That ’90s nostalgia is in full swing. But reggae superstar Shaggy (aka Orville Burrell) isn’t ready to become a heritage act. After all, Mr Boombastic’s ’90s urban-reggae is now being emulated by everyone from Major Lazer to Rihanna and Drake. He’s on-trend.
In February, Burrell will headline Raggamuffin All Stars, a spin-off from the Australasian reggae festival he’s twice appeared at. Burrell enjoys returning to places. “The only problem I ever have with Australia is the fact that it’s really far from everything else in my life,” he says breezily. Indeed, he’s maintained his global profile by consistently touring. In October, Burrell hit India — another favourite destination. “India’s a very fast-growing culture,” he commends. “They embrace a lot of things. It’s ever-changing.”
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Burrell later settled in New York. It was here he launched himself as a deejay (MC), his handle inspired by the slacker dog-owner in the Scooby-Doo cartoon. Ironically for this musical peace emissary, Burrell had joined the US Marines, and his career was temporarily stalled by the Gulf War.
In 1993, Burrell broke out with ‘Oh Carolina’, a dancehall version of the Folkes Brothers’ Prince Buster-stamped ska classic. It was a hit in the UK, and Oz. A canny fusionist, Burrell found greater success with his third album Boombastic, winning his first Grammy. However, his biggest moment came with 2000’s Hot Shot, which both spawned the trans-Atlantic chart-toppers ‘It Wasn’t Me’ (featuring RikRok) and country-tinged ‘Angel’ (featuring Rayvon), and achieved US multi-platinum status. Burrell would be aligned with various major labels but, after 2005’s Clothes Drop, he went indie.
Watch: Shaggy – ‘Angel’ Feat. Rayvon
During troughs, Burrell has contributed to soundtracks. He cut ‘Luv Me, Luv Me’ with Janet Jackson for How Stella Got Her Groove Back. He reggae-fied the Scooby-Doo theme for the movie reboot. Yet more novel, Burrell teamed with Sacha Baron Cohen’s infamous alter-ego Ali G on ‘Me Julie’ for Ali G Indahouse. Plus, he’s collaborated widely, even liaising with Aussies Merril Bainbridge and, latterly, Kylie Minogue.
In 2013, Burrell cameoed on Major Lazer’s ‘Keep Cool’, a song rejected by No Doubt that wound up on Free The Universe. “I never met any of them,” he reveals of Diplo’s crew. “I was asked to do something on a beat — the beat I did it on wasn’t even the beat that it came out on. It was done on a Dave Kelly [Jamaican dancehall producer] beat.” Burrell was “more excited” to be on a track with singer-songwriter Diana “Wynter” Gordon, who subsequently worked on Beyoncé’s LEMONADE.
Listen: Major Lazer – ‘Keep Cool’ Feat. Shaggy & Wynter Gordon
That same year, Burrell self-released Out Of Many, One Music with Sly & Robbie — the dub unit renowned for contributing to Grace Jones’ early ’80s albums. (Coincidentally, they were billed alongside Burrell at 2010’s Raggamuffin.)
“Sly & Robbie are great, man. Working with Sly & Robbie was kinda like part of my bucket list. I’ve known them for years and I just wanted to do a project with them that was all-reggae. I wanted to take them back to what they did — and I just wanted to do a pure, all-reggae album. No crossover records. No diluted-ness. Just raw, straight Shaggy doing a reggae record.”
Still, Burrell being Burrell, among the guests was the R&B Ne-Yo. While Out Of Many… didn’t blow up, Burrell received his fifth Grammy nom for ‘Best Reggae Album’. He envisages reuniting with Sly & Robbie. “We’ll probably change the style up a little bit and evolve it more a little bit and come with more innovative rhythms.”
Watch: Shaggy – ‘You Girl’ Feat. Ne-Yo
Burrell has a new deal with Sony RED. He’s progressing on his 13th album, possibly entitled Mr Lover — recently airing singles like the Scott Storch-helmed ‘That Love’. “I have made this album over probably around three times already and changed the sound of it, because the sound of music is changing so rapidly. You got that EDM feel, then you get into this tropical house feel… It keeps changing. Now it’s a dancehall feel. I don’t want to be the guy that’s copying any of those. I need to find something that fits in between that is more Shaggy, you know? And so whenever I do something, and I’m there, I keep changing, ideas keep coming — so it evolves.” Burrell touts the project as “my first pop album since Clothes Drop“. He plans to reach out to Ms Gordon, and he expects the record to surface in early 2017.
Burrell is attuned to pop culture. His eldest son, Richard Burrell, is the Tumblr street rapper Robb Bank$ — who, controversially, initially vehemently denied their connection.
And Burrell closely follows the myriad new hybrid reggae forms like trop house. He (justifiably) flosses about being a trailblazer. “The thing for me, what is so fascinating, is that all these records that are very popular — you look at the Billboard [charts] right now, you look at all the Grammy nominations — all of these American and international artists are using reggae sounds, from Drake to Rihanna to Ariana Grande… What is so fascinating to me is that they’re using it in the same capacity that I’ve used it for years — and I was criticised for it when I did it! I did ‘Angel’ and ‘It Wasn’t Me’ and all of these songs that had these crossover rhythms being fused with dancehall — I was called a ‘sell-out’ (laughs). I was criticised for it, and now it’s the norm that everybody’s on it.
“People tend to forget that I was pioneering it long before they actually were doing it. So it’s fascinating to me to just look at it and see it and say, ‘Hey, well, they’re making me look like a genius right now, ’cause I was doing it long before that.’ I’m still here in the game, still doing it, and still being a part of it — and [I’ve] seen it come to light as part of mainstream music. So that’s fun!”
Shaggy performs in Australia in February as part of Raggamuffin All Stars 2017.
Watch: Shaggy – ‘That Love’