In Jamaican pop, toasting is equivalent to what rapping is in American pop. In the late '60s, toasting was on the margins of reggae; today not only is it at the center of Jamaican pop, but it's also destroying half a century's worth of musical labor. The island's culture can no longer produce King Tubbys, Johnny Clarkes, and Sammy Dreads. Buju Banton, Lexxus, Vybz Kartel have burned down the ark of Jamaican pop far more effectively than Lee "Scratch" Perry did in the '70s. But Perry tried to destroy Jamaican pop out of frustration with the exploitive recording industry; post–Shabba Ranks dancehallers, however, have done it because they themselves are the exploiters. The toaster's political emptiness, lack of diversity, gross materialism, hypermasculinity, which often explodes into idiotic calls for violence against homosexuals—all of this has eclipsed the rich beauty, the infinite sensitivity of early stars like Hugh Mundell, Johnny "In Your Eyes" Osbourne, and Barrington Levy.
The sweetness of reggae music is gone. And yet Barrington Levy, the "Mellow Canary," has managed to survive the nightmare that will not end. Levy's career began in the '70s and his singing style has always had one foot in the world of the reggae crooner and the other in the world of dancehall. Though still active to this day, working, impressively, with Handsome Boy Modeling School, and, not so impressively, with bores like Buju Banton (an economic necessity, no doubt), the material he made in the early '80s with the greatest band to ever be on this earth, Roots Radics, and the second greatest dub engineer, Scientist, stands as his highest artistic moment.
To have the toaster at the center of Jamaican pop is the same as having a circus barker at the center of a circus. All the barker can (and must) do is shout loudly and direct the public's attention to the show. Once inside the tent, we must see on the stage, under the magic of fancy lights, a sweet, mellow, and charming canary.