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The King Looks For His Crown - Beenie Man Searches For Rejuvenation With New Album And Record Deal {HeadLines}


Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Even with aluminium crutches supporting his injured right leg, Beenie Man still has the moves to bop to the jams rocking the control room of his Kingston studio. After an indifferent 2010, the self-proclaimed 'King of the Dancehall' is gearing up for another crack at overseas charts with a new album and record deal.

Titled The King In Control, the album is a one-off agreement Beenie Man has with the Universal Music Group through his MD Entertainment and VP Records. It will feature rapper Busta Rhymes and a possible collaboration with Trinidad-born rapper Nicki Minaj.

"Wha' wi want to si happen is Beenie Man back up there on the Billboard charts. Dat's wha' wi working on," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

It has been seven years since a Beenie Man song entered the Billboard. That came with Dude, taken from his Back To Basics album.

Dude went as high as number 26 on the Billboard pop chart.

Though his partnership with Virgin produced the Grammy-winning album Art and Life, Beenie Man said differences with executives and top-flight producer Jermaine DuPree soured the relationship.

While looking forward to working with a major company again, Beenie Man says he is better prepared to deal with whatever challenges may emerge.

"Wi haffi mek certain the album is right, dat it go in the right direction an' market," he stressed. "The album is called The King In Control. Yuh cannot be in control if yuh not in control of yuh business."

Virgin Records signed Beenie Man after his 1997 VP album Many Moods Of Moses sold over 300,000 units in the United States. This came on the strength of the hit song Who Am I which was produced by Jeremy Harding.

Not having a significant say in the final product, he pointed out, was his biggest problem with the bigwigs at Virgin.

"Virgin was all about making mi a pop artiste, which I'm not," he said. Recording a song (Feel it Boy) with Janet Jackson was Virgin's most ambitious strategy to push Beenie Man into the pop market, but it failed and the deejay called time on the association nine years ago.

He has maintained his profile as dancehall royalty, but Beenie Man has been surpassed in terms of popularity stateside by Shaggy and Sean Paul, whose albums sold millions internationally and drew Madison Avenue to dancehall.

Last year was an eventful one for Beenie Man and other dancehall heavyweights like his long-time rival Bounty Killer and Mavado.

Their visas were revoked by the United States (US) Embassy in Kingston, indefinitely cutting off a link to dancehall's most lucrative market.

Beenie Man admits the US Embassy action hurt initially, but said it gave him an opportunity to look beyond traditional markets.

"When yuh go to places like Brooklyn and Queens 10-15 times fi the year, it get monotonous an' yuh become like a local artiste," he explained. "Last year, wi went to places wi haven't been in a long time."

Africa, an increasingly receptive region for dancehall, was one of those places. Beenie Man performed in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2010.

Closer to home, he did dates in Guyana and the British Virgin Islands.

One-year absence

Beenie Man expects to have his US visa reinstated by April. He believes his one-year absence will be a plus when he returns to that country to promote The King In Control.

"The people dem a go waan hear everything from last year," he said.

His catchy Red Bull was one of the biggest hits in Jamaica for 2010 but the inability to travel and promote the song may have hurt its potential in the US.

Red Bull was produced by Sean 'Seanizzle' Reid, the latest in a long line of producers Beenie Man has worked with since he began recording at age eight for the flamboyant Henry 'Junjo' Lawes.

Born in Waterhouse, Moses Davis (Beenie Man's given name) has rubbed shoulders with some of the pioneers of reggae and modern dancehall. Bunny Lee, best known for his work with Delroy Wilson and Johnny Clarke, produced his first album when he was 10 years old.

He also recalls rocking the 'mike' with Yellowman on the Aces sound system during the early 1980s.

Beenie Man came into his own in the early 1990s with Shocking Vibes Productions, a Craig Town company led by savvy home-grown managers like Patrick Roberts and Clyde McKenzie. Shocking Vibes also nurtured the careers of Little Lenny, Beenie Man's brother Little Kirk and Tanto Metro and Devonte.

A string of hits for various producers and verbal clashes with fellow artistes kept him in the spotlight throughout the 1990s.

Blessed, a 1995 album for Chris Blackwell's Island Jamaica Records, was hailed by critics but sold poorly.

Many Moods Of Moses, however, was a revelation.

In addition to Who Am I, it yielded the hits Oysters and Conch, Foundation and Bad Man and opened doors for Beenie Man to work with top hip-hop acts like Wyclef Jean of The Fugees.

The hits never stopped but controversy has never been far away.

His split from wife, dancehall singer D'Angel, attracted as much publicity as their extravagant 2006 wedding one year earlier. Four years ago, the tax department disclosed that he owed $47 million in income taxes.

Beenie Man said he is currently working with tax officials to clear his debt.

However, the case caused a rift and eventual split with Roberts whom he accused of not properly monitoring his business affairs.

Aware that his personal life has often overshadowed his career, Beenie Man is determined not to be remembered as just another deejay.

"I waan leave a legacy so mi youth dem can live off. I don't waan be like a Baby Wayne, Simpleton, Major Worries or Dirtsman, God res' dem soul," he said. "I am the King of the Dancehall, I waan to go out as the king."

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