Last fall, the incomparable Jamaica-born artist Shaggy came home to Bed-Stuy to talk to Our Time Press about his appearance in the much-anticipated December 12 Barclays Sounds of Reggae concert along with other great stars. Those neighborhood residents who caught him live and in person on Tompkins Avenue at Rowe’s Restaurant back in October are still swooning from the close encounter, and “Time Press” publishers are still impressed with his humor, generosity of time, philanthropy, messages and great humor.
As our readers know, we like referring to well-rounded artists as “renaissance” people, and with Shaggy the title is a perfect fit; whether he’s sharing his thoughts on a Jamaican dish (which he did with chef Dwight in Rowe’s kitchen) or giving time to admirers too numb to ask for his autograph, the five-time Grammy nominee (who won the honor in 1995 for his “Boombastic” album) is the epitome of “the cool factor” (a term he used to describe Bed-Stuy).
The reggae dancehall artist/songwriter made “It Wasn’t Me” a worldwide excuse of a phrase, “Angel” a devil of a hit, and left behind other artists in the wake of a slew of other platinum-selling charttoppers since his 1993 debut on the recording industry scene.
He is the epitome of paradox, and charmingly so. He is the loving father of two-year old twins and a seven year old; he is an artist (and was accepted at Pratt). He is a former U.S. Marine, Field Artillery Cannon Crewman with “I” Battery, 3rd battalion, a Gulf War hero. His foundation raised millions for the 2010 victims of the earthquake in Haiti and his consistent personal advice to young people shatters some of the messages his on-stage moves telegraphs. But all of this can be found on-line at his www.shaggyonline.com. So, without further ado, here’s Shaggy, in his own words:
My music is from the streets of Jamaica and Brooklyn. Music was my favorite pasttime as a kid, all kinds: r&b, rock and ska to rock steady, rock steady to dance hall. It was an eclectic mix and included country music, and artists like Willie Nelson. And it was the same when I came to New York (late teens). I attended Erasmus H.S., where I had a Jamaican clique, and we would spit rhymes as a way of impressing the ladies. Sitting in the lunch room, we would get attention, as we traded lyrics back and forth in friendly competition. At home we didn’t have much;we were not privileged, I lived in a small apartment; you could smell the urine in the elevator. But we had sound systems and we kept it going. And no matter how you look at it, the rawness, the roughness was part of my life. I hung out in Flatbush with dance hall artists, my peers were reggae people, driven by music. You were on the street, you run up on a friend and you let your imagination soar. We listened to music and it got inside of us. My first major influence — my idol — was Yellow Man..
When we started putting records out with Sting International, we started getting into clubs free and getting drinks free. That sort of catapulted me, but it wasn’t paying the bills. With my association with other artists that changed.
Messages to Youth
On Work and Focus
Having 90% talent and 10 percent drive doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to do the work, persevere, go at it, wake up every morning and go to sleep at night thinking, “This is what I’m going to do.” Some of the biggest superstars in the industry have 90% drive and 10% talent. And there are many different aspects of talent: people who are good at what they do, people who are mediocre.
I’m a good musician and I write good songs but I’m horrible at everything else. You don’t want to see me kick a ball. I was not the greatest academic kid in school. I was artistic, creative and got a scholarship to Pratt which I didn’t take (opting to go into the military). I painted, I was great in drama. But back then if you gave me numbers, it’s a wrap. I have no problem staying in my lane.
You must be with people who are good at what they do. It takes a while to build those friendships and those connections to make a team. It’s about making sure the energy connects. You need people who will scream at you and who will stand up for you. If you’re a nice guy, easygoing, inviting, there are some who will take advantage. That’s when you need a pit bull to say, “Hey, that’s not happening. Not here.” If I’m the head of the food chain, they’re going to make sure I’m okay; they’re protecting their interests. It’s a trickle-down effect.
Role of the Artist
As an artist your job is to make people not feel threatened. For instance, if there are five restaurants, you want to walk into one like here (Rowe’s): the colors are great, the food is great, the presentation is great, the service is friendly, the music is good. So the whole store, the whole package is attractive. Well, I’m the store. I’m the package. And that’s my job as an artist, that’s what I’m supposed to be about.
I did four years in the marines, seven months in the Gulf War. It didn’t do much for my creative side, but it created a real balance in my life. It definitely had an effect on my attitude. It disciplined me, and kept me organized when I had to go out and make it. But the hardest job I ever did was in music, not the military. But it was the military that prepared me for working my passion.
Advice to Girls and Young Women
I’ve got daughters, I’ve got kids, I’ve got mothers. In the days when I started out in the business, I was young and I was raw. But now I realize it is an artist’s duty to be a role model. To my young fans, I say, less is more, meaning less in the sense that sometimes when you give too much of yourself, you relinquish your power. The more someone gets, the more they take you for granted. When you have some reserve, people are interested and not for the obvious reasons.
There’s a solid rule that works: some men are threatened by a powerful woman. I find them attractive. Some people think sex appeal is going around half-naked; that’s not interesting. More appealing is the confidence, and the more confidence you find in a woman, the more interesting she is.
Also if a young lady cannot hold her own, and has no passion about anything other than how she looks, how can she have a real interest in anyone else? Before she cares about anyone else, she must care for herself.
Shaggy performs with Reggae icons Beres Hammond, Britain’s Ali Campbell’s UB40 and Maxi Priest at the Barclays Center’s Sounds of Reggae Concert, on December 12, 7:30pm. For ticket information, visit: