Last Night: Best of the Best at Bicentennial Park
Last Night: Best of the Best Concert 2008 featuring Super Cat, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Sizzla, Junior Reid, Barrington Levy, Tony Matterhorn, etc.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Bicentennial Park, Downtown Miami
Better Than: Best of the Best 2007
As if you need an introduction, Best of the Best is by far, the biggest annual dancehall/reggae festival in North America today, comparable to say, SumFest held in MoBay, Jamaica. Yet for the Caribbean community here in South Florida, their irie was strategically placed smack in the middle of Downtown Miami as Bicentennial Park filled up with approximately 30,000 Jamaicans, Haitians, Bahamians, Trinis, Bermudians, and every other island nation that repped their flags high in the air. Oh and shout-outs to the sprinkles of white Americans that braved this "bad-man" show; Marley Fest this was not. No disrespects to the legendary Marley Festival but Best of the Best is for the truest of the true dancehall followers and pre-ordained musical shottas where bullhorns and flame torches are merely a clothing accessory.
With a line-up such as Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Sizzla, Mavado, Junior Reid, Assassin, Barrington Levy, Bling Dawg, Tony Matterhorn and the Original Don Dada Super Cat himself (to which this year's Best of the Best was his first North American out-door festival appearance EVER), it's no wonder people flock from as far as Toronto, Canada, to come check out the best that dancehall music has to offer. And a big shout-out to Rocker's Island Entertainment along with festival founder Joey "Budafuco" Louis for bringing the Jamaican Idols to the MIA. As Buju Banton said it himself, "This festival is about one Africa and for all these artists to perform on one stage shows the unity of our people ..." his comments fading out as Junior Reid's "One Blood" buck shots into the air.
And so the reggae gods were pleased as the weather was near perfect. A slight rain shower only cooled off the summer heat as the heavy breeze from Biscayne Bay kept those Red, Yellow and Green flags waving high. Along with the day's hosts, Jabba and DJ Roy, keeping things light and moving since 1PM, the crowd really got pumping come 6 hours later when Assassin took to the stage. Considered a newcomer to the dancehall scene, Assassin broke out in 2006 with his now big hit "Idiot Thing That" to which he's been dubbed the next dancehall artist to hit mainstream. A protege of Spragga Benz, Assassin is as lively and on point as his mentor as he riled up the crowd into a frenzy with tracks like "Anywhere We Go" and his newest single "Gully Sit'n" to which bullhorns throughout the audience shot-up in full force. He ended his short-lived 20 minute set with "Idiot Thing That" as folks danced along to the now infamous Stepz Riddim made popular by Sean Paul's "We be Burning" single.
Backstage, a cool and composed Assassin made his rounds of recording drops for various reggae stations and posing for the cameras. When asked if he was looking forward to anyone in particular with the night's line-up, his humble response was, "It's Best of the Best, everybody whose on this bill is worth seeing. Me being a student of the music, I'm looking forward to everyone's performance tonight and I hope to continue to develop my skills and keep pushing to be like them."
After Assassin's gangsta-performance, it was only fitting to slow it down with the sultry vocals of Etana, the only female on the festival's bill. Her music is reminiscent of a soulful reggae India Irie, more conscious, uplifting and sensual. Her album, The Strong One, is set to release on VP Records in late June as she sang from a selection off her record as well as her hit single, "Warrior Love", that has been getting much love in her home country of Jamaica. Being that she is the only woman on this masculine bill, Etana laughs, "I didn't expect to be the only female tonight, that was a surprise, but you dun know, it's a blessing, a real blessing."
Keeping with the theme of Best of the Best, the bestest of the best (if there is even such a thing) happens to be Barrington Levy. This man is not only a staple in the reggae scene but you wouldn't even know how influential he is until he starts singing from his multitude of classic hits. Records like "Under Mi Sensei", "Murderer", "Robber Man" and "Bounty Killer", all were sung to perfection as if this 44 year old was merely in his prime youth of 24. Most recently known for his duet with New York rapper Shyne on "Bad Boyz", Levy is a living legend among roots enthusiasts and everyone in the audience gave this man his respect as lighters were up, heads were nodding and all his lyrics were sung word for word. It was a good 35 minute set from Levy as the sun began to set to the west; a beautiful soundtrack for the sunset.
Now, after Levy's unforgettable performance, it was clear that things would start getting a bit crazier and way to kick off the craziness was Cipha Sounds himself coming to the stage as he introduced none other than DJ Khaled with special guest T-Pain and newly minted We the Best recording artist, Ace Hood. As expected, the crowd went insane as "We Takin' Over" started blaring through the speakers and hands shot through the air with the signature 3-0-5 showing it's graces. Yes, indeed, if you happen to forget, Khaled will be the first to remind you that We the Best and We in MIAMI! A short-lived yet hyped to the max set as T-Pain lip synched his way through his big hit "Buy You a Drink" while Ace Hood finished it off with a 30 bar freestyle. It was a quick and painless interlude as we now got situated for ... you know who ... BUJU!
Buju Banton got prime time as 9PM rolled around and the audience was now feeling the Red Bull hit their veins. Once Buju hit the stage, the ladies in the front were screaming as if if was the final episode of American Idol. It was non-stop action as Buju went from one hit to the next, from "Magic City" to "Destiny" to the blazing track of "Driver A" to which the crowd went nuts! Noticeably missing from his set was his notorious hit "Boom Bye Bye", for reasons we can easily speculate yet the audience was not complaining. By tail end, Buju had the crowd riled up as he left the stage in a sweat, leaving everyone gasping for more.
