Lasting legacy of UK’s most influential reggae singer

Smiley Culture

One of the UK’s most influential reggae singers, who made his name with a Lewisham based sound-system, was found dead at his home on Tuesday. The tragic demise of Smiley Culture sent shockwaves across the reggae community at the start of the week, with tributes appearing online within an instant of the news being reported.

Smiley Culture began his career as part of Saxon, a formidable sound-system that called New Cross and Deptford home. He went on to voice two popular hits, ‘Cockney Translation’ and ‘Police Officer’, and is recognised as being one of the first reggae MCs to propel black culture into the popular consciousness.

His contribution during the early to mid eighties is considered pivotal. While Saxon went on to be one of the most revered sounds in the world, and still retains the utmost respect at any dance it appears at, Smiley Culture’s career had all but ended before he decided to take his own life.

Smiley Culture, real name David Emmanuel, 48, appeared at Croydon magistrates court in September of last year where he was charged with conspiracy to supply cocaine. He was due back in court on this charge in the coming days.

He is reported to have taken his own life during a subsequent police raid on his home in Surrey when police allowed his request to make a cup of tea before being taken for questioning. The police have said that  whilst out of sight he used a kitchen knife to stab himself to death. The case has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Fans of Smiley Culture have paid respect to his pioneering contribution to reggae and black culture in the UK. The praise is deserved, for Smiley Culture, and his contemporaries on Saxon including Tippa Irie and Papa Levi, had a massive impact on the reggae form and went on to inform the evolution of hip-hop in the US.

MCs on Saxon specialised in the ‘fast chat’ style, which combined a quick lyrical flow with snappy, colourful lyrics. It was a revolutionary way to sing and soon reverberating with rappers across the Atlantic. The Saxon crew also delivered a number of hits, with Smiley Culture appearing on one very memorable episode of Top of the Pops.

Along with many others, popular dancehall DJ Gabriel Heatwave used Twitter to pay his respects: “Just heard that Smiley Culture has died. Sad news. RIP Smiley, true veteran and originator in dancehall music, pioneer for all UK MCs!!”

detailed obituary has also appeared on the Guardian website, as well as a thought-provoking comment on Smiley Culture’s influence.

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