Murda She Wrote: May 2020

Behind the Bounty Killer/Beenie Man Verzuz battle, plus new tracks.

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Image credits, from left: Bounty Killer by David Corio/Redferns; Beenie Man by Johnny Nunez/WireImage.

“Zagga!” “Kaboom!” “Bullet!” The first moments of the big Verzuz battle between dancehall legends Beenie Man and Bounty Killer that lit up Instagram over Memorial Day Weekend may have sounded like a foreign language to the uninitiated. But of course Beenie and Bounty have a long history of repping Jamaican street culture internationally, and they soon reached out to any listeners who might have been confused. “Welcome everyone,” Beenie said. “This is dancehall music.”

As Beenie saluted and Bounty stood respectfully, the selector played the Jamaican National Anthem, showing just how serious a moment this was for everyone who loves Jamaican culture worldwide. DJ Kurt Riley fired off some air horns and laser-beam effects as the anthem faded, and the legendary session kicked off to an audience of nearly 500,000 live streamers — including Diddy, Nas, DJ Khaled and Rihanna, who typed “Brap! Brap! Brap!” in the comments.

Whereas most Verzuz battles feature artists of a certain age reminiscing about songs from yesteryear, Beenie and Bounty’s was more like gladiator school. For 70 thrilling minutes, two champion deejays went back and forth, tune for tune, never missing a syllable or going offbeat — even when the cops arrived to try and shut it down. When all was said and done, the event generated close to a billion impressions, according to Swizz Beatz, who created Verzuz with Timbaland. Let’s just say Beenie and Bounty represented their culture to the fullest. Through it all their quarter-century-plus rivalry was on display, always tempered by a healthy dose of mutual respect.

Beenie and Bounty may both be veterans in the game, but they are still very much active artists who drop new songs on the regular. Murda She Wrote is all about the hottest releases in the dancehall right now, but don’t get it twisted: The seasoned pros can still throw down just as hard as the young guns. So this month’s column is dedicated to the veterans in the biz still doing it today.

Bounty Killer & Konshens
“Gal Weather”

Bounty Killer, a.k.a. the Warlord, a.k.a. the GrungGaad, a.k.a. the 5-Star General, was born Rodney Price and grew up in Riverton, one of Kingston’s harshest ghettos. Starting his career under the name Bounty Hunter, he switched to Bounty Killer when he started making songs like “Coppershot,” which was inspired by a real-life incident in which he got caught in crossfire and was wounded by a stray bullet. The song blew up in New York and he became one of the biggest stars out of Jamaica.

Despite such hardcore songs, Bounty has always been an advocate for the youth, earning another alias, the Poor People’s Governor. And although he has enjoyed remarkable success throughout his career — collaborating with international stars including No Doubt, the Fugees and Busta Rhymes — he has remained involved with the people of Kingston, never wavering from his mission to speak on behalf of ghetto youths facing the same challenges he faced. “I was a member, one of the silenced community, so I have to be a voice for them now,” he told me in an interview just before his legendary Verzuz battle. As the head of a clique known as the Alliance crew, Bounty launched the careers of talented youths including Elephant Man, Busy Signal, Mavado and Vybz Kartel, to name a few.

Although he’s infamous for his “Cross, Angry, Miserable” persona, the Warlord’s mood usually improves when he’s in the presence of females. “More gyal to dilute me temper,” he requested on his 1995 hit “More Gal,” which Killer and Konshens have reworked to make a new song called “Gal Weather.” The smooth, summery celebration of females is perfectly suited for pool parties and beach trips — or it might even brighten a socially distanced quarantine meet-up. While showing his fun side on this track, Killer also released a harder-edged collab with Maestro Don, aptly titled “Pioneer.” Both tracks find his flow and rawness on point.

Beenie Man & Malica
“Wiggle Wiggle”

With hits under his belt like “Who Am I (Sim Simma),” “World Dance” and “Romie,” Beenie has put in enough work to earn the title “King of the Dancehall.” Getting his start in the mid-1980s, he dropped his first album at age 10 and grew up in the public eye, outlasting many of his contemporaries. “Remember, I was a child star, so when I grow up I have to buss again to prove myself as a man,” he told me in an interview conducted just before the Verzuz battle. He also shared that he would have a hard time choosing which 20 songs to play since he had “187 number-one songs.”