As usual, in-between set-up time was quickly shorten as promoters began to realize that they only had a little over 2 hours to try to fit 7 of their remaining acts. Since Bicentennial is a City-run park, time restrictions are a bitch and once midnight strikes, Best of the Best unplugs its system or get fined a hefty sum. After Buju's run, it was apparent that time was not on their side. A rather awkward intro for gangsta-artist Mavado that played on the projection screen yet when the movie was over, no Mavado in sight. Silence took over the sea of people as the host scrambled to do some damage control. Taking the place of Mavado was now Junior Reid, who took the stage brilliantly with his famous "One Blood" anthem. As also, the bull horns took to the air. He was quickly joined by his sons Andrew and Wada Blood as the two brought a hip-hop swagger to his father's stage show. Speaking of hip-hop, who could forget Junior Reid's biggest remix appearance for Mims' "This is Why I'm Hot" as the crowd sang along to its now infamous hook. What surprised most was when Reid began to rap over his latest single, "Don't Play Me Dirty" as everyone took envy of his skills both as a reggae singjay and now a hip-hop MC. He soon ended his 20 minute set with his remix of Alicia Keyes' "No One" that got everyone swaying back and forth, a rather kumbayah moment.
As Junior Reid exited the stage, we were quickly met with Tony Matterhorn who instantly got the chilled crowd hyped up again. Tony's famous "Dutty Wine" took the sound system by storm as now all the ladies began going bonkers. And within a few dutty wine shakes, Machel Montano enters with a troop of sexy soca dancers as now everyone is shaking their bottoms in a frenzy. Soon, the stage was on overdrive as Serani got front and center with a ferocious dancehall set that many mistook him as Mavado. We were nearing 11PM by now and it would be a miracle to have Sizzla, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer AND Super Cat all perform in an hour.
A slight technical glitch before the famed Sizzla Kalonji took over. Can we say, "FIRE"?!? It was the purest, most intense 15 minutes of live music that I've witnessed, as that's how long Sizzla got while on stage. Fervent remnants of hits like "Who God Bless", "Babylon Cowboy", and "Kings of the Earth" were only cut short due to time constraints but as his name states, Sizzla blazed the stage as his showmanship not only proved him to be one of the most respected performers of all time but one of the most spiritually riveting. There was no denying that Sizzla was on a mission, wasting no time to fool around. It was jam after jam after jam, boom boom boom, and poof - like a cloud of smoke, he burnt himself up as if his high octane energy made him self combust. And before we knew it, Beenie Man took to the stage.
As always, the ladies swooned while the men bucked fake shots, as Beenie did his traditional gangsta-yet-party-friendly set that pleases men, women, young and old. By now, the clock was ticking as midnight was only a half-hour away. Is this enough time to catch both Bounty Killer and Super Cat? What about Mavado? Where was he in all this foray? With only 15 minutes to go, Beenie quickly left the stage as Super Cat entered. The Legendary Don Dada, who has been out of the scene for years, shocked most when the line-up was announced that he was to headline. The die-hard reggae heads gave much love as Super Cat, donned in all white, gave a well received performance that, unfortunately, was cut way too short. By 3 songs in, his famed hit "Ghetto Red Hot" was a walk-off as 11:59PM struck and Super Cat disappeared to the left of the stage. The crowd looked in confusion as it wasn't the wild-roaring encore that we all had expected. Alas, midnight struck and the carriage turned into a pumpkin. Can you say anti-climatic? Where was Super Cat? Give the man at least another 5 minutes? And Bounty? What happened to Bounty?
Rumor has it both Bounty and Mavado had immigration troubles and they found themselves without proper papers to have them arrive in Miami for their headlining performance. Whoever dropped the ball on that should get buck-shot in the foot as Bounty is known as the night-capper of all cappers that finishes any show with major fireworks. *sigh* I guess we have "Best of the Best 2009" to look forward to.
All in all, no one was complaining when you witness the best that dancehall music as to offer, all sharing one stage for one night. 364 more days to go for next year's.
Personal Bias: Hands down, Sizzla's performance of the night was insane! Such a shame that this man only got 15 minutes but with that kind of power and energy, maybe 15 minutes was all that it takes before the audience literally sets themselves on fire. Sizzla is untouchable and he is by far the one to beat next year!
Random Detail: Dancehall and roots artist Anthony B was milling around backstage, rather an odd position seeing he should've well easily been ON stage rather than back. He came as a spectator versus participant and shared about his upcoming album that is set to drop later this summer. He is, however, playing at this year's SumFest in Montego Bay for those reggae heads that want to check out Anthony B's conscious vibes. Definitely worth the hour-long flight since he's an underrated artist that is sure to take center stage very soon.
By the way: Robbo Ranxs of BBC's 1Xtra was backstage taking in a few questions from the major headliners. Robbo, being a dancehall staple himself (journalist more than artist), he definitely gave his props to Miami for being able to pull something like this off each year. When asked if the UK will ever see a line-up this heavy? "Never! If we did, it would be pure chaos! People would be nuts." And finally: big ups to the fine ladies that were busting their asses working the press tent: Tracii, Nadia, Jody, etc. We'll see you next year.
-– Esther Park