Jamaican Music

From Archrivals to Legendary Dancehall Idols, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man Traded Amicable Lyrical Barbs at Reggae Sumfest 2019

In was at the 1993 stage show at Jamworld in Portmore, Jamaica known as ‘Sting’, which used be held annually on December 26th—commonly referred to as Boxing Day—where the entire country was seemingly overwhelmed by pandemonium as, dancehall entertainer, Beenie Man was in the midst of his performance when it was rudely interrupted by a menacing chant ‘People Dead’….‘People Deadd’….‘Deaaddd!!’  A startled Beenie Man quickly realized what was afoot.  That is, the figurative yet sorrowful exclamation which was heard throughout the Jamworld venue was echoing from the microphone of his fierce archrival, Bounty Killer, who had barged on stage as if he was a gladiator to challenge Beenie Man to a lyrical clash live, direct and unannounced at what has become known simply as ‘Sting 1993’.   Well, at Reggae Sumfest 2019 these same two dancehall icons met again on stage, only thing is that this time they were on much friendlier terms—to the delight of the massive audience that was on hand.

Bounty Killer on stage at Reggae Sumfest 2019 – Montego Bay, Jamaica

Born under the name of Rodney Pryce, Bounty Killer, was raised in the gritty inner-city West Kingston community of Seaview Gardens—which lies in the often violence torn area of Riverton City.   Not too far from there is Waterhouse—yet another hard scrabble neighborhood in West Kingston, Jamaica.  Moses Davis, who is popularly known as Beenie Man in Jamaica’s vibrant dancehall scene, hailed from Waterhouse.  Going beyond music and entertainment, it is also noteworthy that Shelly Ann-Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica’s world renowned sprinter and Olympic Champion (as well as World Champion) in the sport of track and field is also from that community.   In switching back to the musical genealogy of Waterhouse, King Jammy, who was a magician where producing reggae and dancehall music is concerned, also has his recording studio based in Waterhouse.  It was King Jammy’s brother, Uncle T, who first noticed a youngster who would always be hanging around outside Jammy’s studio and putting his talents on display for all to see—oftentimes challenging and putting down his competition in quick order.   The young lad who was creating such an impression outside Jammy’s studio went by the name of ‘Bounty Hunter’ at that time.  An audition platform in many ways, there was also an area within Seaview called ‘Superstar Corner’, which was where ‘Bounty Hunter’ had been honing his microphone skills for purposes of deejaying his lyrics in the dancehalls of Jamaica.   In those days, Seaview was no stranger  to spawning big time dancehall acts.  After all, dancehalls first bonafide international superstar, Shabba Ranks, came from Seaview.  And so as a result of Shabba’s rise to fame, ‘Superstar Corner’ was where Bounty Hunter and other dancehall deejays were afforded the chance to prove their worth to producers in the Jamaican music industry.  It became apparent that Uncle T ceded his control over Bounty Hunter to the studio’s owner, King Jammy, once Jammy was impressed and inquired about Rodney Pryce. At some point in that shuffle, ‘Bounty Hunter’ changed his name to ‘Bounty Killer’ in that his competition in the dancehall were not simply going to be hunted, but actually lyrically eliminated.  As it happened, Bounty Killer’s first major studio gem to hit the airwaves was titled, ‘Coppershot’ which was released in 1993 on King Jammy’s 5 Star General Riddim.  Fittingly, as a result Bounty donned the moniker, ‘5 Star General’—among many others that he’d pick up over the course of his much storied career. From then onwards, Bounty Killer’s hit parade then just rolled on and on with songs like:  ‘Down in the Ghetto’, ‘Poor People Fed Up’, ‘Suspense’, Eagle and Di Hawk’, ‘Living Dangerously’ (recorded with Barrington Levy), ‘Sufferer’, ‘Benz and Bimma’, ‘Can’t Believe Mi Eyes’, and ‘Hey Baby’ (recorded with the international pop group, No Doubt).

