Higher heights: Richie Spice

Richie Spice finally joins the top tier of reggae artists after a decade of hard work, thanks to the success of his hit song “Brown Skin”

Richi Spice. Photograph by William Richards, courtesy Fifth Element Records

After a decade of hard work, 2006 was the year Richie Spice joined the top tier of international reggae artists. Who can forget summer’s soundtrack, “Brown Skin”? Its infectious lyrics and heavy rotation across the islands had boys serenading girls and dance floors grooving until the early hours, and garnered Spice invitations to perform in New York, London, Port of Spain, and elsewhere, alongside artists like Anthony B, Capleton, and Vybz Cartel, winning himself a reputation for mesmerising live performances. Now this November sees the release of Spice’s latest album, In the Streets to Africa, featuring, alongside newer tracks, “Youths So Cold”, “Open the Door”, and “Brown Skin”. It’s the culmination of years of effort, plus immense talent, a supportive record label, and an enthusiastic international fan base.

Born Richell Bonner in Kingston, Spice endured years of label-less grind on his own — playing stage shows, writing lyrics, and recording singles with little support — before Devon Wheatley and his label Fifth Element came along. “The songs were there,” Spice recalls. “They were all good songs, but they weren’t getting any promotion, and with just me going out there singing them, it was like one man against the world. Then Fifth Element came along and put in their strength and promotion, and people take onto the songs and accept them.”

With his first Fifth Element album release, 2004’s Spice in Your Life, his emotive singing and sincere message got noticed Stateside. Ignoring any urge to kick back and relax after this first taste of hype, Spice kept working hard to maintain momentum, worried his sincerity could work against him. “When you are singing positive songs, success may take a little longer, but it has to manifest,” says Spice philosophically.

After his long journey to reggae’s “higher heights”, Spice offers this advice to others setting out to make it: “Whenever you reach anywhere, there is a lot of work to be done, so just go towards it and do the necessary things until you reach that space where you are supposed to be.” As 2006 has proven, he certainly knows what he’s talking about.