Published Jul 12, 2010The word "legend" is overused in reggae music, but in the case of Sugar Minott, it's an understatement. Minott (who navigated every style of reggae from the '60s onward) died on Saturday (July 10) at University Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. No cause of death has been announced, though "chest pains" have been cited by several sources as a contributing factor.
Minott was scheduled to perform in Toronto on May 6, but had to cancel due to illness, which the Canadian publicist for the show specified as angina pectoris (temporary chest pain that occurs when the heart is not getting enough blood). Minott was 54.
Minott changed the sound of reggae several times during his nearly 40-year career. As a young teenager, he recorded with the African Brothers, along with future dancehall star Tony Tuff. After the group dissolved in 1974, Minott approached Coxsone Dodd (of Studio One Records), the one-time pulse of the island that had fallen into a fallow period. Noting a trend in the dancehalls of singing or rapping overtop of classic instrumentals, Minott proposed revisiting the backing tracks of Studio One hits of the '60s and '70s with new lyrics and a contemporary style. Though Dodd resisted, the result of these updates birthed such records as "Mr. D.C." and "Vanity," which became massive hits.
The immortality of Studio One rhythms was ensured as other producers created knockoff versions, which also hit big. Minott's debut album as a solo artist on Studio One, Live Loving, in the late '70s, heralded the coming of the "dancehall" style that soon eclipsed roots reggae. His work in this period has been heavily reissued by Soul Jazz Records.
Minott eventually broke from Dodd and began producing. He set up the Black Roots label and Youth Promotion agency to foster young singers and players (check out Moll-Selekta's The Roots Lover for an outstanding overview of this period). In time, major figures such as the late Tenor Saw, Junior Reid and Yami Bolo came up through the Youth Promotion organization. Many contemporary reggae artists credit the organization as crucial to the development of reggae's '80s generation, and a lasting example of how a major reggae star gave back to his community.
Minott funded his musical concern from his plentiful hits. Always an experimentalist, Minott achieved a Top 10 hit in the UK with a cover of Michael Jackson's "Good Thing Going." During the '80s, he worked tirelessly on his productions, as well as with cutting-edge reggae producers around the world. This era saw dancehall ascend to its early peak, and Minott is best remembered for his futuristic, synth-laden work with Sly and Robbie, including "Rub a Dub" and the entirely electronic (for the first time in reggae history) "Herbsman Hustling." Around this time his records gained U.S. distribution through Heartbeat Records.
Minott's hitmaking was undiminished through the '80s and early '90s. Though he was less of a factor in Jamaican charts after that, his international success was assured, and he worked with everyone from Rhythm and Sound to the Easy Star All-Stars. Minott's performance of "Exit (Music for a Film)" on the All-Stars' Radiodread album in 2006 showed his smoky, soul-infused voice and his unusual harmonies were still in fine form. Minott also worked with Canada's Dubmatix on his last album, Renegade Rocker, and produced Toronto singer Uncle Jonny, with whom he was due to perform with in May when illness struck.
Minott leaves his wife, Maxine Stowe. At least one of his children, Tamar Minott (aka Fire Pashon), has followed his footsteps in music.