Bad Bunny was the most streamed artist of 2020 on Spotify. The 26-year-old Puerto Rican “Latin trap rapper,” (I am a little confused by these musical genres), who also knows how to sport some very fancy clothes, earned more than 8.3 billion streams of his material. He’s a millionaire.
Why do I mention Bad Bunny, circa 2021? Because, whether he knows it or not, Mr. Bunny, whose real name is Benito Ocasio, is one of those following in the footsteps of the Jamaican “toaster” U-Roy, whose real name is Ewart Beckford. I am no musicologist, but I do think so. “Daddy U-Roy” passed away on February 17, at the age of 79.
U-Roy was born in Kingston in the early 1940s, when they certainly didn’t have music streaming channels. He was a trail-blazing voice in the very early days of what came to be dancehall – the age of the sound system. He would simply pick up a mic and get going. He worked with household names like King Tubby, Sir Coxsone Dodd, and later on with his own Stur Gav sound system, which launched the careers of several deejays. To give you a bit of context, Bunny is also a proponent of “reggaeton,” another musical genre that developed in the 1990s on his island to the east of us. It is rebel music, a direct offshoot of Jamaican dancehall, which soared in popularity across the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and beyond.
“Trail-blazing”? Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, I know. What I mean is that he did what no one else was doing at the time, in his own way. His spontaneous enjoyment of the music was infectious. His laconic style; a nasal, somewhat commanding tone; the occasional chuckle (was it a chuckle or an exclamation?); his crazy rhymes; a muffled scream of delight – and certainly his impeccable timing – all added an unusual energy to reggae music. U-Roy’s version of Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel,” with Marley’s plaintive voice in the background, is one of my favorites.
U-Roy loved the music. And we all loved him, loving the music. Music is circular, like that. From U-Roy to Bad Bunny, the Caribbean musical conversation continues.
“Wake the town and tell the people!” Rest in peace, Daddy.