Big Man Business: Exclusive Q+A with Shaggy

Words by Jesse Serwer

It’s hard to think of anyone to whom the description “fun loving” applies more than Shaggy. But these are serious times, especially for a Jamaican recording artist, and Shaggy has more than sex and partying on his mind. Speaking over the phone during a tour stop in Cyprus earlier this summer, the owner of the best-selling dancehall album of all time shared his thoughts on the decline of the reggae business and the music industry as a whole, and why having more mega-hit singles would only be a pain in his neck. It’s rare to hear an artist who has achieved such overwhelming commercial success in the not-too-distant past sound so content with his transition into a legacy act. Be sure to check back here tomorrow for more, as Mr. Bombastic explains his new role as Jamaica’s spokesperson for culture, and how his recent Summer in Kingston EP ties in with next summer’s London Olympics.

LargeUp: There were four years between your last album and Summer in Kingston. How long were you at work on this one?
Shaggy: I didn’t even really “make” this album. I have studios in my home so I’m always making records. It’s like you getting up and doing your daily chores. For me to put this together, it’s just compiling. I sat down with my team and picked a couple songs that we think reflect the direction we wanted to go, and just put this together. We’re looking at this project as a two-part project. Basically to reintroduce a lot of our fans to Shaggy. It’s almost like a fan appreciation thing. That’s why we’re selling the album so cheap. It’s $2.99–we only give them eight tracks. I think it’s the best way to reconnect with your North American audience because we have not put out much in North America for a long time.

LU: You put out the best-selling dancehall album ever, but at a time when the market for it was at its peak. Now the market’s so small and there’s such reluctance to buy music in general–especially dancehall. What are some of the challenges you’re finding in putting out your music?
Shaggy: It’s a whole different vibe now than before, I guess. But we’re not looking for the same amount of success, either. That’s kind of impossible right now. Music is free–you have to face it right now. The same music I’m selling you can probably get for free. What we’re trying to do is make sure that music reaches the people. Connect with them through our tours. We’re a big touring act–the majority of the year we tour. That is it. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish: just give them music they can connect with and enjoy and want to come out and hearย  live.

LU: “Angel” has been in the Top 10 on the iTunes Reggae Chart for as long as the chart has existed, I believe. What’s it like to put out new music and have to compete with your older records for a place on the charts, or maybe even sell less than them in a given week?
Shaggy: It’s good to know that you are classic and still a force to be reckoned with. One thing you can say is that the brand Shaggy has still been relevant all this time, even though we haven’t been putting out records. Those are big records you’re competing with, and they’ll always sell. When we came out with Summer in Kingston, we debuted at No. 1 on the Reggae Album and Singles charts. And we don’t have the type of distribution that we used to have, or the marketing we used to have–this is just us doing it independently. At the same time, we’ve created enough stir that people around the world want to license it.ย  We have gotten major interest. That’s all we’re aiming to do–raise awareness.

There’s not many more hit songs I can get. What am I gonna do– if I play a two-hour set right now, there’s songs I have to drop out. I remember going to Prince’s concert and I paid all my money and I didn’t hear three of the biggest songs that I know. Because he only has so much time to do ’em. Or you start knocking the songs out in the concert, just doing a verse of each one. I’m not here to get another bunch of hit records. I’m here to raise the awareness of the brand, and let people know there are classic songs they can come out and hear. I have a lot of hits. There were about 8 million people in the US alone that bought Hot Shot. And we’ve never performed that album. Once you raise the awareness and you remember that was the album you jammed to, and you come out and hear those songs, they all come back to you. I’m not really looking for that frenzy that we had before. I’m 42 years old. I don’t really need that in my life right now. I need to go out there and play my music and connect with the fans that have grown up with me and enjoy what I do. That’s kinda where I’m at.

LU: Doย  you feel more encouraged now to make music for the core dancehall audience than the sort of crossover records you had your biggest success with?
Shaggy: Well I’ll always do it because I’m a fan of it, I’m a part of it. In England we just put out “Girlz Dem Luv We” with Mavado and it was No. 1. “For Your Eyes” was No. 1 for about five weeks on the hardcore reggae/dancehall charts. As long as I’m relevant, they’ll still get played. They don’t cost me nothing to make. I’ve got my own studio. I sit down there, make ’em and put ’em out. It’s not brain surgery. But I like the freedom of doing what I want. If I want to do a classic reggae record, I do it. If I want to do a dance record, I do it. I don’t have a label right now telling me, do this or do that. Where music is right now you can really cross-format everything. I think that’s a freedom we have now that we never had before. So yeah, we’re selling less records but we have a lot more creative freedom at this point.