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This paper is a tribute the reggae legend, Dennis Emmanuel Brown. He died at the age of forty-two years old on July 1, 1999 at the University of the West Indies Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica.
Dennis Emmanuel Brown was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1957. "He was dubbed "the Crown Prince of Reggae", and only his natural diffidence stood between him and even greater stardom" (London Times, 1999). Dennis acquired this title in the 1980s around the time when Bob Marley passed away. Marleys title passed on to one of his favorite musicians. On several occasions, Marley referred to Dennis Brown as his favorite reggae musician. Brown is loved like no other reggae musician. He has made beautiful music for three decades and his career is seen as one of the most colorful ever in reggae. Dennis was consistently hardworking on his music. "He is said to have made at least 78 albums for some 37 record labels, sometimes releasing six or even seven albums in a single year" (London Times, 1999). He has produced more reggae classics than just about anyone else.
Dennis lost his mother at a very early age. He turned to his father for inspiration at a young age. Dennis was surrounded by entertainers, his father was an actor and his uncle a comedian. This combined with Dennis mothers artistic talents created much hope for the young super star. "Brown grew up in a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) constituency of Member of Parliament Edward Seaga (later Prime Minister of Jamaica), who was involved in promotion of Jamaican music during the early 60s under the Alexander Bustanmante administration. Seaga recalled how Dennis came to his attention: "Dennis Brown was a very young member of the political organization in the constituency that I represent. And at that time I gave the opportunity to the young people in that constituency to form their own musical band. They developed their own singers and so on And Dennis Brown was one of these" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6).
The decade of the sixties in West Kingston was when Dennis Brown became noticed. "This was the era he used to perform on beer boxes with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, as well as at the West Kingston Charity Balls. It was this preparatory experience the 9 year-old Dennis Brown took with him to the Tit-For-Tat Club, where one night he made a guest appearance with The Falcons Band and proved to be a child prodigy" (www.loversrock.com). The manager of The Falcons Band was so impressed with Dennis Brown that he immediately made him the vocalist of the band. The manager of the band soon brought Dennis to the attention of the legendary producer, Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, who was in charge of the famous Studio One.
It was at the age of eleven when his career began to take off. His first hit came out from this studio in 1969, No Man Is An Island. Most would agree that the style that Dennis has used throughout his career was evident in this first hit. His style is what made him stand out from other reggae musicians. Dennis had a moving voice that remained consistent in his music throughout his career. His physical nature was appealing to all. He came off as a friendly approachable person that always wore a smile. From the soul-influenced pop reggae tunes of his earliest years, the conscious roots reggae of the 1970s and 1980s, and the best lovers-rock ever recorded, Dennis soulful style remained constant throughout his career. "Few artists could remain as consistent throughout a 30-year career as Brown, and these releases cap an incredible life while serving as a reminder of one of Jamaicas greatest talents" (The Beat, Volume 18, #4, 1999). While at Studio One Dennis produced another major hit, If I Follow My Heart, which was just as much as a hit as No Man Is An Island.
Dennis spent the early 1970s moving in between several studios recording for a variety of producers. Some of these producers were Lloyd Daley, Impact, Joe Gibbs, and Aquarius. During this time, Dennis music was becoming very popular in the mainstream reggae world. Dennis recorded his third collection of hits, Super Reggae and Soul Hits. This became a classic record with the combination of Dennis compelling voice and Derrick Harriotts strategic arrangements. At this time, Brown moved to work with Winston Niney Holnesss label and this was a profitable move for the young star. He recorded two albums with this label, Just Dennis and Wolf and Leopards. These two albums were recorded with a three-year space in between. Their roots characteristics clearly made them appear to be from one body of work and many claim that Wolf and Leopards was perhaps Dennis best work ever.
It was in the mid 1970s that Dennis Browns talents and sincerity began to attract a thousands of fans. "While the rock critics were latching on to dub in the mid-70s, it was Brown who was drawing a mass audience almost unnoticed outside reggaes heartlands. His combination of serious, message songs and soul wailing melodies was irresistible"(Larkin, 1998). This was representative of Browns true style. His consistent voice continued through a time where reggae music was seeing a change in course. Dennis live shows were becoming very popular at this time. They were packed with excitement, sincerity, and became known as events, because of their positive reputation.
In 1979 Dennis hit, Money In My Pocket, was his first to hit chart territory. Around this time in the early 1980s Brown signed with A&M Records. With this decision, he also became the co-owner of the DEB label. Brown and his cousin Castro started the label and recorded many famous reggae stars such as Junior Delgado, Black Uhuru, Ranking Joe, the Tamlins, Gregory Isaacs, and others. Dennis relied on many friends when building this company. "It was hard work. Some of these artists dont get enough work. And sometimes artists get frustrated too. So, we try and look out for the better ones" (Dennnis Brown, The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). In the late 1970s, the DEB label broke apart and the music had not been reissued to date.
