- 13 Aug 20
For the release of his new album, Hot Shot 2020, we sat down with the reggae and dancehall pioneer to chat about his extreme success, the pitfalls of fame, and staying relevant in an ever-changing musical landscape.
The year was 2000. Britney and Justin were going strong, the world didn't end. And on August 8th, a Jamaican-American dancehall artist named Shaggy released one of the most successful albums of the decade.
When Hot Shot was released, Shaggy had been out of the game for five years, dropped by Virgin records – who felt they had sufficiently capitalised on a one-hit wonder with ‘Mr. Boombastic’. “I was told recently that I'm the most consistent one-hit wonder,” the man himself laughs, perched in front of a huge grand piano at his home in Kingston, Jamaica. “Which is a compliment, I guess.
“I've always tried to not stay in a box and stick to my guns. It might sometimes be to my detriment, because the Powers That Be like cookie-cutting. They aren't risk-takers, you know? If something works on radio, they want it again. Like, 'we're not putting our marketing dollars behind this one because we can't see whether or not it will work'."
Over the past twenty years, Shaggy – née Orville Richard Burrell – has proven anything but a one-hit wonder. Hot Shot debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 200, and the album's two lead singles, 'Angel' and 'It Wasn't Me', helped it go platinum six times over in America alone. Shaggy became an institution of Internet culture, the poster boy for early viral success.
“Nobody really took me seriously,” Shaggy recalls of that time. “There was a certain style of dancehall the purists knew, and what I was doing wasn't what those people had co-signed.
“But I was in the same company as the late, great Bob Marley, who was criticised for not making 'real' or 'authentic' reggae when he took the Wailers’ music and brought it to England. It's so ironic that those very recordings are now the blueprint for what purists call 'pure reggae' today. So to me, there's no such thing as 'pure music'.”
Shaggy’s 20th anniversary version of Hot Shot – Hot Shot 2020 – capitalises on exactly this kind of genre fusion. Less a reissue and more a facelift of the original album, Hot Shot 2020 is a journey through the Shaggy back catalogue with an eye trained to the future. Alongside revamped and reproduced versions of Hot Shot’s original songs, there are a few new tracks – one of which is a delightful version of ‘Under The Sea’, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid Live.
“The label wanted to do a remaster, and I didn't,” Shaggy says, nonplussed. “That was such a monumental album in the sense that it really brought the dancehall genre on to so many different platforms, and it gave dancehall a seat at the table. And there are a lot of young kids who weren't alive when 'It Wasn't Me' came out, so I wanted them to experience what we experienced when it was first released.”
In the meantime, Shaggy has kept up gracefully with an ever-changing industry. One of the highlights of his storied career was 44/876, a record he made with close friend Sting. "A lot of The Police records were written in Jamaica," he says. "That's why I commend Sting for wanting to come back and pay homage to it. Jamaica is so much a part of the fragments of popular culture, yet dancehall is one of the lowest streaming formats right now.
"That really saddens me. So many different genres are influenced by it, and borrow from it. This is the genre that birthed reggaeton and influenced afrobeats. The genre needs what Drake and Rihanna and Justin Bieber are doing to elevate it, but so many artists don't pay homage to it.
"What I love about Sting is that he didn't just do a song and put me on the end of it. We did a full album, we were on every television show together. That is giving the Jamaican culture what it deserves. When you come in and do a song with a hot reggae artist, and he's on four bars at the end of the record, you get the ‘cool factor’ but that artist doesn't get the recognition. That has to stop."
But Shaggy is still optimistic for the future of reggae and dancehall. Jamaican artists like the Grammy-winning Koffee, and Conkarah (one of Shaggy's more recent collaborators) are moving into the mainstream, in the wake of a path that Shaggy himself helped carve.
“I think Conkarah has humility, and he's incredibly talented," Shaggy says of the 'Banana' singer. "By the time this record reaches its peak, you'll see that confidence manifest into something great. He's deserving of all the success he's getting right now."
"He's a well-raised man with a great moral compass. He has a respect for the culture, and I think he realises how important it is. Nothing has been given to him on a silver platter. And I think all those hardships he's gone through will show him to be a pioneer in the game.”
Shaggy is no stranger to hardship himself. Born in the ghettos of Kingston, Shaggy joined the US marines at a young age. Although he's adamant that the institution taught him invaluable lessons, he remains wary of what it is becoming under the current administration.
"The military didn't teach me how to fire a gun, they taught me how to balance my cheque book," the singer says. "They prepared me for what I was to face in music.
"What has hit me, now, is that you can be put in harm's way for something you don't entirely believe in. It's like them forcing me to pay taxes to a government that's going to build a wall to keep me out. The military helped me out of a bad situation. But you can get those same disciplinary skills that helped me so much through being involved in community leadership, having mentors."
And how important is mentorship to an artist who largely built himself, from the ground up?
"I realised earlier in life that this wasn't just for me," he reflects. "I liked being famous because I got perks. After a while it doesn't make any sense. You realise you have more than you need, so you start buying homes for your family to try to change the narrative of what your life has been. I put my family in different neighbourhoods and pay for them to go to college because I realised – after a while – that 11 people bought homes and started their life on an album I wrote.
"There are so many people who are more comfortable because of what I do. And when that comes into play, you realise what your purpose is. This is gifted to you so that you can make a change. When I go, I won't be remembered by my accolades or my accomplishments, but by how many people's lives I affected in a positive way. It's a snowball effect."
Stream Hot Shot 2020 below.