Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Two days after the March 11 release of his sixth album, "Friends for Life," Buju Banton will be doing what he loves best: performing.

The dancehall reggae progenitor kicks off a 60-city U.S. tour to introduce his new VP Records/Atlantic project. The tour begins March 13 at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom with labelmate Wayne Wonder. Banton jumpstarts proceedings with a co-headlining stint at the 22nd Ragga Muffins Festival/Bob Marley Day Celebration 2003 in Long Beach and San Diego, Calif. (Feb. 15-17). Anti/Epitaph will sponsor the tour's final leg in Europe, as it will release the set March 3 across the continent.

"When I put an album out, it takes a year to promote it," says Banton, born Mark Myrie. "I'm an underground artist, not a mainstream artist. So it takes a longer time for me on the road to support my records."

Eighteen months in the making -- Banton was slowed down by a soccer injury to his knee but remained on tour -- "Friends for Life" mixes reggae, dancehall, R&B, and hip-hop. Recorded in Jamaica, New York, and Miami, the resulting 18-track set finds Banton teaming with such friends as noted reggae producers Donovan Germain, Bobby "Digital" Dixon, Steven "Lenky" Marsden, and Troy Rami, with Banton himself also sliding behind the mixing board. Guest appearances include the aforementioned Wonder, fellow labelmate Bounty Killer, Fat Joe, and Beres Hammond.

Still musically championing educational and cultural empowerment, Banton covers the spiritual and the real through such cuts as the rollicking dancehall joint "Paid Not Played," the human-race-as-one ode "All Will Be Fine," and the fun "Good Times (Aye Aye Aye)" with Hammond and Fat Joe.

"Inspiration came from a whole range of things," says Banton. "Inner thoughts, personal afflictions... I wanted to make good music like I've always had the hunger to do. I'm talking to all people. If we want to heal the world from where we're sitting, we have to start with ourselves."





Excerpted from the Feb. 22, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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