Text by Anderson Muth
Artwork by Irie Design
This is a riddim of many names, though “He Prayed” truly seems to give respect to where it’s due, as that’s one of the two early titles (along with “Joe Frazier”) used by Burning Spear before “Dub Organizer” arrived later via Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. In a 2011 tribute to Frazier, The Guardian’s Sean O’Hagan lends credence to this by noting that “In 1972, Burning Spear had a big local hit with the devotional Joe Frazier (He Prayed) on the Studio One label, which seems to bear little relation to the boxer.”
The initial release on 7” (and later included on Burning Spear’s debut album Studio One Presents Burning Spear) was an early commercial success for Spear’s “sombre, spiritual… serious style,” writes Colin Larkin in The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, adding that “’Joe Frazier’ (aka ‘He Prayed’) did make the Jamaican Top 5 in 1972,” a full three years before the impactful full-length Marcus Garvey arrived. That’s hardly the origin story for many successful riddims, but it shows the potency of this rhythmic pattern from the beginning in forging the evolution of He Prayed:
Burning Spear(s) – Joe Frazier (He Prayed) [Iron Side, 1972]
A shuffling dread anthem, seemingly pushing the sonic boundaries with the
haunting vocals and horns contrasting the relentless pulse of the bass; you could quite arguably end your He Prayed journey here and still be in a solid place. Noteworthy is what was hardly the norm in Jamaica’s studio-based music system: “Burning Spear originated the riddim for his classic ‘He Prayed’ on Studio One for Coxsone Dodd around 1972,” explains Undercover from The Sandy Bay Social Club.
The sparse verse paints a clear picture ‘Birds have their quiet nest; Foxes in their own hole; Man have their peaceful rest; He have nowhere to lie his head,’ before the entrancing choral chant of ‘He prayed, yes he prayed’ arrives. Yes, the boxing connection is at best cultural/conceptual rather than lyrical.
Tommy McCook & The Upsetters – Cloak And Dagger & Sharp Razor – The Upsetters [Upsetter, 1972]
Presumably little time passed before the Lee Perry-produced instrumental cut “Cloak And Dagger” emerged, since “by the end of 1972, Perry had assembled the Cloak And Dagger album, perhaps his most daring instrumental collection to date,” states acclaimed reggae historian David Katz in People Funny Boy: The Genius Of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. He elaborates on the LP’s dynamic “horn pieces arranged by Tommy McCook, such as the title track (Perry’s version of the ‘Joe Frazier’/’He Prayed’ rhythm, first voiced by Burning Spear at Studio One).” Perry pushed the instrumentation as “Sharp Razor,” a dub on the Jamaican Upsetter release that “took things one step further by skating the fine line between instrumental and dub,” per Katz, while noting that this “was the first album to have instrumentals followed immediately by dub versions of the same rhythm, in what would later be known as the ‘showcase’ style used for presenting vocal tracks immediately followed by dubs.”
Dennis Alcapone – Joe Frazier (Round 2) [Iron Side, 1972] & Dillinger – Dub Organiser [Upsetter, 1973] & Big Youth – Foreman vs Frazier [Joe Gibbs Records, 1973]
More vocals soon followed, as Undercover from The Sandy Bay Social Club
explains: “It must have made waves, as Coxsone’s right hand man Lee Perry then versioned a riddim with Dillinger called Dub Organiser to entice Coxsone counter with a Dennis Alcapone, dubbing the original Burning Spear and releasing it as Joe Frazier.”
That creative back-and-forth, whether precisely in chronological order or not, certainly elevated the riddim’s status. Big Youth’s take not only continues the boxing theme, but is also a nice example of this era’s deejay work (which extends to the b-side “Round Two,” plus there’s “The Big Fight” on the same riddim and label). Algoriddim has a juggle of this era, well worth enjoying, despite the selector acknowledging the “glaring omission” of “Foreman vs Frazier.”
Augustus Pablo – Dub Organizer [Impact!, 1973]
Mellowing out the weight, with shifts to both the drum-and-bass combination as well as the inclusion of a strong melodica solo, it seems Augustus Pablo may have cemented this alternate name for the riddim. Though, to be fair, that may be a bit of revisionist history given the culturally prophetic lyrics of the Dillinger tune: ‘… the dub organizer; him dub it, make you wiser.’
Prince Alla(h) – Bosrah [Stars, 1976]
No reason to detract from the insights of David Katz: “another stunning one-off single Perry engineered for another producer was Prince Allah’s ‘Bosrah,’ voiced at the Black Ark for toaster and aspiring record producer Tappa Zukie (aka David Sinclair) in the spring of 1976… The rhythm was based on Burning Spear’s ‘He Prayed,’ which Lee Perry previously versioned as ‘Cloak And Dagger’ and ‘Dub Organiser.’ Tappa’s new ‘Rockers’-style cut of the rhythm at the Black Ark proved to the heaviest version of them all, given greater weight through the sure-fire rhythm team of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, a clear horn section giving the tune added flashes of treble brilliance.”
Johnny Osbourne – Ice Cream Lover [Volcano, 1980] & General Saint & Clint Eastwood – Young Lover(s) [Greensleeves, 1981] & Toyan – Children Children [Greensleeves, 1981] & Scientist – Extra Time One [Greensleeves, 1982]
From such roots, which continued through the end of the 70s with cuts like
Winston Jarrett & Righteous Flames’ “Solid Foundation,” the next step was the early 80s dancehall. Johnny Osbourne’s triumphant ode “Ice Cream Lover,” is an arguable prototype, as the bass line begins to swing. A year later, over a dub version, the slack deejay duo of General Saint & Clint Eastwood took the lyrical theme of the late General Echo’s “Arleen,” almost turning it into a positive interpretation on “Young Lovers” (almost.). Likewise with Toyan, who kept it cleaner on an epic pull-up – ‘different style I go for that number’ – for “Children Children.”
