After establishing himself as a reggae and dancehall artist in his native Jamaica, Wayne Wonder found broader acclaim in the United States as a master of many styles, including hip-hop and rap, with his 2003 Atlantic release, No Holding Back. Wonder first had success in Jamaica with his albums Schizophrenic and Da Vibe, the latter of which enjoyed extensive airplay throughout the Caribbean. Wonder has also collaborated with other artists, including J’son of the group Soul for Real, Foxy Brown, and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of the group TLC.
Wonder was born Von Wayne Charles on July 26, 1972, in Portland, Jamaica, but later moved to Kingston with his family. His mother sang gospel music at the local church and Wonder joined her as soon as he was old enough. He picked up the name “Wonder” in childhood because he often kept to himself and others wondered what was going on in his mind. Wonder began writing songs when he was 13, and started performing when he was invited to sing weekly at a venue in nearby Allman Town. His early musical inspirations included Mahalia Jackson, Linval Thompson, and Bob Marley. He landed an audition with a record company, Sonic Sounds, where he made a favorable impression, although he was not signed at the time.
Wonder got his break in 1985 when he attracted the attention of King Tubby, a legendary recording artist and producer in Jamaica. With Tubby’s help, he cut his first single, “Long and Lasting Love,” in 1985. Just as Wonder’s career as a recording artist seemed assured, Tubby died suddenly, a victim of street violence, in 1989. Wonder was devastated by the death of his mentor. He cut several singles at Sonic Sounds, but drifted musically until he teamed up with recording engineer Dave Kelly, then working at Penthouse Records. The two men had known each other in elementary school, and they rediscovered a strong bond. They began to work together, producing some of Wonder’s greatest music, including the hits “Saddest Day,” “Talk About,” “Live and Learn,” “Excess Amount,” “Glamour Girl,” “Sweet and Sour,” “Bashment Girl,” and other original tunes released on Penthouse.
In addition, Wonder recorded covers of American pop songs—the way in which most singers of his generation broke through to popular success. Wonder found this aspect of his early recording career intensely frustrating. As he later said on the Atlantic Records website, ’When I first started out, I got so frustrated, because you carry original material to the studio and they act like they don’t even want to hear it… Them don’t spend time to hear your creativity or what you try to originate.”
Wonder began writing for other performers, including Buju Banton, whom Wonder introduced to dance-hall music (a reggae style that featured a rapping, singing deejay). Wonder wrote many of Banton’s most
Born Von Wayne Charles on July 26, 1972, in Portland, Jamaica.
Released first single, “Long and Lasting Love,” 1985; recorded on the Sonic Sound label, 1980s; moved to the Penthouse Records label, 1989; wrote songs for recording star Buju Banton, 1980s-1990s; formed a recording and touring band, Alias, 1990s; played in the group Entourage, 1990s; established his own Singso Records label, 2000; released first U.S. hit, “No Letting Go,” 2002; released first U.S. album, No Holding Back,2003.
Addresses: Record company—Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104, website: http://www.atlantic-records.com. Website—Wayne Wonder at Atlantic Records: http://www.atlantic-records.com/waynewonder.
successful songs, including “Murder,” “Deportee,” and “Boom Bye Bye.” The two went on a world tour together, and the partnership seemed destined to be long and fruitful. When Banton landed an American recording contract with Mercury Records, however, he left Wonder to pursue a recording career on his own.
Wonder’s career floundered while he searched for direction, but his old friend Dave Kelly stepped in once again to help him find it. They left Penthouse, Kelly founded a record label called Madhouse, and together they formed a band called Alias, in which each musician took on a pseudonym. Kelly became “The Stranger” and Wonder played under the name of “Surprise.” The assumed names were intended to ensure that the project remained focused on the music being played, rather than individual recognition for each musician. In addition, Wonder vowed to record and perform only original songs, not covers. He has held to this promise ever since.
After playing in another band called the Entourage, which featured, in addition to Wonder, the talents of Dave Kelly as producer, Demo Delgado, and Showki Ru, Wonder formed his own record label, called Singso Records, in 2000. The Entourage project was the first in which Wonder played instruments as well as sang and wrote; he found it a heady combination. In addition to his own work Wonder’s record label produced recordings by many other artists, including Baby Cham, Alley Cat, Frankie Sly, and Mr. Easy.
Wonder’s new direction soon led him to a contract with Atlantic Records, launching him into the American market. In 2002 his single “No Letting Go” hit number one on the Jamaican and New York charts, and landed on the Billboard charts as well, earning Wonder his first American success. In the meantime, Wonder moved to the United States to learn more about the business of making music. Since promotion and marketing (not usually much a part of producing music in the small country of Jamaica) can make or break an album in the States, Wonder felt that he needed to apply himself to this process with as much vigor as he put into creating music.
His hard work paid off. In March of 2003 Wonder’s first Atlantic album, No Holding Back, hit the stores to popular acclaim, establishing him as an international recording star. The album features a mix of reggae, dancehall, R&B, and hip-hop. Sixteen tracks in all round out the album, with “No Letting Go” leading the group. One of Wonder’s early Jamaican hits, “The Saddest Day,” is included as a bonus track. Though propelled by a catchy lead single, the album did not receive overwhelmingly positive critical reviews. In America’s Intelligence Wire, Joseph Liftman noted that “Wonder’s smooth, powerful voice aids his performance and it carries some of the album’s lesser tracks. Unfortunately, Wonder does not vary his subject matter as much as his music, and the record’s dominant theme, love, becomes monotonous.” A RollingStone.com review was equally as harsh: “The mesmerizing ‘No Letting Go’ aside, most of veteran reggae crooner Wonder’s stateside coming-out party is saddled with lethargic synth-heavy beats and lazy-loverman lyrics.”
Wayne Wonder, VP, 1987.
Part 2, VP, 1991.
Da Vibe, Artists Only, 2000.
Schizophrenic, Artists Only, 2001.
No Holding Back, Atlantic, 2003.
America’s Intelligence Wire, March 10, 2003.
Citizen-Times (Asheville, NC), March 13, 2003.
Cornell Daily Sun, March 13, 2003.
“Artist—Wayne Wonder: Biography,” Atlantic Records, http://www.atlantic-records.com/waynewonder/artistPhotoBio_long_frameset.html (March 20, 2003).
“King Tubby,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 27, 2003).
“No Holding Back,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/cd/review.asp?aid=2045972&cf= (June 12, 2003).
“Reggae’s Wayne Wonder Crosses Over,” Black Entertainment Television, http://www.bet.com/articles/0,,c3gb5317-6051,00.html (March 20, 2003).
“Wayne Wonder,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 20, 2003).
“Who Is Wayne Wonder?” Jahworks.org, http://www.jahworks.org/music/interview/wwonder.html (March 27, 2003).