The 1990s introduced the U.S. and Europe to a new style of reggae music known as dancehall. It originated from Jamaica and much like the early days of hip-hop, dancehall was instantly popular, yet very controversial. Homophobic lyrics littered many chart-topping international hits by artists like Buju Banton and Beenie Man, the reigning king of dancehall. In their songs, they boasted about committing violent acts against homosexuals including murder. To this day, Jamaica is still described by many human-rights organizations as the most homophobic place on earth.
However, back in May 2012, Beenie Man took to YouTube posting the first ever apology video by any dancehall artist to date, in which he said, "Let me make this clear...I have nothing against no one. I respect each and every human being regardless of which race or creed, regardless of which religious belief...regardless of which sexual preference you have including gay and lesbian people."
In an exclusive interview with The Advocate, Beenie Man explains how he arrived at his current view on gay rights, whether he believes Jamaica will ever be accepting of the LGBT community and how he would respond if his son grew up to be gay.
The Advocate: What prompted you to do the YouTube apology video?
Beenie Man: What really motivated me to do something like that is the love of the music and the respect for people. I'm a Jamaican, see. I'm from a place called Waterhouse so you're dealing with all Jamaicans there. So as a youth growing up, what them say that we have to say cause children do what they learn. When you start to learn how the world run and how the world situated right now, people is people and people do what they want to do. They live their own life. And if you want people to love your music, all you have to do is respect people for who they are. So when I go to Europe now, me have 30 shows - 10 of them canceled. People come out and they protest. In a sense, they can't come to my show and judge me for what I did 15 years ago because nobody is the same person who they was 15 years ago. The next reason is I have done a song with Janet Jackson and it being taken off the charts, video taken off MTV. Now this song with me and Nicki (Minaj). We textin' and everything (she says) you need to stop it and make people understand that's not who you are right now. This is who I am, and this is where I'm going, and this is where my head space is. Want to make people understand, we are dancehall music and we sing music for the people. And if we sing music for one set of people...and the next set of people not listen to the music, it don't make sense. That mean you're off way in the world.
You've got to be the voice for the people, right?
That is the reason why I did it.
What effect has it had since the video was posted?
Well, I did it for Europe and the United States and Canada, I never did it for Jamaica, but it have a (positive) effect all over the world. The shows that we used to get banned from, we are now booked. You have a place like Barcelona, which they offer government [protection] for gay people so once they ease up you realize what is going on. They wanted me to explain to them why I was singing these songs and why do I expect them to support me. So I think they got the message.
So does the negative reaction in your homeland of Jamaica concern you at all?
I live in Jamaica. I can't be concerned about Jamaica and small-minded and one-track, ya understand? You have intelligent people in my island, people who understand everything. The reaction in the media was a good thing for dancehall music. Everybody who supposed to respond [positively], respond great so you know you not get all good response. A few man say this and a few man say that, but what a few men say is nothing to what the majority say.
Do you believe there will ever be a time when gays and lesbians will be accepted in Jamaica?
Well I don't know that. That is not my thing. Me cannot tell you that. You would have to talk to the government cause I am not government.
So laws would have to be passed?
You have place in the Caribbean where gay and lesbian is legal like Barbados and a few more places. But Jamaica is a place where it's just bent one way because gay in Jamaica is not like it is in America. It's mostly big men with money going down in the ghetto and turning the local youths so you call that statutory (rape) or child molestation. They convince the youth that they are this way...and me know enough youth this way. That's why when it comes to gay murder in Jamaica, it's so vicious. With local youth, they can't go back to their life that they used to know. And then (the rich men) use them and go find the next youth to use. So people need to understand that in Jamaica it's a different lifestyle. It's not like two men come together and say I like (to date men). That's not the way it is in Jamaica. So right now until that finished and the youth stop getting kidnapped and found raped and thrown in a bush...until that stops and gays and lesbians speak out against child rapists and all of these things, then the government will see where they're coming from. You can't beat up on the government when you don't understand what the government is fighting for. They're not fighting against (gays). In the government in Jamaica right now, me sure you can find a few gay people. But the whole Caribbean needs support because the (rapes) have to stop.
You appeared on The RuPaul Show back in 1996. Did you receive backlash for making that appearance?
Of course, I live in Jamaica. But from then I don't care, music is music. Promotion is promotion. TV is TV. I sing "Dancehall Queen." RuPaul is a drag queen. Him love the song. Him invite me and Chevelle Franklin to do the show. What am I gonna say? No? Are you crazy?
One of the biggest trepidations straight people tend to have about supporting gay rights is that the public will then think he or she must also be gay.
Yeah, this is already going on because of the video I did. But, ya see, gay lifestyle is not what I am because I'm a straight man. But it's not for me to condemn it cause every man have a right to decide their destiny. And it's not for you to (then) condemn me. Some straight people make the same mistake some gay people make. Jamaican people are afraid of what they don't know like every (other) people in the world.
Did it make a difference for you when President Obama spoke out in support of gay marriage?
It don't make no difference to me because still the world go on. It definitely helped, but if the world don't agree, what is anyone going to do? Turn a blind eye? You have to do these things or get left behind.
Now, there's still a lot of speculation on the internet about whether you actually signed the Reggae Compassionate Act of 2007 renouncing homophobia.
Yeah, me sign it. Me sign it like seven years ago and we still getting backlash regardless of what we did. Gay people still come out and demonstrate. They printed me signature in newspaper in Jamaica. I was the first one to sign it.
Yes, it was you along with Sizzla and Capleton. Now, would you ever consider performing for an LGBT event or festival?
Ya know, I just can't answer that. When I get there, I get there, seriously.
If the opportunity presents itself, you'll deal with it, but until then, no comment?
Typically when it comes to gay rights, it's tough for heterosexual people to understand the issue unless they know someone personally who is gay. Is that what also helped you change your view?
I know a few gay people and I work with them. They keep them life to them and we work together. It's all about work, not sitting around talking about gay issues. I know what it is. A man love a man, that's his feelings, his heart, his passion, ya understand? Let's say (hypothetically) I have a cousin who's gay. I'm not gonna kill him. I'm not gonna hate him. I have to support him with a choice that he make. He have to have somebody to support him cause if the whole family turn they back against him, he end up committing suicide cause he might think he made the wrong choice. Your choice is your choice. Your decision is your decision. It's not mine. It's not for me to tell him that you're wrong. But I cannot say that I have a brother or a cousin or somebody close to me [who's gay]. I am from Waterhouse...Kingston, Jamaica. That is a serious question that you ask me, ya know? But I have been working with a lot of these people. It's not my business. I look past it.
So how would you personally feel if your only child, your son, turned out to be gay?
Well I can't feel no ways. He's my son. I love him already. It's not gonna make me hate him. All left to do is to support him and guide him through.
And of course, we can't forget about the music. You have a new album coming soon, right? What can people expect from the new Beenie Man?
Yes, the single is out called "Summer is Here." I have a new album coming out. It's called King in Control. This is a dancehall reggae album. All of the hip-hop artists we're putting on this album will be on a reggae beat...Will Smith and LL Cool J cause we're all veterans in it so we work with the big people.