In 1977 Johnson received a C. Day Lewis Fellowship. He was made an Associate Fellow of¬†Warwick University¬†in 1985, an Honorary Fellow of¬†Wolverhampton Polytechnic¬†in 1987, and in 1990 received an award at the XIII Premo Internazionale Ultimo Novecento from the city of¬†Pisa¬†for his contribution to poetry and popular music.¬†In 1998 he was awarded the Premio Piero Ciampi Citta di Livorno Concorso Musicale Nazionale in¬†Italy.
In 2003 Johnson was bestowed with an honorary fellowship from his alma mater, Goldsmiths College, University of London. In 2004 he became an Honorary Visiting Professor of¬†Middlesex University¬†in London. In 2005 he was awarded a silver¬†Musgrave Medal¬†from the¬†Institute of Jamaica¬†for distinguished eminence in the field of poetry.¬†In 2012, he was awarded the¬†Golden PEN Award¬†by¬†English PEN¬†for “a Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature”.
He is a Trustee of the¬†George Padmore Institute.
Johnson’s work, allied to the Jamaican “toasting” tradition, is regarded as an essential precursor of¬†rap.¬†Johnson’s best-known albums include his debut¬†Dread Beat an’ Blood¬†(1978),¬†Forces of Victory¬†(1979),¬†Bass Culture¬†(1980) and¬†Making History¬†(1983). Across these albums are spread classics of the dub poetry school of performance ‚Äď and, indeed, of reggae itself ‚Äď such as “Dread Beat An’ Blood”, “Sonny’s Lettah”, “Inglan Is A Bitch”, “Independent Intavenshan” and “All Wi Doin Is Defendin”. His poem¬†Di Great Insohreckshan¬†is his response to the¬†1981 Brixton riots.¬†The work was the subject of a¬†BBC Radio 4¬†program in 2007.