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June 12, 1972. Kingston, Jamaica. Trenchtown rocks once more, as Miss Ivy bears her last son, Rodney Basil Price, into its surrounds. Jamaica balances on the edge of another bloody chapter, as war is about to be waged on its streets in the name of politics.

One of nine children, Rodney’s destiny would be irrevocably shaped by the landscapes of inner-city Kingston, where tribalism and poverty battle for the morals of the hungry and the desperate.

Leaving Trenchtown soon after, Miss Ivy relocates her family to Riverton City, a community founded on the Kingston City dump. Once known as ‘Dungle,’ the sprawling rubbish heap is a vital resource to many of its inhabitants.

Clothed just by ‘tear-up-batty’ pants, Rodney would sneak out late at night to hear the music thundering from speaker boxes strung up in the community, belonging to the sound system owned by his Father, affectionately known as Breezer.

“I used to just grab the mic and vibe up the place with my arguments and slangs!” remembers Bounty of the beginning. “I never had any lyrics of my own. Once I went to take the microphone at a talent show in Riverton. I intended to DJ, but I just opened my mouth and began to sing Junior Reid’s ‘Woman Make Your Waistline Roll!’ Even though it didn’t work out how I planned it, the crowd were hyped by it so I decided to build my own lyrics.”

 

 


Rodney’s first lyrics strained over a raw, monotone melody, but the topic mapped out the conscious vein that wouldpulse through his music in the years ahead; a map that would lead his people to crown him the Poor People’s Governor. “When I was a yute I lived down in the gully, inna mi tear-up pants people used to laugh after me” he chanted. Young Rodney had become the Bounty Hunter.

Rodney’s preteen years saw another family relocation, a little further along Kingston’s Spanish Town Rd, to the housing scheme of Seaview Gardens, where neighbourhoods are divided into areas such as ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Vietnam.’ Jamaica’s recent history has been littered by politically-motivated gunplay, and in the mid-80’s gunshot regularly cracked across the political divide between warring factions operating in the locale.

 

One scorchingly-hot afternoon, whilst walking home from school with friends, a barrage of those careless bullets were traded through the air, ripping through Rodney’s young flesh in the crossfire. He had become a victim of tribal war, aged 14. “All I was thinking about in the hospital was vengeance,” he relays intensely. “All I wanted to do was kill who tried to kill me. I was meditating pure revenge.” In the days he spent in hospital recovering, the aspiring Bounty Hunter came to a forceful conclusion: “Since mi get shot it was time to let them do the hunting and time for me do the killing.” And so the Bounty Killer was born.

Hard time stylee would not go away, the harsh reality of ghetto economics ruling out the completion of a school education for Rodney. He often had to utilise the hustlin’ abilities instilled in him by his elder brother Ballie Ballie, to help provide food for the family table. “Mama had the opportunity to go a foreign (abroad) many many times, but she decided to stay here with her children,” he says with fondness. “Not everybody would do that, considering the difficulties we faced back then.”

Bounty has always held his mother, Miss Ivy, in the highest esteem, maintaining “Mama” has been the most positive influence in his life; his one true role model. ‘Livicating’ musical odes to “Mama” has been a constant element throughout Bounty’s career - more recently with “Pot of Gold,” done in collaboration with Richie Stephens, and of course the classic “Mama.”

Whilst continuing to hustle wall plates and figurines with Ballie Ballie, Rodney and fellow Seaview-ites (and future Scare Dem Crew members) Nitty Kutchie and Boom Dandemite increased their efforts to break into the world of Reggae. They began venturing further afield, to dances and shows staged in the cool interior and rolling verdancy of the Jamaican countryside. The positive response they received further encouraged their burgeoning talents. Take the one-way-in-one-way-out road from Seaview Gardens, cut across Spanish Town Rd and you will end up in Kingston 11 - Waterhouse. Waterhouse is another area of Kingston that is rarely mentioned in the media without the disenfranchising prefix of ‘troubled inner-city community,’ but it’s a part of the planet blessed with an Almighty shower of musical talent. At the hub of the Reggae revolution in the 80’s and early 90’s was record producer King Jammy, whose 1985 timeless ‘Sleng-Teng’ riddim heralded the arrival of digital Dancehall.

By the time young Bounty arrived at King Jammy’s, Boom Dandimite had already begun to garner moderate success from the studio. The fact that Boom had a tune playing on the radio was all the inspiration Bounty needed. Day after day, month after month, the crew would make that journey up to the St Lucia Rd recording studio, awaiting the chance to jump on the next riddim being formulated in the Jammy’s sound lab. Bounty and his crew would be designing lyrics and constructing their flow into the early hours, often having to borrow bicycles from Waterhouse allies to return safely to Seaview under cover of darkness.

