Talk about the new material you’ve been working on.
I think considering the fact that we’ve been off the scene for a hot minute, it has to be a reinvention. We consciously removed ourselves from the mainstream for a couple of reasons: one being the fact that when you become this successful in the culture of dancehall and reggae, it’s such a minority music and small fraternity that when you achieve that level of success your credibility comes in question. It’s a typical “Oh he’s mainstream now, he’s not real anymore.” And for someone like me who came from dancehall and started at the bottom of the barrel, it became a little bit of an issue for me. So, I made a conscious decision to remove myself and start building my brand and career back from the roots. It was the right time to do it because at that time we were not having great relationships with our record company.
We were with MCA and we were the only sellers for that label at that time, and you know a plane can’t fly on one wing. So the parent company disbanded the label and the successful acts got moved over to Interscope, Geffen at the time. So, all of our core people who believed in the act were no longer there. So then you move from being a priority act to an act that nobody could understand. There were constant clashes creatively, constant clashes with marketing and not a lot of interest. So we decided at that point, “OK, let’s do dancehall.” We did some great things in dancehall, a lot of No. 1s, and now we’ve gotten to a point where we’ve done that, so [it’s] time to go back and make a mainstream record. So we are reestablishing the Shaggy brand and reinventing it at the same time.
What will the music sound like stylistically?
It will reestablish the fact that we are reggae. Before we were dancehall, which is a harder street type of music, but now we’re making a pop album. You can’t do dancehall and expect to get a hit on Z101, it just doesn’t happen. We’re going to make a reggae record that is true to Shaggy, but we’re going to put a twist on it so it has an appeal that can work globally. It’s going to be a feel-good record. When you think of reggae, the first thing that comes to your mind is smoking weed and chilling on the beach, this is what I want to transcend. Too many times I’ve seen the music that has come out of Jamaica and people think it’s either too dark, that it’s music that’s plagued with guns, violence and homophobia and I just think there is more. If you look at our forefathers, that was the heyday of reggae when reggae broke down barriers. They were making revolutionary songs that were fun and made you feel good. Why can’t we get back to that? Yeah you’re going to do it in a new style and the sound of the music will be a bit different, but that same message is there.
Jamaica shouldn’t be know as the place where you’re afraid to go ’cause you might get shot. There are places in New York where I wouldn’t go after midnight, so why is Kingston any different? This is what I want to portray with my music; that the strongest culture you know comes from Jamaica. Chris Blackwell built Island Records on the music of Jamaica. And I want that to come out of my music, that when you hear it you feel like you want to go to Jamaica, because the Rolling Stones used to be down there, Eric Clapton; everybody went to Jamaica to make music, because it’s the greatest and strongest culture for music. Everybody is making hip-hop music and this and that, why can’t we just make reggae and do it the way we want to do it?
Listen to Shaggy’s ‘Sugarcane.’
It sounds like you’ve assumed the role of ambassador for your country.
The minute you step off the shores of Jamaica, you’re an ambassador. The culture is strong. Remember now, hip-hop comes from dancehall and reggae, [DJ] Kool Herc, go all the way back and look at the history. This little island provides the mother-music for a lot of other genres.
How do you feel about big artists coming to the US from island cultures like yourself — like Rihanna coming from Barbados — and putting out pop records?
The thing is that Rihanna started as a dancehall artist. ‘Pon de Replay’ was a dancehall record, but they quickly realized they could either carry the reggae cement bag on their back or shed it right now and pop through. They took the easy way out. She just, boom, went somewhere else – “let’s go pop!” It’s a minority music. There is no format for reggae, so to get that record played it has to be so hot that it can’t be denied. As a reggae artist you have to make your records 10 times better than another genre. Why would she go that route? It was smart. She said, “I seen Shaggy do that!” When the reggae guy goes for the promotion, no brand wants to come on board, because there is no history of it working. “Isn’t that the music that’s about weed, guns and violence?” “Can we make it work with [Justin] Bieber? I can get New Kids [on the Block]!” So this is what we’re faced with. And that’s just the way it is.
Well you had a pop hit with ‘It Wasn’t Me.’
I delivered the track ‘It Wasn’t Me’ to MCA and they said they didn’t hear a hit. And then out of nowhere a guy downloaded it off Napster and played it and all of a sudden it was a massive record. And we though, “Oh s— we got a monster!” And it just ran from there.
Do people still try to pull the “it wasn’t me” line on you?
Oh, all the time!
What’s the best story you have of someone referencing it?
I was watching CNN when the oil spill happened in Louisiana and there was finger-pointing at the oil company like “who did it?” And all the executives were like, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me.” And CNN put it up there, “Everybody has the ‘Shaggy Factor’!” And I was dying I was like, “What the f— is the “Shaggy Factor”[laughs]? And I thought this is funny, I’m such a part of pop culture, it’s amazing.
So you appreciate that track for what it is? You’re not sick of it, yet?
I admire it. I fought for that track. When I turned it in my manager didn’t like it and the record company thought it wasn’t a hit. I believed in it so much that I gave it away. We were given a new A&R and that guy said, “I don’t know, I’m just the white guy, but that’s a f—ing smash!” And that’s how we ended up putting it on the album.
What’s the secret to longevity in this industry?
Knowing that you’re the underdog and operating like you’re the underdog. This is my fourth time coming back. The genius isn’t [in] riding the wave. How many artists do you know that put out a monster track and then more hits back to back? When you’ve got a big hit, you’re priority. It’s easy to ride the wave — all you have to do is go with the top producer, do the top collaborations, A&R a decent song and go. You’re riding on a momentum, why wouldn’t they play your next record if you’re hot? The genius is in letting the wave die down and then creating another wave. I’ve done it three times, and I’m going to do it a fourth time. What are all the big artists doing right now in between doing another record, they’re guesting on everybody else’s record to keep their name out there. I don’t do that. I rarely do collaborations.
Why don’t you do collaborations?
I did big name collabs. I did a record with Janet Jackson on the ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’ soundtrack called ‘Luv Me, Luv Me’ — big record. It went to No. 2 on the Billboard charts, but we had no video play, because MTV would not play the video because Janet wasn’t in it. Janet Jackson decided she did not want to go on the video, because I was just a little reggae mother f—er. We didn’t get a single release from Janet even though I was called to be on the project by the producers of Janet Jackson. It was their project and she decided to not come on the video. So I had to go out there and do all the work myself and had she so much as whispered on it we would have had an easier job. So I don’t want to deal with the big egos and management and all that garbage. The other one was Akon, we did a track called ‘What’s Love’ and it was bulls—. He did the record, and he’s like “Ra ra yeah put it out!” And then I’m chasing him around to get a release and get it signed and it’s bulls—.