Shaggy is in work mode. He has been here a few times with the number one record in several countries. The Dancehall superstar recently travelled from Jamaica to Atlanta for the launch of his new song with Spice and Sean Paul. As one of the most consistent artists in Dancehall and Reggae music, he has reinvented himself and found success at the top of the charts in every decade since he came out in the 1990s.
The 52-year-old has been nominated for 7 Grammy Awards, winning twice for Boombastic and 44/876 with Sting. He surpassed 1.1 billion Pandora plays, streamed 2 billion with his Banana collaboration with Conkarah, and surpassed 400M YouTube plays in the last year. His latest hit Go Down Deh is the number one song in his home country Jamaica this week with over 4 million streams globally.
In this conversation, we talk about his journey in music, the music business, NFTs, and making choices for his financial freedom.
Shaggy, I notice your voice has changed. You switch it up for this new song?
Everything you do in life you have to do to your full potential. For me, it’s always reinvention not just in image but in sound. This particular record just called for that. That song (Guh dung deh) was my song by itself. I just switched around the words and made it a Spice song and then Sean came in. It’s pretty unique.
Reggae accounted for 1 per cent of global music sales but you are at the top. How do you suggest artists sell and stream more records?
That doesn’t give us much of a bargaining power with Universal or Google or Live Nation. What I have seen now with this generation it’s a pattern where they are in a vibe by themselves. And if it worked and moved numbers I’d be the first one on it but it’s just not working. If you look at the chart and numbers, 90s dancehall doing more. So many genres come from dancehall like Reggaeton which is a billion-dollar genre and one of the leading genres in the world. If you look at the few successes we have had like Party Animal and Hold Yuh that’s a dancehall beat. We are literally reinventing something that wasn’t broken instead of finding a hybrid.
As big a continent as Africa is they play Dancehall music as their main music in all the countries. We have to recognize our richness. I have been having the conversation with Sean and we say we haffi do sumn. This new song was a calculated move because Spice is signed to VP and VP is a dancehall label and Jay Will is a dancehall videographer. We’re gonna show that Dancehall is a force to be reckoned with and the best person to do that with is Spice.
You were one of the leading streamers last year.
Banana has streamed 2 billion but at the end of the day nobody nah give the flowers cause them say “A Shaggy dat”
Or they say “separate from Shaggy”?
Yes, so I realize if I do it again it nah guh change the cycle or affect the cycle but if Spice moves the genre and the needle then it shifts the culture.
Cultures need architects and I notice you always have label support.
Because it’s less risky. We use their money. Any rich person from Bill Gates or anyone always uses other people’s money. I come with brand equity globally. I come with ten to fifteen million monthly subscribers on Spotify. For my Christmas album, I called five different labels and it just depended on who gave me the better deal.
And you own your masters?
Absolutely, but I have numbers. Imagine if the rest of the genre was in that situation how much more powerful we would be. It’s a difficult conversation to have with the labels because they are calculating how they will get back their money. Winning a Grammy with Sting was my vision to bring Sting this way. He executed really well and we had the second highest earning tour and won a Grammy and we sold gold.
If dancehall has a success they will say it is because “there is a factor to it”.
Are you going all the way with the new song?
It requires lotta work. I have faith in VP that they can do it. Spice had a long-standing feud with VP and she was signed with multiple albums and I went in there and said hey this could be a win-win for all of us. The dialogue got us to an agreement and that agreement led to a game plan. I have been to the promise land many times but a lot of it boils down to having an artist who is willing to do the leg work. I don’t manage Spice but I literally sit with her and orchestrate certain things. This record has a vision and a path and we sat down and set that path up and execute it.
It’s the first time I hear you talking so luxurious on a song, I get the sense you are more comfortable with your success and not apologizing.
There is a growth process. The person I am is not the person I was ten years ago. You are right, for years I was never comfortable. You can bring yourself to the level of other people to make them feel better in the room or around you. It wasn’t until I started touring with Sting that I realized that.
Sting is a giant and he was just taken with my abilities and after a while I say if this bredda can see this in me why can’t others? So after a while, I changed my circle. It was hard because some of these are long term relationships. People will bring you down even when they are dependent on it. So you are right I am a little bit more easier in talking about what I do because at this point I earned it. People will downplay what I have done in Dancehall to make themselves feel and look better. Yeah I am that guy (laughs).
What advice would you give to someone coming into the industry and want your success?
It’s hard to give advice because my situation is unique. I came into a genre that didn’t exist. In 1993, Shabba only sold gold and Super Cat barely made gold and they were giants. We still weren’t a force to be reckoned with until Oh Carolina came and that did platinum. When I got in I figured out a way how to tap into the masses. All my music started out of New York and I went on tour with Maxi Priest which was a huge lesson.
Maxi taught me how to get my message across, you have to speak clearly and be charismatic to get your message across. I had great teachers, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley. The young generation I say to them look at your elders and try to learn from them. I love to sit down with the man them who do it before me.
The other day I had a conversation with Marcia Griffiths. I sit down and soak it like a sponge. It’s much easier now but learn about the business of music and not just the music business. Back in my days, it was hard to find that and I was taken advantage of.
There are 60 Reggae and dancehall albums to be released in another month or two including Spice’s TEN. Do you think streaming will help sell those albums?
It can. It’s doing it for other genres. You are an algorithm guy following music numbers wise and I see Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar doing well so we can’t blame streaming. Now should we be getting more money from streaming? Absolutely. Record companies and the platforms are making bank. Unless you own your IP or have a certain amount of leverage, the rest of us as dancehall don’t have that power. Streaming makes it more accessible than it has ever been.
NFTs and Crypto are changing the music industry, if anyone can do this and succeed it’s Shaggy, are you getting into it?
I think it’s great. We will be looking at that and we have a few ideas. With everything we do with caution but everything with me is about the art. It has to make sense and has some sort of appeal. I want to sit down with people who are NFT experts and come up with what best will work. Cryptocurrency is the future and I don’t think we will have a choice but to get involved.
Would you sell your catalogue?
People are selling their catalogue because the interest rate is really low and offering up to twenty times multiples. Normally catalogue sales don’t go up at such high multiples. This is unheard of. The Trump tax bill is still in place for another six months and capital gains taxes are only twenty percent. It’s going back to 40%. There is only this window to make these deals so if you can cash out with such high multiples it makes sense. So for me, it’s a no brainer.
How much do you make off your catalogue per year?
My catalogue does very well. My syncs do better than any other reggae artists including Bob. We just did Cheetos, Chase. But I have partners because when I came out the only way to get on the radio is to have samples. We did covers and samples and whatever was needed to get on the radio. So I share revenue with them even though the catalogue makes money, I have partners.
So for your new music, the money comes to you?
Yes for the last couple of years I have been doing things different. The main thing is to get smart people. Get a proper business management company. You want companies and lawyers with a reputation because they are going to make sure to be on their A game. Get managers in the game for a while that value their reputation. It’s amazing how my career turned around once I got professional people.
Would you go into movies? What is life like for you after music if there is such a thing?
You right there is no such thing as “after music”, music is life. We look at success as having things but success is freedom. As you get older you value freedom and you can’t get to that freedom unless you create a way to it. Whatever I will do boils down to me having the freedom to do it. Freedom is having the ability to say No. I don’t want to do it because I have to do it.
It’s really working towards financial freedom. Freedom is the win. I will go into acting if I like the role and if it’s something I am passionate about. I am open to all of it but it has to be the right fit and be art because I live through my art.
Shaggy Big Up
Yes JR Big Up World Music Views
For the full interview listen to the World Music Views Podcast on Spotify.