Buju Banton

Buju Banton

Buju Banton was one of the most popular dancehall reggae artists of the '90s. Debuting with a series of popular "slack" singles, which drew criticism for their graphic sexuality and homophobia, Banton converted to Rastafarianism and revolutionized dancehall by employing the live instrumentation and social consciousness of classic roots reggae. He first adopted the approach on his 1995 classic 'Til Shiloh, which raised hopes among his fans that he would become dancehall's great international ambassador, as Bob Marley had been for roots reggae. While that never quite materialized, Banton remained a high-profile star into the new millennium.

Buju Banton was born Mark Anthony Myrie on July 15, 1973, in the Kingston slum of Salt Lane. Buju was his childhood nickname, a word for breadfruit that was often applied to chubby children; he would later adopt Banton in tribute to one of his earliest musical influences, Burro Banton. He was one of 15 children; his mother was a street vendor, and he was directly descended from the colonial-era freedom fighters known as the Maroons. Banton first tried his hand at DJing and toasting at age 13, performing with local sound systems. He made his first recording not long after, with the 1986 Robert Ffrench-produced single "The Ruler." He continued to record through 1987, then took some time off to allow his voice to mature. He returned in the early '90s with a rough growl comparable to that of Shabba Ranks.

In 1991, Banton began recording for Donovan Germain's Penthouse label, often teaming with engineer/producer/songwriter Dave "Rude Boy" Kelly. Debuting for the label with "Man Fi Dead," his first major hit was "Love Mi Browning," an ode to light-skinned women that drew the ire of Jamaica's sizable darker-skinned population. As penance, he released a follow-up single called "Love Black Woman," but courted even more controversy with "Boom Bye Bye," a notoriously homophobic track that seemingly advocated violence against gays. Other hits of the period included "Batty Rider," "Bogle," and "Women Nuh Fret," among many others; in fact, 1992 saw Banton break Marley's record for the most number one singles in one year. His debut album, Mr. Mention, was a smash hit that year as well, and he signed an international major-label deal with Mercury.

 

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