Two decades later, Beenie Man and Mya return
It was the simmering dancehall hit, Who Am I (Sim Simma), that introduced dancehall sensation Anthony Moses Davis, or as many would know him, Beenie Man, to the world. Recorded and released in 1997, the playful confidence of the deejay is showcased on the Playground Riddim, produced by Jeremy Harding and DJ NuMark. And not long after, it gave birth to another Jamaican hit, one which saw many labelling him “the girls dem sugar”.
With the creative contribution of The Neptunes and featured artiste Mya, Beenie Man’s Who Am I reincarnated with a new sound and style fit for international audiences in 1999, suitably named Girls Dem Sugar.
The reggae-dancehall and R&B fused production peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the number 54 spot and also climbed up to the number 16 spot on their Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart. It was also included on Billboard’s 12 Best Dancehall and Reggaeton Choruses of the 21st Century and had significant influence on Beenie Man’s Art & Life album walking away with the Grammy award for Best Reggae Album in 2001.
Internationally, the track was a success, and, according to Beenie Man , a lot of this success was owed to perfect timing, song choice and collaboration.
“I merged two songs that were huge in the US market at the time (Girls Dem Sugar and Sim Simma) and because listeners of reggae and dancehall were familiar with the lyrics, ‘sim simma, Beenie Man a di girl dem sugar, sim simma, di girl dem world-class lover’ the energy of it was easily contagious,” Beenie Man told The Gleaner.
“Also, the rhythm was the first from The Neptune’s musician and producer Pharrell Williams; their style was just different, unlike any other sound at the time, and Mya being a big star, Grammy-nominated, with the right sound to balance the vibe – all that we wanted to achieve was achieved,” he added.
The two superstars stayed connected over the years and longed to get back on track, musically, he says. “We still communicated, she is a good friend of mine.”
Mya’s genuine love for dancehall and reggae and West Indian culture on a whole is recognisable in her collaborative efforts with many Caribbean artistes, among them Kevin Lyttle, Ky-Mani Marley, Wayne Wonder and Sean Paul.
“Her vocals are smooth, innocent and warm like the Caribbean; she has a clean energy and style that I rate as a fan of her music, and I know Jamaicans love her sound too, but with music you know it’s about timing – when it’s right you do it,” Beenie Man explained.
“Zagga zow, ziggy zow, zagga zow, two decades later, Beenie Man and Mya deh yah again now.” This time, they are on another track that not only features elements of Jamaican music but another popular Caribbean genre – soca. The two have reconnected to put out another great collaboration, titled X-Rated, that also features Sekon Sta, an emerging soca artiste and son of calypso royalty Dennis ‘Merchant’ Williams.
The dancehall deejay, dubbed the King of Dancehall, says he and the entire production team for the newest single on the Yard Jam Riddim are not taking anything for granted. There is even the probability of the My Love Is Like Whoa R&B singer visiting Jamaica for the carnival road march to record the video for the single.
“The inspiration for the collab was the carnival season and man and woman relations; one thing for sure we not moving lazy with the melody, lyrics and production,” he said.
Beenie Man is known for recording soca singles Gyal Yuh Bad, Jump and Whine, No Gyal and Wine Yuh Waist, and he is featured with Eastern Caribbean artistes such as Machel Montano, Kes, Kerwin DuBois and Bunji Garlin in a large catalogue of fête music. He did this at a time when many diehard fans of the genre did not fully accept the integration between soca and dancehall. Despite this, he claims that it was not difficult to get persons to accept his sound on the soca beats because it all comes down to good music.
“Good music is the best introduction to any audience no matter the language or the country,” he emphasised.
Regarding what some see as the need for more locally produced soca songs, Beenie Man commented, “I hear a lot of dancehall on the road march so I don’t think we need to make soca songs specifically for carnival, but as entertainers we have to incorporate other sounds in the catalogue; can’t sound one way all the time.”