Lee “Scratch” Perry, the pioneering reggae musician who produced some of the genre’s most groundbreaking albums, died Sunday in a Jamaican hospital. He was 85.
The Jamaican Observer first reported Perry’s death. A cause of death was not disclosed.
Perry was born in Kendal, Hanover, Jamaica as Rainford Hugh Perry but later changed his name and moved to the country’s capital of Kingston, where he got his musical start apprenticing at Studio One, a prominent recording studio in the area.
Perry was both a vocalist, producer and overall wizard of musical engineering during his musical career, which really kicked off in the late 1960s when he formed his record label Upsetter Records, named after his studio band The Upsetters. This record label produced several works for Bob Marley and the Wailers, including their hit song “Small Axe,” “Duppy Conqueror” and “Mr. Brown.”
Perry’s eccentric personal and vocal style matched his unorthodox approach to production — he would often loop beats and remix his vocals over them, using dubbing to create an otherworldly echoing sound, something that hadn’t been done before in the Reggae Genre. These unusual but ethereal-sounding methods helped him gain widespread popularity in not just Jamaica, but the U.K. and abroad throughout the 1970s.
After forming Upsetter Records, Perry created a second label, Black Ark Records in 1973. Despite being a backyard studio, Black Ark attracted big names in the Reggae scene and Perry produced artists including Marley, Max Romeo, and the Congos. In 2003, Perry won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album with his “Jamaican E.T.” album.
Perry’s unusual approach to creating Reggae earworms caught the attention of prominent acts internationally and many sought him out to produce their hip-hop albums — namely, the Beastie Boys, who featured Perry as the vocalist on their 1998 album “Hello Nasty” (Perry sings on the song “Dr. Lee, PhD.”).
Beastie Boys lead singer Mike D paid tribute to Perry Sunday. He posted a picture of Perry on Instagram and said, “We send the most love and respect we can to Lee Perry who passed today, to his family and loved ones and the many he influenced with his pioneering spirit and work. We are truly grateful to have been inspired by and collaborated with this true legend. Let us all listen to his deep catalog in tribute.”
Later in his career, Perry collaborated with artists including Animal Collective, Andrew W.K. and Moby.
“My deep condolences to the family, friends, and fans of legendary record producer and singer, Rainford Hugh Perry OD, affectionately known as “Lee Scratch” Perry,” Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted Aug. 26. “Perry was a pioneer in the 1970s’ development of dub music with his early adoption of studio effects to create new instrumentals of existing reggae tracks. Undoubtedly, Lee Scratch Perry will always be remembered for his sterling contribution to the music fraternity. May his soul Rest In Peace.”