Jonathan Mannion

Shaggy Gets Real: The Legend Talks New Album, Life Lessons And The State Of Reggae

"Reggae is something that when you play it, you almost gotta feel it instead of just hearing it."

While he recently garnered his second Grammy Award for 44/876 (his joint album with Sting), Shaggy is ready to return to the music scene solo with his 12th album, Wah Gwaan?!. The aforementioned LP is the reggae superstar’s first unaccompanied project in six years, and–as he details to VIBE–it’s one of the most personal albums of his nearly 30-year career.

“I got to a space where I almost started to be a little insecure, because your age is up there, and people around you are like 'oh, you're not as cool anymore,'” the 50-year-old says of his upcoming project, which is slated to drop May 10. “You get to a point where a lot of it isn't really working, and you're saying 'maybe I should really just get back to me.' My label rep said something to me: ‘Why don't you try betting on yourself for a bit?' As simple as it might sound. I sat down, and I decided to write.”

The Jamaican-born and bred musician’s hit “Oh Carolina” made waves in 1993, and he’s kept the good vibrations going ever since. Shaggy has sold 40 million units to date and has won two Grammy Awards out of six nominations. His fifth studio-album Hot Shot catapulted to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in 2000. Two songs from the latter, “It Wasn’t Me” and “Angel,” hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart. He’s also one of the top three streamed reggae artists on Spotify, with 710 million streams. Shaggy wanted his latest body of work to be a culmination of his professional and personal experiences.

“There was a lot that happened in my life, especially within the last year,” he explains. “A lot of relationships severed, a lot of sh*t that made me like, ‘What do I do from here? Do I sit down and talk about 'bangin' on the bathroom floor' again?’ A lot has changed since then, so that's what I wanted to do. I'm really, really happy with the outcome of [the album], I really, really like it.”

"I spread knowledge as much as I can. I surround myself with people that are smarter than me, because I wanna be a sponge. I say, 'if you're the smartest guy in the room, then you're in the wrong room.'”

Shaggy details that Wah Gwaan?! is “12 songs of eargasmic pleasure,” all of which invoke a different vibe for the listener. Those who are looking for feel-good riddims needn’t look further than the radio-friendly “You” featuring pop newcomer Alexander Stewart and the energetic “Money Up” with an assist from Noah Powa. The album also finds Shaggy at his most vulnerable with songs such as the honest and relatable “Live,” as well as “Praise,” the sonic equivalent of a happy-go-lucky day at the beach.

The LP features artists Nicky Jam, singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe and dancehall artist Shenseea. Shaggy notes that he focuses on collaborating with lesser-known artists in order to help cultivate their own budding careers.

“If you look at the patterns of what we've done over the years, like with ‘It Wasn't Me,’ that was with Rikrok. He was a writer that became an artist because he put in work on that song,” he says. “‘Angel’ was Rayvon, and even recently with ‘I Need Your Love,’ we had Mohombi and Faydee, [who] are not really big stars. I think that making good records boils down to chemistry... If you're just going for that hot guy, it might not connect. So it's a little riskier [with lesser-known artists], but in my experience, when you do catch one like that, they're massive. I go for the integrity of the song more so than the celebrity factor of it.”

Similarly, he worked with a “young,” “hungry” and seemingly-unknown Cardi B on the remix of his 2015 track “Boom Boom,” which was pulled due to issues between the parties involved.

“I'd rather pull the damn record than go through all of that sh*t. [Cardi] had something about her that was dope, and she sounded great on the track,” he recalls, noting that the “uncomfortable” moment is now water under the bridge. “I saw her a couple of times [afterwards], I just saw her at the Grammys again, so it was cool. She's amazing.”

While the ride to music superstardom has not been easy, “Mr. Boombastic” has persevered with his talent, vivacious personality, sense of humor and sticktuitive nature marvellously intact. He also maintains an admirable poise and discipline, which he credits to his four years as a Marine. In fact, he went AWOL weekly during the early years of his career, driving from Swoop Circle on North Carolina’s Parris Island to New York to make music. He notes that he recorded “Big Up” while wearing his military uniform during the ‘90s.

Shaggy’s personal history has ultimately shaped his growth, longevity and how he approaches the music industry. What lights a fire under the artist is the notion carried by some that he “can’t” be successful in an ever-changing industry that tends to find difficulties working with the unknown. The odds were against him, but he continued to use their doubts as a motivating factor.

