Buju Banton – Born For Greatness
01. Ageless Time
02. Life Choices
03. Born For Greatness
04. Coconut Wata (SIP)
05. Yard and Outta Road
06. Body Touching Body feat. Victoria Monét
07. Turn Up Tonight
09. Feel A Way feat. Stephen Marley
11. Nuff Love For You
12. Walked Out
13. We Find A Way
14. My Microphone
15. High Life feat. Snoop Dogg
16. Trial By Fire
17. Let My People Go
Impartiality – [ im-pahr-shee-al-i-tee ] noun -the quality of not being biased or prejudiced; fairness:
To all of our Reggae-vibes.com readers, please excuse my little foray into Webster’s dictionary, but I needed to be SURE that I was clear on what impartiality means as both a fair-minded music critic, and a fan of the artist for which I’m tasked to submit a review of new material. Believe me, it was much needed because I will preface my words by saying that the term “fan” may not adequately sum up how I feel about one Mark Anthony Myrie, aka Buju Banton. It’s no exaggeration to say that he stands among a handful of artists who were directly responsible for my undying devotion to reggae music. I can still vividly recall the first time I ever heard his indubitable gruff voice at a college keg party where a dancehall mixtape served as the night’s soundtrack. Busch was the beer, “Dickie” was the cut, and my life was never the same. After finding out the artist, I went out the next day and purchased his 1992 classic “Mr. Mention.”
Now if you put the timeline together, fast forwarding to now, It’s obvious I’m old. But since then, I have never wavered in my love for Buju, and what he means to reggae, and world music overall. Having maintained his brand through homophobic accusations, a CNN-covered drug trafficking trial, and the shifting landscape of dancehall music makes his career that much more remarkable. The media coverage of his release from jail and victorious return to sweet Jamaica was the stuff reserved for legends, and I along with the rest of the world marveled at how he emerged from the storm more popular than he was when he was incarcerated.
He wasted no time getting back to the studio filling the 10 year void in his catalog with 2020’s “Upside Down,” a solid effort that saw him ease back into the game as if he had never left. Resplendent with A-list collaborations, dancehall bangers, gospel hymns, and cross-over cuts, Buju definitely played the Stella role and “got his groove back”. “Born For Greatness,” his eagerly awaited new offering looks to keep the Gargamel celebration going, and he kicks it off surprisingly with “Ageless Time,” an acoustic guitar heavy head-nodder which finds Buju longing for “the way things used to be” when love and concern for your fellow human was the rule, rather than an anomaly. Not what I expected to lead off, but pleasantly surprised to see Buju’s seasoned outlook as an artist on full display right from the gate. “Life Choices,” the next track picks up the tempo with a crisp exceptionally produced dancehall backing, giving Buju space to do what he does best, murder the dance. Not allowing the listener to sit still, he doubles down on the title track with a beautifully arranged, vivacious smoker that he handles like the pro he is. Over 30 years blazing the mic, and there has been little to no drop off in his voice, which is nothing short of remarkable. Flexing it to great versatility, cuts like “Body Touching Body,” “Turn Up Tonight,” “Plans And Sweeter,” all tracks not necessarily your standard reggae songs, are what many fans long to see from their favorite artists, and stand as proof positive that you can show adaptability, yet not have to pander to the contingent that considers a Drake or Burna Boy collaboration mandatory.
This is not to say that there are no mis-steps on this album. “Walked Out,” while decently produced is a little too R&B for my liking. “Jagged Edge” or “Musiq Soulchild” could have benefitted greatly on this joint but kudos to Gargamel for doing his best soul crooner imitation. “We Find A Way,” a cheesy anthem to the children warrants a skip about a minute into the proceedings, and “My Microphone” is caught firmly in no man’s land with bland production, and Buju struggling to find his footing with the vibe. Thankfully there’s enough on B.F.G to make you mentally erase his misgivings. “Coconut Wata (sip,sip,sip,sip,sip)” has already been crushing the dance as the first single from the album, The Snoop Dogg assisted “High Life” (how apropos the D-O double on a track with that name!?) works to perfection and the closer, “Let My People Go,” is fantastic and will stay embedded in your head with the classic Paul Robeson-flavored chorus we all remember from High School music class? (or would that be just me?!).
Pride Of Jamaica
Going back to my original need to define impartiality, I know when you review an artist with a career as storied and illustrious as Buju Banton, it’s not always going to be a bouquet toss. There’s not a legend alive who doesn’t have a mis-step or two in their catalog, and that’s okay. Albums like Banton’s “Til Shiloh,” one of the greatest albums in reggae history, don’t just fall out of the sky. Having a lesser offering doesn’t take away from the grand scheme of things and actually serves as a reminder that it takes more than a marketing machine and a social media co-sign to survive decades in the music game as Buju has. “Born For Greatness” will go down as a jewel in his crown, and keep him firmly entrenched as the trendsetter, icon, and pride of Jamaica that he has consistently been. Too bad that those of us stateside will have to travel to see him perform which I have NEVER had the pleasure of doing. Well, how timely!? I JUST got my passport updated. Sumfest 2024, WHAT’S GOOD??!!