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Shaggy: Nobody has beaten me yet

STILL GOING STRONG: Shaggy

IN AN industry where hype and bravado are often on par with actual talent, it’s always refreshing to hear an artist telling it like it is, without the pretence.

Case in point: Shaggy. The Jamaican star, who is one of few artists to have enjoyed success both in the pop and dancehall markets, makes no secret of the tough times that threatened to crush his career.

From being deemed a one-hit wonder when he made his 1993 debut with Oh Carolina – which he quickly followed up with his number one smash, Boombastic – to being dropped by Virgin Records – after which he bounced back with the 2000 smash hit It Wasn’t Me – the 42-year-old doesn’t shy away from any of it.

Even today, as critics say that the comeback king can’t make another successful assault on the pop charts, the star’s response couldn’t be any more honest:

“Maybe they’re right, but so what? In terms of the reggae scene, nobody’s beaten me yet,” he says.

“Nobody’s had more number ones than me; nobody’s had more big records than me; nobody’s sold the amount of numbers I’ve sold; and nobody who came out around the same time that I did still remains as relevant today as I do.

“So who cares if I make another huge hit or not? I’ve already done it.”

To be fair, if Shaggy decided to hang up the mic tomorrow, he couldn’t possibly feel anything but pride looking back at his music career.

Reggae’s only living diamond-plus selling artist, having sold over 10 million copies of his 2001 album Hot Shot (his total album sales are in excess of 20 million units), the husky-voiced deejay, born Orville Burrell, has, undoubtedly, achieved greater success than any other living dancehall entertainer. (FYI: the late Bob Marley is reggae’s only other diamond-selling artist). So really, the critics needn’t bother him.

“When I did Oh Carolina, critics called me a one hit wonder,” he recalls. “And I remember when I put Boombastic out as a follow-up, critics said it was garbage that wasn’t worth the plastic it was printed on – but it went on to be a number one record. Then I got dropped by Virgin, who went on to sign Beenie Man, but I came back even bigger with It Wasn’t Me [his collaboration with Rik Rok]. So I’ve been through it! And now, none of the critics bother me anymore. I just love making music.”

He continues: “I’m coming out with a new album now called Summer In Kingston. It’s only gonna be available digitally and I’m selling it mad cheap for $2.99. It’s really a fan appreciation album. The first single we put out is a track called Sugarcane, which is doing very well right now. I guess if it blows up, there goes my anonymity again. I’ve been enjoying that [anonymity] for a minute now. The tide has turned from the days when I had to deal with screaming fans surrounding me, and I’ve been grateful for that!”


STILL IN TACT: The star with his (now broken) 2002 Brit Award for best international male

Well, if any reggae artist has the potential to make significant waves in the pop charts, it’s Shaggy. Somewhat of a chameleon in the industry, the star has been able to enjoy phenomenal mainstream success with hits including Angel and It Wasn’t Me, and still mash up the dancehall with favourites like Church Heathen, Bonafide Girl and, more recently, his collaboration with Mavado, Girls Dem Luv We. (The star is equally versatile in his dialect, beginning our conversation in his US accent – he moved from Jamaica to New York at the age of 18 – and soon slipping into patois once he realised he was speaking to a fellow Jamaican descendant!)

So as he prepares to headline the highly anticipated One Love Peace Festival at London’s Wembley Arena on July 31, what kind of set can the audience expect from him – pop or reggae?

“It will be a mixture,” says the father of five. “Even though I haven’t been to the UK for a while, dancehall songs like For Your Eyes Only, Bonafide Girl and my song with Mavado Girls Dem Luv We have enjoyed underground success out there. So people there will know of those hits.

“And the big hits like Boombastic and It Wasn’t Me, those hits were as big in the dancehall as they were within the mainstream. The mainstream fans might not have heard of the underground hits, but a place like Wembley Arena will draw a big and varied crowd, so you have to deliver something for everyone.”

He considers the secret to his ability to enjoy success in both the pop and dancehall markets.

“I think it’s just going against the grain and trying not to repeat myself, and also learning the art of reinvention. I’ve always aimed for longevity, as opposed to just scoring a hit record.

“But I don’t compromise with things that matter to me. I have to stay true to myself.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that have approached me to do reality TV shows, but that’s just not me. I’m not gonna jeopardise the brand I’ve built over the years by doing things that I’m not comfortable with. I have to do things on my terms.”

It seems to have worked so far. Not only revered for his music career, the star is well respected for his work as a humanitarian, having led several drives to raise money and awareness for Jamaica’s Bustamante children’s hospital. Having helped to raise millions for the hospital’s development, does Shaggy consider himself a role model?


BIG LOVE: Shaggy gets a hug from a grateful patient at Jamaica’s Bustamante children’s hospital

“Once you’re in a position of prominence, you will be a social role model,” he says. “But role models aren’t just celebrities. Role models are in your everyday life. Parents, friends, they’re all role models. But anytime somebody looks up to you, you automatically become a role model. So yeah, I consider myself a role model.”

With much achieved in his 18-year career, including a best reggae album Grammy award for his 1996 offering, Boombastic, what does he consider to be his greatest accolade?

“My grandmother always said ‘work for the rewards, not awards’ and I believe in that. So I don’t measure my success by my awards. It’s always nice to receive an award, but after that, I don’t tend to see them again!
“Some of them are at my studio, but other than that, I’m not sure where the others are. Oh, I actually came across my Brit Award the other day and it was broken!

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate the awards, but I never got into the business for any of that. I just want a long career that I can be proud of.”

Shaggy will perform at The One Love Peace Festival at Wembley Arena on July 31. For tickets and more information, visit www.originalonelove.com

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