Jamaica Won, The Culture Won—no doubt about it—But Which Selections Won?
Why was this night different from all other Verzuz battles? Streamed live from Kingston, Jamaica, the Memorial Day “Soundclash Edition” of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s flagship IG Live series was easily the most exciting and entertaining yet, as well as the first to delve into dancehall reggae. Considering the fact that Jamaican sound systems pioneered the sort of “beat battles” have made Verzuz a social media sensation well over half a century ago, the creative decision was more than fitting. By pitting two icons of the genre, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, in head-to-head competition, this Verzuz battle did not just showcase two of its most respected lyricists ever to hold a microphone, it also tapped into an epic rivalry that stretches back more than a quarter of a century. Audio & Video After The Jump…
Back in 1993 the youth born Moses Davis in the Waterhouse section of downtown Kingston was already on the second leg of his career — having released his first album a decade earlier at the age of ten. Young Rodney Price, formerly known as Bounty Hunter, had just started to make noise under his new artist name Bounty Killer, recording hardcore hits for the legendary Waterhouse-based producer Lloyd “King Jammy” James.
Like all young aspiring artists, Killer had looked up to Beenie as an inspirational figure — until he felt that the artist had borrowed his style. Beenie and Bounty’s face-to-face clashes, especially their Boxing Day battles at the storied Jamaican stage show Sting in 1993 and 1995, are the stuff of dancehall legend. Despite whatever differences may have existed between them, both artists channeled all that energy into great records — many of which were played in the heat of the Verzuz battle.
The Beenie and Bounty battle was not a “clash” in the traditional Jamaican sense, but it was hardly a conventional beat battle either. Where other Verzuz episodes have featured semi-retired artists and producers reminiscing on old songs of yesteryear, Bounty and Beenie remain active and relevant artists. Predictions that the island’s WiFi might not be able to handle the strain were soon dismissed — in keeping with Jamaica’s long tradition of raising the bar when applying technology to create next-level musical entertainment. In fact, this was the best-produced beat battle of them all. On the other hand, this was also the first time a Verzuz competitor has had to take a break in the action to negotiate with police officers.
When Beenie and Bounty spoke with Boomshots x VIBE one day before the performance, they both declared that they would not be preparing for the battle as the art of war should be spontaneous. These statements had people on tenterhooks as no one really knows what would happen on the night. Of course, the celebrities were out in full force for this highly anticipated battle, with everyone from Diddy to Swizz to Rihanna coming through to catch the vibes. It was the only place to be if you were on IG, with more than 400K people checking in at the event’s peak—and over a billion impressions when all was said and done.
This was surely also the first Verzuz battle to be live-tweeted by a prime minister: PM Andrew Holness took to his official Twitter to declare “Jamaica’s culture is global” and share a screenshot of the action. In keeping with the national pride, the battle opened with a rousing rendition of the Jamaican National Anthem.
This was truly a night when Jamaica and its culture won. But it was also a battle—albeit one based on mutual respect as well as a rivalry. Big up Billboard for shining a light on dancehall music and culture. Having said that, let’s get to the tunes from the top to the very last drop.
Beenie Man’s “Matie” vs. Special Ed feat. Bounty Killer’s “Just a Killa”
Beenie kicked things off with his first No. 1 hit (on the Jamaican charts) in honor of the late great Bobby Digital, the legendary producer of this song and countless more, who passed away May 21. Bounty opted to open on an international note, leading with his first hip hop collaboration, a 1995 single by Brooklyn rapper Special Ed featuring a guest verse from young Bounty.
Beenie Man’s “Memories” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Suspense”
Sticking with the hardcore dancehall, Beenie reached for one of his fan favorites, a mid-’90s banger on the “Hot Wax” riddim that was recorded during the height of his great lyrical war with Bounty Killer (and sampled by Drake on the album version of “Controlla”). Killer responded in kind with a track on the same hard-hitting riddim, making this round feel like a flashback mid-’90s dancehall session.
Beenie Man’s “Slam” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Living Dangerously”
Shifting into another gear, Beenie drew for his first Billboard hit, a tribute to the sexual prowess of “ghetto girls” recorded on Dave Kelly’s irresistible “Arab Attack” riddim. Bounty responded with one of his most popular songs for the ladies, a collaboration with reggae vocalist par excellence Barrington Levy. Counteracting a classic with another classic, this round was too close to call.
