Review: Bounty Killer Verzuz Beenie Man, but Jamaica won

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection long predated the days of the classic 90s-style sound clash, but the concept applies: artistes best adapted to the musical atmosphere are more likely to survive and as long as there is some variation between them it leads to progression.

This was evident in tonight’s Verzuz social media battle platform created by hip hop moguls Swizz Beats and Timbaland which featured long-standing dancehall rivals Beenie Man and Bounty Killer. Their survival of dancehall’s evolution is owed to their diverse lyrics and international appeal so much that more than 450,000 viewers were tuned in for the “chune fi chune” battle between the musical giants.

The clash, in true ‘yaad’ fashion ran slightly off-schedule according to the anxious social media butterflies and 90s babies who sat listening to the mixing styles of Richie D (who was at the controls for Bounty Killer) and Kurt Riley (for Beenie Man). No doubt, the music being played which could be heard echoing in my own neighbourhood was a clear reminder to leave all things behind and get in front of a reliable mobile device to view this epic event – it would even appear as though some made a party out of the metamorphic online clash.

The proclaimed King of the Dancehall set example by making a punctual appearance. Clothed in a mock turtleneck paired with a black and gold geometric printed pants, Beenie Man coolly entered to the sounds of Frankie Paul’s Kushumpeng (Tusheng Peng). The look was completed with a jacket to match which he eventually removed as the clash got lit. Bounty Killer’s fashion was similar, royal-like in black and gold.

Beenie Man’s first set of tracks included Matie, which was more or less a tribute to the late Robert ‘Bobby Digital’ Dixon who produced the track that spread his name further in the streets but continued with Memories, Wickedest Slam, Dancehall Queen, Gyal Flex (Time To Have Sex) featuring Lil Kim and Bad Man.

Bounty Killer responded with tracks like Dangerously, the Summer Breeze collaboration with Diana King, Suicide or Murder and made sure his influence on dancehall’s connection to hip hop and inevitable crossover success did not go unheard.

With over 30 songs played and performed out of the dancehall deejays’ catalogues combined, the result of the Verzuz battle is still being weighed in the balance.

The ‘Five Star General’ fired back at Bad Man Beenie, “Diss bad man yuh get shot nuh, a me fire the most shot” turning the battle into a, as the collaboration with American hip hop duo Mobb Deep is titled, Deadly Zone. His next tune would be a year older than that, Hip Hopera featuring Fugees which further demonstrated Bounty Killer’s experience in the international genres.

Going back to the 90s, Wutless Bwoy and Old Dog as well as Stucky and Who Am I (Sim Simma) played in retort would have surely sent long-time fans into a frenzy.

The popular It’s A Party single with Wyclef Jean had international stars like Stefflon Don, Ace Hood, Eryka Badu, Keri Hilson as well as local hitmakers and personalities like Konshens, Popcaan and 100-metre world record holder Usain Bolt sending fire emojis non-stop in the live stream. Beenie Man also dug into long lost recordings with Wyclef Jean with Love Me Now, catching his opponent off-guard.

A minute-long interruption by law enforcement did not dampen the mood of the artistes if anything, it fuelled a fiery freestyle session with recorded lyrics injected at several intervals. The battle then reached its peak when Bounty Killer, who came armed with his own sound effects and dubs, brought out the big guns when he cued Richie D to play Vicetone and Tony Igy’s Astronomia, known as the soundtrack for the ‘coffin dance meme’ on social media to mark his opponent’s death. Beenie Man showed no signs of decomposing just yet, still deejaying and declaring, “I am the King of the Dancehall”.

While not as heated as their inaugural clash on a stage, Sting of 1993, the chemistry and more importantly the harmony between Bounty Killer and Beenie Man made it an entertaining show which will be recorded in the history books.

Or as Beenie Man put it, “It’s not history, it is.”

Both dancehall entertainers agreed their contribution to Jamaica’s music and culture is unbroken like their lyrics – the music speaks for itself.

“This is how we represent the culture; at the end of the day it is a sport – a musical sport – we “fulljoy” it,” said Bounty Killer as he gave a shout out to the fans worldwide.

Beenie Man chimed in, “Dem never know seh me and Bounty Killer coulda stand up yah suh as brother.”

Bounty Killer answered good-humouredly, “I never know either, you never know either.”

Bob Marley’s One Love was an appropriate outro to the friendly lyrical battle.

–S.T.