During these years of producing and recording Brown spent most of his time in London, where he settled for most of the 1980s. He continued to produce a number of reggae hits for several labels. "Browns series of reggae hits, including To The Foundation for Gussie Clarke, Revolution for Taxi or cuts on his own Yvonnes Special label (named after his wife), saw him become one of the few established singers to ride the early dancehall boom unscathed" (Larkin, 1998). These years were prosperous for Dennis and his music and popularity continued to spread internationally. Dennis was soon to come across the first obstacle in his career. In 1985-86 digital music exploded onto reggae music and Dennis was unsure of what to do. He didnt know what angle he should take and knew that if he chose the wrong path his career might be threatened. Brown adapted to the trend and recorded The Exit in this digital mode. It was a success and a crucial career move for "The Crown Prince". In 1989, Dennis decided to pursue the young market and he moved to Gussie Clarkes Music Works Studio, where he did a duet with Gregory Isaacs. "Once again, Dennis Brown was in demand in Jamaica, back at the roots of the music, and rolling once again, recording everywhere and anywhere for a few months. In 1995, he recorded with Beenie Man and Triston Palma for the hit compilation Three Against War.
Dennis Browns lyrics and tone bring his listeners in close to himself. He sings about real life and shows his sincerity through his own personnel experiences. As seen in Beat Magazine were Browns recent thoughts on his music. "Two new CDs issued just before his passing show why the late Dennis Brown was one of Jamaicas best-loved superstars. "I used to be a young man," the opening cut of Bless Me Jah (RAS). On the title track he admits to past mistakes, asks for forgiveness and announces a return to the roots consciousness of his early work: "Im only a vessel, but I know a vessel must be clean," he says, not his legion of fans but to his Creator" (The Beat, Volume18, #4, 1999). Dennis knew the magnitude of personnel identification. He refused to give in and with the Lord by his side he would fight for a true meaning of himself.
A Recent Perspective of Dennis Browns Life and Musical Career
Dennis Brown was perhaps one of the most productive and influential reggae musicians ever. Many reggae artists looked to Dennis Brown to find how a reggae song was sung effectively. He had tremendous knowledge and a deep understanding of melody and lyrics. He was dedicated to making music and always was looking forward into the future. In Dennis Browns last interview before he passed away he was asked to respond to the following.
"When an artist is featured in The Beat, its not only a matter of whats going on right now, but also a historical perspective too. A lot of that has been told. I (interviewer) have some old interviews with you that I can rely on"(interview by Carter Van Pelt, 1999, www.incolor.inetnebr.com). Dennis responded, "We never want to go back to that. All that way back in time. You know? We just want tell about what is happening nowis what we intend to do" (Dennis Brown, www.incolor.inetnebr.com). Dennis rarely looked back on his past work because he was so focused on producing new music and keeping up with the reggae world. He knew that he must always move forward with his music to keep his listeners attention. This entailed much hard work. When asked how many sets of songs he has created over the past ten years and how many albums were being created, he responded: "We no look pon it dahweh deh. We just make music. For I never stop working. Day and night, sometimes when nuff people asleep mon. Ya haffe find the sound. You cant find the sound if you just love sleep. And you cant restrict yourself. Ya haffe be dedicated mon and you get a full dedicated reward. If you give a part-time dedication, you get a part-time reward. You reap weh you sow" (interview with Carter Van Pelt, 1999, www.incolor.inetnebr.com). This response from Dennis showed how dedicated he was to creating new music. He was always looking for new sound; he had an open mind to all melodies and rhythms. Brown loved to experiment and try new vibes. Dennis had a strong connection to rhythm; he worked with rhythms to create the mood of his songs. "You have certain songs or certain moods or vibes that [the rhythm] might be giving you. Like the vibes I get from certain songs. Certain songs by hearing the rhythm, it tells you that is either a love song or you might be heartbroken or the songs give you the vibes and you just know that certain songs are militant that you have to write. And certain songs songs cant compromise, because the rhythm is too strong. Certain rhythms just have certain moods" (interview with Carter van Pelt, 1999, www.incolor.inetnebr.com).
