Smiley Culture an 'icon of British reggae rap'
- 2 July 2013
- From the section England
Born David Emmanuel in south London to a Jamaican father and a Guyanese mother, reggae star Smiley Culture has been hailed as an "icon of British reggae rap".
His nickname came from his way of chatting up girls by asking them to smile.
Smiley Culture began as a DJ with the Saxon Studio International reggae soundsystem, which had been touring the UK since the mid-1970s.
He worked with reggae artists including Maxi Priest, Papa Levi and Tippa Irie, before going on to release his first single Cockney Translation in 1984.
Featuring the line, "Cockney have names like Terry, Arthur and Del Boy / We have names like Winston, Lloyd and Leroy", the song, which blended East End Cockney and Jamaican patois, received considerable airplay on BBC Radio 1, but failed to make a significant impact in the charts.
However later that year, he released the "dancehall style" hit Police Officer, selling 160,000 copies and reaching number 12 in the charts.
His success led to performances on Top of the Pops and an appearance at Jamaica's Reggae Sunsplash festival in 1985.
His career continued to progress when he was signed by the record label Polydor.
'Paved the way'
But Tongue in Cheek, his debut album, and the single Schooltime Chronicle, did not emulate his earlier success.
In 1986, Smiley made a cameo appearance in the David Bowie film, Absolute Beginners, and also hosted the Club Mix television show on Channel Four in 1986 and 1987.
Before his death, Smiley featured in the BBC Four documentary Reggae Britannia, which explored the rise of UK reggae.
He told the programme: "Whatever the lyric was, it was about the lyric and the whole story, as a story, as opposed to just having a verse here and a little thin chorus.
"I think now, it's more and more going that way. I think we were really ahead of our time."
BBC London 94.9 presenter and Voice newspaper columnist Dotun Adebayo has described Smiley Culture as an "icon of British reggae rap" who paved the way for modern stars.
"Without Smiley Culture, there would have been no Tinie Tempah or Dizzee Rascal, whether they are aware of it or not," he said.
"Because Smiley put British rap - reggae or otherwise - on the map, here in the UK and internationally."
Mr Adebayo said the musician had got the record industry and fans to take black Britain's "unique twist" on the reggae rap, toasting and MCing phenomenon seriously.
"All of them rappers from the drum and bassers to the grimers and any other rappers who sound UK rather than American need to give props to Smiley," he said.
The 48-year-old singer died at his home in Warlingham, Surrey on 15 March 2011.
The jury at the inquest into his death found that he died from a self-inflicted stab wound to the chest while the Metropolitan Police executed a search warrant.
After his death, about 1,000 people, including family, friends and campaigners, marched from south London to Scotland Yard calling for a public inquiry.
An investigation into the police operation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found no evidence of a criminal offence.
Mr Emmanuel's nephew Merlin Emmanuel and race relations activist Lee Jasper have set up the Campaign for Justice for Smiley Culture, which campaigns on behalf of people who have died in custody.
A Smiley Culture tribute concert was held in Brixton, south London, in February.