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Beenie Man a-flexin'

by Terry Joseph
August 06, 2003
Trinidad and Tobago

Beenie Man
Beenie Man
Photo: guardian.co.uk

I am no fan of dancehall music but this week's demonstration of singular suppleness by Jamaican superstar Beenie Man, bending to accommodate a vigorous thrust from London's gay community, really (as his countrymen might say) "bogles" the mind.

Reminiscent of choreography more common to another native Jamaican dance, "The Flex", Mr Man made a turnaround that must be the envy of every contortionist. In four paragraphs, he moved from being the intrepid terrier dogging homosexuals at every opportunity-frequently instigating violence against them-to a whining and repentant poodle; cozying up to the very "chi-chi" men he spent so much of his career denigrating.

After 23 years of preaching a preference for loose women, guns and sex and with lyrics like "dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all queers", Mr Man, in a statement released Tuesday by his label, Virgin Records, buckled under a serious "bois" from the very men whose annihilation he was promoting up to recently.

The grovelling release said: "It has come to my attention that certain lyrics and recordings I have made in the past may have caused distress and outrage among people whose identities and lifestyles are different from my own. I do not write with the intent of purposefully hurting or maligning others and I offer my sincerest apologies to those who might have been offended, threatened or hurt by my songs."

Already predicated on rank dishonesty, the statement then turned decidedly rapturous: "As a human being, I renounce violence towards other human beings in every way and pledge henceforth to uphold these values as I move forward in my career as an artist." Blaming his previous stance on Jamaican culture, notorious for entrenched homophobia including mauling and murder of gay men, Mr Man said his music was only seeking to reflect the social policy of Caribbean people.

Well, Mr Man, don't take me with you on that trip. Worse, this sudden burst of contrition hasn't fooled me or, more importantly Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the London-based gay-rights group OutRage, who rejected the quasi-apology and called on the singer to show good faith by retrieving all his offending albums from music stores across Europe, buying up residual stock where necessary.

It is not that Mr Man has suddenly seen the light. Pivotal to this astonishing embrace of the boys is the release of his new album, Back to Basics, slated for August 16, reportedly a dramatic departure from earlier machismo, steering clear of contentious utterances masquerading under the nebulous banner of "conscious lyrics", a handy rhetoric that allowed performers of his ilk to (inter alia) promulgate violence against gays.

But Babylon isn't buying this cheap attempt at deception and since he must win over its people and indeed perform at the very Tower of Babel, Mr Man, no doubt bullied by bottom-line watchers at Virgin Records, decided to publicly recant in the interest of enhancing his chances of a breakthrough into metropolitan mainstream markets, where consumers think quite differently about these issues and respond by boycotting artistes touting archaic views.

His new position is therefore not parented by tolerance and empathy but adopts a pitifully transparent business posture, presumably inspired by the plight of another dancehall superstar, Shabba Ranks, who discovered to his detriment precisely how inappropriate small-town attitudes are in big cities. Tatchell, glowing from a successful anti-Shabba campaign on the same grounds, now turns his gun on Mr Man, saying the latter is still profiteering from murder music.

Mr Man, who turns 31 later this month, comes from the tough Waterhouse district of Kingston, Jamaica. He shot to stardom at age eight, taking first prize at the national Tiny Talent contest, which led to a debut single "Too Fancy" and two years later, an album titled The Invincible Beenie Man.

During his teen years, he worked with some of Jamaica's most famous recording artistes, including Barrington Levy.

As he approached manhood, his new "stylee" began to take shape. In 1992, after an appearance at Reggae Sunsplash brought him squarely into the public eye, Mr Man put fellow dancehall artiste Bounty Killer in the crosshairs for stealing his thoroughly trite catchphrase "people dead", engaging a public war that facilitated threats, which only subsided when their producers made a business decision to jointly release an album unsurprisingly titled Guns Out.

Since signing with Virgin, after headlining Reggae Sunsplash in 1998, Mr Man has been the toast of his genre, sought after by a hit parade of famous names for collaborative work, that list including Arturo Sandoval and Wyclef Jean, teaming with the latter to produce the debut album by actor Steven Seagal and attracting as guest artistes on his 2002 release, Tropical Storm, megastars like Janet Jackson and Lil' Kim.

It all seemed to be going well for Mr Man until he came face to face with the butt of his trademark barbs, one clearly not tickled by craftily worded apologies from Virgin's spin-doctors.

In the interest of a continuing relationship with Virgin and, of course, selling his new album, Mr Man may be called upon to do much more than pretend innocence or blame Jamaica. In fact, it will take a convincing demonstration of acceptance of gay lifestyles, perhaps a candlelight dinner with Mr Tatchell himself, after which they could, of course, go dancing and flex in a public place.

Related articles

04.08.2004: Beenie Man apologises for 'homophobic' lyrics
17.07.2004: Police seek Buju Banton after armed attack on gay men
26.06.2004: Chilling call to murder as music attacks gays
25.06.2004: Beenie Man concert axed over homophobia fears
07.11.2003: Reggae stars could be charged
03.03.2003: Interview: Buju Banton

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