Beenie Man‘s Who Am I, produced by Jeremy Harding on the Playground riddim, is now certified Gold in the United States, over 26 years after its release. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Who Am I was certified Gold on Wednesday (November 15) after it reached the sales and streaming equivalent of 500,000 units sold in the US.
Better known by its catchy chorus “Sim Simma,” the song essentially launched Beenie on his prolific, Grammy Award-winning trajectory when it was released in 1997. It appeared on his Many Moods Of Moses album, released that year under VP Records.
Chris Chin, the president of VP, lauded Who Am I‘s enduring influence in Dancehall and pop culture, including the star-studded celebrity #SimmaChallenge, which went viral on Beenie’s 51st birthday this year.
“The song has taken on a life of its own over the years,” Chin told DancehallMag on Friday. “It’s a defining record in dancehall and pop culture, and Beenie Man’s genius shines through every time the song is sampled and interpolated. We’re very pleased with this latest achievement for him and Jeremy Harding.”
The song’s widespread impact is evident in its influence on other artists. American rapper Redman sampled Who Am I’s first line on his 1998 single I’ll Bee Dat: “Sim Simma, who got the keys to my Beemer?” while rapper Nelly also alluded to the earworm chorus on his 2000 single Country Grammar: “Keys to my Beemer, man, holla at Beenie Man.” According to Whosampled, Who Am I and its underlying riddim have been sampled in over 30 other tunes, including recent releases like Joyner Lucas’ Zim Zimma and Mahalia and Burna Boy’s Simmer.
“Good Dancehall Music”
For Beenie Man and Harding, the certification marks a significant milestone in their careers, as it is their first song to achieve Gold status in the US.
Harding reflected on the song’s groundbreaking nature, its role in Beenie Man’s ascent to “King of the Dancehall,” and its testament to the enduring power of quality Dancehall music.
“When Who Am I was originally released, it was a groundbreaking record which launched my career as a record producer and furthered Beenie Man’s career and took him to the heights of being the King of Dancehall. And eventually, landing him his major label record deal,” Harding told DancehallMag. “To have it now certified Gold, it really stands to the testament of the power of this record and the power of good Dancehall music.”
He continued: “It’s a milestone achievement for which I celebrate heartily and I welcome and I’m sure Beenie Man does the same. On behalf of all the Dancehall community, and everybody in Jamaica who’s making music, I really hope it will help to shine as a beacon of success to show what is possible with hardcore, original Jamaican Dancehall music. No matter how long it takes.”
The producer also touched upon the song’s timeless nature. “The fact that this song is still relevant to today’s youth market as well is also something which is quite fascinating, because we always hope to make timeless music as artists and as creators. This record just proves that it’s possible to make timeless Jamaican music. I hope it continues to impact the world.”
The Making of ‘Who Am I’ And How It Achieved Global Success.
In 1997, those who had heard Who Am I before its release took issue with the tricky lines “how could I make love to a fellow? / In a rush, pass me the keys to my truck”. However, even though he had the chance to change the lyrics, Beenie saw the controversy as a selling point.
“When me voice Sim Simma, the artist them come inna the yard and start pass remarks bout the ‘how can I’. From there so me a say controversy sell, because me and Jeremy there all morning and we no hear da part deh,” Beenie Man told The Gleaner. “All of a sudden de artiste dem come now, them start hear parts whe no fe inna de song.”
“Me say Jeremy, if we change it, it a go look obvious say we a say we make love to fellow, which we do not. So ‘how can I make love to a fellow in a rush?‘ – leave it right there. ‘Pass me the keys to my truck/who am I, the girls them luck?/And I and I will make love to Precious‘,” Beenie Man explained. “Any man whe no get dat don’t get it.”
Besides his typical defiance, the Romie deejay’s decision was likely influenced by his difficulty securing the song. Beenie Man was a fan of Harding’s Playground Riddim, which was burning up the airwaves in ‘97 with Sean Paul’s bedroom banger Infiltrate and Mr. Vegas‘ singjay style-debut Nike Air leading the charge. The nascent deejay was eager to voice on the popular riddim and began readying his “based on a true story” bars for his big break.
