King Yellowman gained wide popularity in the dancehall reggae scene of the 1980s. A series of successful singles, including “I’m Getting Married in the Morning,” “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and “Zungu Zungu Zeng” brought him worldwide acclaim. Although he used strong political language in his early songs, Yellowman often brought a salacious, controversial element to his lyrics. This overtly sexual type of wordplay became known in the reggae music world as “slackness.”
Born Winston Foster in Kingston, Jamaica on January 15, 1956, King Yellowman was abandoned by his parents. He grew up at the Maxfield Park Children’s Home and the Alpha Boy’s Home, both in Kingston, and then lived at a home at St. Mary, a parish in the northeast section of Jamaica. Others ridiculed him becaus
e of his albinism, a genetic defect that causes an absence of the pigment melanin in the eyes, skin and hair. The condition carries a strong social stigma in Jamaica and Yellowman’s distinctive white skin made him stand out and become an object of scorn.
As Yellowman gained more notoriety, he was able to capitalize on a shift happening in Jamaican music. His success fueled a transition from mainstream reggae to the dancehall music that was increasingly played in Jamaican nightclubs. In addition to the political references in his music, he became known for his overtly sexual lyrics, which became known in the reggae music world as “slackness.” Such graphic sexuality, together with references to casual violence and homophobia, brought him early popularity but also a growing number of detractors.
The 1982 album Mister Yellowman marked the artist’s early creative relationship with noted dancehall producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes. The album was not only a success in his native Jamaica, but it helped to establish a fan base for Yellowman in the United Kingdom and the United States. Following the release of the Zungguzungguguzungguzeng album (1983), he signed with a major label, CBS Records, becoming one of the first dancehall artists to do so. Unfortunately, the sole album released under that deal, 1984’s King Yellowman, was not a commercial success—it seemed to include too many musical styles in an attempt to win mainstream acceptance.
Yellowman was nominated for a Grammy Award twice (for best reggae album): in 1985, for King Yellowman; and in 1998, for Freedom of Speech. Yellowman has also become a strong hip-hop influence. His rhythm from the song “Zungguzungguguzungguzeng” has been sampled several times by a range of rap artists, and he was prominently featured on the Run DMC track “Roots Rap Reggae.”