With the ‘90s came a wildly energetic wave of new dancehall kings and queens whose names spread far beyond Jamaica. His first album to get an international release, Blessed left no doubts in the world about what Beenie Man could do. Thanks to his multi-octave vocals and witty lyrics, Beenie Man’s skill set was wide enough to extend from club-friendly fare like the steamy “Tear Off My Garment” to the jubilant “Man Moving,” one of several with a gentler vibe. Whichever direction he took, the results benefited from the deft production style of Patrick Roberts—whose work with Lady Saw and Lieutenant Stitchie is just as strong—and the faultless rhythmic foundation provided by the legendary rhythm section, Sly & Robbie.
That duo’s presence was just one sign of Beenie Man’s deep roots in an earlier era of Jamaican riddim and sound. On Blessed’s more thoughtful tracks, Beenie Man explores the religious and political themes that had been a major part of reggae before losing prominence to ragga’s accelerated tempos. “Presidents and prime ministers, none you can blame,” he attests on Blessed’s fiery-minded title track. “Two of dem a play inna rich man’s game.” “Freedom” combines a lament about the “Babylon system” with an irresistibly warm melody.
There’s no doubt Beenie Man can start a party, too. Two exhilarating hits full of the hooks, grooves, and great big bass that helped define dancehall’s new digital age, “Slam” and “World Dance” established the singer and DJ as an international force. They also paved the way for his later collaborations with Wyclef Jean and Janet Jackson, along with further cross-pollinations between Jamaican rhythms and American hip-hop and R&B.