Jamaal Pete was a New York based painter whose artwork for numerous reggae and dancehall albums on labels like Clocktower, Channel One, Wackies, and many more, soon became as recognizable as those of Wilfred Limonious.
But that is where the similarities end – Jamaal Pete’s artistic style was a world away from Limonious. Where Wilfred Limonious was famous for his energetic sketches and drawings that were laced with humour, Jamaal Pete brought an far more intense painting style to the album covers that he created that were full of colour with no space wasted, literally every piece of available space was full of thick brush strokes and detail.
Known locally in New York as ‘Pete the painter’, Jamaal Pete’s break in the music industry came in the late 1970s when he was asked to illustrate the cover for Prince Jazzbo’s ‘Ital Corner‘ album that was being released in the US on Clocktower Records.
Brad Osborne who ran Clocktower Records knew Pete as a local painter from the area and had been impressed with his detailed paintings and artwork and asked him to come up with a cover for the record.
This first album cover still stands up as a classic example of Jamaal Pete’s artwork and had all of his signature elements – detailed scenes, with bold colours, and often with an otherworldly and fantasy element.
Jamaal Pete soon became in high-demand, and created some memorable album covers for artists as diverse a Yellowman, Nicodemus, Junior Keatting, Burning Spear, Jah Thomas, Scientist, Lone Ranger, Barrington Levy, and worked with artists from Jamaica as well as the USA on a wealth of different record labels.
Much like Limonious, Jamaal Pete carved out a unique style and created artwork and album covers that you could tell were created by him at just a glance. His style was his own and didn’t really owe any debt to any artist that created reggae album art before him.
Where Limonious drew upon everyday Jamaican life and dancehall scenes for many of his concepts, Jamaal Pete would often delve into the realms of fantasy or futurism for his concepts. Many of his album covers would put the subject of his artwork in space, or have DJs painted as Wild West gangsters, or riding motorbikes while crashing through roadblocks. There was a deeper sense of rebellion and militancy in many of Jamaal Pete’s work.
Sadly, Jamaal Pete passed away in New York in 2008, but his work lives on and is still as recognizable today as it was in the 70s and 80s. His body of work also acts as a fascinating document and snapshot of reggae in the late 1970s and 1980s as dancehall and DJ culture began to blow up, and the wide range of subject material and trends chatted by these DJs can be seen in Jamaal Pete’s art – from Rastafarianism to gangsters, from fantasy to futurism, it’s all here.
Check out a collection of Jamaal Pete’s album artwork below.