Throughout 1976, as Lee Perry was working with the likes of Max Romeo, Gregory Isaacs, and Dennis Brown decrying the violence and instability of Jamaican politics and the harsh injustices of Jamaican society, he was also collaborating with a young man named Junior Murvin on what would become one of the most famous statements of protest and solidarity in reggae history. “Police and Thieves” resounded across the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In England, the song struck home with an oppressed immigrant population recently traumatized by the outbreak of violence at the Notting Hill Carnival in London; in the United States it made inroads with a progressive demographic still learning about the potency of the little island’s musical tradition. “Police and Thieves” is instantly recognizable: if you haven’t heard the album cut in context, you’ve heard the Clash’s punk version or the soundtracked clip from the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
As always, though, this international reggae hit is rooted firmly in Jamaica. The song, and the album which followed, were products of the same circumstances that spurred forth War Ina Babylon, and the two records have an analogous message and tone, not to mention having enjoyed similarly illustrious and influential careers after their releases. Murvin and Romeo also invite comparison as singers—both men did an album at the Black Ark Studio that would come to define their careers. Murvin would work with the eccentric producer again in the ‘80s, but both vocalists have spent decades capitalizing on their Perry-produced recordings. Both benefited tremendously, one thinks, from the guidance of Lee Perry. It would seem that in 1976, the Black Ark was the place to be for an aspiring singer.