He’s been a fixture of the pop and reggae charts for the past 25 years.
This Sunday night, Shaggy brings his unique vocal style to Wolf Trap.
“Wolf Trap’s my spot,” Shaggy said, calling in from Jamaica. “I’ve been playing that venue for years [and] this one is going to be amazing. … You’ll feel like you’re on vacation, it’s summer, dress comfortably, have a few drinks, be out there with your kids, enjoy some reggae vibes, feel the weather in that beautiful venue in the middle of a park with trees in the outdoors. It’s a perfect fit.”
He’ll perform on the same bill as fellow reggae titans UB40.
“I’ve known Ali [Campbell] for years and that whole gang,” Shaggy said. “We were label-mates when they were in their heyday with that album ‘Promises and Lies’ on Virgin together. I’m very familiar with them, their catalog, their music. We’re personal friends, I’ve toured with them in Australia and Dubai. … You can’t go wrong with those iconic songs, ‘Red Red Wine,’ ‘Wise Men Say’ [‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’], ‘Kingston Town’ — all these are massive, massive records.”
Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1968, Shaggy moved to New York in the early ’90s before enlisting in the U.S. Marines, where he served in the first Gulf War.
“A lot of my vocal style comes from me running and singing cadence,” Shaggy said. “When you’re running five miles and singing at the top of your lungs, you start to sing from your belly instead of your throat. I just started to develop this funny stuff: ‘I don’t know but I’ve been told! My C.O. wears pantyhose!’ I’d make these funny cadences and it would motivate the running. Little did I know that was vocal training. Now I’m on stage doing it every night for an hour and a half.”
When he turned to singing professionally, how did he get his name?
“I got it because my hair was shaggy,” Shaggy said. “My audience became majority women, so when I’d sing my hits to the left and the right, I heard screams. They were like, ‘Oh my, I can’t believe we’re hearing a song by a guy named Shaggy.’ I’m like, ‘What’s so weird about my name?’ They explained what ‘shag’ in England means, like Austin Powers ‘shag me, baby.’ I’m like, ‘Wow! That’s such a cooler story about how I got my name than saying Scooby Doo!'”
He landed his first hit in 1993 with “Oh, Carolina,” a club remix of the Folkes Brothers’ ska hit, then scored an even bigger hit with “Boombastic” off his 1995 album of the same name, which won his first Grammy for Best Reggae Album.
“The minute I was writing the song, I was in the car hearing the beat, such a sexy beat, it had a really sexy, dancehall, heavy base undertone,” Shaggy said. “All I kept doing was moaning while I was driving, ‘Mmm, mmm, fantastic. Mmm, mmm, romantic.’ Literally that record was freestyled. I walked into the studio out of the car and said, ‘I have this vibe I was doing in the car’ and started doing it and put words to it as I went along. Didn’t put anything to paper, totally off the dome.”
In 1998, he teamed with Janet Jackson for the song “Luv Me, Luv Me” on the soundtrack for “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” He re-recorded it with Samantha Cole as his own single, which dominated the radio with the chorus, “Ooh boy, I love you so, never ever gonna let you go,” followed by Shaggy’s signature line, “Luv me, luv me, sex machine.”
In 2000, his album “Hot Shot” was his biggest smash, featuring the Rikrok duet “It Wasn’t Me,” which was nominated for Best Pop Collaboration at the Grammys. Shaggy penned the unique idea of a two-timing man asking his friend for advice.
“I watched Eddie Murphy’s ‘Raw’ or it might have been “Delirious,'” Shaggy said. “He had a skit where he was like, ‘It wasn’t me.’ ‘But I caught you on the camera!’ ‘It wasn’t me.’ I thought it was so funny and relatable. … You put a little comedy into it of them getting caught and having this conversation and you being the devil on his shoulder.”
However, he said there’s a misconception about the song’s message.
“People think it’s a cheat record, but it’s really saying that cheating is a bad idea,” Shaggy said. “At the end of the record it said, ‘I’m gonna tell her that I’m sorry for the things that I’ve done, you may think that you’re a player, but you’re completely lost.’ The moral of the story is that lying to your chick and cheating is totally wrong. It makes no sense. Bad move, bro.”
The same album also featured the hit single “Angel,” sampling Steve Miller’s “The Joker” on the verses and Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning” on the chorus.
“We did it by default,” Shaggy said. “Dancehall was not a very popular art form on mainstream radio, so how does a guy like me get on radio when there’s not a format for me? The only way I could do it is actually do samples from songs that are already formatted. You take a song like ‘The Joker,’ a classic, big rock record, the bassline is soulful. You take Juice Newton’s ‘Angel of the Morning,’ big classic hook, boom, you put a little dancehall flavor and lyrical content to it, and you create this hybrid of rock, soul and reggae that’s easier to get on pop radio.”
He said his sampling is no different from reggae legends like Bob Marley.
“I spoke to Chris Blackwell, who founded Island Records and signed Bob Marley,” Shaggy said. “He said The Wailers’ original music was so hardcore that it could never get played on rock or pop radio, so he hired session musicians to do American-style overdubs on top of The Wailers’ original so it could get on rock radio. So even though Bob Marley is the blueprint of reggae music, it’s actually a hybrid, which is why I have come to the conclusion that all music is a hybrid.”
Call it whatever you want, Shaggy was nominated for Best Reggae Album four more times over the next decade, including “Clothes Drop” (2006), “Intoxication” (2008), “Summer in Kingston” (2012) and “Out of Many, One Music” (2015).
In 2018, he collaborated with pop-rock icon Sting on the album “44/876,” which won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album. The two performed together outside Capital One Arena during the Washington Capitals’ championship run last year.
“That was my last time in D.C. We played the Stanley Cup. It was amazing.”
Next, he’ll play Sebastian the Crab in ABC’s live special of “The Little Mermaid” on Nov. 5, though he politely declined to sing us a teaser of “Under the Sea.”
“You’re gonna have to wait for the TV version, brother!” Shaggy said. “I’m contractually sealed, my brother!”
Hear our full conversation with Shaggy below:
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