Banton has been criticised for the lyrical content of his song “Boom Bye Bye”, which was released when he was 19 years old in 1992. The song has been interpreted as supporting the murder of gay men although others have argued that the song’s lyrics should be read as metaphorical, following in a long tradition of exaggerated rhetorical violence in Jamaican dancehall music. In 2009 gay-rights groups appealed to venues around the United States not to host Buju Banton.
In 2007 Banton was allegedly among a number of reggae artists who signed a pledge, called the Reggae Compassionate Act, created by the Stop Murder Music campaign, to refrain from performing homophobic songs or making homophobic statements. The Act stated that the signers “do not encourage nor minister to HATE but rather uphold a philosophy of LOVE, RESPECT, and UNDERSTANDING towards all human beings as the cornerstone of reggae music” and promised that the artists involved no longer believed in sexism, homophobia, or violence and that they would not perform music that went against these beliefs on stage. Banton later denied that he had made any such commitment, although he did refrain from performing “Boom Bye Bye” and other offensive songs at the 2007 Reggae Carifest concert. He did, however, continue to play such songs afterwards.
On 20 March 2019, Buju Banton and his team officially removed “Boom Bye Bye” from his catalog. Banton’s team pulled the song from streaming platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify, and Banton announced his intention to never perform the song again. Banton issued a statement in which he clarified the importance of tolerance and love, saying, “In recent days there has been a great deal of press coverage about the song ‘Boom Bye Bye’ from my past which I long ago stopped performing and removed from any platform that I control or have influence over. I recognize that the song has caused much pain to listeners, as well as to my fans, my family and myself. After all the adversity we’ve been through I am determined to put this song in the past and continue moving forward as an artist and as a man. I affirm once and for all that everyone has the right to live as they so choose. In the words of the great Dennis Brown, ‘Love and hate can never be friends.’ I welcome everyone to my shows in a spirit of peace and love. Please come join me in that same spirit.”
In December 2009 Drug Enforcement Administration agents remanded Banton to custody in Miami, where the U.S. Attorney charged him with conspiracy to distribute and possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine. Banton was then moved to the Pinellas County Jail where he remained until trial. A six-day trial in Tampa, Florida was declared a mistrial on 27 September 2010, after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision. During the trial, audio recordings were presented of Banton and a drug-dealer-turned-government-informant discussing drugs, drug prices and smuggling. Banton was also seen on a video recording meeting the informant in a police-controlled warehouse tasting cocaine from a kilogram bag. The informant was reportedly paid $50,000 for his work on the case. The singer was released that November on bond.
He was allowed to perform one concert between trials, which was held on 16 January 2011 to a sold-out crowd in Miami. A few weeks after the performance he won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album but was not allowed to attend the ceremony.
On 22 February 2011, Banton was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense and using communication wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offense. He was found not guilty on the charge of attempted possession of five kilograms or more of cocaine. Four months later, he was sentenced to ten years and one month in a federal prison for the cocaine trafficking conviction. His sentencing on a related firearms conviction (despite the fact that Banton was never found with a gun) was scheduled for 30 October 2012, and then postponed on his lawyer’s request for an investigation of possible juror misconduct. Despite the fact that a juror was found guilty of misconduct, Buju Banton waived his right to an appeal. On 14 May 2015 federal prosecutors agreed to drop the firearms charge.
Banton was released on 7 December 2018 from McRae Correctional Institution.