Shaggy with Mikey Dangerous and DJ Anger
When: Saturday and Sunday, 9 p.m. (doors at 8:30)
Where: Club 9one9
Tickets: $35.95 (plus service charges) at Lyle’s Place, Trini to D Bone, Ditch Records, the Strathcona Hotel, The Reef, and ticketweb.ca
Shaggy moved to New York in his late teens with visions of stardom in mind. He would eventually realize his dream of becoming a famous singer, but not without employing some key stop-gap measures along the way.
The first was to make himself difficult to define — which remains his calling card. Depending on the day, you might catch Shaggy as Mr. Boombastic, reggae music’s party-friendly personality; in a mellower mood, he’s a bedroom-ready playboy known as Mr. Lover Lover.
On this day, however, the man known to music fans as the king of pop-dancehall isn’t in the mood to celebrate, particularly when talk turns to the current state of reggae music.
The performer, who was born Orville Burrell, grew up in the ghettos of Jamaica surrounded by his country’s native artform. Reggae is both Jamaica’s lifeblood and its cottage industry, thanks to the musical output of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff. That this same music is not treated with reverence in North America is something that drives the Jamaica-based Shaggy.
His mission is to do better with each record he releases. Out of Many, One Music, his new recording and most traditional outing to date, is an attempt to put a proper spotlight back on reggae music, Shaggy said.
The recording was produced by icons Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, who are among the most revered players in Jamaican music history. Like Shaggy, they have found success over the long term. The frustrating part for Shaggy is that Shakespeare, Dunbar and himself have all struggled mightily to achieve it.
“The genre I am in is a minority genre,” he said during a recent tour stop. “When you look at promoting it, there are no radio stations, there is no format for reggae music. What I have tried to do over the years is give it a crossover flair, add other elements to the music just to get radio play. That’s what [Island Records founder] Chris Blackwell did with Bob Marley in the early days, get session musicians to overdub rock sounds over his music so it would get radio play.”
Shaggy, 45, learned a thing or two from the Blackwell formula. His biggest hits are interpolations of well-known songs, from Boombastic — which used Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On — to Angel, which incorporated the chorus of Merilee Rush’s Angel of the Morning.
Shaggy crafted his method of songwriting out of necessity. Serendipitously, it helped skirt the music industry system — one that is very clearly is broken, Shaggy said. “Most radio stations only play reggae for two hours on Sunday. But we’ve got ourselves to the point where we’re selling numbers equal to the big boys. It’s definitely not a level playing field, but we’ve overcome the odds.”
There was nothing easy about the way Shaggy went about his career in the early days. Shortly after his arrival in the U.S., at 18, he played everywhere around his adopted hometown of New York City. He did so for the better part of year, without much success.
Shortly before his 20th birthday, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines and wound up stationed at a camp in North Carolina. While enlisted, he managed to cut a single and release it, albeit to little attention.
In 1991, he was sent to Kuwait for five months as part of Operation Desert Storm. His tour of duty wrapped without incident and by 1993 he had found overseas success with Oh Carolina, a dancehall sizzler that used the Theme From Peter Gunn to great effect.
It was at this point — after finally achieving the success that eluded him for so long — that Shaggy realized his dream of bringing traditional dancehall to the masses might never materialize.
Then came the final, definitive eye-opener for Shaggy. While singing backup for British reggae-fusion singer Maxi Priest on a 1993 tour, he noticed the range of other bands on the bill at Brazil’s Hollywood Rock Festival. Priest was booked alongside Nirvana, Alice in Chains and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which gave Shaggy considerable pause.
“I totally had it wrong,” he said with a laugh. “I was chasing this dancehall dream, and this guy was global.”
He eventually signed a record deal of his own, but was told repeatedly by executives that his pop-inflected reggae would never translate to mainstream success. “It wasn’t easy work,” Shaggy said. “I sold records and made a career on Britney Spears’ catering budget. That is literally what the record company gave us.”
His world was remade the instant Hot Shot arrived in 2000. The album hit No. 1 on the sales charts, and spawned a series of career-defining singles. Hot Shot has sold upwards of 20 million copies worldwide and remains the album with which Shaggy is most often associated.
For tours in support of pop albums such as Hot Shot, Shaggy uses major festival dates as a tool for promotion. For the trek in support of Out of Many, One Music — his riff on Jamaica’s national motto, Out of Many, One People — he is visiting places such as Victoria, where he has never performed.
He’s happy with the results, as he should be. The first of two Shaggy dates this weekend at Club 9one9 sold out in advance. The second, on Sunday, is also selling well.
“It’s eye opening,” he said of his current club tour.
“But we did a reggae album, a raw reggae album, and if you’re promoting a reggae album, this is the way to do it. Take it straight to the people.”
Shaggy dominated the Hot 100 with "It Wasn't Me" and "Angel" and spent six weeks atop of the Billboard 200 with "Hot Shot" (MCA Records), his eclectic sound melding an array of influences. The title of Shaggy's latest album, "Out of Many, One Music," digitally released on September 24th on Shaggy's Ranch Entertainment label, transforms Jamaica's national motto, 'Out of Many, One People,' into an apt summation of his sonic recipe. Yet, "Out of Many, One Music", recorded primarily at Shaggy's Long Island studio, with production helmed by legendary Jamaican drum and bass duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, is the first exclusively one-drop reggae release of the artist's celebrated 25-year recording career.
