The pop smorgasbord on Beenie Man's previous major-label releases, 2000's Art and Life and 2002's Tropical Storm, disguised the vocal vigor of one of dancehall reggae's most charismatic artists. But on his first authentic dancehall album in years, Back to Basics, he displays an impressive, at times astonishing deejay flow, stamping his identity on some of this year's liveliest riddims from Dave and Tony Kelly, Timbaland, and Miami's Troyton Remi.
Libidinal energy dominates Back to Basics, as Beenie Man delivers incessant sexual braggadocio with varying degrees of vulgarity. Opening with "Dude," his irresistible duet with the teenage Ms. Thing, he guarantees the ladies a "proper fix." He appoints himself "King of the Dancehall" for his bedroom techniques ("Pon bed, pon floor, against wall"), not his mike skills; and exaggerates on "Dr. Know," "Girls walk in the sun to play with my big water gun." Even that sounds like a nursery rhyme compared to the crude boasting on "Doctor Mi Rate Yu" ("Hookers and hos want to give mi blowjobs") and "Pussy Language's" disturbing declaration, "Mi fuck a man's gyal mi nuh have no moral." Only the rousing "If I Neva God" and the dance craze-inspired "Set Away" deliver a respite from Beenie Man's laundry list of exploits.
Dancehall has always featured a "slack" element, with the most sophisticated practitioners cloaking their X-rated verse in metaphors and double-entendre. Beenie Man is only one of a current crop of deejays tastelessly expressing sexual themes, but as a 22-year veteran who has earned major hits by skillfully addressing everything from guns and girls to religion and racial oppression, his ribaldry should be presented with greater finesse.
After two crossover-tailored detours, Beenie Man is again on the right road with Back to Basics. But the clichéd, repetitive, and sometimes offensive lyrical content ultimately prevents him from reaching his ultimate destination: making a truly great dancehall album. -- Patricia Meschino