Scientist also brought his board dexterity to the Roots Radics’ musicianship for “Extra Time One,” in theory from the Scientist Wins The World Cup LP (as CD bonus tracks), although not featured properly on vinyl until the 2016 World Cup (Extra Time) 12” – credited to Junjo as part of the aftermath of a failed US lawsuit by Scientist. Apparently, the executive producer deserves more creative rights than the analog remixer?
Pitchfork’s Erin MacLeod provides some nice analysis on the musical side of this, in a review of the Junjo re-release: “Listening to Johnny Osbourne’s well-known ‘Ice Cream Love’ followed by ‘Extra Time One’ draws attention to Scientist’s dropping of the vocal after the first line, echoing in the distance until it is but a trace in the background, just audible under the bass and the added wobble on the guitar. At moments, even the bass drops out, leaving the spare, metallic rhythm, and the reverberation of the drum and that bit of tinny melody. It’s much easier to hear how this provides a near opposite to the ‘warmer than chocolate fudge’ original when you can switch back and forth. Little sounds stick out—it’s difficult to not play the game of what’s missing and what’s been added.”
Rod Taylor – Words Of Parables [Belva Sound, 1981] & Prince Far I – Natty Champion [Trojan, 1980]
Like much of Jamaican musical evolution, none of these stylistic changes were sudden, as demonstrated by Rod Taylor’s 1981 “Words of Parables” with its exquisite accompaniment “Sadam Dub.” Prince Far I’s “Natty Champion” goes even farther in one sense, embracing the supposed original boxing theme and taking it to new heights via the witty dubwise color commentary of a match between Natty Dreadlocks and Babylon.
Lone Ranger – Collie Dub [Techniques, 1981]
Taking on the riddim in a true deejay style, Lone Ranger nices it up proper,
energizing “He Prayed” for the new decade on “Collie Dub.” The vocal ad libs, the cannabis appreciation, and the nearly unhinged spring reverb are all clear indicators that a fresh sound had arrived in Jamaica.
Dennis Brown – Slow Down (Woman) [Jammy’s Records, 1985]
Dennis Brown’s “Slow Down (Woman),” a fine King Jammy update of the riddim, is certainly one to know if you don’t already. The Crown Prince of Reggae advises caution, taking this conceptually beyond the bedroom, by asking ‘how long do you think you will last?’
Frankie Paul – Heart Attack [Sinbad Production, 1991]
Johnny Osbourne – H(e)artical Love [Outernational Records, 1991]
Capleton and Johnny Osbourne – H(e)artical Guest [Outernational Records, 1991]
From there, “He Prayed” logically moved onwards in a digital style, as the Sinbad label (run by Carl ‘Sinbad’ Dwyer, of The Seven Voyages of Captain Sinbad fame) relicked it as Sin-Bad A-Than-Them. Frankie Paul leads that riddim release, likewise for Johnny Osbourne for Knocked Out Joe Frazier. That tune then became “H(e)artical Guest” by mixing the original “Ice Cream Lover” lyrics with fresh mic work from Capleton – a veritable celebration.
Sizzla & Capleton – Babylon A Use Dem Brain [Greensleeves, 1997]
This collaboration, off the classic Black Woman & Child, not only outshines
Sizzla’s solo effort “Too Much To Bear,” it’s arguably the strongest late 90s tune on the riddim.
Morgan Heritage – Dem Man Deh [Cou$ins Records, 2003] & Sinéad O’Connor – He Prayed [Chocolate and Vanilla, 2005]
Both of these next-century tunes return to the past, albeit in dramatically
different fashion. Morgan Heritage infuses the low-end weight of eras prior with a heartfelt, refreshing ode to marijuana (this one, in my personal opinion, should not be overlooked). Sinéad O’Connor’s faithful cover, off the reverential Throw Down Your Arms, is certainly no throwaway either given Sly & Robbie’s production role.
Mungo’s Hi Fi ft YT & Johnny Osbourne – No Wata Down Ting [Scotch Bonnet, 2016]
Another revisit to the past, though this time by way of the future. Mungo’s Hi Fi amp up ‘He Prayed’ to heavy digital proportions, before unleashing YT in a deejay style on Osbourne’s update to “Ice Cream Love” (which also saw a 7” release). Urban Buddha Music describes it as “a sound burial combination, pairing the great Johnny Osbourne with the lyrical pride of Ipswich, YT. Over-proof, unadulterated, undiluted.”
Kabaka Pyramid – Phenomenon [Digital B, 2015]
The new wave of Jamaican reggae artists hasn’t ignored He Prayed either, with Kabaka Pyramid presenting a modern update, laying it down over a Digital B vibe on “Phenomenon.”
As always, here are some deeper dives:
– Bim One Production’s Dub Organizer EP, features Macka B and Junior Dread on tough tunes, plus some quality versions
– “dub organiza,” dubwise instrumental with a unique whistle, from Australia’s Mick Dick
– “A Me (the Dub Organizer),” a 2019 revisiting by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry along with Subatomic Sound System
– “Dub Organizer Riddim,” a take by Akitsu Dub out of Japan