Meanwhile, another young star in dancehall was on the rise in the Waterhouse community just the same.  Born under the name of Moses Davis, Beenie Man was a musical prodigy in that at the tender age of nine years old he recorded with the famous Bunny Lee.  And so then, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer proceeded to release hit after hit from the studios.  But according to Bounty Killer, it was King Jammy alone who he used as a vehicle to propel his career to the top of the heap of dancehall deejays in not only Kingston, but the world over.  Where Beenie was concerned, arguably his biggest crossover-style hit on the international scene was the infectious ‘Who Am I ?’ (Sim Simma…Who Got the Keys to Mi Bimma?).  That song seemingly took the world by storm.  But before Beenie had risen to those heights, Bounty Killer was convinced that Beenie had imitated his style in many ways—without any acknowledgement.  Well, while that is certainly up for debate it is arguable that Bounty’s belief in Beenie’s thievery of his style and pattern, consequently touched off a multi-decade lyrical war between him and Beenie Man.  All the while, Beenie Man just kept piling up the hits in his own right:   ‘Romie’, ‘Slam’, ‘Rum & Redbull’, ‘Ole Dog’, ‘Girls Dem Sugar’, ‘World Dance’, ‘Memories’, ‘Dengue Fever’, ‘King of the Dancehall’, and so many more.

Beenie Man on stage at Reggae Sumfest 2019 – Montego Bay, Jamaica

As an aside, it is worthy of note that Bounty Killer also has an eye for spotting talent and nurturing up-and-coming artists on their way to stardom.  In this respect, it was Bounty Killer who brought up Elephant Man, Mavado, and Vybz Kartel—all of whom had reached mega stardom in Jamaica and beyond courtesy of Bounty’s assistance and tutelage.  And along the way, Bounty Killer also has been referred to as ‘Di Poor Peoples’ Governor’ after the release of his politically laced recordings such as:  ‘Down in the Ghetto’ and ‘Poor People Fed Up’ where Bounty lashed out at the Jamaican government for what he viewed as transgressions against poor people and ‘ghetto yutes’ throughout the Kingston inner-city landscape.  What’s more, Bounty has always been steadfast in giving back to Kingston’s inner-city community by distributing school supplies to the underprivileged as well as lending a hand in painting over the Kingston Public Hospital (which treated him for a gunshot wound he suffered as a 16 year old youngster).  And for that reason, Bounty Killer says he’s forever indebted to the hospital.

Bounty Killer – Reggae Sumfest 2019 – Montego Bay, Jamaica

Against this backdrop, these two dancehall icons, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, treated the masses that gathered to revel in Festival Night I (a.k.a. Dancehall Night) at Reggae Sumfest 2019 in Montego Bay to a performance segment for the ages as both legends strutted their stuff and traded lyrics to many of their songs live and direct against each other—which ignited the Sumfest crowd since the segment was reminiscent of ‘Sting 1993’.  However, this time around Bounty exclaimed during their set that this was not about Beenie vs. Bounty, but rather it was about Moses and Rodney.   And during their joint performance, Beenie Man humorously quipped, “mi a war wid Bounty Killer for over 25 years.”  And so it was, the Bounty and Beenie saga captured in one sentence, but yet their dominance in dancehall endured for over two decades while each artist shall surely forever remain in the annuls of Jamaica’s musical history and folklore in recognition of their sheer dominance.  In the eyes of many, the musical feud between Bounty Killer and Beenie Man served to nourish both of their remarkable careers—which many artists in the industry nowadays can only envy—in terms of the consistency and creativity that they both were able to sustain for so long.  Not to say that it’s not possible, but it is doubtful that Jamaica will ever see such a dynamic duo that went at each other’s throats, and yet became so magnificent after the dust from their many skirmishes has finally settled.   In a recent interview, Bounty Killer stated that it was never personal where the feud between him and Beenie was concerned.  Rather, it was a constant competition and quest that they both undertook in order to show Jamaica and the world at large which one of them was ‘di baddest’!  Now folks, that is another debate, in and of itself, that can easily go on for another two decades.

Bounty Killer and Beenie Man together on stage at Reggae Sumfest 2019 – Montego Bay, Jamaica

Photography by Nick Ford, who lives and works in South Florida.

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Nick Ford