There has always been a question of how many albums Dennis produced over his career. Some people say over a hundred and some say more, his legacy of hard work and dedication to his music has sparked these rumors. Brown himself admits to making eighty albums and he claims he does not have all of them in his musical library. He explained in an interview that he would like to have copies of them all but people always ask for them and he gives them away. Brown stated that people don't want to hear that you are keeping records for the sake of an archive, they want the music so he gives it to them. This shows Dennis extreme generosity to his listeners. His will to spread his message and songs overcome his own personnel ties to his own creations.
Dennis was well respected for his humbleness. His fame never caught up with him and because of this quality, he inspired so many artists and fans. DJ "Ranking Joe" Jackson explained Browns humble demeanor as follows "He wasnt a person who is big-headed. The fame wouldnt bother him, cause he was just easy going and he was the easiest person as an artist that one could really meet. He was always welcoming people and [would] always show up with him face in a smile. You never really see him in an angry mood" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). This appealing characteristic of Brown was shown through his music and admired by all. Dennis was always open to criticism from other artists and producers. He never took his knowledge and skill for granted. In his big hit No Man Is An Island, Dennis explains that no man stands alone. You must work with the people around you; you cannot be alone in this world. In the inter view with Carter Van Pelt he asks Dennis which he prefers, producing his own music or being given direction from other producers. Dennis response, "My preference? Well, you see. No man is an island. No man stands alone. You see it? If I should go and say, Im going to produce all my stuff myself, I would be selfish. And I could say presumtuous and be a lover of myself. Because you alone cyaan do it. You have certain musicians, when you work with them, it give you a certain flavor, as I say before So its all about variation"(interview with Carter Van Pelt, 1999, www.incolor.inetnebr.com). This nature of Brown helped create such effective music. His individual vision combined with outside influence worked together to produce his well loved songs.
Dennis Brown was an intelligent artist.. He was well educated and interested in world issues, which is apparent in his lyrics. Brown was tremendously influenced by Malcolm X. He read his books and speeches. Brown stated, "It was while reading about [Malcolm X] that I get certain impressions, gained certain understanding within his delivery of his speeches, and it was inspiring" ( The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). Dennis music was very popular in the black culture in the 1970s. Many young African Americans looked for inspiration and hope from Browns lyrics. They felt a strong connection to him and his music and especially during these times of racial acceptance in the 1970s. Stella Orakwue, writer for the New Nation in London, explained the importance of the star:
"When we lost Dennis, we realized wed also lost our youth. Wed grown up together with him. His music had been the punctuation to the stories of our own lives We played out our youth and young adulthood to his music, a fact that punched me in the face when I heard that hed gone To have been young, black and to love reggae music in the 1970s was to belong to a very special, political mass of black people Dennis and Marley provided the brew. It was very special, and when you supped from it, with any luck, the sustenance stayed in your veins, inspiring you, driving you on" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6).
Dennis Browns music was an inspiration to these people and many others during these times of inequality. He usually focused on positive points in his music, rarely touching on negative aspects of a situation. Dennis knew that people living under restrictive conditions and in poverty needed unification and guidance. In one of his songs, he is speaking to the people in the mass movement-taking place in the 1970s, asking do you know what it takes. Songs like these offered these groups suggestions on how to beat the struggle. His dedication to his listeners was well respected and his message spread worldwide.
The Decline of "The Crown Prince"
Dennis Brown had a history of drug use behind his success. He was addicted to crack cocaine. He was allegedly seen backstage at concerts in the United States with drug paraphernalia in open view. However, in response Dennis publicly denied his drug problem. When questioned by the Jamaican Star in 1996, he said: If I was on drugs I would be persona non grata. I could not still be doing my work. Remember old-time people said show me your company Ill tell you who you are. Ill admit that Ive been around people associated with drugs and that perhaps was not good because people get branded. Drugs have played no significant factor in my life" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). Dennis had a bad habit, and many of his friends that knew he had a drug problem labeled it as a bad habit. This did not lead them to question Brown, they simply accepted the fact that everyone has downfalls and this was Dennis. The press often blew the issue way out of proportion and Dennis wanted to avoid the issue. This created a difficult environment for Dennis where it was difficult to find the support he needed to help himself with the addiction.
Brown stated that the drug rumors were a constant detraction from his career. He looked for companionship with people that approved and stayed away from the people that did not approve. Browns brother, Leroy Clarke, stated that he had never seen Dennis use drugs and that were certain things that Dennis would not do in front of him. He said if Dennis had a problem, he kept it to himself and explained that Dennis was a very private person. This demonstrated that Dennis knew he had a bad habit and kept it to himself, he did not want to negatively affect anyone around him. DJ "Ranking Joe" Jackson knew Dennis Brown well and was aware of his drug problem. "Drugs is not right. I think Dennis do more good than a different side of people could think about. Over the years, he contribute a lot to the music business. When one tends to do a lot of good, people dont remember what else they do wrong or one thing that they dont agree with. He come to do a work and write his music and his book and left something for one to cherish and respect and learn from as a guideline for us too, to make us recognize that its not right. And we must try to stay away from that But I always tend to be more positive and always remember him of the right" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). DJ Jackson looks at the drug problem on a positive note, hoping that people can learn from his mistake and remember him for his positive attributes.
