Robbie Shakespeare, the influential Jamaican bassist best known as half of the rhythm duo Sly & Robbie, has died, according to Jamaica Observer and The Gleaner. Shakespeare reportedly died in a Florida hospital after undergoing kidney surgery. He was 68 years old.
Born in 1953, Shakespeare grew up in East Kingston, Jamaica surrounded by a musical family who frequently invited fellow musicians over to rehearse. After learning how to play acoustic guitar as a kid, he switched to bass after convincing Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the legendary reggae bassist from the Upsetters, to teach him how to play.
When Shakespeare got an opportunity to play in the Revolutionaries, the house band at Channel One Studio, he met drummer Sly Dunbar and the two hit it off. In the mid-1970s, they decided to form their own band, Sly & Robbie, and parted ways with Channel One to start their own production company called Taxi Records. The duo would go on to release countless records, beginning with Sly & Robbie Present Taxi in 1981 on through to Dubrising in 2014.
Sly & Robbie also worked as studio musicians throughout their career. The duo played on classic reggae records like Culture’s Two Sevens Clash and Gregory Isaacs’ Cool Ruler, and began backing up high-profile artists like Grace Jones, Joe Cocker, Peter Tosh, and Serge Gainsbourg. As their popularity grew, Sly & Robbie were quickly playing alongside Mick Jagger, Carly Simon, Sting, Yoko Ono, and Jackson Browne. Bob Dylan tapped them to perform on Infidels, Empire Burlesque, and Down in the Groove.
Sly & Robbie became sought-after producers in the music industry as well. After embracing the rising sound of dancehall, the duo started working with Yellowman and Shabba Ranks in addition to producing some of the biggest hits of the 1990s and early 2000s, like Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote” and No Doubt’s “Hey Baby” and “Underneath It All.”
Last year, Rolling Stone named Shakespeare the 17th greatest bassist of all time, writing, “No other musical entity in the post-Marley era has been so omnipresent in shaping the sound of Jamaica and bringing it to the world.”
In a statement to Jamaica Observer, Jamaica’s Minister of Entertainment and Culture Olivia “Babsy” Grange said, “Robbie’s loss will be severely felt by the industry at home and abroad. My condolences to those he leaves behind.” Fellow artists including Morgan Heritage, Ghostpoet, The Bug, and Good Willsmith, among others, have shared tributes to the late bassist as well.