At 50, Mr Boombastic – Orville “Shaggy” Burrell – is proving that he’s still fantastic. He’s winning Grammys, enjoying sold-out concerts across the world, and leading the International Reggae and World Music Awards (IRAWMA) nominations with all of five. And Shaggy is also jumping right into the production of a brand-new album, his most personal to date, where he gives fans a glimpse into his life and even lifts the lid slightly on his not-so-great relationship with his mother.
The platinum-selling artiste, who is prepping the release of Wah A Gwaan, his latest solo project, told The Sunday Gleaner that this is his proudest work yet. Scheduled to be released on May 10, Wah A Gwaan has been three years in the making. Actually, Shaggy had pushed back the release to facilitate his 44/876 collaborative album with Sting, and this proved the sensible thing to do as the project was awarded this year’s Grammy in the Best Reggae Album category. “I was about to release my own album, but then this project with Sting came up, so I pushed it back. Having gotten back into the studio, I realised that what I had done before, I had to rework because there was a lot of growth during the interim. I turned 50,” he said with a bit of pride mingled with acceptance.
He added, “This is the first album that is personal – a bit of my truth. With previous albums, I kept my private life private, and I felt it was time to address certain things. Also, there is a point where you can’t talk about woman and gal any more.” And with this realisation, Shaggy, who has been hailed as the biggest crossover success in dancehall reggae, has opted to explore various themes on this album, some more personal and hard-hitting than others.
Among the tracks on the album is Wrong Room, a song which, like the album title, speaks on multiple levels. “This is really about the relationship with my mother, which hasn’t been very strong over the years,” he confessed. Then, seeming to elaborate, he said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room because that means that there is nobody in that room for you to learn from.”
With the wisdom gained by his half a century not out, Shaggy, who easily fits into that elite group that comprises reggae and dancehall’s most commercially successful and decorated artistes, stated: “If there are persons in your circle and they are not contributing to your growth, then why are they in your circle? What is it that they are bringing that provides enrichment? Nobody don’t want deh roun’ no wasteman,” he declared. “They come in with their own ideas. They tell you that you are old. Then you look at them and start to fact check. What are their own achievements? What gives them the right to make these pronouncements over your life?”
The entertainer, who is one of the few reggae artistes to top the album and pop singles charts in America, is giving thanks for his most recent string of nominations from the IRAWMA, because, as he says, “awards make you have recognition among your peers”. And in the same breath, he’s rather high on that thing called greatness.
“I was born for greatness. I come from a Ray Town tenement, but I understood that you can’t form fool when you are ‘the chosen’. Man is just a tool for that higher power, and you have to do what is great,” he says.
Not surprisingly, another single, Ketch Mi Up, speaks to his own accolades because as an artiste, he says he has finally reached a place where he fully understands the magnitude of his own achievements despite others trying to dupe him into believing otherwise.
On one level, Ketch Mi Up may come across as pure braggadocio when Shaggy cheekily asks: “How oonu a go mek a 50-year-old man be winning like this/Numbers don’t lie when you check Spotify/Dem new s$%t cyan sell past mi ole chune dem.” But Shaggy is on a mission to ensure that he writes his own history, one suffused with truth and facts “because there are others who will write it for you and even write you out of it”.
Admittedly, there is more than a granule of truth in Shaggy’s banter, and he sticks the knife a little deeper when he questions the potency of the current crop of dancehall acts, whose dominance lags far behind that of Vybz Kartel, an artiste who is serving a life sentence in prison for murder.
“The biggest dancehall artiste alive now is a guy who lock up. If I was in that game, there is no way a lock-up artiste could be dominating and me out a road and have my freedom fi walk up and down. But I have to give Kartel his respect still,” Shaggy said, as only an artiste of Shaggy’s calibre can.