‘We Would Have Done Amazing Stuff’: Shaggy Talks the Future of Dancehall and the Real Reason Why He Turned Down Collaboration with Rihanna

With over 20 years of experience, Shaggy’s imprint on American music as a reggae artist continues to reverberate through the industry, however, he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon, because he sees that there’s much more work to be done.

Shaggy, born Orville Richard Burrell, spoke with Atlanta Black Star about working with Spice, what needs to change within the dancehall and reggae industry to make a more lasting impact, and those Rihanna rumors.

Shaggy. (Photo: Jonathan Mannion/courtesy of Shaggy)

The “Oh Carolina” artist, 52, recently teamed up with fellow stars Spice, whose debut studio album “Ten” he executive produced, and Sean Paul for the energetic dancehall bop “Go Down Deh,” which the trio performed on “Good Morning America” on Friday, June 11.

Of the “GMA” performance, which took place virtually due to COVID restrictions, Shaggy said that while he was “proud” to represent Jamaican culture and show off their home country, he felt the performance was “more symbolic than anything else.”

“I think it was more symbolic, more than this amazing experience, because it was all done virtual. It was pre-taped actually, which obviously, because of COVID, it takes a little bit of the excitement. I would have preferred to be doing this performance on the GMA stage. … I would have liked to have had that performance in front on the ‘GMA ‘stage in front of 2000 people like we did with Sting [in] our arena when the place was open up. But second-best is having it in Jamaica, showcasing our island, our waters and stuff like that.”

“We’re some of the biggest names in dancehall and representing the culture,” he continued. “The song ‘Go Down Deh’ is on a dancehall label, which is VP [Records], and the video that has done so well for us is from Jay Will, who is a dancehall director. So the symbolism of it was really good, just being on it, and representing the culture. It was like a proud moment for me.”

The Shaggy-Spice working relationship will be further showcased on her debut album, “Ten.” The two knew each other before working together, and the mutual respect for each other’s music was already there, so when the opportunity arose for them to collaborate, Shaggy didn’t hesitate to do what he could to help take her career to the next level.

Crediting Spice as the “strategist” behind “Go Down Deh,” Shaggy explained that once they connected by phone about working together, the collaboration came together pretty seamlessly. “Spice had gotten in touch with me and asked me if I would do a song with her. I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll do a tune with you,’” he said. “So I went ahead and started to research her stuff, just to know the type of song that I would write and how it would go.”

“I’m listening to some of her music on and stuff like that. And then I realized that there’s not a body of work for her,” he continued. “So I was trying to find an album. There was no album. I’m like, but I have known Spice for the longest and she’s been in this game forever. So, I had a conversation with her. I was like, ‘Why haven’t you had body of work?’ Then she’s giving me a whole situation about a record company and everything. I realized there was an issue there. It was an issue that I saw that I could actually solve. So I went ahead and asked her if she’d allow me, I’ll go ahead and start our dialogue. Then I went ahead and had conversation with VP and brought up an idea, win-win idea, to everyone and sorted it out and we had a meeting, and we’re off and running at that point.”

From there, Shaggy and Spice linked up in the studio, where he played her some tracks. After instantly taking to “Go Down Deh,” Spice threw out the idea of bringing Sean Paul into the mix, and with a quick phone call, he was onboard too. “We called Sean and Sean was game. We went and see him. The next day, he sent back the vocals and we’re all in business to get at that point. It was that simple.”

In fact, Shaggy’s entire experience working with Spice has been a good one because of their “mutual respect for each other.”

“Everything starts from a relationship. And if the relationship is good and there is a mutual respect for each other, then you then be able to get something going,” he said. “So, with this one, it was easy because I respected her work, her artistry. And she respected my vision and was always willing to follow the lead, follow my lead on it. And I was willing to take her decisions and just figure her direction, where she wanted to go, what her vibe of it was. And my job was to facilitate her vision.”

If anyone can help usher Spice into crossover success, it’s Shaggy, whose decades-long career is responsible for hits including “Boombastic” and “It Wasn’t Me,” the latter of which was originally released in 2000 and revisited during a Cheetos commercial featuring the artist and actors that aired during 2021 Super Bowl.

Shaggy basks in the continued success of “It Wasn’t Me.” @direalshaggy/Instagram

The song’s massive success was never a surprise to Shaggy, but according to him, if it were solely up to some of the executives at MCA Records, the now-classic never would have seen the light of day. After initially failing to convince the higher-ups of the gold they were sitting on, he even tried to give the song away, but no one else wanted it.

