Smiley Culture has died.

British reggae star Smiley Culture -- real name David Emmanuel -- has died on Tuesday, March 15th, after allegedly stabbing himself in the heart during a police raid on his home. Anonymous sources said the artist killed himself after officers swooped on his home in east Surrey. They state that the 50-year-old former singer had asked if he could go and make a cup of tea before being taken to a police station for questioning. While he was gone, he would have taken a knife and plunged it into his own chest. A bizarre tale to say the least. Hopefully the truth will be revealed!


The dancehall phase of the early 1980s saw the emergence of original, fresh and varied UK-based artists such as singers Andrew Paul and Mikey General or deejays like Macka B, Tippa Irie and Smiley Culture. Saxon Sound International was the sound system that played a pivotal role in the rise of home-grown MC's, as UK deejays of the time preferred to be known. Stylistically the major innovation for which the Saxon MC's were responsible was the 'fast chat' style, originally heard from Jamaican deejays like Ranking Joe, but taken to new levels by men like the much-copied Peter King. In turn the UK chatters then influenced Jamaican deejays and singers, most notably Junior Reid who still employs it.

It was Smiley Culture who propelled 'fast chat' into the mainstream. The son of a Jamaican father and South American mother, he gained his nickname at school, where his method of chatting up girls was simply to ask for a smile. He served his apprenticeship with a number of local sounds before hitting big time with south London's Saxon Sound International. His live reputation attracted the attention of record producers and his first recording for Fashion Records, "Cockney Translation", featuring Smiley Culture slipping effortlessly from Jamaican patois to a south London accent, sold and unprecedented 40,000 copies.

Smiley Culture had chart success with his next single, "Police Officer", released towards the end of 1984. This was the supposedly autobiographical tale of how he was arrested for the possession of cannabis, but then let off when the police officer recognised him as a famous reggae artist. In spite of the subject matter and possibly because mid 1980s radio station bosses in the UK did not understand the terms "ganja" and "sensimilla" the single was a national Top 20 hit, selling 160,000 copies. It earned him two appearances on BBC Television's music programme, Top of the Pops. The record, although humorous, did have a serious aspect, in that it highlighted the way black people believe they are unfairly treated by the police. He recorded a session for Janice Long's BBC Radio 1 show in December 1984, and was featured on the covers of Echoes, Record Mirror, and the NME in early 1985.

A major recording contract with Polydor Records followed, but his work for them including the album "Tongue In Cheek", and the accompanying single "Schooltime Chronicle" did not replicate the chart success of "Police Officer". He also hosted the Channel 4 television show Club Mix in 1986 and 1987, and found time for a cameo appearance in the film "Absolute Beginners", singing Miles Davis' "So What". He continued to record, including some interesting collaborations with US hip-hop artists. Just like many other UK MC's of the 1980s, Smiley Culture failed to keep momentum in the next decades.

Smiley Culture was important in that he was among the first UK-based reggae artists to challenge the Jamaicans and succeed. The British public also took him to their hearts, while the lyrics of "Cockney Translation" were later used by teachers and lecturers to illustrate the effects and influence of immigration on English language.

Sources: Daily Mirror, Wikipedia, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, The Rough Guide To Reggae.
Smiley Culture



  • The Original (1986), Top Notch
  • Tongue in Cheek (1986), Polydor


  • Cockney Translation (1984), Fashion
  • Police Officer (1984), Fashion - UK #12
  • Cockney Translation (re-issue) (1985), Fashion - UK #71[17]
  • Schooltime Chronicle (1986), Polydor - UK #59[18]
  • Mr. Kidnapper (1986), Polydor
  • So What (1986), Boiling Point - promo only
  • Noff Personality (1986), Culture
  • Can't Stop The Rap (1990), SBK/Capitol