A notoriously eccentric figure whose storied reputation and colourful personality match the sheer strangeness of much of his recorded output, Lee Scratch Perry is unquestionably one of reggae’s most innovative, influential artists. His mixing-board innovations, from his early use of samples to hallucinatory echo and reverb effects, set the stage for generations of musical experimentation, particularly throughout electronic music and alternative/post-punk, and his free-association vocal style is a clear precedent for rap.
Active as a producer and vocalist since the early ’60s, he helped guide Jamaican music’s shift from ska and rocksteady to reggae with singles like “People Funny Boy” (1968). During the ’70s, he became a super-producer, helming seminal works by Bob Marley & the Wailers, the Congos, and Junior Murvin, in addition to releasing dub albums such as Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle (1973) and Super Ape (1976), often credited to his band the Upsetters.
His work became popular in the U.K and he collaborated with the Clash, broadening his audience. By the end of the ’80s, he had begun recording extensively with dub acolytes such as Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood. Compilations such as 1997’s Arkology and acknowledgment from alternative acts like the Beastie Boys confirmed Perry’s legendary status during the ’90s.
He remained highly active during the first two decades of the 21st century, touring often and collaborating with artists ranging from Andrew W.K. (2008’s Repentance) to the Orb (2012’s The Orbserver in the Star House), in addition to revisiting earlier material on releases like 2017’s Super Ape Returns to Conquer.