One of Jamaica's most innovative artist, Beenie Man's recording career dates back to 1981. Although it was behind the turntables where everything began, by 1994, he became a force to be reckoned with in the music scene. Every country has its child stars; but few treat their prodigies with the respect Jamaicans do. Talent competitions would lead to TV/radio appearances and even recording contracts, but what's truly amazing is how many of these young stars and starlets continue a successful career into adulthood. Beenie Man is a prime example of never losing touch with his fans. He proudly embraces his Jamaican roots and for that, he remains a reigning king in his country, the Caribbean and across the board.
Moses Davis, better known by his stage moniker Beenie Man, was born in the tough Waterhouse district of Kingston, Jamaica on August 22, 1973. By the time he was attending grade school, the toddler had already decided on a career as a DJ. His first big break came when he was only eight, when he took first prize at the national Teeny Talent contest. This led to a meeting with one of the most influential and prolific producers of Jamaica, Henry “Junjo” Lawes, who recorded the diminutive DJ's debut single, "Too Fancy." Fellow Jamaican heavy-weight producer Bunny Lee then took the boy under his wing and put him to work at his Unlimited Sound System, which in Jamaica, are known as production studios. By 1983, the youngster found himself appearing on Lawes' Junjo Presents Two Big Sounds, which was recorded live and featured such DJ heavyweights as Dillinger and Fathead. Along with Unlimited, Beenie was also DJing at Prince Jammy's Volcano Sound System, and had a hit single to his credit, "Over the Sea," produced by Niney Holness. Shortly after, he released his debut album The Invincible Beenie Man, the 10 Year Old DJ Wonder, which was produced by Lee. He recorded some songs with Barrington Levy in 1984, two of which, "Under Mi Sensi" and "Two Sounds," would resurface in remixed form later in the '90s. Beenie Man continued performing and honed his craft beside the then dominant dancehall figures including Ninjaman, Admiral Bailey and Shabba Ranks. He found his artistic home at the Shocking Vibes studio, where he continued to record singles with only moderate success towards the end of the decade.
Not surprisingly, Beenie's younger brother, Little Kirk, was keen to follow in his brother’s footsteps, and five years later the siblings hooked up with producer Patrick Roberts and began recording a series of singles that quickly brought them into the national spotlight. In 1992, Beenie appeared at the popular Reggae Sunsplash Festival and was received with open arms as fest-goers praised the young lad. A year later, fellow reggae artist Bounty Killa and Beenie teamed up for the collaborative album “Guns Out”; the album was a result to the end of a very public feud between the two. The collaboration further proved that violence is never the answer to resolving a dispute.
It was evident that Beenie had a major change of heart, further evidenced by his single "No Mama, No Cry," a version of Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," a scathing indictment of violence, inspired by the murder of fellow Jamaican artist Pan Head. The song topped the Jamaican charts and brought Beenie further acclaim. Jamaica's violent crime rate remains shockingly high and affects people at all levels of society. Many of these crimes go unsolved, Pan Head's included, and add to the emotional devastation that loved ones feel when they loose a loved one to senseless crime. Beenie, too, was affected by these events and Sly & Robbie, the producers of the sngle "No Mama, No Cry" single, were instrumental in guiding the young man towards his conversion to Rastafarianism.
A new attitude and a new hit single instantly turned Beenie's career around. Now working with all of the island's top producers, Beenie recorded a slew of singles, many of them religiously themed, “Praise Him” and “World Dance” (which took the Best Single Award at the Jamaican Music Awards) included. The hits-heavy “Defend It” and “Dis Unu Fi Hear” were both released in 1994 and combined more culturally themed raps with a hardcore dancehall sound. Many of these singles, were rounded up on Gold by the British Charm label. Beenie's stardom was confirmed by his taking the Artist of the Year Award that same year. Signing to Island Records, Beenie released the seminal Blessed album, which featured another array of hits, including the dancehall smash "Slam.”
While in the U.K., Beenie fired the British dancefloors with a jungle remix of "Under Mi Sensi." 1995 also brought a pair of collaborative albums, including Three Against War, which united the DJ with Dennis Brown and Triston Palma, and Mad Cobra Meets Lt. Stitchie & Beenie Man, a tag-team dancehall affair. Joined by Lady Saw, Beenie also scored a major hit with "Healer" that year, just one of many successful collaborative singles that included "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," which paired him with Third World. By the end of the year, Beenie was a shoe-in for the Artist of the Year Award again. The year 1996 brought Maestro, Beenie's first album under a major label overseas. Produced by Patrick Roberts, it was a stunning effort featuring a kaleidoscope of moods. The following year proved to be his break out in Britain, when his and Chevelle Franklin's "Dance Hall Queen" bounced up the national chart. Both that single and its follow-up, "Who Am I," were number ones back at home, while the latter rocketed its way into the U.K. Top Ten. In fact, Beenie Man could now do no wrong, and many of his singles flew their way up the Jamaican charts that year and the next. The autobiographical Many Moods of Moses features a number of these smashes, including "Oysters & Conch" and "Foundation."
He was invited back to the Reggae Sunsplash Festival in 1998, this time as the headlining act. Beenie Man's first real break into the United States came in 1997. He heard an instrumental rhythm by an unknown producer named Jeremy Harding, and demanded to add his voice to the rhythm. This was the birth of his hit in the states; he recorded "Who Am I" and the single quickly went Gold. It opened the doors for the world to see a new reggae star in the pages of Newsweek and other major media outlets. Shortly after, Beenie signed to Virgin Records in the U.S.; The Doctor was the first fruit of this new union and was an instant dancehall classic. The year 1999 brought the King Jammy-produced album Y2K, which never actually mentions everyone's greatest fear that year -- the millennium bug, but does take on a host of other world issues, from AIDS to illiteracy. And the hit singles just kept on coming, and coming, and coming! Beenie was unstoppable, whether on his own or with other artists, and at times the Jamaican charts seemed to be the star’s private preserve. "Hot Bwoy" with Buccaneer, "Mi Nu Walla," "Forget You," "Ruff Like We" with Redrose, "100 Dollar Bag," "So Nice" with Silvercat, "In This Together," "Skettel Tune" with Angel Doolas, and "L.O.Y." are just a sampling of the singles released between 1999 and 2000. The Art & Life album, released in the new century, showcased the artist at his most eclectic and included guests Arturo Sandoval and Wyclef Jean. This album garnered him his first Grammy award for Best Reggae Album. The following year, Beenie reunited with Jean behind the mixing board to produce the debut album by actor Steven Seagal. Janet Jackson, the Neptunes, Lady Saw, and Lil' Kim all turned up as guests on 2002's Tropical Storm, the Beenie Man album with the most crossover appeal. During this time he received an impressive number of international music awards, while remaining at the top of the local charts. Back to Basics, released in 2004 was just that, a straight-up return to dancehall. The hit-collecting compilation From Kingston to King of the Dancehall appeared in early 2005, and Undisputed, which featured production work from Scott Storch and Don Corleon, among others, was released the next year.
Today, much of Beenie Man’s story remains untold. The myriad articles about Jamaican artists being kicked out of the US may sell magazines, but they tend to overshadow the artist prodigious and influential body of work. In short, there’s nothing like the Beenie Man Experience. Every album is a parallel universe where piercing rhymes are paired with up-beat riddims and ultimately urban-carib cultures collide.
Beenie Man is about life and truth, and he is successful because he is truly an entertainer in the timeless tradition...
It’s high time this pioneer receives the accolade he so richly deserves.
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