Music surrounded the young Beenie Man. With his mother and many siblings, he lived in a government ‘tenement’ yard in the Waterhouse area of Jamaica, where regular rasta nyabinghi drum and chant sessions attracted the neighborhood’s many musicians, including Black Uhuru, and the Wailers’ Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Bob Marley. Improvising at a local talent contest at age six, Beenie Man was spotted by the controller of the Shocking Vibes label, Patrick Roberts. “He was talent itself,” Roberts recalls. Beenie Man remembers that night. “I won the concert out of about fifty artists. I never lost a DJ contest. I have to go to school and my mother don’t have no money. I would win $25 JA and two boxes of beer for a contest; the beer was my shoes and school uniform money, the $25 JA was my lunch money. I had to win.” Football and music are traditional escape routes from the ghetto. Indeed, Beenie Man was selected to attend many schools because of his strength at football. But a broken foot made him realize, “Music is my only hope.”
Much time was spent at King Tubby’s Studio with the engineer, Jammys, who would let the gifted youth sing a track and then give him a cassette to play for his friends. Then, during a temporary split with Roberts, Beenie Man cut “The Invisible Beenie Man, Ten Year Boy Wonder” with producer Bunny “Striker” Lee. It became a global reggae hit, though Beenie Man’s rewards were in experience, rather than finance. Pursuing his dream, Beenie Man often had it rough. He slept on streets and beaches and went hungry. Escaping the rigors of Jamaican ghetto life, Beenie Man traveled to England, America and then Canada, where Roberts tracked him down and insisted he come home to make music. “I sat there for three years and nothing happened,” Beenie Man recalls ruefully. Ultimately, collaborations with the production team of Sly and Robbie and artists like Luciano and Barrington Levy propelled Beenie Man on until he was voted Jamaica’s DJ of the year in 1994, a position he has since maintained. In that same year, a collection of remakes of Beenie Man’s local hit, “Blessed,” was released in a short-lived deal with Island.
But it was 1997’s autobiographical The Many Moods of Moses album, boldly mixing dancehall with Zulu Harmonies, that broke Beenie Man big internationally. “Who Am I?” charted R&B as well as topping reggae charts for weeks. Its country track, “Ain’t Gonna Figure It Yet,” even became a hit in Nashville. Now, with the powerful production of Art & Life, Beenie Man has achieved a compelling synthesis that will ignite listeners everywhere. Concludes Beenie Man, “I’m an entertainer who entertains all people. I do standup comedy, I act (he starred in the Jamaican hit, “Dancehall Queen”). I do everything. On Art & Life, you not only see me alone, you see the world through me, like I am your guide. “It’s a fullness that we reached.”