Shaggy - Mr Boombastic
Friday, 26 October 2007
Shaggy has led a hard-knock life under the glare and scrutiny of fame.
The Jamaican became a reggae superstar in the ’90s with, first, his take on the vintage Oh Carolina, and then his breakthrough third album, Boombastic.
However, such is the cyclical popularity of reggae in the mainstream, that, even with a new label, Shaggy’s Hot Shot was ignored in 2000. Still, within weeks, It Wasn’t Me, championed by a Hawaiian radio DJ, was a global smash. Shaggy subsequently charted with Angel, sampling Angel Of The Morning – an oldie covered by country’s Juice Newton in the ’80s. Ironically, the sleeper Hot Shot would be Shaggy’s monumental LP. The perennial underdog was back on top.
In 2007 Shaggy, who divides his time between Kingston and New York, is staging yet another comeback with Intoxication, the lead single Bonafide Girl an idyllic summer anthem. (The B-side, Church Heathen, has already been an underground hit.)
There is a tradition in reggae of toasters cutting ‘versions’, with Bonafide Girl a prime example: Shaggy puts his spin on Desmond Dekker’s Shanty Town (007). He touts Bonafide Girl as an appropriate introduction to the dancehall-oriented Intoxication. “It’s really an eclectic album but, at the same time, it is a straight dancehall album – and you can hear the strong elements of dancehall in it.”
Shaggy was born Orville Richard Burrell in Jamaica but migrated to the US with his mother. Shaggy was always involved in music but wound up joining the US Marines. He served in Operation Desert Storm. Possibly that Gulf War experience convinced him to commit to music on return from Kuwait.
Following his last outing, Clothes Drop, of two years ago, Shaggy reassessed his career. He split from Geffen. Today the Grammy winner is independent, marketing Intoxication through his Big Yard label, also home to ‘family’ like Rik Rok.
If anything defines Intoxication, it’s Shaggy’s liberation. “The thing I like about this album the most is that, for the first time, I’m in control of it. The last time I was totally in control of an album, as far as the A&Ring of it, was Hot Shot, because I was in between deals when I made that record.
“It’s kind of the same situation [with Intoxication), where I don’t have an A&R – or a major label – dictating to me how the record is done. The big problem you have with record companies is when you give them a song like Angel or It Wasn’t Me or Boombastic, or any of these big records, they intend for you to repeat the same thing – and sometimes music isn’t at that point.” Hence his decision to make ‘straight’ dancehall.
Shaggy has twice been burnt at majors – initially by Virgin – and laments how it’s now marketing types who dominate the industry. ‘Artist development’ is deemed passe. “Nowadays that’s not what it’s about. It’s about signing something and screwing it up!” he laughs.
Akon cameos on Intoxication but Shaggy has long resisted the trend towards ‘collabs’ and, at that, isn’t inclined to hire influential hitmakers. He prefers to work with his own camp. Indeed, Shaggy values autonomy. Geffen, dismissing his history of ‘monster’ hits, pressured Shaggy to team with ‘big’ names, something he fought against. “You’re looking at 15 years of career, shouldn’t something ring a bell – like, OK, maybe this guy knows what he’s doing- When you have a record executive saying you should use this person and pay him $150,000 to do a track that I could do for two grand, I find that absurd.”
He’s proud that his greatest moments are bona-fide ‘Shaggy’ records. “I carried every record that I’ve done – solely on me,” he says. “I can fairly say, Yeah, I didn’t buy a song.”
As for Akon, Shaggy knew the African when he was doing reggae.
Shaggy is supportive of reggae’s internationalisation – he gives props to the Jewish Matisyahu – and he’s curious about the music’s myriad offshoots like reggaeton. “The good thing about reggae is it’s a fast music – not fast in the sense of tempo, [but] fast in the sense that it’s an ever-changing music.
“I like everything that is coming out – some of it is just not my taste. I’m more of a fan of the classics. But I like the fact that it changes fast, because it keeps it fresh.”
Shaggy is impressively down-to-earth for a diamond-selling reggae act. Enduring so many ups and downs has grounded him. He’s surprisingly passionate, too, arguing his points. “I think that when you get success quickly and go to those heights – that mainstream pop success – overnight, then you’ll have issues with humility at the end of the day. [But] my success has been very gradual – from the streets of Flatbush all the way to little underground hits, [I] made my way up, did Oh Carolina, that was used up, [I was] the ‘one hit wonder’, criticised heavily, then I came with Boombastic, got dropped from my label – so I keep having to prove myself. With all of this happening down the line, you’re getting that sense of reality. It kicks in really quickly. For me, it’s a natural progression.”
Why do reggae artists cop virulent flak when they cross over- “People go for the negative – the negative is what sells papers and newspapers and magazines,” Shaggy sighs. ”You as an artist gotta know how to deal with that.”
Since Shaggy, Sean Paul has blown up, as with the Bajan Rihanna, who, veering away from dancehall into urban-pop, is increasingly closer to Nelly Furtado.
Shaggy admires Rihanna for not succumbing to early criticism but, he stresses, she has the guidance of LA Reid, among few ‘good guys’ left in the biz. “Rihanna handled it well. She stepped up to the plate - she did her thing.”
Nevertheless, Rihanna seems to enjoy limited freedom. Word is that she can’t choose her lipstick shade. Shaggy understands Rihanna’s acquiescence. “She’s doing it the smart way,” he says. ”I don’t think that you should be calling shots when you’re a new artist. You need to pay those dues at the same time. She’s got to kiss the ass until she can kick it – and now is the ass-kissing time.”
He’s less sure about Sean Kingston, Jonathan ‘JR’ Rotem’s protege. Shaggy foresees much hatin’. “Sean Kingston is gonna get a lot of that right now because he came with this massive record [Beautiful Girls]. His main thing is to have a follow-up that is gonna actually be bigger than that record. He’s gotta raise the bar - and it’s a tough job. I don’t know if he’s gonna be that lucky. The guy’s on Sony, for God’s sake – and everybody’s lost over there!”
WHAT: Bonafide Girl and Intoxication through Central Station
WHEN: Out now