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U-Roy (1942–2021), Jamaican musician who pioneered toasting

by Linnea Crowther

U-Roy was a Jamaican musician who pioneered toasting, a precursor to rap music in which a DJ talked over the records he was playing.

The first recorded toasting

Born Ewart Beckford, U-Roy began his DJ career in the early 1960s, playing records at parties. A style began to develop in Jamaica: DJs would extend their between-records patter, talking over instrumental breaks during songs. Boasting and joking in a rhythmic chant, the DJs added to the songs they played. While U-Roy wasn’t the first DJ to toast, he was the first to record it, after catching the ear of a record producer. He invited U-Roy to make records of his toasting, and his songs including “Wake the Town” became hits in Jamaica. Toasting was an early influence on the development of rap music, and U-Roy was known as an influence on that emerging genre.

Notable quote

“I can tell you this my friend: when I started to do this — yes, there were deejays before me like Count Machuki, King Stitt and Lord Comic. But in terms of putting music on a record to go out there to the public for sale, I am the first man to do that. And I am so happy to be a part of this. Nothing that I am going to get big headed or hyped up about or nothing. I am just one happy person.” —from a 2012 interview with United Reggae

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Tributes to U-Roy

Full obituary: The New York Times

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