Robbie Shakespeare — the bassist, producer, and half of powerhouse duo Sly & Robbie — has died. He was 68. Shakespeare died in a Florida hospital after undergoing kidney surgery, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. As the bassist of Sly & Robbie, Shakespeare not only created their own music label and produced their own albums, they also provided backing instruments for the likes of Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, and Robert Palmer, and Grace Jones. It’s Shakepeare’s funky bass you can hear in Jones’ iconic “Pull Up to the Bumper.” Rolling Stone listed him as the 17th greatest bassist of all time.
Shakespeare was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He met drummer Sly Dunbar at Channel One Studio (per Stereogum). They quickly hit it off and started both Sly & Robbie and Taxi Records. Sly & Robbie were in high demand as session musicians, working with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and more. If the story ended there, Shakespeare’s contributions to music would already be impressive. But he also helped write and produce “Murder She Wrote,” one of the greatest dancehall records of all time. As producers, Sly & Robbie helped innovate the genre of dancehall, as well as producing multiple tracks on No Doubt’s Rock Steady.
Shakespeare was nominated for 13 Grammys, winning two. “No matter how much people hail Sly and Robbie as the legends, and despite two Grammy wins and 11 nominations, we never ever feel like anything we get in life, we must get it,” Shakespeare told the Gleaner in 2020. “There have been a lot of sleepless nights and ‘eatless’ nights, too. Nuff time we go to bed hungry, so we remember these things and take stock.”