Yellowman

Jamaica's first dancehall superstar, Yellowman ushered in a new era in reggae music following Bob Marley's death. His early-'80s success brought the popularity of toasting -- the reggae equivalent of rapping -- to a whole new level, and helped establish dancehall as the wave of the future. For better or for worse, he also epitomized dancehall's penchant for "slack" lyrics -- that is, casual violence, sexism, homophobia, and general rudeness. Graphic sexuality was his particular forte, reaching levels of explicitness previously unheard in Jamaica. It brought him numerous detractors, but it was also a big reason for his early popularity. There was more to it than that, though; Yellowman was one of the most verbally nimble toasters of his time, with a loose, easy flow, a talent for improvisation, and a definite wit in his wordplay. Plus, all the boasting about his prowess on the mic or in the bedroom had to be over the top to be convincing: true to his stage name, Yellowman was an albino, which carries a tremendous social stigma in Jamaica. His rise to stardom was unlikely enough, but his transformation from untouchable outcast into sex symbol was staggering -- and may not even have taken place without his trademark lewdness. Shocking though it could be, it affirmed him as a sexual being just like his listeners, and was delivered with enough humor to let the audience know that he wasn't taking himself too seriously. Bouts with cancer pushed him into more thoughtful, socially conscious territory in the '90s, but his initial style remains the most influential, paving the way for countless dancehall toasters to follow.