Philip "Fatis" Burrell, who has died aged 57, after a stroke, was one of the most important Jamaican record producers of the digital dancehall era. He was highly regarded for the quality and depth of his work during a phase when much Jamaican music was hastily produced, with an emphasis on quick profit rather than musical complexity. Burrell was largely responsible for breaking the careers of some of the most important dancehall figures to emerge in the early 1990s, including Luciano, Sizzla Kolanji and Capleton.
Born in Whitfield Town, Kingston, Burrell moved to the West Midlands at the age of five but returned to west Kingston as a teenager during a time when the area's underprivileged communities were riven by gang violence. Like his fellow producers Henry "Junjo" Lawes and George Phang, Burrell briefly became involved in these internecine struggles. However, after encouragement from Phang and the respected rhythm section Sly and Robbie, Burrell changed focus and began a career in record production in the mid-1980s, cutting a handful of 12-inch EPs at Channel One studio with Sugar Minott, Wayne Wade, Michael Palmer and Tenor Saw, which were issued in the UK on the Kings & Lions label.
By 1985, Fatis had launched the Vena label in Jamaica as a vehicle for rising dancehall stars, issuing popular material by vocalists such as Sanchez, Thriller U and Daddy Freddy. One of his most successful releases was Pinchers' Lift It Up Again, a sizeable local hit in 1987 that described the joyous experience of a sound system dance.
Burrell then launched a new label called Exterminator, which hosted the earliest singles of the fiery vocalist Capleton, the lewd Bumbo Red and the quasi-religious Bible Fi Dem, making an immediate impact. Capleton agreed to work with Burrell because the producer was a fellow Rastafarian, and their subsequent collaboration often addressed religious themes. During this transitional phase, when Burrell was based on Slipe Road, in Kingston, and recording most often at Gussie Clarke's Music Works, Exterminator also found success with veteran artists such as Josey Wales, Cocoa Tea, Frankie Paul and Ninjaman, as well as Ini Kamoze, who cut a series of exceptional singles with Burrell.
By 1993, with the label's spelling changed to Xterminator, the saxophonist Dean Fraser was employed as musical arranger, bringing a new depth and musical inventiveness to Burrell's productions, giving him a noticeable edge on the Jamaican music scene. Typically working with a set of players from the Waterhouse ghetto, dubbed the Firehouse Crew (led by the bassist Donald Dennis and featuring the drummer Melbourne Miller and the keyboardist Paul "Wrong Move" Crossdale), Burrell found mainstream success with Luciano, whose "message music", delivered in a sterling tenor, brought a contract with Island Records for the outstanding albums Where There Is Life and Messenger, leading many to hail him as a kind of dancehall successor to Bob Marley.
The mid-1990s "Rasta renaissance", which dramatically transformed Jamaican music, is largely credited to Burrell, whose melding of live instruments and computer rhythms pointed Jamaican music in a new direction. Although Luciano left the Xterminator stable in 1998, taking Fraser and the Firehouse Crew with him, Burrell continued to issue impressive material with upcoming talent, typically recording at Anchor, the massive new facility Clarke had opened uptown. He mentored artists such as Turbulence, Chezidek and Prince Malachi, as well as continuing to issue dub albums, despite the form having been largely abandoned in Jamaica in the mid-80s,.
Burrell's attention to detail meant his productions were relatively costly. His output had been less prolific in recent years, chiefly because he was in the process of building his own studio in Stony Hill. His son Kareem had recently joined him in the production field.
Burrell is survived by his wife, Carmelita, and several children from a previous relationship.