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The fan’s guide to Beenie Man and Bounty Killer’s epic dancehall rivalry

What you need to know before this weekend’s latest Verzuz Instagram Live battle, ’90s dancehall edition.

The fan’s guide to Beenie Man and Bounty Killer’s epic dancehall rivalry
Beenie Man (left) and Bounty Killer (right). [Photo: Jerritt Clark/Getty Images (Beenie Man); Scott Gries/Getty Images (Bounty Killer)]

The next #Verzuz is taking us to Jamaica, with a classic 90s-style sound clash between two dancehall giants: Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. Both men are beloved in the dancehall community and are credited with helping the genre transcend Jamaica’s borders and win worldwide acclaim.

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It’s not surprising that dancehall blew up given that it is a cousin to hip-hop—another dominant musical genre rooted in African musical traditions. It’s worth noting that some of hip-hop’s pioneers in the United States come from Caribbean backgrounds, and like hip-hop, dancehall began to develop in the late 70s with deejays (in the United States we call them rappers or MCs) toasting. Toasting is the art of lyrical chanting or sing-talking over rhythms (riddims)⁠—think along the lines of spoken word and rap but in patois.

Dancehall blew up in Jamaica in the 80s, and by the 90s it started to spread around the world—following the Jamaican diaspora as there was an emigration boom from the Caribbean to places such as Toronto, New York City, and the United Kingdom. The world was already familiar with reggae by then, thanks to Bob Marley, and people sometimes refer to dancehall as reggae, but they are different. Reggae is laid back, with slower, more relaxed rhythms, and you will find more traditional singing. Dancehall is a subgenre of reggae, but it’s driven by the deejays sing-rapping over high-energy drum- and bass-driven riddims, a constant outpouring of new dances (with songs sometimes being specifically created for the dance), new slang, and people gathering at the bashment (party) decked out in fishnet tank tops and colorful fashion stylings galore.

Dancehall remained esoteric to communities with large Caribbean populations until the late 90s. By then, Bounty Killer had a lot of hip-hop collaborations under his belt with the likes of the Fugees, Mobb Deep, and more, but Beenie Man had achieved crossover success as dancehall (and Beenie’s sound) had gone pop, and the world had also been introduced to Elephant Man and Sean Paul.

However, there is no discussion about dancehall’s impact on the world without mention of Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. The Grammy Award-winning veterans have long, storied careers as well as a long-standing rivalry that’s about to come to a head—once again—on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.

Dancehall fans are probably brushing up on their bruck-ups, butterflies, bogles, and whines, as they prepare to reminisce over some rum punch or a bottle of Ting for a major Memorial Day Weekend mood.

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But if any of the above sounds like another language then keep reading for a brief breakdown on why Beenie Man versus Bounty Killer is the perfect #Verzuz pairing.

Origin stories: Beenie Man

Beenie Man, born Anthony Moses Davis in Kingston, Jamaica, has lived many lives over the course of his musical career. The 46-year-old self-proclaimed “King of the Dancehall” got his start toasting at age five. Beenie Man’s uncle, Sydney Knowles, played the drums for reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff and encouraged his nephew to explore his musical interests. When Beenie Man was eight, he won a national competition called the Teeny Talent Show, where more people began to take the child prodigy seriously.

He continued working on music, and by the time he was 10 he released an album titled The Invincible Beenie Man: The Ten Year Old Wonder. The album was produced by Jamaican hitmaker Bunny Lee and gained Beenie Man more public recognition. Beenie Man continued recording for a few years after that but then took some time off to focus on school.

He reemerged as an adult in the early 90s and began releasing a slew of music, much of which became hits.

He released his first international album, Blessed, in 1995, and began topping charts in the U.K. and Jamaica, as well as gaining popularity on the dancehall scene in New York with hits such as “Slam” and “Tear Off Mi Garment.” By 1997, the stage was set for Beenie Man’s United States takeover. He released his first U.S. album, Many Moods of Moses, that year, followed by The Doctor the next year, and Art & Life in 2000, which came out at a time when Sean Paul and Elephant Man were also climbing international charts.

