response he received prodded him to perform at dances.
By the late '60s, he had a small, but avid following. This fan base swiftly grew and as the new decade arrived, Big Youth was now dee-jaying regularly at Lord Tippertone's sound system, quickly becoming the top DJ for the Sound.
Big Youth's Burgeoning Music Career
Big Youth released his first single in January 1972. He cut "Movie Man" for African Museum, Errol Dunkley and Gregory Isaacs' label, and the song fittingly utilized the rhythm to Dunkley's own "Movie Star." Surprisingly, the single performed poorly and with other producers he had no better luck. His follow-up “The Best Big Youth”(also known as "Black Cindy"), which he cut with Jimmy Radway, sank like a barrel of lead and upcoming producer Lee Perry did no better with "Moving" He would hook up with producer Phil Pratt with whom he dropped "Tell It Black," a version of Dennis Brown’s cover of "Black Magic Woman," and "Phil Pratt Thing," a sublime version of Derrick Harriott's "Riding for a Fall,” but neither effort was successful. The drought was finally broken by a young up and coming producer, Gussie Clarke with the single "The Killer,” with Big Youth toasting over the rootsy Augustus Pablo number, and the result was magnificent. They followed it up with "Tippertone Rocking” which became another major hit and landed Big Youth on the record producer’s roster.
Big Youth would soon join forces with Keith Hudson and the effort paid immediate dividends with the massive hit "S-90 Skank,” a tribute to the popular Honda motorcycle, and sent Big Youth to the top of the Jamaican chart. This was followed by a Big Youth/Hudson duet “Can You Keep a Secret,” which was almost as successful as S-90 Skank. Other hits followed in rapid succession including “Come Into My Parlour”, “Leggo Beast”, “Cain and Abel”, “Opportunity Rocks” the latter employing the popular "Dirty Harry" rhythm, and "Chi-Chi Run” (cut over the rhythm of John Holt's "Rain From the Skies"). In 1973 Big Youth's debut album, “Screaming Target” was released. Produced by Gussie Clarke, the album was filled with classic rhythms from the likes of Gregory Isaacs and Lloyd Parks, and equally filled with hits as well, including the magnificent title-track. The DJ seemed to have now glued himself to the chart and during that year, four of his songs, including "Screaming Target" (a version of K.C. White's "No No No" and Buster's "Chi Chi Run"), the Derrick Harriott-produced "Cool Breeze," and the Joe Gibbs-produced "A So We Stay” (on the rhythm of Dennis Brown's "Money in My Pocket") which sat proudly on the Jamaican Top 20 for the entire year. In the same period Joe Gibbs notched up a total of three hits with Big Youth in 1973, along with the aforementioned single, there was also “Chucky No Lucky” and the topical "Foreman vs Frazier” a replay of the famous Sunshine Showdown at Jamaica’s National Stadium.
Big Youth The Music Mogul
In 1974, Big Youth launched his own labels, Negusa Nagast, which was later followed by the second, Augustus Buchanan. Negusa Nagast debuted with a quartet of the DJ's singles, "Hot Cross Bun”, “Mr. Bunny”, “Children Children” and most spectacular of all, "Streets in Africa." It featured new songs (all chart-bound), remakes of earlier cuts, and smash hits like the title cut “Dread Inna Babylon” (another version of Dennis Brown's "Money in My Pocket") and "Natty Dread No Jester") (a version of the Paragons' "Only a Smile"). And the DJ's phenomenal chart success continued with producer after producer.
Big Youth would again pair up with Dennis Brown for the Harry J.-produced "Wild Goose Chase” the success of which prompted Niney Holness to produce "Ride on Ride On” and a version of Bob Marley's "Get Up Stand Up” and ultimately the Roots Reggae anthem “I Pray Thee” off the Abbysinians classic "Sattamasagana," which was another seminal smash hit. Naturally, a version of Burning Spear's classic "Marcus Garvey” followed.
In 1975, Big Youth teamed up with Tony Robinson to produce the seminal “Dreadlocks Dread” album which provided a split between Big Youth's toasts and instrumental dubs. Accompanied by Skin, Flesh & Bones Band, the album remains a masterpiece of dread roots and provocative cultural toasts. Not only did the album have a massive impact on the U.K., but also it was picked up by the Klik label and prompted Big Youth to tour there the following year. In 1976 Big Youth brought out two more self-produced albums, “Natty Cultural Dread” and “Hit the Road Jack,” both of which featured a clutch of Jamaican smash hits including “Ten Against One”, and "Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing." “Natty Cultural Dread” boasted "Every Nigger Is a Star," which was backed by the I-Threes who were making their recording debut.
By the end of 1976 Big Youth would sign with the UK’s Frontline label a subsidiary of the Virgin subsidiary for which he released “Isaiah First Prophet of Old” in 1978, a fiercely roots record produced by D Russell. The DJ also had a cameo role in the movie “Rockers.” 1978 also saw the release of the "Green Bay Killers" single.
The increasing violence in the dancehalls prompted him back into the studio in 1982 for "No War in the Dance," cut for producer Lloyd Parks. He proved his popularity wasn't totally gone, with a steaming, hits-filled set at Reggae Sunsplash before an adoring audience that summer, giving a repeat performance the following year, and again in 1987. In 1988 Big Youth released the album “Manifestation” which allowed him to regain his footing somewhat as the effort was a split between excellent toasting and sub-quality singing. Two years later, Niney Holness brought him back into the studio and cut the remarkable "Chanting." The DJ also contributed a fierce "Streets in South Africa" to the “One Man One Vote” artists' album. Big Youth later performed at the Japan-splash festival in Osaka, with his powerful set caught on 1991's “Jamming in the House of
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