Idolization became mentorship when local reggae selector Foota Hype introduced the young singer to his hero. To Mavado’s amazement, “Killer start to show we the ropes” of the music business, introducing him to the Daseca production crew. “Them are the youth which really bust Mavado, them come up with the Anger Management riddim, I sing for it, Killer endorse it and the thing just work.” Indeed, “Real McKoy”--Mavado’s 2004 debut single on the Anger Management riddim—made him an overnight sensation in the Jamaican dancehall and established the blueprint for his future success; a sweetly melodic voice combined with a persona more like a gangsta rapper. Dressed in “full black” and speaking to the harsh reality ghetto youth could understand, but in haunting, otherworldly tones, Mavado carved out a inimitable style somewhere between the angel and the warlord. It was the next tune “Weh Dem a Do” with it’s “fly-ay ay up to the sky” hook over the club-tempo Red Bull & Guinness riddim that brought that voice to the overseas market, and earned him magazine covers like The Fader as well as adds to mainstream stations like New York’s Hot 97 and the #27 position on the Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop Chart.
The string of successful 45s continued with “Dreamin” but although Mavado’s star rose in synch with his crew the Alliance, including fellow Bounty Killer protégés Daseca and Busy Signal, success did not come without some turbulence. Dramas were played out in the media eye, such as the murder of his Rastafarian father in Switzerland and an incident wherein Mavado was pushed through a plate glass window at the Constant Spring police station, almost losing several fingers on his left hand.
Mavado’s first full-length album, Gangster for Life: the Symphony of David Brooks, was an ambitious opus which followed the whole up and down arc of this life story. The album has remained in the Top 25 Billboard Reggae charts since its debut in July 2007. Opening with his earlier singles that brought him fame, interludes like and “Cassava Piece Radio” weaved the songs into a coherent musical saga. His father’s death was spoken to on the one-drop tune “Sadness,” while “Pon The Gully Side” and “Last Night” documented the singer’s rough upbringing even as they showcased the more angelic side of his gangster gospel. The album’s hot single “Dying,” a version built around a tribute to Tupac rhymes, was redone with the original lines and showed a new sophistication and a lyrical edge as sharp as any rapper’s.
And rappers soon caught on to his unique disposition. Mavado became the most sought after reggae artist to jump on hip hop records. In 2007, he delivered hypnotizing hooks and witty verses for Uncle Murda’s “Informer,” Wyclef Jean’s “Welcome To The East” and Foxy Brown’s “We Are On Fire” off her latest Brooklyn’s Don Diva album. The following year, icon Jay-Z blessed a verse on the remix of Mavado’s popular “On The Rock”. Lil Kim featured Mavado on her hot song “Caribbean Connection,” and 50 Cent’s G-Unit selected Mavado as the only guest feature on their latest album Terminate on Sight.
His ability to voice his experiences and capture the imagination of Jamaican youth every step of the way caught the ears and eyes of a new and broader fan base. He knew exactly how to make his emotional appeal universal.