Buju Banton was borhubby children which means Breadfruit. The name is ironic in light of Mark Myrie's slim frame, but it is, nevertheless, the nickname his mother gave him as a child. "Banton" is a Jamaican word referring to someone with a superior attitude and a gift with speech, but it was also the name of a local artist Burro Banton that Buju admired as a child. It was Burro's rough gravelly vocals that Buju emulated and ultimately made his own. Buju's mother was a higgler, or street vendor while his father worked as a labourer at a tile factory. He was one of fifteen children born into a family which was directly descended from the Maroons, a group of escaped slaves who proudly fought off the British colonialists.
As a youngster, Buju would often watch his favourite artists perform at outdoor shows and local dancehalls. At the tender age of 13 he picked up the microphone for himself and began toasting under the monicker of "Gargamel". His first single, "The Ruler" was released not long afterwards in 1987 under the production of Robert French at Penthouse Studios.
Batty Rider is featured on the Reggae radio station K-JAH Radio West in popular videogame Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, released in October 2004.
In 1991, Buju joined Donovan Germain's Penthouse Label and began a fruitful partnership with producer Dave Kelly and is on also on his Madhouse Records label . Buju is one of the most popular musicians in Jamaican history, having burst onto the charts there suddenly in 1992, with "Bogle" and "Love Me Browning/Love Black Woman", both massive hits in Jamaica. Controversy erupted over Love Me Browning which spoke of Banton's preference for light-skinned women: "Mi love mi car mi love mi bike mi love mi money and ting, but most of all mi love mi browning." Some accused Banton of promoting a colonialist attitude and denigrating the beauty of black women. In response, he released "Black Women" which spoke of his love for dark-skinned beauties: "Mi nuh Stop cry, fi all black woman, respect all the girls dem with dark complexion." 1992 was an explosive year for Buju as he broke the great Bob Marley's record for the greatest number of number one singles in a year. Beginning with "Man fi Dead", Buju's gruff voice dominated the Jamaican airwaves for the duration of the year. Banton's debut album, Mr. Mention, includes his greatest hits from that year. 1992 also saw a good deal of controversy concerning the song "Boom Bye Bye" and its homophobic content, concerning which see below.
Banton released the hard-hitting Voice of Jamaica in 1993. The album included a number of conscious tracks. These tracks included "Deportees" a song which criticized those Jamaicans who went abroad but never sent money home, a remix of Little Roy's "Tribal War", a sharp condemnation of political violence, and "Willy, Don't Be Silly" which promoted condom use. Some dancehall fans felt that Banton could have exploded onto the American scene if he hadn`t met with such opposition from the homosexual community based on his older work. Nevertheless he became a household name in reggae music circles.
Late in 1993, Buju was affected by the death of his friend Garnet Silk. This was compounded by the violent deaths of a number of dancehall artists that year. Buju embraced Rastafarianism and started to grow dreadlocks. His performances and musical releases took on a more spiritual tone, and he issued calls renouncing violence. One of such calls can be heard on the classic Murderer later released on his biggest international seller Till Shiloh.
Till Shiloh (1995) was a very influential album, using a studio band instead of synthesized music, and marking a slight shift away from dancehall towards roots reggae for Banton. Buju claimed to have adopted Rastafarianism and his new album reflected his new beliefs. Til Shiloh successfully blended conscious lyrics with a hard-hitting dancehall vibe. The album included a single called "Murderer" which condemned the violence in Jamaican dancehall music, inspired by the murders of dancehall musicians Panhead and Dirtsman. The song inspired several clubs to stop playing songs with excessively violent subject matter. Untold Stories revealed an entirely different Buju Banton from the one that had stormed to dancehall stardom. It is regarded by many as some of his best work, and is a staple in the Banton performance repertoire. Reminiscient in mood and delivery to Redemption Song by Bob Marley, Untold Stories won Buju Banton many favorable comparisons to the late singer. This conscious album had a large impact on dancehall music and showed the hunger the dancehall massive had for conscious lyrics. Dancehall music did not move away from slack and violent lyrics, but the album did pave the way for a greater spirituality within the music. In the wake of Buju`s transformation to Rastafarianism, many artists, such as Capleton, converted to the faith and started to denounce violence.
Inna Heights (1997) substantially increased Banton's international audience as Buju explored his singing ability and recorded a number of roots-tinged tracks. Banton covered the Silvertones' "Destiny" and recorded songs with such artists as Beres Hammond and the legendary Toots Hibbert. The album was well-received but had distribution problems. Also, some fans were disappointed, having hoped for another ground-breaking album like "Til Shiloh." Still, Buju's experimentation and soaring vocals impressed many fans and this album remains a highly regarded work.
In 1998, Buju met the punk band Rancid and recorded three tracks with them: "Misty Days", "Hooligans" and "Life Won't Wait." The latter became the title track of Rancid's 1999 album, Life Won't Wait. Subsequently, Buju signed with Rancid's eclectic ANTI-, a subsidiary of Epitaph and released Unchained Spirit in 2000. The album showcases the most diverse aspects of Buju Banton. It carried little of the roots feel heard on Til Shiloh and also virtually none of the hardcore driving sound that had brought him to public acclaim early in his career. It was a departure that many fans felt uncomfortable with. By now, however, he had been enshrined in the minds of reggae lovers as one of the most notable artists of his time, and seemed to have earned the right to some artistic freedom.
Several singles followed in the start of the new decade, mostly without the trademark spitfire delivery typical of dancehall, but displaying Banton`s talent for a mellower more introspective approach. This soon changed as he became aware of his fading status in dancehall. In March 2003 he released Friends for Life, which featured more sharply political songs, including "Mr. Nine", an anti-gun song that further verified his status as one of reggae's most socially aware artists. The album has a strong political message for the African Diaspora and features excerpts from a speech made by Marcus Garvey. Paid Not Played is included and shows his gradual return to the themes more popular in dancehall. The album also featured some hip-hop influence with the inclusion of Fat Joe.
Too Bad was released in September of 2006. The pure dancehall album shows a clear return to basics. Banton amassed a number of edgy chart-toppers in the recent past and includes them almost as a reminder of the stuff that made him who he is. The most danceable Banton album since Mr. Mention, Too Bad features an unapologetic Buju over hard driving dancehall beats exuding the full essence of dancehall. The title track Too Bad was one in a tidal wave of releases that reestablished Buju as a prominent hit-maker on the hardcore scene. Buju Banton is currently on a promotional tour for the album.
The album Rasta Got Soul, rumored to be a more introspective use of his talent was widely anticipated even prior to the release of Too Bad. The tune Magic City has been an underground hit for Banton, and displays a very musically mature artist. Expectations for the release of this work run high in the reggae community. The album will be released in 2007/2008.
See you in Jamaica.