“We always thought was a hit,” he said. “I just couldn’t convince people it was. So I tried to give the song away. I tried to give the song away to Tanto [Metro] and Devonte…I recorded them, I think Notch recorded it, I think Wayne Wonder recorded a version of it. Tons of people. And I just couldn’t give it away.”

“And then I had a new ANR by the name of Hans, a German guy, that walk in and was like, “Wow, this is a pretty hit record,” he continued. “And me and my producer at the time looked at each other and was like, ‘That’s what we’re saying.’ Because it was so different. People like the cookie cut. If a certain type of reggae work, they want everything to sound like that. And I’d never tried to repeat myself. I’m always looking for the new and what is the next unique thing. … Out of nowhere, the little song that I did for $2,000 in my basement, popped its head up and was on the way to the tune of 10 million records.”

The single is now a part of the early 2000s American pop culture zeitgeist, and Shaggy has continued to remain a notable game in the industry, so it’s no surprise that the very biggest Caribbean artists continue to seek him out for collaborations.

When rumors spread that one of Jamaica’s biggest artists had passed on working with Barbados’ most beloved beauty Rihanna because he didn’t want to “audition,” headlines were made, and internet speculation began.

The “Hey Sexy Lady” performer clarified those comments, stating that he’s actually a big fan of Riri and would love the opportunity to work with her one day, preferably in person where the two of them can “vibe” together. “It was an interview I did. And somehow must have spoken out of turn when I said I’m not going to audition for it. They had approached me to do some songs, as they have, everybody in dancehall. Because she was coming with a dancehall record, which I thought was great,” he told ABS. “Some of the guys that have worked on it are guys that are my friends and I know they’re really, really great artists. So I know she’s got some heat. And I was like, ‘OK, yeah, cool. I’d love to get in.’ And they were like, ‘Yo, why don’t you send a couple of songs in?’ And I was like, ‘I’m not going to send a couple of songs. Let’s book it, we go in and make some records together.’”

“She’s busy, I’m busy. Let’s see what could make it work. And that was all I was really saying,” he continued. “Now, I’d love to have it happen. I think she’s freaking amazing. I’ve known her for years. Her and I, our relationship has been very, very good. Every time I see her, it’s all love. … They were like, ‘Yo, how about we do that? Just send a couple of songs.’ And I wasn’t the guy to do that. I wanted to go in there and vibe with the artist, come up with ideas that were unique and dope and stuff like that. And I’d said, ‘Well, yeah, I’m not going to take songs. I’m not going to send songs and audition.’ That’s like auditioning. And it just kind of went way out of proportion with the whole s**t. Then I was like, ‘OK, all right. Maybe I spoke out of turn there. My bad.’ But what I meant is, I’d rather be in the studio with her, just having a really great collaboration and vibe. And I think we would have done amazing stuff because she’s that amazing. So maybe it will still happen. I think she’s great.”

One point that came across throughout in the interview was that Shaggy will always be a champion of reggae and dancehall music. He wants to see the genres get the credit they are due and have the lasting legacy that other genres that are currently afforded. In that same vein, he feels that in order to do that, artists have to hold a mirror up to themselves and see where they can do better so that the collective can progress.

Shaggy congratulates Spice on the global success of “Do Down Deh.” @direalshaggy/Instagram

“A lot of where we are in dancehall is caused by us as a fraternity. There are practices that we have that we need to share. Timing. … Sting says, ‘If you’re on time, you’re late.’ I love that. You can’t have Pat McKay at Sirius booking studio for an interview at 11 … and the artist shows up at 3, and now she has lost that slot. … This is what happens when artists supposed to go out and do interviews, like now, and don’t show up or go to do the work or deliver. There’s a level of unprofessionalism that will transcend and people just not want to f- -k with you.”

Shaggy has seen what dancehall and reggae can be and hopes that through leading by example he can inspire others to want to create the longevity and widespread reach that he’s paved the way for.

“I work hard because I’m working in a genre that does not have that kind of legacy for the racks,” he said. “I’ve toured with Sting and it’s amazing. This guy doesn’t have to do one song in front of a coliseum of 20,000 a night. I see people pay 4,000 euros every night to VIP, just to see him. It’s fascinating. And he’s singing songs that are 30 years old, in some cases. That’s the kind of legacy I want for dancehall. And dancehall artists.”

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