In 1996 I heard "Boombastic" for the first time on Beavis and Butthead. Beavis and Butthead were talking about scoring and ripping on Shaggy’s accent and I was like, Man shut up dudes I can't hear the smooth sounds. Later in life, I spent a whole day waiting for "It Wasn't Me" to download from Napster and hit on boys at school dances while "Luv Me, Luv Me" played. So, whatever, I was legitimately nervous to meet Shaggy. But he walked into our office no big deal, like a happy guy who's sold 20 million albums and plans to sell more. We talked about his new album, making monster records on small budgets and convincing mainstream markets to love Jamaica's incredible characters.
Your new album is called Summer in Kingston. Do you live in Jamaica full-time? I live in Kingston. When I tell people I live in Kingston, they start fearing for my life. People ask me if I have internet in Jamaica. Like, seriously? So my thing was just to make a really feel-good record with feel-good videos and show the Jamaica that I live in. My favorite time in Kingston is actually Christmas, but summer is great. I like being on Maiden Cay and Lime Cay. Hellshire has a fishing festival. But I'm not a fan of the countryside. I'll go for three days, then I get bored and that’s it. There's only so much beaches, sun and laying out I can do. I want to be in the midst of the madness that's going on. Kingston is pretty small. It's a ten minute drive to everywhere and everything. In New York, anything you want, you can get it. Jamaica’s kind of the same way—I’m going to go by the bar, then get some tracks and records, some food, watch a game. There’s something happening every night. Jamaica's a very rich country, as far as music and street dances are concerned.
Was recording culture in Jamaica different when you were getting started? Actually I started recording mainly in New York, which has a huge dancehall community. I was with the Rough Entry crew—me, Red Fox, Screechy Dan. We were running the place. After we blew up with “Boombastic,” we started going back down to Jamaica and opened Big Yard studio with my former manager, Robert Livingston. Big Yard was like a complex that people were invited to. If you got drums to lay, need some bass, Sly and Robbie come around and deal with it. Dean Fraser was the greatest saxophone player out of Jamaica. You could call him up like, Yo! Dean! I need that sax on this! That’s Kingston. Boom boom boom, get it done.
Is it still that neighborly and easy? It's a little easier now because technology is taking over. Unless you're looking for a real organic sound, you can just program that sound. You kind of don't need to call these guys anymore. But a lot of what I do is I go for these guys still, to get that authentic live sound.
Who do you like to work with now? I'm open to everybody, because I know everybody. The reggae fraternity is a small fraternity. Being in the position that I am, it's not hard to get people to collaborate or get on a track or just work together. I did a lot of songs with people for this album that didn’t make the record. One that I did with Jazmine Sullivan, by the time I went about clearing it with her label and management and all of that, it was like, Forget this, let's move on. Stephen Di Genius is doing a remix for me right now on "Sugarcane." Making records is not brain surgery. It's what we do. I have three studios—one in Miami, one in Jamaica, one in New York. At any given time, I’m there. I even have a studio on the road so that if I get a vibe we can hook it up. So the hard part is narrowing down the hottest joints for the album. We picked these because for whatever reason, it flows nicely and it feels good.
How do you stay relevant? I'm not the guy to get big record company budgets. My budget is Britney Spears' catering money. We make do with it and sell huge numbers. But "Sugarcane" sounds like a Shaggy record. My voice has a very distinct sound. You’ve got to make these songs your own. So when we hit, they're monsters. A lot of people get hit records, but not a lot of people get monsters. We were blessed to have had four huge monsters. Ranch is the name of my studio in Long Island, in New York. That's the studio that we did "Hot Shot", "It Wasn't Me", "Angel", "Sexy Lady." Sting International, is the main producer who works out of there, that's his. He produced "Big Up, Big Up," "Oh, Carolina," "That Girl," "Boombastic," "It Wasn't Me," all of the big ones. The core of the success of Shaggy came from Ranch. So it made sense for us to launch a label as Ranch Entertainment. The team of us that was at Big Yard is the same team that's at Ranch. We just completed a distribution deal with Megaforce and Sony Red. I'm excited about the future with them and how we can really tap into this mainstream market of reggae. It takes 50 dancehall artists to pack 10,000 people anywhere at this time. What I want is to get a lot of these incredible talents that we have in Jamaica, because there's no lack of that, and get them into this mainstream market and let people buy into these incredible characters that don't have exposure. If I could do that through the position and through my name, then by all means. That's my aim. Let's hope we catch it.