Thanks to Beenie and Bounty’s irresistible chemistry and charisma, their episode of Verzuz has gone down as the most popular event ever on the IG Live franchise. It’s safe to say that dancehall energy helped “buss” Verzuz to another level, shooting the series past the 1 million follower mark and leaving 112 and Jagged Edge with the unenviable task of following up Beenie/Bounty two nights later. After technical snafus dampened the vibes of that R&B battle, Twitterati commentators did not hesitate to ask Swizz and Timbaland to return to Jamaica ASAP.

You can’t blame the fans for getting hooked on the artist known as the “Girls Dem Sugar.” While introducing his first song in the battle, Beenie explained that focusing on the ladies has been a deliberate strategy. “Bobby Digital told me to make songs for the girls,” he stated of the recently deceased producer who lived in the same Waterhouse community where Beenie was born. Beenie heeded his advice, becoming a favorite with female fans thanks to hits like “Dude,” “Slam,” “Dancehall Queen” featuring Chevelle Franklyn and “Healing” featuring Lady Saw. His latest release with up-and-coming female artist Malica follows in this proud tradition, displaying the Doctor’s rapid-fire raunchy-but-fun lyrics over a wicked riddim courtesy of the great Bulby York. “If you happy and you love it,” Beenie says on the track, “go so Brap Brap!” Sounds like No. 188 is on the way.

Sean Paul
“Back It Up Deh”

This past March, Sean Paul celebrated the 20-year anniversary of his debut album, Stage One, released two years before his Grammy-winning breakthrough Dutty Rock. That album marked the start of a remarkable run for dancehall music on the international charts, a string of songs including Sean’s collabs with Beyoncé and Rihanna and stretching all the way to recent duets with Sia, Dua Lipa and too many other crossover acts to list here.

Still a global superstar after all these years, Sean Paul is also an accomplished producer. Earlier this month he dropped a new track called “Back It Up Deh” on his own Dutty Rock Productions label, where he focuses on uncut hardcore dancehall music. Just prior to the release we caught up on IG Live to talk about the song and video, which was directed by Kieran Khan, who was also responsible for Buju Banton’s latest music video, “Trust.” During our convo, SP revealed that he recently recorded his first-ever collab with Buju Banton. The song is called “Crazy” and will be released jointly on his own label and Buju’s Gargamel productions. Remember where you heard it first!

Agent Sasco
“Loco”

It’s been over two decades since 17-year-old Jeffrey Campbell wrote a song for Spragga Benz, impressing him enough that the ace DJ recorded the song, “Shotta,” on Steely & Clevie’s Street Sweeper riddim. Encouraged by Spragga to record his own music, the young DJ took on the name Assassin and became the first to voice on the massive Diwali riddim, scoring his breakout hit “Ruffest and Tuffest” in 2002. He would go on to collaborate with Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, and now records under the name Agent Sasco.

Sasco’s latest release is “Loco,” a banger produced by Teflon Zincfence, who made his name collaborating with Chronixx. His lyrical flow is as on-point as ever, offering a subtle critique of the reckless youths in the business who dabble with the gangster lifestyle even when their music career is popping. “A new generation a come up now / As dem get a buss a badness dem a chuck now.” Speculating that they may be “possed by the spirit inna them cup,” Sasco concludes that they must be “celibate because from don’t give a fuck now.”

Masicka
“Grandfather”

When I first met Masicka back in 2014 he was one of the hottest rising artists on the streets of Kingston. “No joke — sleepless nights, ups and downs” was how he described his grind at the time. “If you no determined you ah go give up,” he said. “So it’s just all about determination and you have to stay focused.” At that stage Masicka mentioned Bounty Killer as the dancehall artist who inspired him the most. “Bounty Killer stick to him word and Bounty Killer sing ’bout reality stuff,” Masicka stated. “Bounty Killer stand for something at the end of the day, so Bounty Killer would be my icon inna dancehall music.”

Six years later he’s not quite an old veteran, but Masicka has elevated his status in the game, and he even got the chance to collab with his icon. On his latest release, “Grandfather,” he plays the elder schooling his grandson. “Wi do tings different, yuh zeet?” In the song’s video, he sits in a wheelchair with gray hair, dispensing advice while burning a spliff:

Getting old now mi yute, soon gone
Load up di clip and keep yuh shoes on
Before yuh buss ah head, yuh seh two Psalm
Yuh know Jah wi’ forgive yuh fi ah few corn…

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