Sugar Minott: a sweet voice falls silent

David Katz pays tribute to a pioneer of lovers rock reggae

Sugar Minott. Photograph by David Corio/Redferns

Sugar Minott, who died in July, aged 54, after suffering from a heart condition, was an influential Jamaican singer whose distinctive style made his output perennially popular. Thanks to an innovative approach to songwriting and a strong grounding in sound-system culture, in the late 1970s Minott helped to spawn what became known as the dancehall style. He was also a noteworthy producer whose Youth Promotion stable helped launch the careers of many important dancehall figures, including Junior Reid, Garnett Silk, and Beenie Man.

He was born Lincoln Minott in Maxfield Park, an underdeveloped area of Kingston, one of the eight children of a market higgler. Inspired by local singers such as Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson, Minott honed his vocal skills on nearby sound systems and joined a couple of amateur groups while still in school. In the early 1970s, he joined the African Brothers harmony trio, who recorded a series of impressive singles from 1973 – 77, including “Hold Tight” for producer Clive Chin, “Mystery of Nature” for Rupie Edwards, and “No Cup No Broke” for Studio One.

Minott returned to Studio One with the idea of grafting new lyrics onto old backing tracks. This winning formula brought changes to reggae, particularly after his “Oh Mr DC” became one of the biggest Jamaican hits of 1979.

Minott thrived as an independent producer, with songs like “Hard Time Pressure” and the Black Roots album making a strong impact in the UK. After a period in New York working with “Bullwackie” Barnes, he briefly moved to London, where he became one of the first Jamaican singers to record extensively in the lovers rock style. In 1981, he wound up on Top of the Pops with “Good Thing Going”, a cover of a Michael Jackson song, but remained true to his roots and ploughed the profits into Youth Promotion. He continued to cut noteworthy material, such as Leave Out A Babylon, a collaborative project issued in France in 2003.

Despite his many hits and world tours, Sugar Minott was a down-to-earth individual who remained part of the ghetto community in which he was raised. Although he lacked formal education, he was a highly intelligent man who was rightly proud of his many achievements, yet still willing to acknowledge mistakes.