When gal praisin', high flossin' Beenie Man is in the house, you're guaranteed a performance packing the crackle of unpredictability and sweet jolts of non-stop excitement. The reggae rapper ("deejay" in Jamaican) boasts an astounding 60-plus number one singles, scores of hit albums - including Virgin Records releases Art and Life (2000) and Tropical Storm (2002) - and who knows how many of the platinum standard stage shows that crowned him long ago as reggae dancehall's undisputed King.
For his last two Virgin Records sets, the versatile "Doctor" flowed over joints produced by American studio names like The Neptunes and Irv Gotti and worked that roiling boundary between dancehall, pop, and hip hop alongside superstars Wyclef, Kelis, Lil Kim, Mya (for Art's irresistible "Girls Dem Sugar" smash hit) and Janet Jackson (for Storm's rump-shaking "Feel It Boy" chart-dominator).
Now Beenie is Back to Basics for his third Virgin CD, banking not only on his awesome riddim-riding skills and the bottomless well of his songwriting talent. Basics also counts on the formidable power of straight-no chaser, hardcore Jamaican dancehall, with booming, machine-drum dominated tracks produced by the island's top digital artists - Dave Kelly, Tony Kelly, Don Corleon, a host of the island's younger mixing board wizards, and Beenie Man himself.
Beenie (the name means "little" in Jamaican patwah) was only five when he first toddled onstage to grab the microphone at a sound system dance thrown by his uncle's Master Blaster set. Only three years later, he recorded his single debut, "Too Fancy," for the late legendary reggae producer Henry "Junjo" Lawes. He had been born Moses Davis, the son and grandson of seminal Rastafarian patriarchs, and raised to know first-hand the trials of life in a tropical ghetto. Yet Craig Town, a notorious Kingston district, also teemed with talent and even opportunity. "I was brought up amongst pure musicians - Black Uhuru, Duckie Simpson," says Beenie. "From little youth days, way-back-when days, I talk and sing. 'Cause, obviously, me born to do the music still." Not one to forget his roots, Beenie Man continues to contribute time and money to his hometown, including the free "Ghetto Splash" concerts he regularly promotes with his longtime partner/manager Patrick Roberts through their Shocking Vibes company.
As a child, Beenie Man attended primary school by day; by night, he honed his toasting skills at Master Blaster dances. After recording "Killer Sound" for Winston Riley's Technique Records, Beenie linked with teenaged Patrick Roberts's fledgling STAX sound system. He recorded his first album, The Invincible Beenie Man: Ten Year-Old Boy Wonder, with veteran producer Bunny Lee, and then reunited with Roberts to record "We Run Things" and "Kipwey" for Roberts's new Shocking Vibes label.
By 1993, Beenie Man had ascended to the top ranks of Jamaica's dancehall dominators and stole the heart of the all-important "gal massive" with a lengthy, uninterrupted string of hits and rule-breaking live performances to his credit. Beenie Man had established himself as the hands-down stage master - a raggamuffin Fred Astaire with huge, velvet-lashed cow eyes, a long, lean body meant for "waist-win'ing," and a willingness to try anything. 1994's barrage of Beenie Man chart-busters - among them "Matey," "Modeling," and "Slam," a furious staccato inventory of ghetto gals' superior "bed wuk" skills that stands as one of the greatest dancehall tracks of all time - were included in the Blessed album that won him the Dancehall King crown he's held almost every year since.
The 1996 New York City launch of his next major CD, Maestro, drew thousands of fans, as well as the Fire Department, who brought the gala to a premature close. In '97, this unstoppable force delivered "Dancehall Queen," the song (featuring Chevelle Franklyn) and the soundtrack to the feature film, in which he plays - convincingly, of course - a dancehall don.
With the 1997 release of Beenie Man's GRAMMY-nominated Many Moods Of Moses, he confirmed that he could take any groove, be it country & western or ragtime, and bring it under the governance of dancehall reggae's signature "one-drop riddim." That year alone, TV viewers saw Beenie on Keenan Ivory Wayans, Vibe TV, MTV (with good "breddren" Wyclef Jean), and VH-1.
