Although he never intended to, Johnson became a star, in England anyway; in America he had a small yet devoted group of fans. But political activism was as important, perhaps more important, than churning out records and touring, and after the release of his third album, Bass Culture, in 1980, Johnson took time off from the music scene, turning his back on a lucrative contract from Island. He continued to perform, but it was poetry readings at universities, at festivals in the Caribbean, and for trade union workers in Trinidad. His organizing activities included the setting up the First International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, and greater involvement with the political organizations with which he had been long identified, namely the Race Today Collective and the Alliance of the Black Parents Movement. In 1982, the BBC commissioned Johnson to create a series of radio programs on Jamaican popular music, a subject he'd been researching for years. The programs, entitled From Mento to Lovers Rock, were more than just musical history; Johnson contextualized Jamaican music socially and politically and offered a more nuanced and thorough examination of the popular music of his native and adopted countries.
Johnson returned to the pop music scene in 1984 with perhaps his best record, Making History. Again working with Dennis Bovell, Johnson's seething political anger suffuses this recording, but it is never undone by simple vituperation. Johnson is, if anything, a thoughtful radical, more analytical than simplistic, and that adds to the power of these seven songs. Unfortunately, this would be the last new music from Johnson until 1991's Tings an' Times, which proved yet again that regardless of how much time he takes off from music, when LKJ returns, it's as if he's never missed a beat. His most recent period of recording silence has been broken by the release of a music-less poetry album. ~ John Dougan