Returning to his reggae roots after two decades of mainstream success, Shaggy launched "Out of Many, One Music" on September 29th at Jamaica's longest-running weekly dancehall session, Rae Town. The free event, held Sunday nights, began 32 years ago in front of the Capricorn Inn on Rae St., where it is still held. Area vendors do brisk business selling jerk chicken, roasted fish, Red Stripe beer -- even stalks of marijuana can be purchased -- all of which generates significant revenue in an otherwise economically depressed community, located east of downtown Kingston. Shaggy, born Orville Burrell in Rae Town, lived there until he was 6 years old, then in various tenements throughout Kingston prior to his migration to Flatbush, Brooklyn at age 18. While in the Marines and stationed at North Carolina's Camp LeJeune, Shaggy regularly commuted to Brooklyn on weekends where he refined his toasting skills working with various Jamaican sound systems, notably Gibraltar Musik, eventually crafting an inimitable pop-dancehall pastiche that has made him Jamaica's best-selling living artist.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s in Jamaica, the proliferation of sound systems, originally consisting of speakers, turntables, amplifiers and records chosen for play by a selector, and the selector's search for exclusive singles to attract larger crowds to their dances (and to trump their competition), led to the creation of the island's recording industry. "Shaggy took his launch [of 'Out of Many, One Music'] to where reggae came from: The sound system. Shaggy is the first artist to launch an album here, which has made the Rae Town dance more popular," observes Senor Daley, owner and selector with Klassique Disco, Rae Town's resident sound system, which specializes in oldies; from classic country and R&B to vintage reggae and dancehall. All are embraced by the Rae Town crowd, which Daley estimates at 700 each Sunday night.
Despite a forecast guaranteeing rain, approximately 1,500 patrons turned out for Shaggy's album launch, where he performed alongside several Jamaican collaborators featured on the album, including contemporary roots singer Tarrus Riley, dancehall star Konshens and "The Voice" contestant Tessanne Chin, whose dynamic audition on the September 24th segment of the popular NBC show had all four judges vying to coach her.
Shaggy's Rae Town launch underscores the mission of his latest album: To emphasize reggae coming from its birthplace, where, in recent years, it has been obscured by the dominance of synthesized dancehall beats while in the global marketplace -- especially in the US -- it's non-Jamaicans that are having the greatest success playing the island's signature rhythm.
"California reggae bands, like Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution, are pulling 30-40,000 people at their concerts and on the Billboard Reggae chart there's mostly American reggae acts. God bless them, because they have kept reggae alive while we [Jamaicans] have been asleep at the wheel. So I thought why don't I do what those artists are doing, real reggae, get the gods of reggae -- Sly and Robbie -- to produce it and feature Jamaica's hottest artists on the tracks," Shaggy explained in an interview at Kingston's Alternative Music Rehearsal Studio while taking a break from rehearsing for the European/UK leg of the Out of Many tour. The tour commenced in Munich on October 10, featuring Shaggy's longstanding Brooklyn cohort singer Rayvon ("Angel") and Sly and Robbie, who have collaborated as a production duo/rhythm section since 1975 with the likes of Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, No Doubt and Grace Jones.
"Fight this Feeling," intially released on April 22, finds Shaggy and the beloved veteran Jamaican singer Beres Hammond crooning romantic promises over a timeless reggae rhythm Sly and Robbie originally created for the 1986 hit "Sitting and Watching" by the late Jamaican singer Dennis Brown.
The second single, a melodic lover's rock gem, "You Girl" featuring Ne-Yo, dropped on August 13th. The "You Girl" video premiere originally scheduled for Rae Town will now debut on October 16th on VEVO.
"Out of Many, One Music" debuted at no. 3 on the Reggae Album chart, moving 741 units for the week of October 12 (the chart's No. 1 entry, "9ine," by Musiq Soulchild and Syleena Johnson, sold 955 copies). Despite a rigorous promotional campaign throughout its release week, which included interviews on NYC's Power 105.1 FM, the WPIX TV Morning News and release parties/performances in Brooklyn, Hartford, Albany and Boston, Shaggy expected slow sales at the outset (the multi-platinum Hot Shot also started out slowly). "Reggae is the underdog, so it's going to take time," he declares. "We shopped it to different labels, and execs weren't interested in a reggae album -- but some said if I did a pop collaborations album, we could do a deal. An exec told me he thought the Ne-Yo song was a hit, but the only difference between that song and the others is that Ne-Yo is a pop superstar."
Bobby Konders, who has hosted the weekend reggae/dancehall/hip-hop show on New York's influential hip-hop station WQHT 97.1 FM (Hot 97) alongside his partner Jabba for nearly 20 years, calls "Out of Many, One Music" a classic reggae album that "people will listen to 10 years from now." Konders' audience has responded favorably to Shaggy's recent singles and he's hopeful radio jocks across various formats will give them some spins. "Radio is always slow when it comes to adding [Jamaican] reggae, yet pop stations play reggae-influenced songs by mainstream artists like Bruno Mars," acknowledges Konders. "Shaggy is the one person these stations might take a chance with and play his reggae songs now, because they've played his pop records before."