Shaggy Talks "I Need Your Love" and the "Greatest Thing About Hit Records"
Photo by Anderson Ballentine
You'd think the man who wrote and performed the reggae fusion smash "It Wasn't Me" might have trouble convincing his love interest that he can be an honest man.
Shaggy laughs at that notion.
"I had a girlfriend when I wrote that song. She knows I'm a big storyteller and that song is a story," he says. "It was a joke I took from Eddie Murphy's Raw. No matter what your girl says, 'It Wasn't Me.'"
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Even if a love interest might be skeptical about whether Shaggy was just playing a character for "It Wasn't Me," she can maybe overlook those doubts due to Shaggy's charitable side.
This past weekend, the singer was in South Florida to perform at the Boca West Country Club for a fundraiser for Feed the Poor, a charitable organization seeking to build homes in Haiti.
Of course, Shaggy grew up in another Caribbean nation, Jamaica, where he saw music as a hobby, rather than his future career. "My grandmother always had records playing," he reminisces. "Jamaican radio would go from Johnny Mathis to Jimmy Cliff. Her favorites were Patti Page and Mahalia Jackson."
At the age of 18, he moved with his family to Brooklyn. It has often been reported that Shaggy found his singing voice a few years later when he enlisted in the United States Marines, which he is quick to deny.
"I was in the first Gulf War. I didn't care about singing. I just wanted to get back in one piece."
But then he reconsiders. "I did find a knack for coming up with a funny cadence. You're running five miles or marching seven and you're doing vocal training without even knowing it."
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That booming dancehall voice would propel hit after hit, starting with a remake of "Oh Carolina" in 1995. Then came his first smash, "Boombastic," followed by "It Wasn't Me" in 2000, and the so-sweet-it-will-make-your-teeth-fall-out "Angel."
A common thread through much of his work is it's not Shaggy's voice alone on the songs. And he has a very strict rule for how he finds his singing partners.
"I do the record and let the record dictate the collaborator. Most of the people I work with aren't famous. 'It Wasn't Me' had Rikrok. Of all my hits, Janet Jackson was the only big star. We did our vocals separate on 'Luv Me, Luv Me.' She wasn't even there the same time I was for the video."
Shaggy is especially pleased with the collaboration on his most recent song, "I Need Your Love," and the millions of views it has been getting on YouTube. The hit was an international effort, with contributions from Swedish Afro-pop singer Mohombi, Australian singer Fayde, and Romanian co-writer Costi Ionita.
"I did a song with Costi, 'Fired Up' with Pitbull, and I wanted to get together again. I heard this track and thought it was wonderful. So I did some lyrics and we got a song people really like."
But as he keeps working on new music, Shaggy knows it is the songs from the past that the people come to hear him sing.
"The greatest thing about hit records is they bring back memories to people," he explains. "So when they hear them live, they jump and scream and dance."
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