“My friend [producer and writer] Dave ‘Rude Boy’ Kelly said 'why is it that you gotta go to rock bottom before you f**kin' start rising?' And I said, ‘rock bottom is when I see the true people around me,’” he says in reference to his early days as a musician, when reggae wasn’t as widely accepted as it is today. “I’m in a genre that is not popular. I am in a genre that is not taken seriously, and I'm trying to break through a barrier to become that.”

“I found myself in rooms with people that—because I have a strong Jamaican accent—they'd be on their devices,” he continues. “Especially my manager Robert, who had a very thick accent. But [at the time], they'd be in the room and they'd just be talking to each other [through pagers]. I knew this afterwards, because a lot of them got fired. They’d say things like 'yeah, you can put him back on the Banana Boat.’ These were things that were being said constantly.”

Despite the beliefs of music’s gatekeepers, Shaggy not only became a lauded musical act, but he continued to grow and learn from others. This theme is explored in Wah Gwaan’s “Wrong Room,” a standout from the LP, and one of his most raw songs. The retrospective track features the musician discussing lessons learned both in his youth and throughout adulthood. An accompanying choir paired with bass-heavy production helps the track soar to higher, more triumphant heights.

“Some people have sight, but I got vision,” he sings. “At times I move like a politician. I try my best to form coalitions…”

“One thing about life, there's never a moment that you're not learning,” he smiles. “You keep learning and you keep finding things. If I knew what I knew then, I'd be a different person now, definitely. I spread knowledge as much as I can. I surround myself with people that are smarter than me, because I wanna be a sponge. I say, 'if you're the smartest guy in the room, then you're in the wrong room.'”

He details that the song also pertains to the relationship he has with his mother. Although she is alive, he does not speak to her, and has “no desire to.” Despite their issues, however, Shaggy thanks her for providing him with the intellect to make it this far in life and in his career.

“I was never born with a golden spoon, and I never really liked going to school,” he says in “Wrong Room,” “but you should know mama never raised no fool.”

“Everybody's born different, everybody's mind is different, everybody deals with things different, and some people, it might not work well with them,” he says of his issues with his mother. While he isn’t explicit with his details, the only child hints that he was subjected to physical and emotional abuse growing up. However, he also attests her behavior to her stern Jamaican ways. “Some people are strong enough to go through that, and be like 'Hey, I've overcome it.’ I don't have a great relationship with my father, either. I take care of both of them, but I just don't see where they fit into my life…”

“...I might not be educated because my parents never had money to send me to college to get a higher education, but mama didn't raise no fool,” he continues. “I never take that for granted, I have gratitude, I'm full of gratitude, I live life with gratitude. It is my duty to go back to all the people that [are] my make sure they're okay. In the same, what I had to learn, also, was how to put me first. [“Wrong Room”] is very personal to me in that sense.”

Shaggy’s longevity is no surprise, especially considering the influx of reggae and dancehall-tinged pop ditties that have dropped in recent years. Mainstream acts such as Justin Bieber, Drake and Ed Sheeran have implemented island-flavored sounds in their tunes to great success, and Caribbean music continues to pull in new admirers and audiences. However, he wishes that the initial cheerful intentions of dancehall were still as prevalent as they once were.

“When I look at most of the songs that are out now from some of the younger crop, when I'm in the dancehall or the club, nobody dances,” Shaggy says of what’s missing from the genre in 2019. “There was another level of dancehall in my early, early days, like when Super Cat did ‘Ghetto Red Hot.’ They were very much still dancehall. The flow was a little different, but people danced to it. Then, when Elephant Man and [those] guys came in, they sang songs about dancing. It's a fun time. When you see them in Jamaica and those songs come on, and people are doing these dances, to me, it's colorful. That's what dancehall is.”

Shaggy says that for a period of time, dancehall carried darker themes and featured lyrics about violence, losing the “festive” essence of what many loved about the genre. However, he praises current reggae artists such as Chronixx, Kabaka Pyramid and Koffee, for their “smooth” tunes reminiscent of artists who came before them. Other than the music that he’s planning on hitting listeners with on Wah Gwaan?!, he says that reggae music today is in good hands.

“I think what makes a good reggae record is soul, you have to have that soulful feel in it, because reggae is something that when you play it, you almost gotta feel it instead of just hearing it,” the legend explains with a smile. “If you don't know how to make it, you just feel it.”

From the Web

More on Vibe

Getty Images

Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.


Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

Continue Reading
Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
SMXRF/Star Max/GC Images

Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

Continue Reading
Gary Gershof

Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.


VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

Continue Reading

Top Stories