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Jamaica's Yellowman is Dancehall's only King

Jamaican reggae and dancehall deejay Yellowman

From Rags

Winston Foster also known as Yellowman, was born at 54 Chisholm Avenue, in Kingston 10 sometime in 1959. Essentially, Foster grew up in what could have been called the Jamaican Foster Care system at the time. Being born an Albino, he was abandoned on the street-side (in his words) “In a Grace paper shopping bag at about three months. The child was taken to the Maxfield Park Children’s Home where he would move through the system. He was transferred to the Alpha Boys Home, then to a home in St. Mary, and finally to the Eventide Home as he bounced about throughout his entire teen years. Given his repressive introduction into the world, it is a testament to his own personal fortitude that he was able to overcome the multiples of obstacles that he faced throughout his life to become the undisputed King of Jamaica's Dancehall. Winston Foster had an early love for music and was always singing other Jamaican entertainers’ songs. These entertainers included Dennis Brown, Jimmy Cliff, The Burning Spear, and Big Youth…among others. He practiced rhyming with Sister Ignatius on the piano while attending Alpha Boys school, an exercise which served in part as preparation for his sound system jaunts in later years. He worked with a sound called Little Mafia in Barbican and moved to Concrete Jungle where he came into contact sounds like Soul-to-Soul sound system, Aces International, Gemini Sounds, Jack Ruby (Ocho Rios) and Black Scorpio. He would christen himself as "Yellowman," and dressed in a bright yellow sweat-suit, peppered his lyrics with jokes about his skin color and outlandish tales of his sexual conquests. In 1979, Foster entered the Tastee Talent Contest where he finished as runner-up behind Nadine Sutherland, even though he performed his way into the hearts of the massive Half Way Tree Road crowd at the time. Within months though he quickly became one of Jamaica's top concerts draws, thanks to a dynamic, humorous stage show-type performances that he gave and in which he often used the microphone to mimic his anatomical gifts. Despite this though, Yellowman had difficulty getting any of his material recorded as most in the industry would chase him out of their facilities either out of scorn or prejudice or both.

Mister Yellowman

Late in 1979 though his luck changed as record producer Tonka latched on to Yellowman and took him to Channel One studio where he recorded “Soulja Teck Over,” and it mashed down the place. Songs like Natty Sat Upon A Rock, Lost Mi Love, Morning Ride, Mr. Chin, Two to Six Super Mix, Yellowman Getting Married, Duppy or Gunman, and How You Keep A Dance. Most of these songs would find their way into the track list for his debut album “Mister Yellowman” released in October 1982 in the United Kingdom by Greensleeves Records. Billboard magazine in a 1982 review stated that "Yellowman strips reggae down to the minimum here. The vocals are rapped almost as much as sung, whilst the instrumentation is down to almost the rhythm track. The bare-bones approach works, primarily because Yellowman has the presence and innate sense of rhythm and song to make it work." Jo-Ann Greene writing in AllMusic stated "Mister Yellowman was the DJ's first album with Junjo Lawes and remains one of his best. Backed by the seminal Roots Radics and Earl "Chinna" Smith's Hi Times band, the deep roots that both created were further finessed by Lawes into a simmering stew of dancehall-inflected rhythms shot through with dub. Yellowman spoke directly to the lives of regular Jamaicans while effortlessly riding the rootsy rhythms. Today overshadowed by many of his contemporaries, the album "Mister Yellowman" sets the record straight; a masterly DJ set that just can't be beat.”


