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Reggae Legends



By Tom Pryor
Published September 9, 2005

Capleton had an early gift for (sometimes lewd) wordplay. Then Capleton got religion, Rastafarianism to be specific, and the tone and tenor of his music began to change.

Clifton George Bailey III, a.k.a. Capleton, had a gift for wordplay that manifested itself at an early age. Growing up in the town of Islington in Jamaica’s rural St. Mary parish, he was nicknamed after a prominent local lawyer, whose gift for tireless argument Capleton seemed to share. But the young man was more interested in the mic than the bar, and in 1985, at the age of 18, he moved to Kingston to break into the music business like so many country hopefuls before him.

          As an aspiring DJ, he apprenticed with various smaller sound systems, honing his quick-witted wordplay and developing a rough, gruff style, before being noticed by producer Philip “Fatis” Burrell, for whom he cut his first single in 1989. That single, “Bumbo Red,” was so lewd that it was banned from Jamaican radio, a move that naturally guaranteed its success on the street. He continued recording similar, slack-themed singles, including “Number One Pon The Look Good Chart” and “Lotion Man” into the early ’90s.

          But in 1992, Capleton got religion, Rastafarianism to be specific, and the tone and tenor of his music began to change, reflecting a more “conscious” and “cultural” bent. That year he released his groundbreaking single “Alms House,” which heralded his conversion to the Bobo Ashanti sect of Rastafari. 1993 saw the release of the album of the same name, which collected similar songs such as “Matie a Dead” and “Them A Go Run.” Though he was still sporting a high-top fade on the album’s cover, Capleton was clearly a locksman in the making, something almost revolutionary given the guns-and-punnany fare of just about every other DJ of that era.

          His new convictions drove Capleton to begin recording fast and furiously and 1993-1994 saw him release a string of hits including “Everybody Needs Somebody" and “Cold Blooded Murderer.” By 1995 he was blowing up so big that he was signed by the Def Jam label and released his seminal Prophecy album that same year, an album that helped him cross over to hip-hop audiences for the first time. His follow up for the label, 1997’s I Testament, was a further attempt to lace radio-friendly, R&B-inflected reggae with heavy cultural messages. Unfortunately, he never quite caught on Stateside, and again returned to the embrace of the dancehall.

          Capleton also briefly courted controversy at the end of the ’90s and beginning of this decade, when his “More Fire” lyrics became a rallying point for young militants (and bored troublemakers) intent on “burning down Babylon.” But Capleton adamantly denies any con

Recommended Recordings

Alms House (Ras)
More Fire (VP)
The Best Of Capleton (Hip-O)