Beenie Man feat. Chevelle Franklin’s “Dancehall Queen” vs. Diana King feat. Bounty Killer’s “Summer Breezin’”
Keeping the energy high, Beenie unleashed this soundtrack cut from the movie Dancehall Queen (in which he also appeared). Bounty responded with a relatively obscure guest verse on a record by Jamaican pop hitmaker Diana King.
Beenie Man feat. Lil Kim’s “Fresh From Yard” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Jeru the Damaja’s “Suicide or Murder”
For his first international selection, Beenie chose a DJ Clue production featuring the Queen Bee in her best Brooklyn Jamaican patois mode. Killer kept it BK with a grimy Jeru collab produced by New York’s own Massive B productions.
T.I. feat. Beenie Man’s “I’m Serious” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Mobb Deep’s “Deadly Zone”
Sticking with the hip hop collabs, Beenie dropped T.I.’s first major label single featuring a hard-as-nails Neptunes beat and a street-certified Beenie Man hook. But he should have known that badman business is the Killer’s wheelhouse. Bounty clapped back with a grimy Mobb Deep collab off his My Xperience album and took the round.
Guerilla Black feat. Beenie Man’s “Compton” vs. Bounty Killer feat. The Fugees’ “Hip-Hopera”
Beenie dropped his third straight hip hop crossover track, this one a guest verse for Biggie soundalike Guerilla Black over a bouncy Stalag Riddim. Bounty brought out the big guns, returning fire with a Fugees collab. As the Warlord would say, “People dead!”
Beenie Man’s “Romie” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Worthless Bwoy”
Returning to straight-up dancehall, Beenie served up one of his worldwide club classics, a song about a girl named “Romie” set to Shocking Vibes’s hard-driving version of the Punany Riddim. Killer replied with a Dave Kelly banger burning out the guys who lack the stamina to satisfy their significant others.
Beenie Man “Old Dog” vs. Bounty Killer “Stucky”
Beenie Man has plenty of classic dancehall joints, and this Dave Kelly sure shot is one of the most ubiquitous. “Old Dog” recounts his exploits with the opposite sex, shouting out female dancehall stars Patra and Lady Saw along the way. Bounty replied in kind with his own kind of “gyal tune,” more rough than sweet, just the way Killer likes it.
Beenie Man feat. Mya “Girls Dem Sugar” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Nona Hendryx & Cocoa Brovaz “It’s a Party”
Beenie closed out the first half of the battle on a strong note with one of his most beautiful records, a Neptunes remake of one of his immortal dancehall classics (originally voiced on Shocking Vibes’ re-lick of the “Punany” riddim) adorned with a sweet hook sung by Mya. Bounty’s response was strong, but the Wyclef-produced party joint (with a hook by the former member of Labelle and bars from Boot Camp MCs) fell just short of Beenie’s selection.
Beenie Man feat. Wyclef Jean’s “Love Me Now” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Swizz Beatz’ “Guilty”
Flipping catchy lyrics over Naughty By Nature’s classic “O.P.P.” beat, Beenie sounded strong on this Wyclef collab, but Bounty countered with a hard-hitting Swizz Beatz track featuring a blazing guest verse from the Killer.
Beenie Man feat. Barrington Levy’s “Murderation” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Look”
The vibes were sweet right up until the moment when officers of the Jamaican Constabulary Force interrupted the action. Beenie took care of the situation, informing the police that there were hundreds of thousands of people watching internationally. He then asked his DJ to run one of the hardest tracks in his catalog, a song about abuse of authority in the ghetto streets. It was such a perfect segue the whole thing almost seemed planned. Killer had no choice but to counter with one of the most powerful songs in his catalogue, another Dave Kelly masterpiece, just barely winning what was arguably the strongest round of the entire battle.
Beenie Man’s [Showtime Juggling] vs. Bounty Killer’s “Fed Up”
Still charged up by the unexpected visit from the police, Beenie felt a vibe and decided to perform his next song live. Starting out with “Hypocrite,” a blistering broadside against haters on Dave Kelly’s “Showtime” riddim, Beenie’s performance inspired Bounty to join in for what became a multi-song medley that included snippets of Killer’s “Eagle & The Hawk” and “Bullet Proof Skin” as well as Beenie Man’s “Done Have We Things,” “Badman Medley,” “Bury Yuh Dead,” and “Fire Burn.”
