In 1997, backed by the playground riddim, Beenie Man blared through airwaves and into eardrums all over the world, asking the infamous question: “Who got the keys to my beemer?” And just like that, America absorbed dancehall. The song itself did well, peaking at #17 on Billboard’s R&B singles charts, igniting a fire for more fast paced, bumptious music, knighting Beenie Man as the ambassador for Dancehall.
He delivered, with quick successions of hits including Romie and Girls Dem Sugar with Mya. Choosing to collaborate with international artists was one of Beenie Man’s earliest innovations. By positioning himself as, well, the King of Dancehall, and having popular American artists feature on his songs, he pushed Dancehall’s influence much farther than just the island of Jamaica. His testing of the waters is what paved the way for artists like Sean Paul and Mavado and sadly, the Baha Men (they had that one song).
Working with artists from different genres is a practice that Beenie Man has adopted throughout his career. Since he arrived on an international platform he’s worked with Janet Jackson, Shawnna, Wyclef Jean, Akon and Nicki Minaj. What’s kept him lasting through the ebbs and flows of music is how easily his signature zagga can adapt to different styles.
He’s gearing up to release his 22nd album after a seven year hiatus and mainstream dancehall, as with many genres, has moved into the electronic realm. It’ll be interesting to chart how his album is received outside of Jamaica, but if his track record is any indication, it won’t be long before he’s back on the throne.
We sat down with him and asked him about the crossover success of dancehall, how he decides who he’d like to work with, and how he manages to constantly reinvent himself.
I am not the smartest one in the room. I am the one that’s here to learn.