It was Bounty’s vocal jack-in-the-box rhyming intros that first drew attention - initially from sound system operators and then from the thousands of Dancehall fans around the world listening to the audio tapes of live sessions, intrigued by the unique voice-pattern introducing custom-built songs played by sound systems like Metromedia and Bodyguard. Bounty’s sound system clash classic - ‘Dub Fi Dub’ - changed the way in which sound system selectors approached their task. Bounty’s impact on sound system culture has been immeasurable.

When the time came to voice at Jammy’s, Bounty opted for a song that reflected his life experiences; ‘Coppershot’ was the self-explanatory title, but at that time King Jammy was trying to steer his label clear of songs that paid homage to guns, and passed on the record. However, Uncle T - Jammy’s brother - realised the potential and quickly ushered Bounty under his own wing. ‘Coppershot’ was heard by New York-based Johnny Wonder, a pivotal figure in North American Dancehall Reggae, who went crazy when he heard it, instantly recognising the potential of its hardcore appeal to the urban markets Stateside. Ironically ‘Coppershot’ became an underground hit in New York before taking off in Jamaica. It’s popularity ensured that Bounty is forever endeared to the Boroughs of New York.

‘Spy Fi Die,’ ‘Guns Out,’ ‘Lodge’ and more uncompromising releases followed, each increasing the velocity and reach of Bounty’s profile. They kicked off an all-out attack that’s yet to cease, with the subsequent release of hundreds of singles. Bounty left the Jammy’s camp in 1995 and formed his own Scare Dem Productions and Priceless Records labels.

‘Sting’ 1993 - another huge annual December stage show held

Bounty in a killing mood at Sting 93.

in Jamaica - confirmed Bounty Killer as the heir to Ninjaman’s throne in the lyrical-battling theatre of war. Bounty verbally assassinated fellow Jamaican recording superstar Beenie Man, who ironically hails from the Waterhouse area. In the build-up to the show, Bounty Killer was not amused by fellow DJ Beenie Man’s acts of lyrical piracy, at a time when they were both just taking hold of the cut-throat world of Dancehall. Bounty stormed the Sting stage during Beenie Man’s performance and lyrically assassinated him. Countless other deejays have since attempted to turn over the Killer in a lyrical clash and as Killer puts it, “they try hard but just die hard.”

Beenie Man and Bounty Killer have had an on-off feud throughout the last decade - a feud that has often erupted without warning. Recognising the negative impact it was having on the music and the nation’s youth, the two decided to sign a peace treaty in the mid 90s. Their relationship today veers unsteadily along that line of peace, with Beenie Man sporadically trying to unsuccessfully goad Bounty into a clash. As recently as February of 2002, Beenie Man found himself in the role of troublemaker once again, this time travelling many miles to try and hi-jack a stage show starring Bounty Killer. It ended abruptly and embarrassingly for Beenie Man, who was summarily booed and bottled off stage by patrons.

That 1993 clash instigated the elevation of Bounty Killer’s status to Lord of the Warriors - of the rudeboys, the thugs, the shottas. To this day Bounty remains one of the few voices of reason they will listen to, often compelling them to put down the gun.

The soundtrack of the last 11 years is peppered with Bounty Killer anthems that have singled him out to be a true voice unto the voiceless of Jamaica. Songs of redemption such as ‘Defend the Poor,’ ‘Mama,’ ‘Book, Book, Book,’ ‘Babylon System’ and ‘Down in the Ghetto’ afforded him the undivided affection and attention of a nation too often governed by mis-leaders. The Leader of the Opposition, Edward Seaga, wanted to utilise Bounty’s 1996 revolutionary cry ‘Fed Up,’ as part of his election campaign theatrics, a request that was furiously squashed by Bounty’s legal team. Today, whilst many Dancehall artists chase and try to reflect the American Dream, focusing on ‘Bling Blinging,’ Bounty Killer stands steadfast in his conviction to defend what he believes is right for his people. “This is not

 

Jamerica,” he demonstrates. “We’re sending the wrong message to our people. They’re singing about ice when poor people don’t even have a fridge.”

Bounty Killer’s seminal 1996 double album, ‘My Xperience,’ took the world by storm, harvesting unprecedented success for a modern Dancehall album. ‘My Xperience’ spent 6 months at number 1 on the Reggae Billboard chart, and two months on the Billboard Top Albums chart. While Reggae artists like Bob Marley and Shabba Ranks have had their albums crossed over into Rock/Pop markets, ‘My Xperience’ has the unique distinction of being one of the only Reggae albums ever to break into and strongly influence the Hip Hop community. Bounty Killer’s collaborations with Busta Rhymes, the Fugees, Wu-Tung Clan and Jeru the Damaja set the benchmark against which all other Hip Hop/Reggae hybrid records are measured. Bounty’s 1998 effort ‘Next Millennium’ reinforced his ability to kick it with Hip-Hopsters, with joints featuring Wyclef, the Coco Bruvas, Mobb Deep and other topline rappers.

