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Reggae Legends

Third World

Third World

By Jeff Tamarkin
Published September 9, 2005

Third World incorporated other stylistic elements into their reggae, most notably mainstream R&B and pop, into their sound, resulting in some dynamic, visionary, funky music.

Perhaps the question isn’t whether Third World was a great reggae band, but whether they were a reggae band at all. The Rough Guide To Reggae, for example, devotes only one paragraph to Third World, and makes a point of noting that they’ve often been dismissed as “a slick crossover act.” Lloyd Bradley’s This Is Reggae Music mentions them only in passing.

          Third World’s crime, it seems, was venturing outside of roots reggae—something that has since become common—to incorporate other stylistic elements, most notably mainstream R&B and pop, into their sound. That this daring move resulted in some dynamic, visionary, funky music isn’t debatable—Third World definitely rocked, but their refusal to adhere to the rules and, ironically, their success in doing so, has obscured their place in the pantheon of Jamaican music.

          They formed in Kingston in 1973 around keyboardist Michael “Ibo” Cooper, guitarist/cellist Steven “Cat” Coore, bassist Richard Daley and percussionist Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett, all former Inner Circle members, and recruited vocalist Milton “Prilly” Hamilton and drummer Carl Barovier to fill out the initial lineup.

          Signed to Island Records after traveling to London, Third World released their debut, self-titled album in 1976 but it was the following year’s 96 Degrees In The Shade, which introduced Willie “Roots” Stewart as drummer and William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke (another Inner Circle alumnus) handling lead vocals, that brought the band recognition in the U.K. and the U.S. Journey To Addis, released in 1978, established Third World as a chart act in the U.S., rising to number 55 on the Billboard pop chart and number 14 R&B. It also spawned a Top 10 R&B single in the band’s cover of an O’Jays song, “Now That We Found Love.”

          By 1981, Third World had switched over to Columbia Records. An appearance at Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash festival found no less than Stevie Wonder joining them onstage. Wonder was impressed enough to write and produce two tracks, “Try Jah Love” and “You’re Playing Us Too Close,” on the following year’s You’ve Got The Power album, which climbed to number 20 on the Billboard R&B albums chart.

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Recommended Recordings

 

96 Degrees In The Shade (Hip-O Select)

You’ve Got The Power (Columbia)

Reggae Ambassadors: 20th Anniversary Collection (Mercury)