Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 30, 2001

Shaggy, right, spent some time in a Nuuanu recording studio
yesterday in preparation for the Billboard Music Awards.

Shaggy still seeking respect

By Gary C.W. Chun

You would think it's all good for Shaggy right now.

Yesterday afternoon, in the control room of Audio Resources Honolulu's Rainforest Room recording studio, he was guiding his band through a runthrough of his massive hit "It Wasn't Me," one that will be recorded for playback at Tuesday's Billboard Music Awards show in Las Vegas.

Already a 1995 Grammy winner for his album "Boombastic," both "Mistah Fahn-tahs-tic" and his latest album "Hotshot" are nominated in seven categories (bested only by R&B newcomer Alicia Keys' eight; she performs here Dec. 21).

With multiple artist and album of the year kudos to his credit, Shaggy is also an American Music Awards nominee in the "Favorite Male Artist -- Pop/Rock" and "Favorite Artist -- Rap/Hip-Hop" categories and is scheduled to perform at that awards show in January. On top of that, you can see him in the current "Give A Little Bit" TV holiday ad for The Gap.

As friendly and approachable as he is, come interview-time, the man's all business. With arms crossed, the 33-year-old Orville Richard Burrell says that while he's come along a way, he's still looking for respect for himself and reggae music. After all, with all these award nominations, he asked, why was he passed over by VH-1 when it was doling out awards recently?"

Shaggy in concert

Where: Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
When: 7:30 p.m. today, doors open at 6
Admission: $25
Call: 526-4400 for tickets

That's why Hawaii has been his haven, and why tonight's show (with a nine-piece band, 21-person entourage and a custom sound system) is being dubbed by promoter Tom Moffatt as "The Mahalo Concert." It's a thank you to local fans who've been in the Jamaican performer's corner since '93.

"The Hawaii people have always been good to us," Shaggy said. "They relate to the music and get all rowdy and nice! 'It Wasn't Me' was huge here when it was first released as a single. They're certainly dedicated to the cause."

After moving to the U.S. from Jamaica at age 18, Shaggy joined the Marines a year later, seeing active service in the Gulf War. On his return, "I started, musically, with the Gibraltar Musik sound system in Brooklyn, New York. That has always been the main influence of my music, even though I still go back to Jamaica regularly. My relatives live there, my dad is still there."

With marketing by Virgin Records, 1993 was Shaggy's breakout year. He had an international hit with a cover of "Oh Carolina" done in his trademark ragga style. The original reggae classic by the Folkes Brothers was liberally sampled on Shaggy's version.

Before then, Shaggy had regional reggae hits like "Big Up" and "Mampie," working with New York radio DJ/producer Sting and singer Rayvon, both of whom still work with him.

There's a trace of bitterness in his voice when he relates how Virgin dropped him after three albums. Ironically, when he signed with MCA, part of the Universal Music Group, his first radio hit for that label was "Luv Me, Luv Me" featuring a guest vocal by Janet Jackson, Virgin's biggest recording artist.

Jackson's vocal was replaced by another singer's when the track appeared on "Hotspot," Shaggy's biggest album to date, with its canny mix of R&B and dancehall. His brief working relationship with Jackson helped him in hooking up with her monster production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who produced the teasing "Luv Me, Luv Me," as well as "Dance & Shout" and "Lonely Lover."

Whether working with Rayvon ("Angel"), the guys in The Kraft from his Big Yard posse ("Freaky Girl"), or with Ricardo "RikRok" Ducent (on the humorous "It Wasn't Me"), Shaggy's raspy baritone is the perfect vocal foil on these tracks.

"Every one of them is part of Big Yard, a production business where we create our own vibe, our own little record label," he said. With his partner and producer Robert Livingston's help, Shaggy smartly surrounds himself "with a crew of people who help make it all happen, and we have a good chemistry, me and him."

While thankful that Jay Boberg of MCA was willing to take a chance with Shaggy and the $10 million selling "Hotshot," "I still couldn't get no (corporate) sponsor for this tour! It's still tough to find investment in reggae music."

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