Dancehall reggae’s been the Next Big Thing for going on, like, 13 years now. Ever since Shabba Ranks roared in from Jamaica with a ”Trailer Load a Girls” and scooped up a Grammy in 1991, there’s been an endless convoy of thickly accented ambassadors eager to drive the music home to mainstream audiences. But no matter how big a sunsplash any dancehall artist makes, the sub-genre seems no closer to subverting suburbia in the same way that, say, hip-hop has. Just ask Shaggy. Still, every successful crossover attempt — Sean Paul’s string of chart-toppers last year, for example — brings new hope to fans and salivating record execs alike, ensuring that the push to make dancehall pop will continue.
In 2002, hyperkinetic Jamaican Beenie Man teamed up with Janet Jackson and scored a sap-happy radio hit with ”Feel It Boy.” Of course, he’s been toiling at this for a decade, soft-boiling hokey, R&B-ish albums for major labels (while keeping his rep intact with edgier material for the purists). Perhaps influenced by Sean Paul’s less compromising approach, Beenie’s latest LP, Back to Basics comprises more of the latter. Even the album’s lighter fare — like the electro-tropical single ”Dude” and the beautifully random Timbaland production, ”All Girls Party” — rides the metallic pulse of modern dancehall. The relentless bounce eventually gets old, but not nearly as much as the crass sentiment in songs like ”P**** Language” and ”ELOH” (”Spell it backward,” giggles Beenie, like a dreadlocked Beavis).