Winding and Long

Page 3 of 3

"I don't go in there," he insists. "Them slavery museums, full of things taken from other cultures. I don't want to see that." This reminds him of the way Western history glosses over slavery and that, even more painfully, reminds him that many of the children of the African Diaspora would rather forget that history themselves. "We just let slavery pass," he laments. "Some people don't even want to remember [the history] about themselves. What can we do about this?"

Before he can answer, a flaming red motorcycle cuts across the street in front of us and flies onto the I-95 expressway.

"Bumbo klaat!" Buju exclaims, giddy with speed. "What was that?"

Buju's moods shift as fast and furious as the genres do on Friends for Life. The eighteen tracks skip from the militancy of "Up Ye Mighty Race" to the old-school ska of "Feeling Groovy" to the R&B appeal of "What Am I Gonna Do?" to the lover's rock-rap "Good Times" featuring beloved Jamaican crooner Beres Hammond and thuggin' Nuyorican rapper Fat Joe. On the beautiful acoustic ballad "All Will Be Fine," the Rasta comforts the poor with a mournful moan backed by the lush harmonies of the Sons and Daughters Choir. Then on the dancehall-hip-hop track "Paid Not Played" -- featuring the Surprise riddim laid by Troyton Remi, the Miami-based producer responsible for Sean Paul's biggest hits -- the slack toaster is awed by wealth as he praises a woman for "pushing Escalade and rocking Prada."

No matter how much Buju might like fast cars and expensive women, the souljah in him is wary of leaving the underground if that means promoting only bling-bling, at the expense of his more radical message. "I don't want to reach the masses if that means being muzzled," he insists. "The major labels, they are looking for someone to represent reggae music to the world, but they keep choosing the wrong person. They need someone who can represent the whole of Jamaican music." For hard-core fans, Buju is already the chosen one.

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Celeste Fraser Delgado