Beenie Man album coverBeenie Man

[Virgin, 2005]


Kingston to King of the Dancehall is Beenie Mans 2-disc combination CD/DVD. One question surfaces, however: Who gave him the King of the Dancehall honor, or is it a self-proclaimed title? The DVD liner notes say that he is the undisputed King of the Dancehall. It makes me wonder if Bounty Killer, Sean Paul, Vybz Kartel, Sizzla, Supercat, Spragga Benz or Buju had a say in all of this. But I digress

The truth is, I was never a huge Beenie Man fan – he seems like a chameleon to me. When consciousness is needed, he comes forward with Jah tunes. When rudebwoy flex is all the hype, there is gangsta Beenie. Girl tunes. Gospel organ. Jazz sax. Hip-hop. Whatever is going on in the scene, Beenie adapts to the times. Some people say that this ability to adapt is a gift. But who is Beenie Man, really?

He is a great performer; I cant deny that. With all the energy he has in his beenie body, he outperforms nearly everyone in dancehall today. He has a seemingly effortless ability to hype up the crowd. I have seen him take the stage at diverse California festivals, and at homogeneous Brooklyn clubs. Whatever his audience, he gives it his full 100%. Certainly in person, he has a magnetic quality that draws people towards him.

Then there are the connections and the money that back him. He is featured in Vibe Magazine on the regular (the most recent article is in the June 2005 issue), and with Virgin Records behind him, his videos have a slick and polished look that make other dancehall artists salivate. He collaborates with Sean Paul, Mya, Janet Jackson, Elephant Man and Wyclef Jean. Even though hes got one foot in the American hip-hop market, his roots are still in Jamaica – Shocking Vibes, his production company, is quite an operation, producing great talents such as Tanto Metro and Devonte, Little Kirk, and others.

Beenie Man has recently weathered the storm of negative press with his anti-gay lyricsenduring show cancellations and inciting protests from gay rights groups. To calm the furor, he rationalized that battyman in his songs meant child molester not a homosexual. Wayne Wonder used a similar tactic a few years back when he claimed that battymen were any corrupt persons. Unfortunately, a few months after Beenie’s explanation, I saw The Doctor perform to a predominantly West Indian audience in New York where he said he would never apologize! and got a roaring ovation.

Despite this controversy, despite his personal and public rivalries with other artists, despite his near death car accident last year, Beenie Man endures.

At first, I found this curious. But with a deeper look, it really is not at all. Beenie Man is first and foremost a musician – he knows music, loves music, breathes music. He has put out some of Jamaica s most infectious hits. Who can forget Romie or The Girls Dem Sugar? What about Row Like a Boat, Who Am I, or dancehall favorite Slam? Hes had over sixty #1 hits in Jamaica during his 20 year music career, and received the 2001 Grammy Award for his CD Art and Life. Beenie Man is indeed a dancehall superstar with a formidable ego and I’ll leave it to others to decide whether or not his King title is deserved.

The DVD includes a 30+ minute documentary on Beenie Man’s career, directed by S.A. Baron. It features the artist himself, Shocking Vibes executives Clyde MacKenzie and Patrick Roberts, Wyclef Jean, Kirk Davis, and Red Stripe Summerfest footage. I thought the documentary was well done, although it shamelessly promoted the accompanying CD. I caught myself humming King of the Dancehall hours after I watched it, “Pon bed, pon floor, against wall, we sex them all till dem call me. And the girls dem sugar thats all. Welcome the King of the Dancehall.”

The DVD featurette is a great introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Beenie Man’s history, and his musical and social circles. He touches on the impact of his car accident, his Grammy win, the remakes of his older hits, his musical beginnings, and more. The most impacting scene was his demonstration of how the same dancehall beats mutate over time to end up as current riddims.

The DVD also includes seven music videos, and photographs by Jonathan Mannion, although they are unfortunately presented on a backdrop of chaotic colors and distractions.

Despite the somewhat corny setup of the cape, crown, scepter and throne on the title video, the music is tight throughout. The production is sweet. Each of these sixteen songs evokes a specific Beenie Man era – it’s fun to reminisce about when these songs came out. From Who Am I to Ole Dawg to Slam and Bookshelf to Bossman, Dude and more recently Row Like a Boat and the infectious King of the Dancehall. Remixes include the all-star roster of Wyclef Jean, Mya , Lady Saw, Sean Paul, Ms. Thing, and Vybz Kartel.

Beenie Man has an incredible talent to write catchy tunes. They’ve got melody, some harmony, and great beats (often the same ones over and over). But while Beenie Man has great flow, there’s good reason the lyrics aren’t published in the liner notes. I’ll leave it at that!

If you’re a Beenie Man fan, definitely check out this DVD. If you’re intrigued by Beenie Man and his life, I also recommend it. And if you don’t care about Beenie Man, I’m impressed you’re still reading this review.