Beenie Man: Ruff ‘n’ Tuff

            Jamaica has a language all its own.  Anyone who has spent time with Jamaicans knows that. Yeah they speak English, but their English is special, full of cool words with special meaning only to Jamaicans.  They pepper their talk with words like ginnal (untrustworthy fellow), rhaatid (angry), irie (great, cool) and beenie (little).

            Moses Davis comes by his stage name honestly.  Known internationally as Beenie Man, he has been performing since he was five years old, playing major concerts by the time he was seven.  He began recording at eight, and at nine he topped the Jamaican charts with a single called “Too Fancy.” A Beenie Man for sure. 

            In the 19 years since, he has grown into one of the most famous and popular artists to emerge from the Jamaican dancehall scene, a veteran pro at the age of 27.  Live, he works an audience, keeping them in the palm of his hand from the minute he steps on stage.  Exceedingly versatile, his songs move from hard-core dancehall to lover’s rock. 

            Beenie grew up on the outskirts of Kingston, in the Waterhouse district, among musicians like Black Uhuru.  His uncle often toured with Jimmy Cliff.  “I was brought up amongst pure musicians,” he says.  “Me born to do the music.”

            Growing up among such socially conscious musicians as Cliff and Black Uhuru, Beenie’s songs started out reflecting that environment.  This came as the other Jamaican deejays started moving into their gangster phase -- drugs and guns dominated the charts.  Only in his teens, Beenie’s career seemed stalled.  Slowly, he moved in the direction of the other deejays, and songs like “Mobster” started moving up the chart.

            Beenie had another chip he could play.  He had grown from a boy into an artist Newsweek saw fit to describe as “killingly handsome.”  Sex became a prevalent theme in his music, and songs like “Miss Angela” started to hit the charts as well. 

            Another boost to his career came when he engaged in a war of words and answering records with fellow deejay Bounty Killer.  Each accused the other of stealing their style.  By 1995, he had one of Spin magazine’s singles of the year, the devastating “Slam.” The tune set off controversies when he dealt not with his own sexual prowess, but that of the women from his area of Jamaica.  Then came international hits like “Girls Dem Sugar” and “Who am I.”

            He has worked with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam on the soundtrack to the recent movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back and on albums by rappers The Wu Tang Clan, Wyclef Jean, and MC Lyte.   He has appeared on TV all over the world and made his film debut in the movie Dancehall Queen.

            Through it all, it’s always been about music for Beenie Man.  “I’m not a mechanic,” he told Newsweek’s David Gates, “not a lawyer, nothin’.  I’m just a musician, so you’re my employer.  I am employee.  I make music for you and you buy the music.  That’s how I get paid.  That’s the only job I know to do.”

            Fortunately for us, he does that job irie.