While Beenie Man is one of the most musically recognized artists in the world, his strong opinions and dynamic personality often garner him as much attention as his music. His rise to fame started in his home of Kingston, Jamaica, and led him to pop icon status in the United States after two decades of hard work.
Beenie Man made his recording debut in Jamaica at the tender age of eight, and released a slew of overseas hits from the Caribbean to the U.K. He finally made his U.S. debut in 1998 with The Doctor, followed by The Art and Life in 2000. The latter spawned the hit songs Girls Dem Sugar and Who Am I, making Beenie Man a household name.
The Dancehall King stirred up a huge controversy in 2004 when his song lyrics regarding homosexuality, particularly on the song Damn, brought him some harsh criticism from every direction. Despite the trials he went through with the public and press, Beenie Man maintained his focus, and is readying his new album Undisputed for a July 2006 release.
We sat down with him in New York for a few minutes on the set of the Lil X-directed video for his new single with Akon, Girls. He didnt have much time due to the hectic pace of the day, but Beenie Man did have a lot to say about his roots, and his passion for reggae and dancehall culture.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: How did you get introduced to deejaying dancehall music so early?
Beenie Man: I started without trying – the day I was born. I started doing music professionally at age five, and from then you know the rest, the rest is history. Ive been through many deejay contests, like battles against other artists. As a kid I was kicking the most conscious and the most deadly lyrics at the time so I never [had much] competition back in the days. Age eight I did my first single because of a competition that I won [at a] talent show, its still going on in Jamaica right now. So thats back in the 70s, 79 coming up to89
All of this production was going on [where the] sound system was making live albums, so artists like me who [were] usually easy on the sound system, I was the man on the microphone for [selectors] like Volcano, Lees Unlimited, King Jammys. All of these veteran sounds from back in the day, [like] Black Star. So this is how I came to -. Ive been through four decades, and Im not 40.
AHHA: You mentioned deejaying battles. The call and response is so huge in Jamaican culture, and just Caribbean culture in general. How important do you feel that those battles were to your development of your art, and how important do you think they are now to new artists?
Beenie Man: Back in the days [in] battles never was a man bad minded [where he would] hate you because you were living a better life than [he was] at the time. A battle was all about who was the best artist, who was the toughest artist that had the toughest lyrics and could last [the longest]. That was nice back in the days when you had Ninjaman clashing with Shabba Ranks, Supercat clashing with Ninjaman. It was always Ninjaman that pushed the war.
Now when I busted forth on the scene and started getting popular within the music I got competition from Bounty Killa, Capleton and Sizzla. They say the hotter the battle the sweeter the obituary, [so] I just laugh at them. The problem is I come from a foundation of the music, they just came into the music. They see me and they want to fight me, that makes no sense. This is my thing, this is not your thing. The way I respond to them is experience, experience teaches wisdom. I come from the soundclash days, so how can you come in late and try to clash with a man who knows what clash is, where clash comes from and what it can cost? You cant clash with a man like that.
AHHA: How has your conversion to Rastafarianism influenced your music?
Beenie Man: Its not a conversion, I was born this way. I just never grew my locks out. Im always a Rasta man – never a Luciferian, never a Christian, never none of those things. I have been given limited time, and Im blessed to know what life is – what the world is and what the world is made of. Religion is a mind thinking, its a belief thing and I dont believe I know what Im doing in life, because to believe you have to think about it and I dont think about nothing. I just go ahead and do it.
So I can not be tricked, I want to be one of the few chosen that might be chose to lead us. I can not be tricked, Im not gonna follow a man whos [been preaching] religion. I dig [the] Muslim [religion] because they are older than Christianity. Christianity is 6000 years of age one year in the God almighty cycle and thats one just like the 7000 years. Its good that I know these things, and that Ive rised up my mind to be strong and [stopped living in that mindset].
Thats how I do and this is my life. I believe in my ancestors from Ethiopia and Ghana, I believe in those things. I believe in the ancestors, I believe that they are the ones that built up the earth. I believe that they are the ones that protect us and are responsible for us. I believe that if a man is living the right way, the almighty is God and if hes living the wrong way under the almighty is a God. Thats my life, I dont need to go to a church for me to think that.
[My music comes from] an open mind, its not a conversion. Its not for me to take my thing to you, you live a different thing. I deal with life you deal with belief, your mind is gonna say, Thats not the right thing to follow that man there, because you know that I dont need a man to lead me. I have my own mind and my own settings. I know that every man wakes up and sees the sun, and every night he sees the moon I believe in the nature, if waters not there [you will be] thirsty. I believe in those things. If a man cant have any conversation with me [without talking] about things and places, then me and him cant talk. I talk about nature; this is real life, love of self and not politics.
AHHA: We all know about the role that Bob Marley played in introducing the world to the music of Jamaica. On May 11th it [was] the 25th anniversary of his untimely death. Do you think that the music has evolved any in these last 25 years since his passing and if so, how?
Beenie Man: The music got bigger, we have all types of reggae music. reggaeton, R. Kelly reggae, all types of reggae. Nobody can surpass [what Bob Marley did] and nobody can do [what he did] because its been done already. You have to do what you do, and when you do what you do everything [will be] good.