Bounty Killer: The Slicker Picker Upper

With an up-from-the-ghetto life story and an ego the size of the Western Hemisphere, the man known as Bounty Killer -- a.k.a. the Poor People's Governor, a.k.a. the Professor, a.k.a. Warlord, a.k.a. Jamaica's Most Wanted -- has ruled the dancehall scene for more than a decade. Bounty was raised in violence-plagued neighborhoods of Kingston, where, at age 14, he was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight while walking home from school -- bullets "ripping through [his] young flesh," notes his website. "All I was thinking about in the hospital was vengeance," he said. "It was time to let them do the hunting and time for me to do the killing." And so, in a superhero-like transformation, the fully recovered artist formerly known as Rodney Basil Price became Bounty Killer.

As gangsta rap blew up in the U.S., "reality reggae" spread across Jamaica, and Bounty Killer was its figurehead. Keeping a safe distance from career-destroying themes like butterflies and dandelions, his scores of hit singles included "New Gun," "Kill fe Fun," and "Gunshot fi Informer." Bounty also starred in a legendary rivalry, the Caribbean version of Tupac versus Biggie. Beenie Man and Bounty Killer accused one another of cribbing the phrase "people dead." At a huge national celebration in 1993, Bounty jumped on-stage and lyrically assaulted Beenie, who was booed off the stage and left Kingston for almost a year. As Bounty's website declares, "That 1993 clash instigated the elevation of Bounty Killer's status to Lord of the Warriors -- of the rudeboys, the thugs, the shottas." Finally enjoying undisputed status as the biggest dancehall star in the country, Bounty underwent another transformation -- from angry rebel to benevolent dictator. He began spitting out socially conscious messages. "This is not Jamerica," he said, criticizing younger artists. "They're singing about ice when poor people don't even have a fridge." Bounty made an example of himself by publicly declaring a truce with Beenie Man, and the two capitalized on the event by releasing a split album, Guns Out. Their feud continued to flare up, however, until they finally shared a stage peacefully this past March.

Bounty Killer's 1996 double album, My Xperience, spent six months at number one on the Reggae Billboard chart. He collaborated with a Who's Who of hip-hop (Busta Rhymes, the Fugees, the Wu-Tang Clan) and sang on "Hey Baby," the Grammy-winning single by No Doubt. For side jobs, Bounty runs two record labels, Scare Dem Productions and Pricele$$ Records; mentors up-and-coming dancehall stars such as Vybz Kartel and Elephant Man; and promotes concerts, including an annual celebration of his own birthday each June. Lest you think the roles of producer, promoter, mentor, and mogul have made him any less fierce, take note: Bounty is still a Killer. Catch his show in Fort Lauderdale this weekend, and he will make sure that you 'memba dat.

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Deirdra Funcheon