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June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 8th, Rockers is highlighting Buju Banton.
Born Mark Anthony Myrie on July 15, 1973, Buju Banton was raised in the Kingston slum of Salt Lane. Buju was his childhood nickname, a word for breadfruit that was often used to describe chubby children; he would later adopt Banton in tribute to one of his earliest musical influences, Burro Banton. Banton first got involved in Dancehall at age thirteen, performing with local sound systems. He made his first recording with the 1986 Robert French-produced single “The Ruler”. He continued to record through 1987 and then returned in the early 90s with a rough growl comparable to Shabba Ranks.
Buju Banton was one of the most popular dancehall reggae artists of the 90s. Debuting with a series of highly popular singles which drew criticism for their graphic sexuality and homophobia, Banton later converted to Rastafarianism and revolutionized dancehall by combining it with the live instrumentation and social consciousness of classic roots reggae.
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 with the label 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”.
The Voice of Jamaica album, released in 1993, introduced Banton to the world, and gave him a huge hit with the safe-sex anthem “Willy (Don’t Be Silly)”. However, it was his 1995 follow- up, ‘Til Shiloh, that would be his masterpiece. A fusion of dancehall with live instrumentation and classic roots reggae, ‘Til Shiloh infused Banton’s move into social awareness and adopted a more mature, reflective tone that signaled Banton’s arrival as an artist able to make major creative statements. His follow-up, 1997′s Inna Heights, continued in a similarly rootsy vein and won only slightly less acclaim than its much-heralded predecessor. In 1999, Banton recorded with the punk band Rancid and subsequently signed with the punk label Epitaph’s eclectic Anti subsidiary. In 2000, he delivered his Unchained Spirit, which found him growing more eclectic in a quest to cross over to the international market; it also featured a successful duet with Beres Hammond on “Pull It Up”.
After a three-year break from album releases, Banton returned to Atlantic in 2003 with Friends for Life, a crossover-friendly record with elements of hip-hop, R&B, and pop (and very little of the roots-dancehall hybrid that had catapulted him to stardom). Unhappy with the support he was given at the major label, Banton started his own label, Gargamel Music, and released the single “Magic City” in 2004. The single was a preview of his next album, Rasta Got Soul. He later released the album Too Bad which saw Banton return to his Dancehall roots. Banton won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album in 2011 for his last released record, Before the Dawn.
Buju Banton was pivotal in launching dancehall onto the world stage and showing that its catchy beats can be accompanied with powerful messages. For his accomplishments, we recognize him for Black Music Month.