Bounty Killer has navigated the globe with his musical Xperience, touring the world with his uniquely engaging and explosive stage performance. Whether the listener is Japanese, Nigerian, Colombian or European, Bounty’s point-blank message transcends barriers of race, culture and language. Controversy has shadowed Bounty Killer’s career since he first fired ‘Coppershot’ back in 92, intensifying over the years. His lyrical content has often been too-close-to-the-bone for “polluticians” trying to conceal truths and rights from those they’re supposed to serve. The reactionary government of Jamaica banned such songs of freedom from Bounty as ‘Fed Up,’ ‘Can’t Believe Mi Eyes,’ ‘Look’ and ‘Anytime.’ Newspapers and radio talkshows are often flooded with debates over Bounty’s lyrical content. The last three of those songs were penned in conjunction with Dancehall producer Dave Kelly - a singer/songwriter partnership permanently etched into the annals of music history, not just Reggae. Renowned as a sagacious and intensely perceptive orator, Bounty Killer can just as easily hold an audience with his reasonings as he can with his musical performances. Whenever televised interviews are aired - somewhat rare as Bounty has often spurned the media - they grip the nation. One Jamaican TV station had to recently repeat an in-depth interview with him, due to unprecedented public demand.

Always eager to absorb and broaden his Xperience, Bounty Killer also embarked on a career as a promoter a few years back, annually hosting two huge shows in Jamaica. Every June the party season kicks off in the island with the staging of “It’s A Party,” held to celebrate the birthday of Rodney Basil Pryce. Whilst that show regularly attracts in excess of 6,000 patrons, it’s the gargantuan December 26 bash that draws the crowd in overwhelming numbers. Over the last 5 years ‘Saddle to the East’ has grown to become the largest event in the Jamaican festive season, relegating many of the long-established shows. “After dealing with so many promoters myself,” reasons Bounty, “I wanted to know what its like from their point of view. The stress and pressure, the risks, the rewards - the whole nine yards.”

Bounty does a lot of work for charitable causes and ensures that a large percentage of the profits from those shows are donated to worthy causes, especially those concerned with young people and children. Cash and equipment donations to inner-city schools paved the way for scholarship funds, ensuring that youngsters from economically deprived areas can get the education that should be their right. 16 kids are currently in school thanks to Bounty’s scholarship.

Always with his beloved Jamaica’s interests at heart, Bounty sub-titled the 2000 edition of ‘Saddle to the East’ with the slogan “Bring Back the Love,” intending to unite his colleagues in the industry, plagued by rivalry and hate, thus setting an example to the nation, itself in need of solidarity.

Classic Dancehall ‘gal tunes’ - such as ‘Maniac,’ ‘Request,’ ‘Cellular Phone,’ ‘Living Dangerously,’ ‘Cry For Lie For,’ ‘Benz and Bimmer,’ ‘Follow Mi Arrow,’ ‘More Gal’ and countless others have also kept the ladies vociferously happy throughout Bounty Killer’s career.

Fiercely private, Bounty Killer is a devoted Father, though he is as yet unmarried. “Some men are all about the leg and the thigh,” he illustrates. “But I’m not just looking for a beautiful woman, I want a beautiful lady. When I find someone with the qualities of Miss Ivy I might consider it, but I’m a thug youth and that ain’t gonna be easy to happen.”

After a decade at the forefront of Dancehall and Reggae, 2001 saw Bounty’s career get stronger on the international scene. After recording in Jamaica with US band No Doubt, the Sly & Robbie-produced Hey Baby became the band’s first single from Rocksteady, No Doubt’s triple-platinum set. Hey Baby soared up singles charts across the globe - peaking at number 5 on Billboard, debuting at number 2 in the UK and garnering lofty chart positions from Germany to Australia. The Hey Baby video reached number 3 on MTV’s daily TRL Countdown and remained the number 1 video on VH1’s Top 20 video chart for three weeks. Performing with No Doubt at the 2002 Super Bowl and on Top of the Pops have been among the many highlights of Bounty’s career. Bounty became the first Jamaican artiste to win an MTV Music Video Award (2 in fact!) wit Hey Baby. The critically acclaimed song also won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group. The collaboration paved the way for the success that Dancehall is now experiencing.

Hip Hop Uber-Producer Swizz Beatz approached Bounty in 2002 to collaborate with him on Guilty, the lead single from GHETTO STORIES, Swizz’s debut album for Dreamworks. The chemistry was undeniable and Swizz was eager for bounty to join him on his new imprint, Full Surface Records.

With the Summer 2002 release of Ghetto Dictionary Volume I: The Art of War and Volume II: The Mystery, Bounty made a statement about his hardcore approach to his music. Released simultaneously, the two albums contain over 40 tracks that represent ghetto life in its rawest form. Volume II: The Mystery was given 4 stars by Rolling Stone and went on to be nominated for the 2002 Reggae Grammy. One of the tracks, Sufferah, was also included in Rolling Stone’s Top 10 Hip Hop songs of 2002.

The Mighty, the Notorious, the Furious Bounty Killer..........

Too busy to die now.

 
 
Photo top right on home page by PD Rickards

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