Beenie, Man 1973–
Beenie Man 1973–
The distinct Jamaican tinge heard on U.S. urban radio around the turn of the millennium was partly the creation of Beenie Man, a Jamaican deejay (DJ) and dancehall reggae star who succeeded in transplanting his popularity to North America. One of those rare child stars to reach adulthood with stardom intact, Beenie Man was already a veteran musician by the time he reached his early 20s. The large range of music to which he was exposed helped him, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “stretch reggae in exciting directions without abandoning his roots.” “From little youth days, way back when days, I talk and sing,” Beenie Man told Billboard. “Because, obviously, me born to do the music still.”
That he had made music since “little youth days” was no exaggeration, for Beenie Man (the word “beenie” means “little” in Jamaican dialect) first performed at the age of five. Born Anthony Moses Davis in Kingston, Jamaica, on August 22, 1973, Beenie Man grew up in a city whose poor neighborhoods were breeding grounds of musical creativity. “I cannot say that life in the ghetto is hard, because there are certain things you can do in the ghetto that you can’t do anywhere else,” the artist told Down Beat. “Freedom of speech. The ghetto is the truth of life.” Beenie Man’s uncle was a drummer in the band of crossover reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff, and from his very earliest school years Beenie Man showed unusual skill in “toasting,” a Jamaican form with close affinities to U.S. rap music that features spoken, often improvised poetry over a rhythmic accompaniment.
Attending school during the day, Beenie Man got an education of a different sort in the evening as he worked on his deejaying and toasting skills using his uncle’s electronics array. At age eight he won a national competition called the Teeny Talent show. That led to a single called “Too Fancy” and, two years later, to an album called The Invincible Beenie Man: The Ten Year Old DJ Wonder. That album, produced by Jamaican hitmaker Bunny Lee, brought Beenie Man wide public recognition, and during the 1980s he recorded with various producers.
Taking several years off and then re-emerging as an adult, Beenie Man enjoyed several chart-topping Jamaican hits in the early 1990s. He worked in the style called dancehall, a music that merged the lyrical concerns of older reggae styles—among them spirituality,
At a Glance…
Born Anthony Moses Davis on August 22, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica. Education: Attended public schools in Kingston. Religion: Rastafarian.
Career: Dancehall reggae recording artist and performer. Won Teeny Talent competition at age eight; released album The Invincible Beenie Man: The Ten Year Old DJ Wonder, early 1980s; numerous hit recordings in Jamaica in dancehall style, early 1990s; U.S. release of Blessed, a compilation of his Jamaican recordings, 1995; first U.S. release of original material, Many Moods of Moses, 1997; released The Doctor, 1998; released Art & Life, 2000.
Awards: Two Grammy award nominations, for Many Moods of Moses, 1998.
Addresses: Record Label— Virgin America, 338 N. Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
2drug experimentation, political change, and violence in urban culture—with modern technological influences. The vocals fall in between singing and speaking, and the manipulation of that juncture is an important part of dancehall artistry. As in U.S. hip-hop, the DJ is a crucial figure in dancehall, both supplying a recording’s vocal component and creating its characteristic sound through the use of musical electronics.
Beenie Man, sometimes seen as a successor to the classic figures of reggae such as Bob Marley, has stressed the links that connect dancehall to earlier Jamaican styles. “It may change, but it’s still the same music,” he told the Toronto Star. “I don’t care where reggae goes, it all comes back to one thing: Jah [God]. You have the high tempo, the remix tempo, it’s nasty, but it leads you right back to Jah.”
With numerous hit singles under his belt by 1993, Beenie Man came of age as a performer at the 1993 Reggae Sunsplash Festival with a set that inspired fans to call him back on stage for five encores. A DJ showdown with fellow star Bounty Killer only added to the publicity he received, and word of his talents began to circulate beyond Jamaica. In 1994 Beenie Man landed atop dancehall DJ lists in both Jamaica and New York City, and the stage was set for his attempt to conquer the larger U.S. market. He never moved away from his Jamaican roots, however, continuing to score hit records in Jamaica throughout the 1990s. By the year 2000, Beenie Man had notched more Number One singles than any other artist in Jamaican musical history.
The 1995 CD Blessed, released on the Island label, was a collection of Beenie Man’s Jamaican recordings. Intended to familiarize North American artists with his style, it was also a fine introduction to dancehall in general. “Beenie Man is a story teller and a dancer, often creating new dance steps to emphasize his words,” noted the Toronto Star. One of his hits entitled “Tear Off Mi Garment” inspired a dance called “The Urkle,” and also pointed toward another facet of the artist’s image: his appeal to women. Reggae is not a music known for an abundance of sex symbols, but, the Washington Post observed in reviewing a Beenie Man performance in the nation’s capital, “the women in the audience groped for him like candy junkies battling withdrawal symptoms.” The biggest hit included on Blessed was “Slam,” a 1994 track that praised the qualities of women from the ghetto.
Beenie Man followed up Blessed with The Many Moods of Moses, a 1997 album that yielded the crosssover pop hit “Who Am I?” The artist’s first U.S. release of original material inspired a new stylistic range, even including a country-styled track recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. The album won two Grammy nominations, but its successor, The Doctor, stalled on the charts. Beenie Man had already complained to the Toronto Star that the media had a tendency to anoint one particular reggae DJ as the flavor of the month, and often to favor non-Jamaican artists over those from the music’s homeland. Now U.S. audiences seemed to be turning to the more pop-and R&B-oriented sounds of Beenie Man’s rival, Shaggy.
In the year 2000, however, Beenie Man’s fortunes took a turn for the better. He was signed to a new major-label contract, with the Virgin label, and released the album Art & Life. That album was a stylistic tour de force, featuring guest appearances by Cuban jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, the progressive Haitian-American hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, rising hip-hop performer Mya, and even retro swingster Steve Perry of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Art and Life took the Grammy award for Best Reggae Album of 2000 and kicked off a successful U.S. tour for the artist.
Beenie Man continued to work from his Kingston base in 2001 and to maintain his status as one of Jamaica’s top artists. The U.S. public had long shown a notoriously fickle attitude toward Jamaican music, but Beenie Man was among the artists who seemed ready to inaugurate a new period of popularity for island sounds. Still under thirty years old, he remained a developing artist in the best sense of the word. Dancehall had for many years exercised a strong influence on U.S. hip-hop, and Beenie Man seemed the artist who might most successfully fuse the two forms.
Defend It, VP, 1994.
Blessed, Island, 1995.
Maestro, VP, 1996.
Many Moods of Moses, VP, 1997.
The Doctor, VP, 1999.
Art & Life, Virgin, 2000.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.
Billboard, July 15, 1995, p. 1.
Down Beat, August 2001, p. 18.
The Independent (London, England), February 6, 1998, p. Features-15.
New York Times, July 24, 1997, p. C12.
Newsweek, June 22, 1998, p. 77.
Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2000, p. F2.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 30, 2000, p. 38.
Toronto Star, October 5, 1995, p. G10.
Washington Post, July 12, 2000, p. C5; October 20, 2000, p. C14.
All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com.
—James M. Manheim
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