King of the Dancehall Beenie Man says Who Am I (Simma), his biggest international hit, is not his most lyrical, but that its other attributes made it a global phenomenon.
“Is not di most lyrical song. Mi can tell yuh dat. But yuh si di melody, di phrase an di groove: murda man,” Beenie recounted during a recent International Reggae Day symposium.
During the session, Beenie also spoke again of how he muscled his way into Jeremy Harding’s home studio in the wee hours of the morning, one day in 1998, and compelled the producer to have him voice on the legendary Playground riddim, which gave him his biggest hit.
According to Beenie, from the moment he heard the Playground beat, he predicted that whatever song he voiced on it, would bring himself, and the producer, musical glory. His prediction was right, as the song stormed onto the Billboard Hot 100, where it spent 20 weeks, peaking at No. 40, a big feat for Dancehall music.
“Jeremy neva invite mi to di track enuh. A hear mi hear di track. Mi hear Sean Paul song pan di track an mi seh mi like dah track yah. Mi like how it sound,” he recalled.
“Suh mi seh ‘dis is di next hit enuh’. And dem (his colleagues) a seh ‘how dis a guh reach yuh next hit’. And mi a seh ‘awrite, watch it’”, he added.
Not knowing Jeremy personally at the time, nor where he lived, Beenie assigned Mankind, a Rastafarian friend of his, to lead him to Jeremy’s house.
“Suh Jeremy si Mankind now, an seh ‘a wha dis man a do a mi yard’?. Jeremy people dem nuh wake up fi guh a school yet, and him woman nuh wake up fi guh a work yet. Jeremy nuh ready fi work yet caw a early morning,” the amused artist reminisced.
After Jeremy realised that he was the one who was really there to see him, and hurriedly opened up, Beenie, who explained that the time that he was among Dancehall’s hottest internationally stomping his class on BET, MTV and on the Billboard charts, said he voiced the song in one go.
Implicitly referring to the lines, “How can I make love to a fellow? / In a rush, pass me the keys to my truck”, Beenie said that the criticisms first erupted after the song was played for other artists who showed up at the studio hours later to hear. However, he said he remained adamant that he would not change the lyrics.
“Is afta wi finish voice di song den di artist dem come a di studio. Dis a afta 10 now when di day get bright and ting. Suh artist come inna di studio. Every artist seh weh dem want seh bout di song. An mi a seh ‘mi naw change one word’”! he stated emphatically, before making a pregnant pause.
“Mi sen fi mi car and mi car drive out an mi see ‘Jeremy, me an yu a guh pon Billboard next’,” Beenie added.
Beenie’s prediction was right. The song was an immediate hit in Jamaica. When it was played by Jerry D, on Radio Jamaica, as recounted by Jeremy, listeners kept calling the radio disc jockey for it to be “wheeled up”, resulting in the song being played for more than two hours straight, the only exception being when there were commercial breaks.
“By Monday Morning Jason Lee from Sonic Sounds was blowing up my phone and said ‘everyone was asking for this Beenie Man record. What was this about?’” Jeremy who was a part of the International Reggae Day panel said.
“Jason shut down all his presses for other record for the next three, four days. He said ‘no other record here is selling like this. Unbelievable. I am putting all the presses to press this 45 this week, – only’. Phenomenal,” the 2Hard producer added.
Continued Harding: “You know a real; hit record from the response from the people (although), yes, we have to do promo; we have to PR records; we have to talk about dem, do videos”.
In May 2018, Billboard Magazine’s listed Who Am I, among the top 98 tracks of 1998, describing it as “one of Dancehall’s few pop culture masterpieces.”
Simmer peaked at No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart and was his first top 40 hit in the UK.