Days of Art 2017-18: King Yellowman

I could write pages on my favorite deejay, Christian Winston Foster, aka, King Yellowman, but I’d get too emotional if I were to burrow to deep below the surface layer. Suffice it to say that the shit you’ve dealt with is no larger a pile that what Yellowman has faced his entire life. He grew up in an orphanage, having been shunned as an infant by his mother (and almost everyone else) due to his albinism. Luckily for him, at around age 14 or 15, after shuttling among such schools, he ended up at Alpha Boys School in Kingston, Jamaica, under the tutelage of Sister Mary Ignatius. Sister Ignatius worked at the school for over 60 years, and, with her “Sister Ignatius Sound System,” is credited for inspiring scores of future reggae artists and toasters in Jamaica. That’s where Christian got his first taste, and started on his path to being Yellowman. At around age 18, confidence and experience under his belt, Yellowman set out on his own and began tearing the dancehall set up with his ‘toasting’ and freestyle lyricism.

By 1982, when he was 26, he was playing venues the likes of Reggae Sunsplash, and by 1984, he was among the hottest reggae/dancehall acts in the world. All this from the man who varied between self-deprecating lyrics and sexually oriented toasting, bragging of his exploits behind the mic and under the sheets. He was, however, as free with the truth as he was the music.

“When me did bad mi mudda disowned me. Mi mudda said, ‘Lawd, what a ugly baby.'” It would have been even funnier if it weren’t true.

Yellowman was truly king in the 80s and seemingly on top of the world. However, there was a major problem: he was still an albino in sunny Jamaica. In 1982, the same year he was tearing up Sunsplash and making hit records, which it’s been claimed, were all freestyle, he was diagnosed with skin cancer. The same disease had claimed Bob Marley’s life the previous year, and so it was with deep irony that so near the time of the ’82 Sunsplash that was dedicated to Marley’s memory, Yellowman was told he had 3 years to live. Having fought his whole life, this was a battle that he intended to win, and after several surgeries, it appeared that win he had. The cancer went into remission.

But life twists to and fro, and in 1986, cancer returned, this time in his jaw. Yellowman, the performer, the deejay, required surgery that removed a large portion from the left side of his jaw, permanently deforming his face and altering his speech and voice. So, he quit.

The end.

Psyche! Hell no, he didn’t quit! Instead, he picked up the pieces of his life and career, and continued to kick ass. Yellowman moved from lyrics focused on sexual “slackness,” to more socially conscious lyrics in the 1990s, and altered or no, continued recording and performing. Not one to take health for granted, the cancer survivor is now known for being one of the fittest performers on the circuit, even releasing his workout videos on YouTube in 2015, at the age of 59. I have a year to catch up, my brother.

Life hasn’t all been problems and challenges, however, as noted in the video below, featuring Yellowman and his daughter, up-and-coming singer K’reema Foster, from Brooklyn, USA. (Come on, he wouldn’t be a reggae superstar without at least one American offspring.) Knowing what the man has gone through and conquered, it’s hard for me to view this without tearing up. Fortunately, I’m a grown-ass man who can do what he wants, so I rarely bother fighting tears when the notion hits me.

Load it up, and let’s see how you do.

Feeling it now? Here’s the dancehall king himself telling his story in his words. Christian Foster, ironically raised as a foster kid in Christian schools, now and evermore, King Yellowman.

 

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