“I came to Jamaica, have a brand new BMW and mi hear a rhythm weh mi like so mi start sing bout mi car and then things start go different,” he said. “The problem is I couldn’t find the key in the morning. My brother’s name is Simma, ‘Sim Simma, who’s got the keys to my Bimma?’… Dem couldn’t find it so mi drive the truck, ‘In a rush, pass mi di keys to my truck’,” Beenie Man said.
Beenie played around with many sources for his dream track – from latin to hip hop – and became so obsessed that he did the entire song in one take. He sampled lines from Wyclef Jean’s Guantanamera (Oh Guantanamera, you a killer!) and Luther Vandross’ Never Too Much (I tell myself I don’t want nobody else to ever love me), but a line from female lyricist Missy Elliot would lend the most steam to his storyline.
The rap queen’s latest at the time, a remake of I Can’t Stand the Rain, featured the line “beep beep, who got the keys to my jeep?”. Beenie Man said, “So me a listen to the Missy and me say “sim simma, who got the keys to my Bimmer.”
Up until then, Beenie Man had never met Harding. The Bossman deejay has never shied away from adversity, however, and though ‘opportunity knocks only once’, the Maestro took it on himself to orchestrate the introductions. He and fellow Shocking Vibes affiliate Mankind went jogging through the producer’s neighborhood to set things in motion for the grand plan.
“Me ask him if him know where Jeremy Harding live. Me know bout Jeremy Harding as Sean Paul manager, but is not someone that I knew, really. Me is a man run like five to six in the morning. Me go check him an we run go up pon the hill an him say yo, a desso Jeremy live,” Beenie Man told the Gleaner.
Noting the unseemly hours, Beenie decided to ‘circle back’, freshened up and returned at 8 a.m. ready to record, adding that his deliberate delay didn’t help matters since “him never wake up anyways”.
Harding corroborated The Doctor’s story in a 2015 interview and still sounded less amused than the veteran’s version of events. “I heard a knocking one morning, and couldn’t believe when I saw Beenie Man sitting outside complaining about how long he had been banging down the door. Beenie had even written a tune already when he arrived at the studio to voice without any prior notice,” he told Whaddat.com.
The determined deejay had finally gotten his foot in the door, and Harding recalled how easily history was made that day.
“I turned on the equipment, and he went straight into the booth to record a perfect version of Who Am I in what seemed like one take.”
Not everyone would risk knocking on Harding’s door with their demands, but it seems the Slam deejay knew his destiny was on the other side. The track became a significant crossover success for Beenie Man, propelling his sound across the globe.
By the time VP Records debuted the upgraded, club-centric music video, the worldwide hit had peaked at No. 40 on the US Billboard Hot 100, No. 10 on the UK Singles Charts, and No. 10 on the Canadian Singles Chart.
On the strength of that one Billboard charting single, the Kingston native enjoyed several years of whirlwind success, most importantly headlining Reggae Sunsplash in 1998 and signing to US-based label Virgin Records.
Having cracked all the international markets, next came the slew of global accolades such as a MOBO Award for Best International Reggae Act in 1998, and compilation credits including Reggae Gold 1998, Soca Gold 1998, Strictly The Best Vol. 21 and BET: Best of Rap City (1999).
Under his Virgin Records deal, Beenie released the album Art & Life, which earned him his Grammy Award in 2000. The project featured the hypnotic Sim Simma reprise, Girls Dem Sugar with American songstress Mya. The Neptunes produced track featured a snippet of the original over a slick, stuttering beat and was well received internationally like its predecessor.
After the song’s 25-year milestone, Beenie Man released his nineteenth studio album titled Simma, a fitting nod to his presence in Dancehall thanks to the smash hit.
Simma was nominated for Best Reggae Album at the upcoming 66th Annual Grammy Awards.