Born Clifton George Bailey III on April 13, 1967, in the rural parish of St. Mary, Capleton earned his future stage name from friends who were so impressed with his sharp reasoning skills that they named him after the most famous lawyer in town. From a tender young age, he was a lover of the traveling sound systems, sneaking out at night to catch the vibes until dawn. But it wasn’t until he turned 18 and moved to Kingston that he was able to realize his destiny.
It was Stewart Brown, owner of a Toronto-based sound called African Star, who gave the untested artist his first break, flying him to Canada for a stage show alongside giants like Ninjaman and Flourgon. The audience poured out their appreciation, and he never looked back. When Capleton first burst on the scene in the late 1980s, the dancehall was a very different place than it is today. Slackness and gun talk were the order of the day. This bright promising newcomer announced his arrival with a string of hit songs from “Bumbo Red” to “Number One on the Look Good Chart” and “Lotion Man.” Everything he touched hit the sound-good charts, and the youthful artist with the nimble vocabulary and hardcore voice quickly established himself as one of dancehall‚s most reliable hitmakers. But even he could not have predicted that eleven years later, at the start of the new millennium, he would be dancehall’s ruling voice.
“I think the people dem see say me really deserve that because of the amount of years me put in,” Capleton says, “and we never really bow and we still hold the faith. We stand up for whatever we a say. Yeah and we really work for it. And them say by your works, a so you get your pay. The people them see the amount of fight me face and the whole heap of accusation. And me still never give up”
When he dropped the tune “Alms House” in 1992, Capleton established himself as more than an entertainer but as a guiding light of righteousness through music. “United we stand and divided we fall,” he sang for the benefit of his fans and dancehall comrades. “Nuff of them nah go know themself till them back against the wall.” A few years later he came back with yet another antidote to the clashing and rivlary that had taken hold of the dancehall business. “Music is a mission,” he reminded his fellow artists, “not a competition. Some man use the music to cause confusion.” The path of this dancehall Prophet was clearly established in 1994 with a string of songs that declared his newfound faith in Rastafari. “INI sight up the light and see say really, yunno, Rasta is real,” he recalls. “founder of the world, because Rasta did come set the trend. Y‚unnerstand. Rasta is life.”
Capleton is now at the height of his powers. 1999 and 2000 have brought a ceaseless string of sound system favorite and dancehall chart toppers like the anti-violence anthem “Jah Jah City” and “Good In Her Clothes,” a message of respect for the sisters who carry themselves like Empresses rather than. But even as he completes his mission of upliftment, Capleton has had many critics. One of his biggest hits, in fact, is addressed the naysayers in the press and the ivory towers of power. “Critics won’t leave I alone,” chats the Prophet. “They say they can’t take the fire weh me put pon Rome”
Many of Capleton’s songs “and most of his critics” make mention of this blazing fire. Capleton hopes to clear up the confusion once and for all. “Is not really a physical fire. Is really a spiritual fire, and a wordical fire, and a musical fire. You see the fire is all about a livity. But is people get it on the wrong term. People get confused.So when a man say ‘more fire’ him think that mean say you fi go light the cane field or go light the church.” Fire, Capleton explains, is a way of reminding one‚s brother that they are going astray. “That way a man know say him doing something wrong. That even give him the urge to know say Yo check up on yourself. What you’re doing is not right, or else him would not say ‘Fire fi dat,’ or ‘Burn dat’ or ‘More fire.’” “If we go check it back now,” he continues, “fire is for the purification of earth, anyhow you check it. This earth itself have to even emerge from the literal fire also, which is the volcanic activity, we a talk bout lava. The hottest element to rise us in the morning is the sun. The water cleanse, but it’s still the support from the fire that burn the water, burn out of the bacteria so the water coulda heal we fi cleanse. The herb heal, but it’s still the fire fi burn the herb so the herb coulda heal we also.”