Album Review: Beenie Man - Simma
by Gardy Stein
Have you come across the #simsimma challenge yet? It started out with celebrities, but now spread to all kinds of people, and it goes like this: Hit some of your friends or colleagues up, saying nothing but "Sim simma!" and see if they'll finish the phrase with the line "Who's got the keys to my bimma?" of Beenie Man's famous 1998 single Who Am I. It speaks in the artist's favor that a lot of people know this track, even those who are not into Reggae and Dancehall at all – "the girls dem sugar" has clearly left his mark all over the world! Whether or not the challenge was initiated by Team Beenie, it's perfect timing, as it coincides precisely with the release of his 17th studio album Simma, the first full one in seven years.
It's a monster in terms of length, just like its 2016 predecessor Unstoppable, with 20 tracks contributed by almost as many producers: Richie D, Jeremy Harding, Seanizzle, Walshy Fire, Buggy Productions, God Flow Productions, Jerome Wright and Tony Kelly are only some of the big names involved, while MD Music Group (a joint enterprise founded by Rohan Smith and Beenie himself in 2007) acts as executive and label. They call the release "the regal rebirth of Beenie Man", so let's take a look at what it has in store for us!
It starts with the title track Simma, but don't expect a remake of the above-mentioned Who Am I – producer Roel Powell created a slick, fast-paced instrumental on which the artist reflects on his career and how he steps up "as a winner, as a king ina di world weh me live ina". This attitude is fortified by the subsequent King, a grim, angry Drill piece that introduces three of the many features of the album. UK rappers BackRoad Gee, TeeWay as well as Ms. Banks dominate the track almost completely with very explicit lyrics (parental advisory!), and only a few lines are contributed by Beenie himself in the chorus and a verse at the end.
Three more exceptional voices are invited on Sharpshooter. While Busy Signal and Patoranking are no strangers in Dancehall contexts, British rapper Giggs aka Hollowman is, but since the underlying beat, a Fanatix & Teddy Riley production, crosses genre boundaries anyway, the four artists work well together. A riddim similar in mood, but with the added brightness of an Asian-sounding string instrument and female ad-libs, Chopsuey is one of the rare solo pieces of the release, the only others being the Frankie-Music-produced Up Deh, the materialistic New Money, and the jubilant Blessings.
The remaining tracks assemble an impressive number of fellow artists from all corners of the world, starting with the above-mentioned UK posse, then heading straight to the motherland with Stonebwoy from Ghana on Zimm and Nigeria's Ceegee heard on Heavy On The Grades, all the way to the USA and former hit-partner Mýa. They released Girls Dem Sugar 23 years ago to great critical acclaim and are now back together on the sexy Docta, spiced with Beenie's trademark squeals. Speaking of sexy: of course, Jamaican compatriots get their spotlight as well, such as Shenseea on Fitness Instructor and Hood Celebrity on Let Go, which comes on a refreshingly acoustic instrumental. Next to by now established singers like Dexta Daps, who joins Beenie Man on the dangerously slack How Deep, the artist also makes sure to introduce upcoming talents Relevant and Jahfrican on Push It On Me.
While the songs presented so far are certainly interesting Trap, EDM or Afrobeats cross-overs and might guarantee new, younger listeners who are used to these sounds (Gen Z calling!), the real fun for more long-standing Beenie Man fans starts in the second half of the album. Thus, we have the danceable Bunji Garlin combination Hel-Eva Bumpa, produced by Ward 21 mastermind Andre "Suku" Gray (and yes, you can hear his ingenuity) as well as the laid-back Supa Star, which not only brings alive the legendary Movie Star riddim but also the equally legendary voices of Sean Paul and Anthony Red Rose. More vocal grandeur flies in with fellow Grammy winners Morgan Heritage on the beautiful Dem Want More, a Tony Kelly production that finally adds a Reggae touch to the release. Lighters up for this one! Equally sweet, Good Like Gold sounds as if producer Richie D took the best of the Buy Out riddim and the song Angel, and both Beenie and featured artist Shaggy take his instrumental to the next level with their love declaration to whoever feels addressed by this piece.
Special mention deserves the melodious Fun In The Sun which, contrary to what you might expect from the title, is probably the most conscious of all twenty tunes. Both Popcaan and Dre Island (and, towards the end, a choir) add their voices to the song's fervent plea: "We must live as one, divided we fall, together we're strong!" The same urgency comes across in the final Prayers which features Charly Black and Louie Culture, its Nyabinghi vibe constituting the perfect closing for this oeuvre.
What a ride! Simma really is a re-invention of the artist, firmly installing Beenie Man in today's modern time and sound, showcasing his exceptional talent and versatility. Those who expect the old-school Dancehall vibe that made the artist rise to global fame back in the '90s might be a bit disappointed, though, as only the last few songs catch up on that, but King Beenie is certainly not one who lives up to expectations – surprise and innovation rather seem to be his current motto!
Lastly, a word on the cover, which is a fine, graphically exquisite composition laden with symbolism: King Beenie Man, dressed in white and draped with a long, earth-colored scarf, sits on the stairs of a crumbling house, captured in complete symmetry. The black goat next to him probably stands for the common acronym "Greatest Of All Times", while the arching window behind him blends into the artist's profile and a star-studded sky. Dominating it all are the burning letters SIMMA – and that, dear readers, is where your attention should lie!
Beenie Man - Simma
DIGITAL RELEASE [MD Music Group]
Release date: 09/01/2023
02. King feat. BackRoadGee, Teeway & Ms Banks
03. Sharpshooter feat. Busy Signal, Giggs & Patoranking
04. Chop Suey
05. Up Deh
06. Zimm feat. Backroad Gee & StoneBwoy
07. Docta feat. Mya
08. How Deep feat. Dexta Daps
09. Fitness Instructor feat. Shenseea & Ms Banks
10. Hel-eva Bumpa feat. Bunji Garlin
11. Let Go feat. HoodCelebrity
12. Push It On Me feat. Relevant & JahAfrican
13. New Money
14. Heavy on the Grades feat. Ceegee
15. Good Like Gold feat. Shaggy
16. Dem Want More feat. Morgan Heritage
17. Supa Star feat. Sean Paul & Anthony Redrose
18. Fun In the Sun feat. Popcaan & Dre Island
20. Prayers feat. Charly Black & Louie Culture