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Although he has only released one album of new material in the last ten years, and virtually retired from the live stage after his 1985 tour, Linton Kwesi Johnson remains a towering figure in reggae music. Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in the Brixton section of London, Johnson invented dub poetry, a type of toasting descended from the DJ stylings of U-Roy and I-Roy. But whereas toasting tended to be hyperkinetic and given to fits of braggadocio, Johnson's poetry (which is what it was -- he was a published poet and journalist before he performed with a band) was more scripted and delivered in a more languid, slangy, streetwise style. Johnson's grim realism and tales of racism in an England governed by Tories was scathingly critical. The Afro-Brits in Johnson's poems are neglected by the government and persecuted by the police. Johnson was also instrumental (with his friend Darcus Howe) in the publication of a socialist-oriented London-based newspaper, Race Today, that offered him and other like-minded Britons, both black and white, an outlet to discuss the racial issues that, under Margaret Thatcher's reign, seemed to be tearing the country apart. For one so outspoken in his politics, Johnson's recorded work, while politically explicit, is not simply a series of slogans or tuneful/danceable jeremiads. In fact, is was his second release, Forces of Victory, where his mix of politics and music united to stunning effect. Dennis Bovell and the Dub Band could swing (as in jazzy) more than many reggae bands, and guitarist John Kpiaye, the group's secret weapon, offered deftly played, dazzlingly melodic solos. But it was Johnson's moving poetry, galvanizing moments such as "Sonny's Lettah" and "Fite Dem Back" that made it obvious that this was a major talent.
Although he never intended to, Johnson became a star, in England anyway; in America he had a small yet devoted group of fans. But political activism was as important, perhaps more important, than churning out records and touring, and after the release of his third album, Bass Culture, in 1980, Johnson took time off from the music scene, turning his back on a lucrative contract from Island. He continued to perform, but it was poetry readings at universities, at festivals in the Caribbean, and for trade union workers in Trinidad. His organizing activities included the setting up the First International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, and greater involvement with the political organizations with which he had been long identified, namely the Race Today Collective and the Alliance of the Black Parents Movement. In 1982, the BBC commissioned Johnson to create a series of radio programs on Jamaican popular music, a subject he'd been researching for years. The programs, entitled From Mento to Lovers Rock, were more than just musical history; Johnson contextualized Jamaican music socially and politically and offered a more nuanced and thorough examination of the popular music of his native and adopted countries.
Johnson returned to the pop music scene in 1984 with perhaps his best record, Making History. Again working with Dennis Bovell, Johnson's seething political anger suffuses this recording, but it is never undone by simple vituperation. Johnson is, if anything, a thoughtful radical, more analytical than simplistic, and that adds to the power of these seven songs. Unfortunately, this would be the last new music from Johnson until 1991's Tings an' Times, which proved yet again that regardless of how much time he takes off from music, when LKJ returns, it's as if he's never missed a beat. His most recent period of recording silence has been broken by the release of a music-less poetry album.
Linton Kwesi Johnson (aka LKJ) (born in Jamaica, 24 August 1952) is a UK-based dub poet. In 2002 he became the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series. His performance poetry involves the recitation of his own verse in Jamaican Patois over dub-reggae, usually written in collaboration with renowned British reggae producer/artist Dennis Bovell. His middle name, "Kwesi", is Ghanaian.
Johnson was born in Chapelton, a small town in the rural parish of Clarendon, Jamaica. In 1963 he came to live in Brixton, London, joining his mother who had emigrated to Britain shortly before Jamaican independence in 1962. Johnson attended Tulse Hill secondary school in Lambeth. While still at school he joined the British Black Panther Movement, helped to organise a poetry workshop within the movement, and developed his work with Rasta Love, a group of poets and drummers.
Johnson went on to study for a degree in sociology at Goldsmiths College in New Cross, London (graduating in 1973), which currently holds his personal papers in its archives. During the early to mid-1970s he was employed as the first paid library resources and education officer at the Keskidee Centre, where his poem Voices of the living and the dead was staged, produced by Jamaica novelist Lindsay Barrett, with music by the reggae group Rasta Love. Johnson has recalled: "it was fantastic, you know, having written something and having it staged with actors and musicians. That was back in 1973 before I had a poem published anywhere. That was before anyone had ever heard of Linton Kwesi Johnson."
In 2004 he became an Honorary Visiting Professor of Middlesex University in London. In 2005 he was awarded a silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for distinguished eminence in the field of poetry. In 2012, he was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature".
Most of Johnson's poetry is political, dealing mainly with the experiences of being an African-Caribbean in Britain, "Writing was a political act and poetry was a cultural weapon...", he told an interviewer in 2008. However, he has also written about other issues, such as British foreign policy or the death of anti-racist marcher Blair Peach. Johnson wrote "Reggae fi Dada" on the death of his father in 1982, blaming social conditions. His most celebrated poems were written during the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The poems contain graphic accounts of the racist police brutality occurring at the time (cf. "Sonny's Lettah"). Johnson's poetry makes clever use of the unstandardised transcription of Jamaican Patois.
Johnson's poems first appeared in the journal Race Today, which published his first collection of poetry, Voices of the Living and the Dead, in 1974. Dread Beat An' Blood, his second collection, was published in 1975 by Bogle-L'Ouverture.
A collection of his poems has been published as Mi Revalueshanary Fren by Penguin Modern Classics. Johnson is one of only three poets to be published by Penguin Modern Classics while still alive.
Other writing 
Johnson wrote for New Musical Express, Melody Maker, and Black Music in the 1970s, and served as writer in residence for the London Borough of Lambeth.
Johnson's best-known albums include his debut Dread Beat an' Blood (1978), Forces of Victory (1979), Bass Culture (1980) and Making History (1983). Across these albums are spread classics of the dub poetry school of performance – and, indeed, of reggae itself – such as "Dread Beat An' Blood", "Sonny's Lettah", "Inglan Is A Bitch", "Independent Intavenshan" and "All Wi Doin Is Defendin". His poem Di Great Insohreckshan is his response to the 1981 Brixton riots. The work was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 program in 2007.
Johnson's work, allied to the Jamaican "toasting" tradition, is regarded as an essential precursor of rap.
Johnson's record label LKJ Records is home to other reggae artists, some of whom made up The Dub Band, with whom Johnson mostly recorded, and other Dub Poets, such as Jean "Binta" Breeze. Past releases on the label include recordings by Mikey Smith.
Of late, Johnson has only performed live on an intermittent basis, perhaps as a result of modern reggae's shift towards the more spontaneous and rapid-fire performers of ragga or dancehall.