By this point, the world was familiar with Beenie Man signature tunes such as “Dancehall Queen,” “Who Am I,” “Dude,” and “Girls Dem Sugar.” The dancehall titan has collaborated with the Neptunes, Sly & Robbie, Janet Jackson, Wyclef Jean, and more. His last album, Unstoppable, came out in 2016, but he has continued to perform.

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Origin stories: Bounty Killer

Bounty Killer, born Rodney Basil Price, also grew up in Kingston. He lived in multiple slums, where he witnessed and experienced gun violence. He channeled much of what he saw into his music and made a name for himself as a street-savvy rude boy with an aggressive flow and penchant for gun talk. He also talked about corrupt authority and established himself as a fearless personality in dancehall. His father owned a small sound system and encouraged his interest in music when he was nine, but he started making a name for himself in music as a young adult in the 90s.

His original name on the scene was Bounty Hunter, but he changed his name to Bounty Killer by 1992. One of his earliest hits, “Dub Fi Dub,” became a dancehall smash in 1993, and that was followed by continued success, which had reached New York City’s underground scene. He released his debut album, Jamaica’s Most Wanted, in 1993, and it was later rereleased internationally under the name Roots Reality and Culture.

Bounty Killer continued releasing well-received music, and in 1996 he dropped a 20-track double album, My Xperience, which featured past hits but also new material that included collaborations with such American hip-hop stars as Busta Rhymes, Jeru the Damaja, and the Fugees. He also collaborated with Swizz Beatz on the latter’s compilation album, G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories. Bounty Killer had other notable hip-hop collaborations as well, with Noreaga, Mobb Deep, Killah Priest, and the Cocoa Brovaz, which made him a dancehall favorite in the hardcore rap community. He also made a guest appearance on No Doubt’s “Hey Baby.” He released his last album, The Mystery, in 2002, but also continued performing live around the world.

The beef

The rivalry between the two men is legendary in the dancehall world.

Similar to hip-hop, their competition was about who was the greatest of all time. It started in about 1992 with Beenie Man. At that time, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer had respectively established sizable buzz, but Beenie Man felt it was time to knock out some of the competition. He targeted Bounty Killer, after accusing him of stealing his catchphrase, “people dead.”

However, Bounty Killer accused Beenie Man of being the real swagger jacker, and they went back and forth lyrically until they finally clashed in person in 1993. The epic event took place at Sting, Jamaica’s longest-running stage show, which is considered to be one of the most important reggae and dancehall shows in the genre’s history. It’s where artists can showcase their talent and fans decide who reigns supreme—kind of like #Verzuz, but in person.

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Remember what it was like to watch concerts in person?

Anyway, there is footage of the Bounty Killer and Beenie Man clash at Sting, where you can see Beenie Man performing blissfully but then Bounty Killer storms the stage and rudely interrupts by chanting, “People dead!” It was unplanned but led to what some people consider one of the greatest Sting clashes of all time because Beenie Man didn’t back down.

Not once did either man get violent. They did a lot of talking over each other and let the music speak for itself as the crowd cheered them on. In post-show interviews, they stated that it was just a game and that there were no real hard feelings between them.

Here’s a snippet for review:

Guns out

Sting wasn’t the only time Bounty Killer and Beenie Man had crossed paths.

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In 1994, they released a joint album titled Guns Out where they went back and forth over the course of 12 tracks. This was supposed to be them settling their differences, but it was really just another chapter in their long-standing frenemy relationship, with ebbs and flows.

Things got really shady outside of music in 2006, when Beenie Man married Michelle “D’Angel” Downer. Downer had been Bounty Killer’s longtime girlfriend at one point [*sips Ting]. Beenie Man and Downer divorced in 2011, and Beenie Man and Bounty Killer have since been seen on stage together, with their last appearance at Reggae Sumfest in 2019.

They will meet again on Saturday, but let us hope all is well with the Digicel, because the last thing we need is Wi-Fi drama.

Here are some memes full of lots of Jamaican pride and dancehall enthusiasm for your preparation purposes:

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