As we stand and look an entire generation of rebel artists is disappearing before our eyes. Before you know it every notable artist from the celebrated “golden age of reggae” will be gone from this realm leaving behind a vacuum that will surely be filled by those less hungry, less talented, and feeling more entitled than those who came before.
The loss of John Holt on Monday October 20, 2014 to cancer underscores a year in which reggae has grieved the loss of men so extraordinarily talented and influential that it is almost insulting to memorialize them in a blog post. These are once-in-a-generation artists whose talents are exceeded only by their perseverance and eternal optimism in the face of almost impossible odds. Just consider the musical accomplishments alone of the following individuals: William Alexander Anthony “Bunny Rugs” Clarke; Uziah “Sticky” Thompson; Lincoln Valentine “Style” “Rottadam” Scott; John Kenneth Holt. Allow yourself to meditate on those names for a moment. Try to comprehend the vastness and depth of the musical catalogue they created. Odds are your mind will not allow you to access this space as it will take many decades to fully comprehend each artist’s body of work with the proper perspective..
With the loss of Holt, Scott, and Rugs we are reminded that there was a period of time when truly great men were blessed with the opportunity to fully explore the limits of their potential. However, there is an undeniable and uncomfortable truth that we must contend with. There are three ruthless killers running rampant and unchecked in the population of Jamaican males: violence, cancer, and addiction. One is more easily understood than the other two. These men live in an uncertain and violent society. Many have learned to navigate it but few have been able to escape it. This insidious killer is ever-present, stalking its victims on the poorly lit street corners and dark back alleyways. The violence of the city streets can be escaped and there are some who have been lucky enough to run when the island got too hot, escaping to far away places like London, New York, Toronto, Los Angeles. However, the other two you cannot shake no matter how far or how fast you run. These are the truly tragic realities faced by those marked for death by these, the most vicious of killers.
The harsh and painful realities of endemic disease and the inescapable genetic predisposition to destroy oneself with substance are most worthy of a deep investigation. Sadly, it is quite possible that the roots of these killers are planted firmly in the same hellish and horrendous colonial institution that gave rise to multi-generational poverty, poor education and hopelessness in the former slave colony over the past 400 years. It is a cruel irony that out of this Babylon – a true living hell on earth – came a music with such gravity and beauty that each of these artists were able in their short lifetimes to leave an indelible mark forever upon the world like a rose grown through concrete.
Out of the entirety of Holt’s body of work, it was his unlikely collaboration with Henry “Junjo” Lawes, Lincoln “Style” Scott and the Radics that I found most intriguing. With a Soldgie mix harder than sun-baked concrete“Police in Helicopter” is a timeless tune of rebellion that stands alone as a testament of revolution and a stark reminder that a day of reckoning awaits any government that seeks to usurp and consolidate power from the people.