Achild prodigy in Jamaica’s ragga scene during the mid 1980s, Beenie Man became the most popular deejay in the country by the mid 1990s. With international tours and distribution agreements for his work, Beenie Man’s international reputation and record sales also expanded, culminating in a record-setting seven 1999 International Reggae and World Music Awards and a 2000 Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album for Art & Life. Incorporating various styles such as techno, R&B, hip-hop, and Latin rhythms into his work, the artist pushed the boundaries of reggae. As Beenie Man acknowledged in a 1998 Billboard interview, “When you have an album now, you have to do a lot of different types of music, ’cause it’s not one type of people who listen to music…. But regardless of which place or how far you take reggae, the music all comes back to one thing: the one-drop beat.”
Born Anthony Moses Davis in the Waterhouse section of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, the future deejay grew up in an environment that was rich in music. Much of Jamaica’s social life revolved around dancehalls, where people would gather throughout the week—and especially on the weekends—to dance, socialize, and listen to the latest records, often with added vocals contributed by the deejay, a practice known as “toasting.” From the 1950s onward, as Jamaican deejays bought their own portable sound systems and played records at dancehalls around the country, competition for the sharpest patter over backing tracks helped the dancehall style evolve into a distinct category of Jamaican music. Taking the popularity of dancehall deejays a step further, recording and distributing the best dancehall tunes on single releases was a relatively inexpensive process. Dancehall music could now be enjoyed by expatriate Jamaicans in Britain and the United States.
While dancehall music remained largely oriented to its home in Jamaica, the development of reggae music in the 1970s brought Jamaican music to an international audience. More political in its message than dancehall music, reggae was also more sophisticated in its blend of traditional African and American R&B rhythms with Jamaican popular music. In contrast to dancehall music, which put the deejay at center stage, reggae was usually performed by one or more vocalists with a backing band. Young Davis’ uncle, Sydney Wolf, played in one such lineup as a percussionist for reggae artist Jimmy Cliff, best known for his soundtrack for the 1972 film The Harder They Come, in which he also starred. With his uncle’s encouragement, Davis began toasting as a deejay from an early age. By the time he was eight years old, Davis had won a local talent show, along with the notice and support of older, more established deejays like Barry G. Rechristened as Beenie Man—“beenie” serving as a slang term for “little”—the young deejay completed an album that was released around his tenth birthday, fittingly titled The Invincible Beenie Man, 10-Year-Old Boy Wonder With
Born Anthony Moses Davis on August 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica.
Won talent show contest as an eight year old and started recording with the help of his uncle, a musician for reggae artist Jimmy Cliff; released debut album, The Invincible Beenie Man, 10-Year-Old Boy Wonder, C. 1986; began a run of number one singles in Jamaica and released several albums during the 1990s; released Blessed on Island Records, 1995; signed deal with Virgin Records, released Art & Life, 2000.
Awards: International Reggae and World Music Awards, Best Music Video, Best Male Deejay, Most Outstanding Stage Personality, Recording Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Best Gospel-Oriented Song, and Entertainer of the Year, 1999; American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Songwriter Award, 1999-2000; Grammy Award, Best Reggae Album, 2000; Music of Black Origins Award, Best Reggae Act, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Virgin Records America, 338 North Foothill Road, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, website: http://www.virginrecords.com; Shocking Vibes Production, Ltd., 5 Springdale Avenue, Kingston 10, Jamaica, W.I., website: http://www.shockingvibes.com. Website —Beenie Man Official Website: http://www.beenie-man.com
it, Beenie Man gained a high profile in the developing world of “ragga” music, named after its “ragamuffin” incorporation of reggae, rap, and just about any other musical form into dancehall music.
The economics of the Jamaican recording industry made it relatively inexpensive to record and release singles instead of albums, and Beenie Man accordingly released a series of singles during his teens, including the local hits “Too Fancy/Over the Sea,” “We Run Things,” and “Wicked Man.” Beenie Man also engaged in one of the traditional rivalries that marked dancehall music, pitting his reputation against that of rival deejay Bounty Killer. Although Beenie Man was subsequently attacked by some rivals at the Kingston airport after returning from an international tour, the two top deejays eventually reached a truce. By 1994, however, it was clear that Beenie Man had superseded Bounty Killer as Jamaica’s top-rated deejay. Asthe Village Voice noted in a review of Many Moods of Moses, “The badman ethic that Bounty espoused proved difficult to sustain, while Beenie peppered the dance with tales of the sexually self-assured…. Beenie’s microphone charisma comes from his understanding that rhythmic prowess is sexual prowess.” Indeed, many of Beenie Man’s lyrics emphasized his reputation as a lady-killer, showing the artist as a trickster, not a rebel.
