Lee van Cliff - Look how she fat

A: Lee van Cliff – Look how she fat

B: Joe Gibbs & The Professionals – She Bouncing


The rise of a new form of reggae in the late seventies and early eighties presented itself with a string of changes in the way the game was played. Rub a dub, as it was often called back then, took things back to basics. Gone were the complicated stepping riddims, as the focus was now on space. Gone also, was the heavy orchestration. Although the tempo of reggae didn’t really go down, rub a dub sounded very slow paced. Which is correct, as the timing is doubled and drum patterns were minimalized. Sometimes to such extend that all you could hear for a few seconds, was a straight forward hi-hat. Bass patterns were curtailed, too, and were placed way in front of the mix, making it the focal point of the song. With the drum and bass sounding heavier than they ever did before, it was clear this music was made for a purpose. And that purpose marks the biggest change rub a dub made in the reggae scene. It brought reggae back to where it belonged: the dancehall.

And with that, it became Jamaican music once again. Unknown to outsiders, rooted deeply in the soundsystem culture and with a slew of local talent commenting on Jamaican affairs and eager to take over from the established artists, rub a dub brought forth a whole heap of deejays and singers who were popular in the dance, but never really made it big outside that scene. Lee van Cliff was one of them.

Born as Devon Perkins, he took on the name Lee van Cliff/Cleef, after the popular western actor, as his stage persona. Although he wasn’t strictly tied to a particular soundsystem, Van Cliff could often be heard performing on Junjo Lawes’ Volcano Soundsystem. Releasing a number of 45’s and two lp’s for different producers, Van Cliff also recorded a few sides for Joe Gibbs.

‘Look how she fat’ was one of them and it was a sizable hit for him. Riding the immense popular Boxing riddim might have helped a good part, but his own efforts deserve a credit too. Commenting on the new style of reggae, the new dances that came along with it and the new vibe that spread around in Kingston – meaning less politics, less serious rasta business and more fun –  Van Cliff keeps it interesting all the way through the record. Attacking the riddim in various ways, showcasing a long and rewarding involvement in ‘live and direct’ chatting on a set, he sets a great example of how exciting rub a dub could be.

Unfortunately, though, Van Cliff was one of many talented chatters on the scene and the output of dancehall releases was way to vast to really stand out from the crowd. With the rise of yet another new style of reggae, this time digital and yet again with a whole chain of new talents attached to it, the soundsystem stage eventually became too crowded for Van Cliff as well. He moved to New York, arriving in the middle of the crack craze that terrorized the city. Whether or not he was dealing or using, I don’t know, but eventually Devon would succumb to that what brought down so many of dancehall’s pioneers: violence. He was shot dead in the late 80’s. The exact date or place is unknown, as is the reason why.



Label: Heavy Duty (Ja)
Release date: 1981
Matrix: JGM 2504
Riddim: Boxing

(originally posted on 09-06-13)



  • pressurebeat says:
    12 December 2014 at 15:39


    Anonymous said…

    I picked this one up on 12-inch and got a wonderful surprise – both sides start with the Cornell vocal of Boxing, even though it’s not mentioned on the label.

    There’s a custom jacket for Boxing Around, but not sure if the record inside just mentions Lee Van Cliff.

    Pressure Beat said…

    All too common in the world of reggae, unfortunately. Although the surprise is quite nice. For instance, I got a Dennis Brown Gibbs that actually plays Lopez Walker. Only the dubside, but still nice 😉

    Thanks for the comment. Well appreciated.


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