What Could Top This Legendary Moment?
The VERZUZ series led by Swizz Beats and Timbaland has been an oasis in the midst of a pandemic. Week after week, music lovers have enjoyed the nostalgia, the spontaneous comedy, and the opportunity to bring the proverbial roses to their favorite artists.
The anticipation was at a fever pitch when it was announced that dancehall giants, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, would headline VERZUZ for a Memorial Day soundclash.
Excitement mixed with anxiety. Dancehall fans have always wanted our music to receive its proper due on the global stage. It is a great genre that has birthed hip-hop, reggaeton, Afrobeat, influenced the sound of songs on the top 40 but does not always receive its rightful recognition.
For these legendary artists, their fans, and dancehall culture overall, the stakes were high, to say the least. Would the VERZUZ audience, primarily Hip-Hop and R&B fans, receive these giants well? Would their misunderstanding—or even worse, ridicule—lead to embarrassment? Story Continues After The Jump…
I spent the week of the clash expressing my excitement on Twitter and declared, with the non-dancehall audience in mind, that “Bounty and Beenie are the Bird and Magic of Dancehall.” It is often said in NBA circles that the league simply would not have survived without Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The NBA they entered was one with tape delayed games, a notorious drug problem, and a disillusioned—arguably, racist—fanbase. Bird and Magic elevated the league with their style of play, charisma, and classic competition with one another. In a similar fashion, dancehall was elevated to a global powerhouse in the 90s and early aughts by the brilliance of Bounty and Beenie.
One could not tell the story of dancehall and omit the contributions of Rodney Price and Moses Davis. Their friendship and rivalry has significantly colored the dancehall narrative for the last three decades. Many of us include their classics in the soundtracks of our lives. I have friends that still greet me by yelling, “Yallow!” or “That’s right! Ok!”. When I received admittance into my doctoral program, I celebrated by playing Beenie’s album The Doctor. Twitter user @chungover said it best, “FWIW these men are 46 and 47 respectively and have been famous my entire life. Im 31.”
Seeing these masters entertain nearly 500,000 viewers on Instagram made me tremendously proud. Abundantly so! This was Jamaica’s version of The Last Dance. Michael Jordan’s dominance has led to folklore and intergenerational disputes about the greatest. It is often difficult to convince people who were not there to see it when it happened. Time has a way of eroding the legacy and we, the ever forgetful public, need an occasional reminder. Basketball fans received ten episodes to either educate or remind them of how masterful Michael Jordan was in the 90s.
The comparison between these two dancehall icons and the man who is arguably greatest basketball player of all time is not much of a stretch. After all, Beenie Man has compared himself to Jordan on record before. Likewise, Bounty Killer paid lyrical tribute to Jordan and his comrades’ championship run on his track “Bulls of Chicago.”
Moreover, in an exclusive Boomshots interview conducted one day before the clash, Beenie Man referenced Michael Jordan—and The Last Dance documentary spefically—as inspiration for aspiring artists seeking to elevate themselves to legendary status.
Bounty and Beenie came through in the clutch like champions. They were able to give us nostalgia. They gave us comedy. They showed us how to resolve conflict with one another and with authorities. The energy was confident. They took their time to introduce the greatness of Jamaican culture and gave the world an education.
It was only right to begin the festivities with the Jamaican National Anthem. The lyrics of the anthem are a prayer that begins, “Eternal Father, bless our land.” One only needs to look at the outsized impact of this blessed island (with a population around 3 million) to see that prayer was answered.
Bounty and Beenie showed us the best of soundclash culture, the versatility required for toasting, dubplates and crossover smashes. For an evening I was a teenager in Brooklyn again, on my way home after a great bashment. You could see in the comments on Instagram as people grew impatient waiting for their favorite tune to be played. With catalogs as deep as they have, it is impossible to play everything but you would be hard pressed to leave that VERZUZ disappointed. Many have said, in my estimation rightly, that this has been the best installment yet. (If yuh nuh believe me, gwan guh ask Swizz!)
Saturday, May 23rd, 2020. The world got to see what dancehall fans have known for nearly 30 years. These are the best of the best. The Warlord and the King of the Dancehall showing that you get further when you go together. You get further when you take the responsibility to elevate the culture. You become legends when you embrace unity. Bounty and Beenie, the Bird and Magic of the dancehall fraternity, are masters of their craft and true national treasures.
The two Verzuz battles held since Bounty & Beenie’s—featuring R&B groups Jagged Edge and 112 and gospel stars Kirk Franklin and Fred Hampton—have fallen short of the buzz and excitement generated by Verzuz’s first foray into dancehall. Speculation abounds about which other Jamaican stars might match up in the future—even as Jamaican-owned platforms vie for the chance to build on the island’s culture. But in sports as in music, only time will tell.
Meanwhile, one week later, the effect of this legendary Verzuz is still being felt within dancehall world and pop culture on a whole, as these Instagram posts attest.
Bounty Killer Speaks on Verzuz
Beenie Man Speaks on Verzuz