Shakespeare’s death was confirmed by Jamaica’s Culture Minister Olivia Grange, who described him as one of the country’s great musicians.
“[Sly and Robbie] took bass playing and drumming to the highest level as they made music for themselves as a group, and for many other artistes locally and internationally,” she said in a speech.
Shakespeare collaborated with musicians as diverse as Madonna, Bob Dylan, No Doubt, Peter Tosh, the Rolling Stones, and Grace Jones during the course of his nearly 50-year career.
Born in the Jamaican city of Kingston in 1953, he learned to play bass in Shakespeare’s garden under the tutelage of Aston Barrett of The Wailers. He died in Florida at age 68.
According to the Jamaica Gleaner, he had recently undergone kidney surgery. The bassist and music producer is recognized for revolutionizing reggae and dancehall music’s sound.
Shakespeare, according to BBC Radio 1Xtra reggae music broadcaster David Rodigan, “played his bass guitar like nobody else”.
He paired up with drummer Sly Dunbar in the mid-1970s after establishing himself as a good musician. They went by many identities before settling on Sly and Robbie, and went on to become one of the most important rhythm and production duos in reggae history.
Shakespeare influenced the sounds found in Murder She Wrote and Bam Bam, two reggae and dancehall songs that are regarded legendary and influential. They’ve also composed music for films including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Poetic Justice.
Shakespeare was nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning two of them: best reggae recording in 1984 for Anthem and best reggae album in 1998 for Friends.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 17th among the 50 greatest bassists of all-time last year, writing:
“No other musical entity in the post-Marley era has been so omnipresent in shaping the sound of Jamaica and bringing it to the world.”
On his Twitter platform Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness wrote:
“When it comes to Reggae bass playing, no one comes close to having the influence of Robbie Shakespeare.”
Shakespeare revealed how the duo’s distinctive bass rhythms came about in an interview with the BBC in 2005:
“Sly might start with a drum tone, and I say: ‘Boy, where the tempo at?’ He say, ‘Ay, nice one, got you, just do your thing,” he recalled.
“And I might fall in doing my thing – and everything just falls in place.”