busy-signal-portrait

Busy Signal Will Make History This Weekend

Reanno Devon Gordon aka Busy Signal was born in the Jamaican parish of St. Ann—birthplace of Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey among other legends. He grew up in various parts of Kingston, including Spanish Town, Papine, and Tivoli Gardens, perhaps the island’s most notorious garrison. Busy traveled to the U.S. as a youth where he spent time in Hartford, Connecticut. During his teen years he got himself entangled in a situation that would catch up with him many years later.

After being arrested on drug-related charges Busy managed to cut off his ankle bracelet and escape back to Jamaica where he started a new life as a recording artist—working under an alias in hopes of covering his tracks. From the moment his 2005 hit “Step Out” first burst onto the dancehall scene, Busy quickly became one of the most popular artists in the game. He soon linked up with the Alliance crew headed up by Bounty Killer and his future in music was sealed. On one of his early tracks, “Nah Go Jail Again,” he boldly shouts out “all who cut off the fuckin’ bracelet.”

With successful love ballads (“Nightshift / One More Night“) and reality songs (“Trading Places“) Busy’s versatility has made him one of the greatest reggae artists of his generation. But don’t sleep on his deejaying skills. From dancehall to hip hop to EDM, Busy can pretty much fuck up any type of track with lyrics of fire. His “All In One” video is an awesome dsplay of lyrical mastery. 

Collabs with international acts like Major Lazer and No Doubt would soon follow, but despite the fame and fortune that came with his burgeoning career, Busy always kept it true to the streets. The streets repaid the Turf President, as he is known these days, by showing him maximum respect. His name carries clout in the streets and musically you know that when Busy drops a new track it’s gonna be good. Busy would go on to become an international star and travelled the world to shell down stages—pretty much everywhere except America. Nobody but his closest inner circle knew the reason why.

I first met Busy in 2012 at Penthouse Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. He had just finished recording a brand new all-reggae album called Reggae Music Again. “Respect is due to this genre of music that really gave birth to dancehall and a lot of different genres of music—hip hop, reggaeton,” he told me. “Me being a dancehall artist, it’s just me showing that respect.” Legends like Dean Fraser, Beres Hammond, and  Marcia Griffiths had been encouraging him to push himself creatively because they saw him as a talented youth who could help keep real Jamaican music alive and well.

Sadly, not long after this encounter, I heard that Busy had been arrested in London’s Heathrow Airport while returning from a European tour. The second phase of his amazing life was coming to a close. He was eventually extradited to a U.S. federal prison where he stood trial for the crime he was convicted of as a kid. At the time he issued this statement to his fans:

“Your messages and prayers via social networks and via members of my team are what have brought light to the darkness of my cell… I have never admitted that I was involved in any drug deal or drug arrangement. I waived my rights to an extradition trial here in Jamaica, so that I can return to the U.S. to face a charge of absconding bail ONLY. This incident took place ten (10) years ago before I even considered becoming an artiste… For my family, you have stood by me through thick and thin and I know you will continue to do so. In my time away, I have made the necessary arrangements with my management team to have you taken care of until my return… To my band. Hi-Voltage, you have toured the world with me and have been a tower of strength. Continue to make good music until I return, cause the mission will continue…. To my legal team, K.D. Knight, Bert Samuels and Roxanne Mars, your positive words and unfailing belief and support in me and my case have made this situation a little easier to bear. Thank you very much… Finally my friends, my fans and my family, thank you again from the depths of my heart. Please keep me in your prayers. “We not going down, cause God alone controls my destiny”

With Vybz Kartel and Buju Banton both behind bars at that moment, the whole reggae fraternity was in a state of shock. In all honesty, things didn’t look to good for Busy at that moment—but he kept the faith. Within a few months his legal team scored a major triumph. By emphasizing Busy’s good behavior and the contributions he made to his community since becoming an artist, his lawyer convinced the judge that he had turned his life around in a more positive direction. They even traveled to Jamaica and shot a mini-documentary with testimonials from all the people he had helped out with his generosity. They managed show another side of Busy Signal and the judge agreed to cut his sentence short, meaning he would be released after just six months.

