Interview: Shaggy

Interview: Shaggy

Celebrating his 7th full length album with Summer In Kingston, Shaggy had a lot to say when catching up with The Pier. The Grammy-winning Jamaican artist broke into the spotlight with 1995’s release of Boombastic, that would later go platinum, followed by the 2001, six-times-platinum Hotshot, featuring dancehall’s first Number 1 pop single.

Celebrating the release of Summer In Kingston, Shaggy closed down the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, for a free block party, performing alongside dancehall artists Bounty Killer and Elephant Man while debuting the music video to his new single, “Sugarcane”. The Pier was able to catch up with Shaggy to discuss his new album, up & coming talent as well as the influence his time in the Marines had on him as a musician & person. Enjoy!

The Pier: Growing up as a young man in Jamaica & Brooklyn, did you ever think you would reach such success as a musician?
Shaggy: Not at all man, I just got in music because it was a hobby. I got into clubs for free, got to drink for free and left with the hottest girl from the night. I never dreamed it would be for me to go on this kind of ride at all.

The Pier: Nice! Well when did you realize you had a talent for music?
Shaggy: I always been a lover of music and it all started with me trying to make dubplates and I couldn’t afford to hire people to do dubplates, so I started doing them myself. You know just mimicking & imitating all my favorite dance-hall artists. But it came apparent to me this was a career for me after the release and success I received from Boombastic.

The Pier: You’ve been releasing critically & commercially acclaimed music for nearly 2 decades now in a genre where success can almost be ridiculously fly-by-night. What do you think is the most important factor in maintaining a career that has endured as long as yours?
Shaggy: I think its trying to reinvent yourself every time. There’s no 2 shaggy songs that really sound a like. We do them in very different keys at times with a very different feel or sometimes go outside of the box which is a little bit risky. Once you do a hit like Boombastic, the record company wants you to repeat that because everyone wants a pattern and a formula, you know what I mean? Because its safe and it’ll run by people and people rather play something they’re familiar with. I think the fact that we always go against that grain may not be the best thing for the radio or the record company, but in the long run it works out for us cause it keeps us fresh, motivated & eclectic. It’s a little bit more riskier but the reward is far more better.

The Pier: What would you say sepearates your latest album, Summer In Kingston, from your previous work?
Shaggy: This is the first really all, traditional organic feel type sound compared to what we normally do. For instance the album Intoxication, which has more dance-hall oriented songs, there’s not really a lot of dance-hall on this new record. This is more of a reggae record, more so than anything else with a lot of top over tones to it. I think its a more authentic sound that we’re bringing to it. There’s a lot more melodic feel to it than some of the other stuff that we’ve done in the past. Songs like Sugar Cane! That kind of Reggae and that kind of feel of reggae is not something that is normally heard in Jamaica or heard anywhere for that matter. It’s not normally played in Jamaica, so we’re trying to bring something new & innovative.

The Pier: With the song “Soldiers Story”, you talk about your time as a marine in Iraq as a young man. Could you please explain how your military background has influenced you as a person and a musician?
Shaggy: It had a very big influence on me, especially as far as discipline is concerned. I could have never done this job if I never done the military. I use to wake up in the morning and run miles after miles as a routine ya know? Now I’m on different time zones getting up and doing interviews at ungodly hours ya know and then having to jump on a plane and do concerts, promotions, signings. That kind of discipline to promote records and do interviews over and over. If I wasn’t in the military, I don’t think I would have been prepared to tackle all of that. I’ve shied away from really talking about my military experience up until now, only because I thought it was expected. I was in no way a model marine, it just came to me to write a song about the experience of going into the military and the thought process of a person trying to make that decision and what would lead a person to making that decision ya know? So that’s how Stories Soldier came about.

The Pier: On your new album, you have guest spots from two of reggae’s rising stars, Assassin & Tarrus Riley. Who are some other young musicians you think show a lot of great potential?
Shaggy: I like Assasin because lyrically, hes just one of the best DJ’s out there right now. It’s not a gimmick with this guy. He commands an audience and he doesn’t look for you to be revving up and screaming, you just gotta listen to what hes saying. Everything hes saying is credible. He doesn’t try to do anything just for hype or publicity, its just raw music that he tries to give to you. Hes real, hes fighting the struggle and he refuses to go out in a bad way. Tarrus Riley is another, just an incredible friendship that we have. An amazing musician, this guy walks and sings everyday you know? You see somebody for the love of music like that and those are the type of people you wanna surround yourself with. As far as new acts coming up, there’s a host of them ya know what I mean? I really do collaborations because of the connection that I have with people, more so than to do a collaboration because whether or not they’re hot, ya know what I mean?

The Pier: Definitely! It’s all about connection. Well in an unprecedented promotion, you premired the “Sugarcane” music video to thousands of fans that lined up in Knutsford Square in Kingston, Jamaica on July 16th 2011. How’s this come to fruition and what was the response like for this kind of premiere?
Shaggy: It was well thought out. I wanted to promote brand Jamaica like I’m promoting brand Shaggy. We’re going into 2012 this year, which is a very big year for Jamaicans’. So for the brand Jamaica, our Olympic team is going in, we’re not going in as the underdogs this time; we’re going in as the favorites. We’re going to be on the world stage, which is one of the biggest Olympics’ because it’s in London. We’re doing 10 nights of concerts at the Jamaican village in London. We’re going to showcase the culture of Jamaica with the music, the food, the vibe, the energy so I think the campaign really starts now with “Summer in Kingston”, hence why we did the video, which almost looks like a Jamaican tourists sport commercial. We wanted to show the nicer side of Jamaica also. We really wanted to break the stigma of you cant come down and party with the people of Kingston. I live in Kingston; I don’t want a situation when I talk about Kingston and your fearing for my life. I want you to come down there and enjoy Kingston the way I enjoy Kingston on a day-to-day basis. There are bad places in New York City that I would tell you not to visit and Kingston is no different. So to premier this video on 5 screens to 10,000 people was wonderful. This was a way to send a message that we took it to the streets and if the people want it, why not play it, ya know what I mean? So the whole thing was well thought out.

The Pier: Considering how successful you have been, what is it that pushes you to keep making music, giving back to the community and breakin barriers in your career?
Shaggy: I found myself very fortunate. I’m from a single parent family and everyone in my family has been poor. For me to have done this much in life with a very limited education, you know? I’m no college graduate and I’m very very fortunate. If I have a voice and an opportunity to help my country, a country that’s helped me so much, then why shouldn’t I? I don’t mean that in a politician way or whatever. I started helping that hospital 9 years prior to me even going public with it ya know what I mean? Just out of pocket. I felt it was a duty, I mean there’s no way you as a person could walk into that hospital to see the condition it was in and just walk out of there and not do anything ya know? if you could, then you would be a man with no conscience. Things just spiraled from there to getting involved in other things and finding out I have a power to do things in bringing people together for a common cause and if I have the opportunity to do that and the ability to do that, why shouldn’t I? It’s certainly more rewarding than any music that I’ve ever sold ya know?

The Pier: I really appreciate your time Shaggy & again, congratulations on the new release
Shaggy: Thank you so much, Mike. God Bless!

  • You can now pick up Shaggy’s new album Summer In Kingston on iTunes by clicking HERE

  • Interviewed by: Mike Patti