Dennis Brown had a reputation for canceling shows. This shadowed over his legacy as a reggae superstar. Many argue that this damaged the reggae industry at international levels and had extreme negative consequences. Brown was not the only reggae musician with this reputation, it was rather common in the industry for artists to have this problem. Dennis always responded to the issue with a positive attitude. He commented to the Jamaica Observer about this problem before the 1996 Reggae Sunsplash tour: "The no-shows was years ago. What people are going to see now is a new D. Brown" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). Dennis further went on to explain that it was a thing of the past and his fans will no longer to need to worry about the issue.
Dennis Emanuel Brown died on July 1, 1999 at the University of the West Indies Hospital and no autopsy was performed. Brown became sick at the end of June after a return trip to Miami from Brazil, where he spent a month. Although Brown never contracted any sickness in Brazil many people that were with him and other bands performing there caught a virus. Browns brother Clarke, reported that Dennis was complaining of chills on the plane ride from Miami to Kingston, Jamaica. He checked into the hospital seven days later on June 30, 1999. Dennis Brown died the next morning. The media spread the news and that Brown had died from lung failure related to pneumonia and heart failure. Although never diagnosed, Brown was believed to have the AIDS virus and died from AIDS related pneumonia. Two former girlfriends of Brown had contracted the disease from him and had already died. Only people that knew Dennis closely knew that his health was failing and that he most likely had the disease. Dennis brother reported that he never knew if his brother had the disease or not. He stated, "not as far as I know personally. He was never diagnosed" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). If Clarke is correct and his brother never had AIDS, the media blew the situation out of proportion. Also, if he were accurate with the drug allegations then the same would be true. It very likely that Dennis Brown did die from AIDS related sickness and he did have a drug problem.
There was significant evidence that Dennis Brown did live a destructive lifestyle. It is understandable for his brother to not know how accurate the allegations are if Brown did not inform him about them and did not want him to be aware of them. Clarkes responses to Browns death were very defensive which is understandable. He felt that his brothers life should be kept private. He states, "I just give Jah thanks and praise for Dennis life and what he has contributed to the world through the root of music, regardless of the rumors out there about him, he has done a lot. He has paid his dues. You want to know the true Dennis? Listen to his lyrics. He was singing from the heart" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6).
Several weeks before Dennis Browns passing Jamaica lost three popular artists, Augustus Pablo, Henry "Junjo" Lawes, and Pat "Jah Floyd" Francis. "But with Dennis, it was different. He was a reggae figurehead, never having faded from the Jamaican consciousness in his 30 year career" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). He was seen as a role model to all, artists and fans. A Jamaican broadcast journalist did three programs to Dennis Brown on his RJR radio show, "The Global Beat. Before the funeral, his body lay at the Ward Theater in downtown Kingston, where supposedly ten thousand people came to visit him. The funeral was held at the National Arena on July 17 and was reported internationally by the Associated Press. "The event, organized by his colleague and friend Freddie McGregor, became a three-and-half hour musical celebration of Browns life. His music was performed by McGregor, John Holt, Richie Stephens, George Nooks, Maxi Priest, Shaggy, Gregory Isaacs, Ken Boothe, Carlene Davis, Marcia Griffiths, Nadine Sutherland, Heather Cummings, Pam Hill, and J.C. Lodge, all backed by Browns long-time associate Lloyd Parks and his We the People band" (The Beat, Volume 18, #5/6). The funeral received international coverage that showed Browns influence on a generation of Jamaicans, whom many considered Brown to be their favorite reggae artist.
My Personnel Reaction to "The Crown Prince"
I tremendously enjoyed doing this research paper on the life of Dennis Emanuel Brown. My rational for selecting this topic is as follows. My cousin Sean McGarry, "Rude Boy", is a reggae DJ here in Burlington, Vermont. He is extremely dedicated and well educated about all aspects of reggae music. He invited my over his house in Charlotte, Vermont for dinner. We were discussing some possible topics for this paper and he suggested I do a tribute to Dennis Brown since he recently passed away. Sean put on some of his records and I liked what I heard and decided to pursue the topic. He played No Man Is An Island, my favorite song from what I have heard from Dennis Brown. His sincere lyrics and compelling voice caught me.
