Reggae 101: DENNIS BROWN
Few reggae artists have gotten a public, genuine endorsement from Bob Marley, who is arguably the face of reggae music internationally for 40 years and counting. Dennis Brown is one of the lucky few. Marley didn’t merely acknowledge Brown as a notable contemporary in the early and mid-1970s, Marley also dubbed Brown the “Crown Prince of Reggae,” stating that Brown was his “favourite (sic) singer.” And as Marley predicted, Dennis Emanuel Brown would go on to achieve major success as a reggae artist and influence scores of subsequent reggae singers.
Although Dennis Brown didn’t come from a family of musicians like other musical greats, Brown clearly was a “natural” at an early age. Born on February 1, 1957, Brown took very little time gaining momentum on the roots reggae scene in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. At the tender age of eleven, Dennis Brown began recording music with local producers. Within only a few years, Brown was recording songs with the legendary Studio One producer, Sir Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at the age of 12. Dodd, like everyone else with ears and a heartbeat, picked up on Brown’s potential nearly instantly. In fact, Brown ended up recording most of his professional early work with Dodd at Studio One.
Like his local success in Jamaica, Brown’s notoriety came with relative ease overseas. After linking up with Joe Gibbs, another popular roots reggae producer, Dennis Brown recorded in 1972 what would soon become one of his most successful hits—“Money In My Pocket.” The song was a nearly instant cult classic in both the United Kingdom and Jamaica. To put his success in prospective, Dennis Brown recorded and was receiving worldwide notoriety for several of his songs at age 15… which would have made him about a high school sophomore in America. In essence, Brown was en route to become Jamaica’s own Michael Jackson at the time.
What made Brown unique were his raspy voice, sophisticated lyrics, and entrancing stage presence. Dennis Brown was way ahead of his time, writing songs far more advanced than that of any other singer his age. Songs like “Created By The Father,” which Brown recorded at the age of 13, spoke to his inner consciousness for peace, serenity, and the world around him. These positive vibes were a direct reflection of his later choice to become a Rastafarian.
Although Rastafarians were a controversial sect in Jamaica, Brown and his music transcended any qualms the Jamaican establishment had about Rastafarian culture. In fact, Jamaica openly embraced Brown and constantly revered his musical accomplishments. This is likely due to the great deal of positivity Brown emanated in his music. It was not long, though, before Dennis Brown succumbed to the demons of hard drugs and exhaustion.
Late in Dennis Brown’s fruitful career, it was rumored that he had infrequently used cocaine, while admittedly having respiratory problems. In 1999 following a tour in Brazil, Brown returned to Jamaica where he was hospitalized after going into cardiac arrest. Dennis Emanuel Brown died a day after being hospitalized, leaving behind a family and an extensive catalog of music.
Remnants of Dennis Brown, be it his singing style or vocal cadence, can be traced in many roots reggae artists that followed him. It’s difficult to put in words Brown’s impact on reggae music; but suffice it to say that reggae artists who are not influenced solely by Bob Marley are likely, in some way, influenced Dennis Brown… or both.