Buju Banton is the 90s Bob Marley in Jamaica. In the UK, it feels necessary to recall his miserably homophobic single Boom Bye Bye, which cast a poisonous pall over his nascent international career in 1992. Banton wrote it aged 15, half the age Eric Clapton was when he ranted about “keeping Britain white”. But we don’t read about Clapton’s racist drivel in every review and interview. Adult Clapton was given a pass that teenage Banton never got. White privilege? Perhaps.
Yet although Banton renounced homophobia, and has now deleted the song from his catalogue, he was still performing it in 2007. And while there are dozens of Buju lyrics on Genius, only one has over 100,000 views. Its squalid allure endures. It shadows his later, conscious work.
On his first album since release from jail on drugs charges, Banton’s visceral caw is similarly uncaged. Wolfishly savouring every smoky, oaked syllable, his secular and religious lyrics intertwine brilliantly with dancehall, roots and rock. These days Buju tries too hard to appeal to everyone, but the twitchily paranoid Trust and 400 Years’ majestic howl of rage are as good as he’s ever been. Is that enough?
What a strange career Buju Banton has had. Having become notorious in his late teens for an aggressively anti-gay anthem, the Jamaican reggae star embraced love, peace and understanding, and became an outspoken critic of gun crime. Then in 2011 he got a ten-year jail sentence in America for trafficking cocaine.
His returning album has some beautiful moments, such as the laid-back freedom anthem Yes Mi Friend and the gospel opener Lamb of God. However, forays into cheesy pop such as Memories, and the album’s excessive length — 20 tracks, including a lot of filler — makes this a far from glorious comeback.