I had the opportunity to meet Busy again backstage at Sting, one of the biggest stage shows in Jamaica. After his triumphant return home, Busy headlining the show, his first major performance in Jamaica since beating the case. Busy entered the stage singing “Nah Go A Jail Again”—a song he wrote and recorded years ago as a new artist, which now had a whole new meaning. The crowd response was deafening as fans showered Busy with love. It was an emotional and exhilarating show, one of the best performances of his life. Afterwards he told me how lucky he felt to be back home and that he “was living the Jamaican dream.”

Having served his time and turned over a fresh leaf, Busy went on to do what he does best—add more heat to his catalogue. Blessings and good fortune continued to rain down on his head. His “Bumaye (Watch out for this)” track with Major Lazer became one of the most successful crossover songs for any artist out of Jamaica. The cell phone company LG picked up his song “Everybody Move” for one of their major TV commercials. He was chosen as one of the short list of acts to perform for an international crowd on Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley’s annual Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise.

At the time this cruise seemed Busy’s best chance to reach an international audience—by bringing those international fans to Jamaican waters. Having been locked in a  federal penitentiary in the U.S. his chances of returning to America seemed slim. “This is a brilliant idea,” he said when I spoke to him on the first-ever reggae cruise. “It’s another way to expose yourself—you know, people from all over.” Busy remained humble and continued giving thanks to God for his freedom. What more could he possibly wish for?

Just when you thought this guy couldn’t be any more blessed, one day in January of this year—without warning—Busy signal posts a picture of himself in JFK Airport. Next thing you know he was standing on the Whitestone Bridge in Queens, NYC asking “Guess who they let in!?”

WTF!?!? This moment caused a social media frenzy with fans and foes alike going crazy with a mixture of shock, excitement and confusion. was quick to address his haters “All who hate me… continue. Me cyan change you. All who respect the Turf big up yourself.” Somehow, someway, Busy Signal managed to get his U.S. visa approved and would now be able to come back and forth anytime he pleases for 10 years. Once again I was lucky enough to speak with the Turf Prez at yet another triumphant moment. Within 24 hours of his arrival we sat down for an exclusive in-depth interview. Of course we spoke about his latest EP Fresh From Yaad  but this conversation was much deeper than promoting a new project.

“I’m speaking to you because you’ve been there covering this music in important times,” Busy said. This day was special and he was super selective about sharing his real feelings. Giving thanks to God at every moment, Busy seemed as if he could not believe his good fortune.

We spoke about everything, from the day he got his visa to his time in prison and even the hard road he traveled in life to reach this point. “Look at my hands,” he told me, holding out his fingers to show the scars. “I got these rough marks on the streets,” he said. “I could laser them off, but I want to keep them because they remind me of where I’m coming from. This could be gone, I could pay for that—but this is me. Listen to this.” As he rubbed his fingers together they made a noise like sandpaper. “You can’t fake this. You see this? This is streets.”

Busy went on to disclose that many artists and industry figures had told him it would be impossible to get his visa back. “In today’s world there are more fake people than real people,” he said. “For every two or three people who like you, you got five or seven people who hate you. But at the and of the day I accept it because they can’t touch me or do me nothing.” In the next moment he was shouting out Rihanna, asking to collaborate: “Holler at me!

Although he did not have a work permit at that moment, Busy simply couldn’t believe his luck. His smile reached from ear to ear. “I’m the cat that got the cream,” he said, looking forward to the chance to touch the stage in the United States again. “I am getting ready so when I get my work visa for the US i’m gonna take over”

Since January Busy has been consistently dropping heat (just last night he posted a new song in honor of the late great Prodigy.) Now it looks like Busy’s wishes have been granted yet again. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Christopher Roberts, proprietor of The Door Restaurant in Queens, NY, his application for a work permit was approved. This Sunday June 25th Busy Signal will perform at Groovin’ In The Park alongside R. Kelly, Stephanie Mills, Tarrus Riley, Ken Boothe, Daddy U Roy, and other reggae and R&B luminaries.

This Sunday will be Busy’s first show ever in the United States—the country he once ran from, and was later extradited to, and later deported from. Now he’s coming full circle on the journey. Safe to say it will be a moment that he’s dreamed of all his life. Maybe dreams can come true after all. History in the making? No doubt. Will I be there in Roy Wilkins Park? You’re damn right!

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