Having released regionally successful albums with 1994’s Defend It and the following year’s Beenie Man Meets Mad Cobra, Beenie Man secured wider international distribution with the 1995 compilation Blessed, released on Island Records. His next original releases, Maestro in 1996 and Many Moods of Moses in 1997, continued to build the artist’s international reputation, especially in areas with significant Jamaican immigrant populations such as London, New York, and Miami. Mainstream success in terms of the pop charts, however, remained limited, with one reviewer assessing Many Moods of Moses more for its potential at crossover success than actual results. Refusing to be caught between reggae purists and the demand for hit records, however, Beenie Man insisted on choosing his own course and experimenting with different musical forms within his ragga style. The success of the track “Who Am I?” from Many Moods of Moses, which reached number one on Billboard’s reggae singles chart, also went top ten on its rap singles chart and was a pop hit in Britain. The success demonstrated that Beenie Man’s appeal was the greatest of any contemporary Jamaican musician. The album had similar success, becoming the top-selling reggae album in the United States for 1998, although it barely cracked the R&B top 40 during its chart run that year. Doctor, released the following year, repeated the pattern. A top-selling reggae album worldwide, it made little inroad in the pop market.
Looking to broaden his international profile while retaining his integrity on the reggae scene, Beenie Man signed an innovative deal with Virgin Records in 1999 that allowed the major label to distribute his albums globally save for the Caribbean region, which would be serviced by Kingston-based independent label Shocking Vibes. In contrast to emphasizing the sale of Beenie Man albums in international markets, Shocking Vibes would also continue to release Beenie Man singles in Jamaica in order to maintain his credibility with the singles-driven ragga scene. Beenie Man also signed a publishing deal with EMI Music, which was estimated to be in the six-figure range. With a powerhouse of sophisticated marketing and distribution talent behind him, expectations were high for Beenie Man’s first Virgin/Shocking Vibes release, while many waited to see how far he would go in a bid for mainstream success. In the meantime, Beenie Man continued to tour extensively. His concert series in the United States in 1999 was another success, although the artist encountered trouble when he and his band members were charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in Virginia after the police found the drug in their hotel rooms. Unable to prove that any of the individuals had actually possessed the contraband substance, the charges were eventually dropped.
Released in July of 2000, Art & Life fulfilled its promise by becoming Beenie Man’s biggest selling album with about 350, 000 copies sold by the end of the year. The artist frankly acknowledged in a June of 2000 profile in Billboard that the album’s appeal was designed to broaden his audience: “I’m trying to take up the pigskin ball and score a touchdown with the world, not just the American or Jamaican audience.” Reviewers such as an Orange Country Register critic agreed that the new album was “more accessible than ever,” with Beenie Man determined “to contend that the greatest advancement the reggae subgenre can make is to take America by storm.” The album also featured contributions by Mya, Wyclef Jean, and Kelis. Although Beenie Man had not achieved the multi-million-selling breakthrough success of fellow reggae artist Shaggy, his popularity as the world’s leading ragga deejay remained unchallenged.
The Invincible Beenie Man, 10-Year-Old Boy Wonder, 1986.
Defend It, VP, 1994.
Dis Unu Fi Hear, Hightone, 1994.
Beenie Man Meets Mad Cobra, VP, 1995.
Blessed, Island Jamaica, 1995.
Maestro, VP, 1996.
Many Moods of Moses, VP, 1997.
Doctor, VP, 1999.
Art & Life, Virgin Records, 2000.
Broughton, Simon, et al., editors, World Music: The Rough Guide Volume 2, The Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Associated Press Worldstream, March 29, 2000.
Billboard, July 15, 1995; August 1, 1998; December 26, 1998; February 6, 1999; October 14, 2000; June 24, 2000; December 30, 2000.
Music Business International, December 1999.
New York Amsterdam News, May 21, 1998; June 10, 1999; June 29, 2000.
Newsweek, June 22, 1998.
Orange County Register (California), July 25, 2000.
Q, February 1997; March 1998.
Village Voice, March 17, 1998.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (April 19, 2001).
Beenie Man Official Website, http://www.beenie-man.com (April 23, 2001).
Info Please, http://www.infoplease.lycos.com/ipa7A0878118.html (April 19, 2001).
Reggae Source, http://www.reggaesource.com/artists/beenie_man/interview2000-3.html (April 23, 2001).
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