With a career spanning more than three decades, there aren’t enough hours in the day to list the success and iconic attributes of Beenie Man, the people-crowned King of dancehall. The Grammy award-winning artist earned his revered status by gracing the world with his party-starting chats on riddims, topping charts globally in the process. Beenie Man is a living legend, and we all know why: “Who Am I”, “Dude”, “Girls Dem Sugar” and “Feel It Boy” are just a few of the reasons, and his contribution to music is etched firmly in history.
Born Anthony Davis in Kingston, Jamaica, 47-year-old Beenie has returned to the UK after 12 long years, and it’s been 13 years since the release of his last album, Undisputed. We were reminded of Beenie’s trailblazing legacy in May of last year, when he went up against fellow dancehall legend Bounty Killer in that phenomenal Verzuz battle. The reaction on social media and the increase in streams for both artists was the perfect set-up for him to drop some new music on us—but you don’t rush the King. Having spent months recording new material, Beenie is now finally gearing up to release his new album, Simma, which is expected within the month and includes features from the likes of Sean Paul, Shaggy, Popcaan and Giggs. He’s no stranger to iconic collabs either, working with everyone from Janet Jackson and Mya to Wyclef Jean and The Neptunes over the years.
We had a sitdown with Beenie Man to discuss the new album, Simma, whether or not dancehall gets the recognition it deserves, that epic Verzuz battle, UK rappers, and more.
“The greatest thing in this life is that I’m still here and I’m still relevant. No one can take that away from me.”
COMPLEX: It’s been a long time since you were last in the UK—12 years, to be precise. How does it feel to be back?
Beenie Man: It’s been great, you know. Of course, there were circumstances as to why I couldn’t come to the UK before now, but for us to be here again is a great feeling. We returned here to promote the new album, Simma, but next time we will come back and enjoy it. It’s a great feeling to be back, definitely.
Jamaica just celebrated its 59th Independence Day, and for such a small island, it’s had such a huge impact on the world when it comes to music and culture. As one of the most well-known artists from the country—an icon, in fact—who are some of your inspirations from JA, and why?
My inspirations are Jimmy Cliff, General Trees, and the one and only Ras Michael. Not only are these artists my inspirations, they’re like uncles to me—they actually encouraged me to be a musician. Without their encouragement, I wouldn’t be here today. These guys are my role models, so it’s more than music.
Last year, during the height of the pandemic, you did a Verzuz battle with Bounty Killer. We definitely needed that. How did Swizz Beatz and Timbaland initially reach out to you for it?
Well, Swizz Beatz has been a friend of mine for a long time; he called me on the phone and told me that he would love me to do Verzuz with Bounty Killer. Swizz knows Sharon Burke, who is part of Bounty’s team, and she pulled it all together. I didn’t like how the Wi-Fi connection was set up sometimes, with the two screens, and the poor connection making it so you can’t hear the songs properly. So we decided to do it together—live in the flesh, with our DJs—because the music would be stronger and there would be fewer problems. And the vibes were magnificent! We had fun and everyone could tell from the energy. If I don’t enjoy myself, that means everyone else won’t enjoy themselves. Energy feeds on energy. You guys wouldn’t have felt the energy with us if we didn’t have it in the first place. Bounty and I came to entertain the people, and we did that.
The entire world’s reaction to that battle was so heartwarming. Dancehall has played a massive role in Black British music—from slang and mannerisms to production and flows—but do you feel the genre gets the appreciation it deserves on a wider level?
We don’t get it, no. Every time an artist outside the genre, who does a dancehall song, changes the name of the music—they would call it ‘Caribbean twist’ or ‘tropical beat’—they never call it what it is: dancehall! Where is the appreciation in that? It’s diluted and I think people outside the culture steal our sound when they have the chance. However, we from the dancehall culture allow that to happen. A lot of music actually comes from dancehall, and it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
“Music means everything to me, being a musician is everything to me. I never wanted to be anything else! I used to stutter as a kid, so music opened doors for me I couldn’t even imagine.”
You have a new album on the way called Simma, which is noticeably named after your 1997 smash, “Sim Simma”. Why did you decide to go this route with the title?
People have been talking about how I haven’t produced an album for a long time. Time is a virtue, indeed, and the aim of the album is to come and take over the white noise. Why? Because the King is here! It’s just me in my element. We also have great collaborations from Sean Paul, Giggs, Popcaan, Shaggy, Bounty Killer and more. Every feature on the album is a No. 1 song. Quality, quality and quality! The entire album is great. I think people would love the Giggs feature. The Giggs collaboration is straight murder—he killed it!
The legendary Teddy Riley is executive producer on the album. How did that connection come about?
Teddy is one of my bredrins from long time! I’ve been a star for a long time—he’s one of the producers I connected with and we have been cool for over 15 years. So the line-up only made sense for me and, of course, Teddy. We created magic together and I’m excited for the people to listen. We are finally making music together, and it’s good music, for sure. It’s been overdue.
Your last studio album, Undisputed, was released 15 years ago. Why the hiatus, and what have you learnt throughout the years up to this moment?
We’ve always made music but it’s been all about the vibes. We don’t have a contract from a record label, so there isn’t a deadline for when the album should drop. We just needed the right distribution so the album won’t go to waste and give it the actual justice. We are making hits, good music, and everything is in perfect timing.
What’s your take on the new school of dancehall acts such as Skillibeng and Shenseea?
I would say the music is very different because of the form of rapping. The new era has that flavour of dancehall but it also has a strong hip-hop influence. The yutedem have a new style and they are running with it. I can only respect that. They still keep the essence of dancehall. All I can do is to watch them.
Do you have any UK artists that you listen to right now?
I listen to a few artists: Giggs, of course, I like M1llionz—we actually linked up recently. There’s a range of artists that I know more by song.
What does music mean to Beenie Man?
Music means everything to me, being a musician is everything to me. I never wanted to be anything else! I used to stutter as a kid, so music opened doors for me I couldn’t even imagine. I’m not an electrician but I know how to do it and even plumbing, I know how to do that. But music’s in my DNA, in my soul, and it has always been there for me. Music is my life. I don’t care about any opinions about myself. I am me and I keep it true to myself, so I don’t need validation from others. The greatest thing in this life is that I’m still here and I’m still relevant. No one can take that away from me.