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Shaggy: 'I never had budgets. I'm the reggae guy'

HOT SHOT: Shaggy

THERE AREN'T an abundance of Jamaican music artists who can claim to be both pop stars and reggae stars. Generally speaking, you’re either one or the other.

But somehow, Shaggy has enjoyed a 22-year career, in which he has successfully straddled both markets time and time again.

His 1993 debut album, Pure Pleasure, featured the dancehall favourite, Big Up, which, to this day, still solidifies Shaggy as a dancehall don. The same album also spawned the unforgettable, Oh Carolina – which marked the beginning of his journey as a pop sensation.

The single shot to the top of the UK charts, introducing the masses to the gravely-voiced, unmistakably Jamaican deejay, who delivered ‘radio-friendly’ reggae with ease.

Two years later, commercial acclaim continued with the release of Boombastic; the hit album that spawned the number one single of the same name and earned the star a Grammy for best reggae album – whilst also featuring the dancehall hit, Gal Yu A Pepper.

In 2000, came Hot Shot – an album that proved the artist born Orville Burrell to be just that. Spawning the hit song Angel, as well as the star’s best-known pop single to date – It Wasn’t Me – the album led him to become reggae’s only living diamond selling artist, after it sold over 10 million copies worldwide. (FYI, the late Bob Marley is the only other reggae act to have achieved this feat.)

And still, the pop sensation went on to take the dancehall/reggae fraternities by storm (again) with hits including Church Heathen, Bonafide Girl and his collaboration with reggae veteran Beres Hammond, Fight This Feeling.

What is the secret to his continued ability to enjoy such widespread success?

“It’s a sixth sense,” Shaggy reasons. “And it’s about my taste. The music that I make, I make it to my taste. But also, being a reggae artist, I know I have to work 10 times as hard as the average artist because we’re not on the same playing field. I always laugh and say, ‘I’ve sold millions of records on Britney Spears’ catering budget!’ Because I never had budgets, you know what I mean?

“I’m the reggae guy and no record label is gonna spend millions of dollars to market the reggae guy. You don’t even have many reggae stations, so it’s always been a challenge.”

He continues: “Despite that, in 1993 when we signed to Virgin, we became the biggest signing in reggae. No reggae or dancehall act had ever been signed for £1million, but we did that – and that was in 1993.

“We went straight in at number one in the British charts with Boombastic, then with It Wasn’t Me. And with Hot Shot selling over 10 million records… I’m proud that I’ve been a game-changer in the things that I’ve done.”


LONG-LASTING LOVE: Shaggy with his wife Rebecca Packer

And now, after a few years concentrating on reggae, the 46-year-old is earning commercial attention once again, with the release of his new single I Need Your Love. Having signed with major label Sony last year, is the star nervous about making a new assault on the commercial world?

“No, I’m not scared at all,” he says. “I still think it boils down to having a great song; I’m not really your tabloid guy. You’re not gonna hear about me in the news unless I have a record out. I’ve always put my trust in the song and my ability to find songs that connect with people.

He adds: “There’s more of a social media element to the industry now, which I learn as I go along. You know, you have to take a picture everywhere you go and document everything you do!

“But you know, it becomes exciting and you learn more as you go along.”

Though he says he’s “not really your tabloid guy,” he did become just that, following recent comments he made about terrorist group ISIS.

Talking to Miami New Times, Shaggy said of the jihadist group: “If they’re listening to Shaggy music or reggae music, they’re not going to want to cut somebody’s head off…They need to bag some Jamaican weed and distribute it amongst ISIS. I guarantee there won’t be any more wars out there.”

Reflecting on his comments, Shaggy says: “I think some people took it a little bit too seriously, but if you look at the article and how it was written, it wasn’t written very seriously. I think some people were just a little bit shocked that someone would actually say something about ISIS. But for me, it is what it is.


WOWING THE CROWD: Shaggy in action

“The morning that I did the interview, I’d just seen that video that ISIS put out. [The video, in which a Syrian soldier was beheaded by an ISIS child soldier]. So when I did the interview, I was like, ‘Everybody just needs to smoke some weed and chill out.’ Because I’ve never seen anybody smoke some weed and try to chop somebody’s head off. That was the bottom line.”

Social commentary aside, the star has his focus fixed on music. But the married father-of-five says he is keen to spend as much time as possible with his youngest children, so they don’t suffer in the same way his older children did.

“[Juggling music and family] is difficult and it’s a new challenge,” admits Shaggy, who married his long-time partner Rebecca Packer last year.

“I have two sons, aged 20 and 18; I have a 10-year-old daughter and twin girls who are five.

“When Hot Shot came out, my sons suffered. They got everything they wanted but they suffered – I missed out on a lot. I don’t want to do the same thing with my girls, so it really is a balancing act.”

So what’s the future for the Jamaican sensation?

“I never set goals,” he says. “I just do what I do knowing that failure is not an option.”

I Need Your Love is out now Sony Music

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