Smiley Culture, who died on March 15 aged 48, allegedly from self-inflicted stab wounds during a police drugs raid, produced two of the most influential reggae singles of the 1980s, notably Police Officer, a song about police harassment.
The supposedly autobiographical song ("Everytime me drive me car police a stop me superstar"), reached number 12 in the charts in 1984 and told of his being caught in possession of cannabis but being let off with a request for an autograph when the officer concerned recognised him as a reggae star.
It earned Smiley Culture an invitation to meet the Queen who, he claimed, said she listened to his records at Buckingham Palace. He also appeared twice on Top of the Pops, the BBC apparently failing to understand the meaning of the term "ganja". The refrain, "Police officer no give me producer", a reference to a notice to produce driving documents at a police station, became a catchphrase on south London streets.
Smiley Culture was one of the first artists to produce a home-grown version of reggae that expressed a British identity and bore comparison with the original Jamaican style. His other hit, Cockney Translation (1984), was a typically humorous guide to Cockney slang delivered in Jamaican patois ("Cockney say scarper. We say scatter/Cockney say rabbit. We chatter/We say bleach. Cockney knackered/Cockney say triffic. We say waaacked!"). The song has become a tool for English teachers wanting to illustrate the influence of immigration on the English language.
Though Smiley Culture's chart success was short-lived, his fast-paced, comical blend of London street talk, stand-up entertainment and reggae rhythms paved the way for such performers as The Streets and Dizzee Rascal.
He was born David Emmanuel in 1962 to a Jamaican father and a Grenadian mother and grew up in Stockwell, south London. He attended Tulse Hill School where he acquired the nickname "Smiley" due to his method of chatting up girls – he would ask them for a smile. As reggae became popular he and his friends would practise "chatting" – rapping staccato lyrics over rhythm tracks.
After leaving school Smiley Culture became a DJ with the reggae sound system Saxon Studio International and worked with artists such as Maxi Priest, Papa Levi and Tippa Irie, popularising the "fast chat" style of talking over records. This was inspired by Jamaican acts such as Ranking Joe, but taken to new levels by Saxon MCs (deejays). Eventually Smiley Culture was signed by the London-based reggae label Fashion Records.
The police raid on his home at Warlingham, Surrey, came after two kilos of cocaine were recovered from a drugs mule who had been apprehended trying to enter Britain – allegedly as part of a separate plot in which Smiley Culture was implicated.
A police source claimed that the singer asked to be allowed to make a cup of tea and killed himself with a carving knife while he was in the kitchen. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is to investigate his death.