Yellowman recorded prolifically in the early '80s, at one point he had more than 40 singles on the Jamaican record market. These included “Bone-man Connection, Zunguzunguguzuggunzen, Nobody Move, Mad Over Me, among many others. The single “zungguzungguguzungguzeng” provided significant markers for Yellowman's career. Interestingly, the song’s instrumental component was drawn from the popular “Diseases” riddim of 1981 by DJ duo Michigan & Smiley for Henry “Junjo” Laws, and has been sampled repeatedly by other artistes. The overall rhythm itself emanated from an Alton Ellis performed song “Mad, Mad, Mad” which was produced by Clement Dodd’s Studio One in 1967 and provided the instrumental for Yellowman's 1982 "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng", a terminology rhyme-fest which showed Yellowman at the heights of his prowess. He would go on to produce more than 55 Studio, live and compilation albums between 1982 and 2021. In 1983 he released "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng" an album which sampled by several hip-hop acts, and included "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," and many of his recordings during this era featured vocal contributions from fellow DJ/toaster Fathead who would end up being shot to death in Florida in 1988. The success of the album led to Yellowman becoming the first Jamaican DJ to sign a major label record deal when he signed with CBS Records. The arrangement encouraged him to maintain the stylistic versatility of his previous work and resulted in the album King Yellowman (1984), a lone work. However, the album had mixed results as it attempted to do everything from slack toasts to R&B and pop-tinged crossover tracks, including covers of "Sea Cruise" and "Take Me Home Country Roads," and the much-maligned fusion attempt "Disco Reggae. His next full-length album, “Them A Mad Over Me”, was recorded for Channel One in 1982 and featured the hit title track and the single "Boneman Connection.” In that same year he released the single “A Me Kill Barnie," an answer record to Lone Rangers's hit "Barnabas Collins." He also scored with singles like "Operation Eradication" and the infamously slack "Shorties," which Peter Tosh condemned as degrading to women (hardly the first time such a criticism would be leveled at him). Shanachie, in 1984 released “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and in 1985 Galang, Galang, Galang, 1986's Going to the Chapel, and 1987's “Don’t Burn It Down.” The latter found him delving more into social consciousness; the title cut was a pro-marijuana protest, while "Stop Beat Woman" condemned domestic violence and "Free Africa" criticized apartheid.

Battles With Cancer

In 1982, Yellowman was diagnosed skin cancer with and after several surgeries, he was able to continue his career after the cancer seemingly went into apparent remission. In 1986 it was diagnosed that the cancer had spread to his jaw; Yellowman underwent very invasive jaw surgery to remove a malignant tumor. This surgery permanently disfigured Yellowman's face, as a large portion of the left side of his lower jaw had to be removed to successfully remove the tumor, leaving him facially disfigured. Always a fighter, he nonetheless returned to action with the hit Fats Domino cover "Blueberry Hill," and moved to the Ras label to record the well-received Yellow Like Cheese album with producer Phillip “Fattis” Burrell.

A Changing Dancehall

Yellowman's recording career continued apace, but his popularity had slipped after 1985, due in part to less consistent material, and in part to the emergence of a legion of new dancehall artists, many of whom harked back to his early material for inspiration. Things had changed after his bouts with cancer. Greatly shaken after this second life-threatening illness, he completely rethought his approach to music, and thereafter devoted himself almost exclusively to spiritual and social concerns.

In 1994's he released the “Prayer” album on the Ras label, which was the first effort in this new direction, and it was followed quickly by “Message to the World” in 1995, and in 1997, “Freedom of Speech.” In 1999 he released “Yellow Fever” on the Artist’s Only label, which concentrated on conscious reggae but also featured some good-natured party tracks. Following the 2003 release of “New York” Yellowman entered a lengthy recording hiatus, though he continued to perform live.

Veneration and Legacy

In 2018, Winston "Yellowman" Foster was conferred with "The Order of Distinction” (Officer Class) by the Jamaican Government for his contribution to the development of Jamaican music. Unfortunately, the full extent of his contribution has consistently been suppressed by the Jamaican media and music fraternity, especially by large swaths of DJs who have come in his wake. He was the first DJ to have a major International Record contract, and he was the first DJ to be nominated for a Grammy Award. More significantly though, Yellowman succeeded in changing the attitude of Jamaicans towards Albinos within its population and gave positive standing to the term "Dundus" once used derogatively to describe Albinos. Thanks for taking the time to read our blog, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we appreciate your feedback. We also invite you to check Sunday Scoops our Jamaican music streaming and commentary program every Sunday from 2-4pm on feel free to share with your friends. Check out our Reggaewear merchandise at: Reggae Clothing | Yardabraawd Gallery and Collectibles

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