Words by Jesse Serwer
If you were getting your music information from MTV in the late ’80s, you might have thought that Shinehead was the only reggae/dancehall artist out. The square Cazal aficionado was signed to Elektra Records at the time and, in the days just before Shabba Ranks’ big worldwide breakthrough, he was one of the only dancehall acts with the sort of budget that enabled him to make decent-quality videos on the regular, and actually get them played on MTV, BET and the like. Of course it helped that Shine was from New York (via Kent, England) and something of a triple threat, capable of switching from patois chatting to a falsetto croon and the accent-free MC flow of a Yankee rapper.
My favorite of his videos, though, was made several years after his commercial peak, in 1992, for “Jamaican In New York,” from his fourth album, Sidewalk University. As with Sanchez, Shinehead’s specialty was putting wildly new spins on old songs, like his classic minimalist covers of “Billie Jean” and Junior’s “Mama Used to Say”. In this case, he put a yardie touch (“See me walking down Church Ava-noooooo/With my hat leaned to one side”) on “Englishman In New York,” Sting’s smooth-jazz reggae ode to the expatriate life. The video, like Sting’s “Englishman” clip from five years earlier, offers a time capsule-like look into New York at the time. Astute watchers will recognize the scenery as a pre-clubland Meatpacking District. While that part of town is now America’s premier playground for the rich, young and drunk, the former tranny hooker hangout was once a popular destination for music video directors looking for a lonely-night-in-the-city, film noir vibe. Most importantly, though, this is just the sort of goofy and catchy — yet not necessarily club- or radio-friendly — tune that only made sense as a single in the ’80s-through-’90s Golden Era of music video. Check out “Jamaican in New York” below, then (re?)acquaint yourself with some of Shinehead’s other videos after the jump.