In ancient Japanese culture, a ninja is a highly trained assassin, who specializes in using undetected tactics in the art of slaughter. In modern Dancehall culture, Ninjaman is the original lyrical terror, known for using his razor-sharp wit; slow, steady, calculated delivery; and mastery of the art of rhyme and rhythm to musically slaughter any and all who cross his path.
For over twenty years, Desmond “Ninjaman” Ballentine has stood out as one of the most candid, colorful, and controversial of all of Jamaica’s Dancehall deejays, with the skill, performance, and lifestyle to earn the apt title “The Don Gorgon” or most respected of the Dancehall fraternity.
Beginning with his first single “Protection,” recorded with Reggae singer Courtney Melody in 1986 under the moniker Uglyman, Ninja’s distinct lyrical pattern and smoothly wicked delivery was easily recognizable among the ranking deejays of the mid to late 80’s. A slew of singles followed with “Cover Me,” a romantic duet with Reggae singer Tinga Stewart, becoming his first bonafied hit in 1988. However, Ninja’s greatest acclaim would come at the turn of the decade, when he became the initiator of the “badman era” of 90’s Dancehall, with the release of the highly acclaimed “gunman” anthems “Murder Dem,” “My Weapon,” “Champion,” and “Permit to Bury.”
It would be Ninja’s over-the-top stage performances that cemented his place as the “original gold teet, front teet, gun pon teet don gorgon.” The theatrics, politics, charisma, intensity, and bravado that he brings to the live arena married with his ingenius on-the-spot lyrics has made him not only the most respected, but the most feared lyrical stage opponent among other artists. Revered Dancehall lyricists Super Cat, Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, and Vybz Kartel are among the lengthy list of Ninja’s lyrical conquests.
His most memorable and historic clash was against his arch rival, Dancehall’s first superstar Shabba Ranks. In 1990, both entertainers were at the height of their careers, as two of Dancehall’s most domineering forces. They had faced off before, but at the annual Sting concert, the two engaged in a brutal, no-holds barred lyrical showdown, sparked by Ninja’s vocal disdain over Shabba’s signing to American record label Epic Records. While the battle was intensely personal and emotionally charged, the crowd loved every second of it, crowning Ninja the Sting champion and dubbing it the Sting “Super Clash.”
Desmond Ballentine was born on January 20, 1966 in the rural province of St. Mary in Jamaica. After moving to Kingston as a young teen, he began selecting for the popular soundsystem Killamanjaro, under the names Double Ugly and/or Uglyman. The name Ninjaman was given to him by Killamanjaro’s founder Noel Harper, who teased Desmond about his ninja-like behavior and tendencies, which includes his chameleon-like ability to fit into any Reggae musical category. His substantial catalogue includes memorable duets with Lover’s Rock legends Gregory Isaacs, Linval Thompson, Admiral Tibett, and Cocoa Tea, in addition to a number Roots & Culture tunes alongside his signature badman staples.
In 1997, Ninjaman re-invented himself as a born-again Christian under the name Brother Desmond, and enjoyed a brief stint as a Gospel Dancehall performer, before returning to his ragga Dancehall roots.
While his recording career has waned in the face of a myriad of personal and legal issues, he continues to be one of Jamaica’s most sought after performers. In 1999, he was cast as the sinister turn-coat “Deportee” in the feature film Third World Cop, alongside celebrated actor Paul Campbell.
Recently, Ninja has re-emerged for the overseas market, making his first publicity trip to the U.S. in over a decade, appearing on Hot 97, New York’s number 1 urban music station, among many others. Summer 2007 will mark his official return with his scheduled performance at the popular annual stage show, Cari-Fest, his first NY appearance in over 15 years.