Beenie Man has been a star in Jamaica for 20 years. The Kingston production legend Bunny Lee spotted his talent early and recorded his debut, The Ten-Year-Old DJ Wonder, in 1983. The international market has been slow to catch up but, with a Grammy award under his belt and a new album featuring Janet Jackson and the hip-hop megastar producers the Neptunes, the man christened Moses Davis is on course to be the first global dancehall superstar.
Or possibly not. The heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis and the Mercury prize-winner, Ms Dynamite, may be there to show their support, but even with the balcony closed off, the venue is barely half-full when Beenie finally takes the stage. He arrives, a wiry, athletic figure in pony-tailed dreads, exhorting the crowd to wave their hands in the air as he goes into the high-pitched mock indignation and gruff cod outrage of "Down Girl."
Struggling with a muffled sound system, Beenie Man's crowd-rousing tactics are stretched to the limit, and it's an uphill struggle to raise the temperature and atmosphere. But eventually he does, with his irrepressibly upbeat personality filling the wide open spaces in the hall. Unlike many who have known success at a young age he's refreshingly free of preciousness. His considerable vocal skills – he specialises in the teeth-shivering, jaw-on-a-fanbelt chatter – and lewd theatrics are delivered with infectious humour.
His physical resemblance to the great Wyclef Jean is unfortunate, as he covers a much narrower stylistic area. His forte is simple celebrations such as "Party Hard", and a repertoire of onstage gymnastics that leave no doubt about the phallocentric thrust of many of his rhymes.
The show lacks momentum, losing pace every time the music stops and he addresses the crowd, the sound system rendering the jokes, observations and bragging indecipherable. But there's a winning, childlike mischief that pulls him and the crowd along; towards the close, he has them joining him in a mass display of pogoing. He brings out several members of his crew for intense verbal duels, underlining the fact that his art is rooted in traditional forms, probably not what the record company had in mind when they signed him up.
At one point he bowed in mock gratitude, thanking "all the white people" who'd turned out to see him. He ended with a version of the Civil Rights anthem "We Shall Overcome", and told us that his recent chart entry with Janet Jackson was the most important thing to happen to reggae since the emergence of Bob Marley. A far-fetched claim, but it's hard not to admire his gall.
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