I was extremely moved by Dennis Browns dedication and hard working nature toward reggae music. He has created eighty albums and produced a number of big reggae stars. He has accomplished more in his thirty-year career than most any other reggae musician has in their entire lifetime. Earlier in the paper when I quoted Dennis response about your music reflecting the effort that you put into it, I was moved by his logical response. "You cant find sound if you just love sleep". Dennis works day and night on his music and has always fought to stay ahead in the industry. He spoke of hard work not like one would expect from a famous star, but instead like a common person working toward their goal. He never let the fame catch up to him. Dennis seemed like a very approachable person, he was very optimistic about life and rarely liked to touch on the darker sides of life. All that knew him said he always had a smile and was ready to listen to what they had to say. These qualities of such a famous person made me realize Dennis true character and it was apparent in his lyrics. His humbleness was a characteristic that made me respect Dennis as a person. I have ultimate respect for humble people; I like to consider myself a humble person and enjoyed reading about Dennis true self. He was a very private person and kept his drug addiction and illness to himself. I saw this as his way to not let these negatives affect the people he was close to and the people that respected him. He wanted to be remembered for his music and his contribution to the reggae world and not for his bad habit and his illness.
I was lucky to get a copy of the last interview with Dennis Brown before he passed away. It was an interview conducted by Carter Van Pelt It really helped having a written script of dialog between Dennis and Carter. Dennis voice was consistent throughout the interview. A few things stood out to me in the interview, some were included in the paper. In the beginning of the interview, Dennis did not want to go into the past; he wanted to talk about the present. This clearly demonstrated to me that he was always looking forward moving ahead in the industry. I thought this was somewhat odd that he didnt even want to mention anything from the past, but it revealed his dedication to his music.
My opinion on Dennis drug abuse is that I feel it was a bad habit and he knew it. I felt that the medias pressure and rumors put so much pressure on Dennis that he was so overwhelmed that it was difficult to find enough support to try an get off the addictive drug. His private life should have been kept separate from his fame, but this is extremely difficult. Since Dennis didnt share much information with many friends and family it was obvious to me that he knew he had a problem and he didnt want it to negatively affect the people he cared about. This showed two sides of Brown, his positive side with his musical contribution and his negative side with drug abuse. I would hate to think that people would remember Dennis for the negative side of his spectacular career. Dennis Brown should be and I believe he is remembered for his musical talent, sincerity, humbleness, voice, lyrics, and love for reggae music.
Lyrical Analysis of No Man Is An Island
This song appealed to me in many ways. The catchy rhythm and lyrics blended together in one of Dennis Browns biggest hits ever.
No man is an island
No man stands alone
Treat each man as your brother
Remember each mans dream as your own
These first four lines of the song are repeated throughout. I enjoyed the implications of these lines as they convey the message that in this world, we cannot live alone separate from one another. We have created this world we live in in a way that we must understand each other and work together for future progress and happiness. The last line above meant a lot to me. Treating other mans dreams like they are your own. This means we must respect other like we respect ourselves. We must respect others lives and wishes like we respect our own.
You can live in this world all by yourself
No no no you cant make it alone
And just as sure as you try and to make it by yourself
You going to wake up and find your going to need somebody else
These lines continuing the message from above. You cant make it alone in this world and if you try, you will realize that you cant and that you will need to depend on others.
Treat each man as your brother and each man as your friend
People must treat each other with respect and treat each man as a friend. This song, with its straightforward lyrics, was applicable to modern society. The message was clear and visible to me. I really like the title of the song, No Man Is An Island. It paints a visual picture of what he trying to portray in the song. I can clearly see why this tune was one of his biggest hits of his career. Dennis Brown will continue to beat in my heart and in millions around the world.
Dennis, you will be missed.
"in the good old days, everybody was into singing like Dennis Brown. He at that time was like one of the most influential artists, he was really progressive All the school boys and kids who liked music, we used to like always try to pack on Dennis Brown, because hes like a role model for us."
-"Earl 16" Daley
"Everybody saw him as a touchstone when it came to how a reggae song was sung effectively."
"Few artists could remain as consistent throughout a 30 year career as Brown, and these releases cap an incredible life while serving as a reminder of one of Jamaicas greatest talents. The reggae world is reeling from his death "
"There are good times and bad times too
So have a little faith in what you do
Today youre up, tomorrow your down,
Thank God youre still around."
-Dennis Emanuel Brown
This is the list of songs, in order, as they appear on your tape. These songs were chosen by me and my cousin for your listening pleasure while you are reading my paper.