After they wrapped up their explosive tag-team performance, Beenie calmly stated “My song dat,” indicating that he wanted the whole extended set to count as one song. Bounty retaliated with “Fed Up,” one of his signature reality tunes that cemented his reputation as Jamaica’s “Poor People Governor.” Another close round, and highly unorthodox. Advantage Killa.
Beenie Man’s “World Dance” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Gal”
Beenie Man took it back with one of his biggest early hits, a “buss the dance” selection on Shocking Vibes’ Cordy Roy Riddim. Killer’s response was another hardcore tune for the girls, explosively energetic and lyrically intricate.
Beenie Man’s “Modeling” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Model”
Taking it back to the early days of his career, Beenie served up a song designed to inspire all the “bashment girls” in the dance to show off their freshest outfits and most exciting moves. Killer responded in kind with a similar type of song, every bit as lyrically precise as Beenie’s was melodic, making this round a dead heat.
Beenie Man’s “Oyster & Conch” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Benz & Bimma”
Sticking with the “gyal” segment, dancehall’s “Doctor” prescribed a musical aphrodisiac, stressing the importance of seafood in your diet. Killer responded with a dancehall smash likening his appreciation of the female physique to his fondness for expensive European automobiles.
Beenie Man’s “Dude” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Greatest”
Beenie delivered yet another Dave Kelly sureshot, this time on the festive Fiesta Riddim. Killer responded with a wicked but relatively obscure 2003 track on the “Hydro” radio, basically conceding this round.
Beenie Man’s “Hmm-Hmm” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Cham’s “Another Level”
As the battle neared its final rounds, Beenie played this hard-hitting Tony Kelly production and grabbed the mic to chat his lyrics live and direct, showing that dancehall artists of a certain age are still in top form lyrically. Bounty replied with a musical killshot on Dave Kelly’s Clone Riddim, joining forces with Cham to take things to “Another Level.” Feeling the spirit, Beenie grabbed the mic and spit a verse over Bounty’s record.
Beenie Man “Nuff Gal” vs. Bounty Killer “Cry For Die For”
Beenie changed up the pace with a jazzy tune for the ladies featuring a swinging horn section. This 1996 Jamaican single could have been a bigger hit for Beenie if it had the right promotion, and still sounds great all these years later. Bounty Killer responded in similarly eclectic mode with a jaunty track voiced on a Riddim based on a sample of The Champs’ 1950s rock & roll “Tequila.”
Beenie Man’s “I’m Drinkin’ (Rum and Red Bull)” vs. Bounty Killer’s “Smoke the Herb”
Beenie closed out his regulation 20 rounds with one of his biggest crossover hits, a collaboration with Fambo that somebody at Red Bull should probably sign up for an endorsement deal. Bounty Killer responded with perhaps his greatest ganja anthems. This one was too close to call. Pick your poison.
After running a couple of exclusive dubplate specials — “War Uno Want” by Bounty Killer and a Buju Banton and Beenie Man collab on the M.P.L.A Riddim -— Beenie and Bounty served one final tune. ”Why Beenie saved one of his signature songs, 2004’s “King of the Dancehall,” for the 21st round is anybody’s guess. Bounty’s response (“Nuh Fren Fish”) was something for the hardcore fans only —- which was basically the point.
Wider Catalogue: Beenie Man
While both artists did a good job displaying the breadth of their respective repertoires, blending hardcore dancehall hits with international collaborations, Beenie Man showed off his versatility with a mixture of old and new dancehall hits as well as mixing moods and tempos.
Biggest Snub: Beenie Man (Point to Bounty Killer)
Beenie Man opted not to play “Who Am I” (aka “Sim Simma,”) perhaps his best known international hit. Not to be outdone, Bounty Killer also neglected to play “Hey Baby,” his high-profile collaboration with No Doubt from their Grammy-winning 2001 album Rock Steady. Still, Beenie’s oversight was the more inexplicable of the two.
Best Banter: Beenie Man
When police stopped by in the middle of the session and Beenie Man somehow kept his cool telling them “Officer, the whole world is watching… do we have to do this right now? Do you really wanna be that guy?”
Bounty Killer Speaks on Verzuz
Beenie Man Speaks on Verzuz