"Who Am I," the legendary track off of Many Moods that would go on to expose a whole new generation of fans to dancehall reggae first caught fire on U.K. airwaves and then entered NYC urban station Hot 97's mix. It ran up Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart, peaking at no. 6, while Moses became the only reggae album to enter Billboard's R&B Albums chart for '98. Reggae's pop crossover hopes soon settled entirely on this musical chameleon's slim shoulders. Those hopes have been more than fulfilled in the past few years.
All dancehall's current urban chart rulers including Sean Paul and the kinetic Elephant Man owe a debt to dancehall's King and his "Who Am I"/"Girls Dem Sugar" one-two punch. In 1998, the Jeremy Harding-produced "Who Am I" took reggae dancehall to the top of America's hit parade; the Neptune's concussive "Girls Dem Sugar" remix, released in 2000, ensured the tune and dancehall - an amazing two year-plus shelf life high on urban music charts.
"You got to know how to be in the business," Beenie Man said at the time. "You have to be always on your foot, and one day the door will open, trust me. I was born to be smooth, not to be boasty, not to push my luck further than it can go, to maintain a strong spirit and be loving to the people."
The Doctor, Beenie's equally booming fifth international solo set, offered up hardcore reggae tracks that appealed to Yard and international audiences alike with its inventive twists on dancehall style. The CD added to his already crowded trophy collection as seven of the 14 tracks reached number one in the reggae arena. They included the rousing left-field opener, "Gospel Time," featuring a huge gospel chorus and Beenie raising his voice unto heaven to preach: "Shake that bootie that Jesus gave you!"
"You can't be a normal person and do music," Beenie observed of the album. "You have to be crazy and try things. If it work, it work. If it don't, it don't. I try crazy things and it always work."
An abundance of musical gifts, countless hits, the true entertainer's sense of humor, natural magnetism, and a strict professional work ethic won Beenie Man a 5 record deal with Virgin Records. With Art and Life, the longtime reggae vet's first American major label release, Beenie Man set himself to the task of strengthening dancehall's links to its hip-hop cousin. Art and Life went on to win the Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 2000. The mission continued with 2002's Tropical Storm, also created at the crossroads between dancehall and hip hop.
"I've been everywhere in the world, learned a lot about the business and matured, and dancehall has been elevated in the past few years," says Beenie Man, who can't help but know that today's dancehall tsunami wave is due, in large part, to his efforts. "I see myself as doing for dancehall reggae what Marley did for roots reggae," he continues. "I'm proud of myself, but I know that international fame can last for only about five years. I want to be international and stay national - that's a long lifespan."
Beenie Man's spirit has been tested countless times in the past, but never so sorely as the first two months of 2004. On January 15, he was driving alone out of Kingston, heading for a dancehall party in Mandeville, about an hour and a half away, when his Hummer overturned as he tried to negotiate new road construction. His life-threatening injuries included broken ribs and a collapsed lung that required emergency surgery and extended hospitalization. Only 6 weeks later, on February 24th, Paul Tyrell, Beenie Man's longtime road manager and a close member of the Shocking Vibes studio/management family, was shot to death as he drove his Toyota in Kingston.
Despite these devastating loses, as always, Beenie Man insists on keeping on keeping on.
"I always take the negative and make it a positive because it makes me stronger," he says. That resolve to spin gold out of straw, plus his faith in his musical roots, is already being confirmed with the runaway success of Back to Basic's wicked dancehall grinder, "Dude," currently number one in Jamaica and headed for the same on Stateside urban music charts. That roots spirit and resolves motors the entire tour-de-force that is Back to Basics. Beenie's vivid turn on the bad bwoy-sexy-hilarious "Dude" is just the first of a series of knock-you-out hits this album delivers, like the equally hookalicious "Love all Girls" and "King Of The Dancehall" (the album's first single). Back to Basics doesn't just ensure the Dancehall King's reign back home, it's also guaranteed to catapult Jamaica's most appealing entertainer into front, center of the world stage. And this time, for good.
--- from the official Beenie Man website