Mon overboard! With the blunt and naughty hit 'It Wasn't Me,' pop-reggae sensation Shaggy cruises to the top of the charts

By Tom Sinclair
March 02, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
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  • Music

It’s two days before Super Bowl Sunday, and Tampa is in a tizzy of anticipation. Rabid football fans (along with hookers, bookies, and assorted other opportunists) have descended on the area, lending the town a gleeful Mardi Gras vibe. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a New York Giant from the Jolly Green Giant — the hysteria is contagious.

Amid the mania, non-sports fan and visiting pop luminary Shaggy, in town to tape an appearance for MTV’s Rock ‘N Jock, has caught the fever. He’s also suffering from the chills, stomach problems, and a general feeling of malaise, but he’s got work to do. So when the time comes for him to crawl out of his trailer and perform his hit ”It Wasn’t Me” in front of a horde of teens at Raymond James Stadium, he shrugs off his sickness, trots on stage, and gets down to business.

MTV has corralled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders to act as backing booty-shakers and hired the Bethune-Cookman College marching band to provide a booming instrumental coda to the bawdy tune (which advises those caught flagrante delicto to borrow a page from Bill ”I Never Had Sex With That Woman” Clinton’s book). Shaggy and Ricardo ”RikRok” Ducent, featured vocalist on and cowriter of ”It Wasn’t Me,” stamp their personas indelibly on the proceedings, exuding energy and charisma like the de facto superstars they’ve recently become.

The MTV crew tapes two takes, then Shaggy is outta there, professing uninterest in the fun, food, and festivities on tap. He’s got a hot date — with a bed and a vial of antibiotics.

There hasn’t been a major reggae superstar since Bob Marley. Not really. As Shaggy (né Orville Richard Burrell), 32, points out: ”If you look at reggae and dancehall artists in general, there isn’t really a big success story. A Shabba Ranks or a Yellowman might have a hit, but there’s never a follow-up. There’s no consistency.”

Shaggy, who divides his time between a home in Jamaica and one in Valley Stream, Long Island, is in the process of changing that. In fact, with his current quadruple-platinum album, the aptly titled Hotshot, having nestled at the top of the Billboard pop chart, some might argue that he’s already accomplished his goal of reintroducing the mainstream to reggae. It’s a dream the Jamaica native — who can articulate with the gravitas of James Earl Jones or slip into an impossible-to-parse rude-boy patois at will — has been working toward since he arrived in Brooklyn, at the age of 18.

After launching his career with a couple of local dancehall hits, he joined the Marines just in time for the Gulf War. By the time he returned to civilian life in the early ’90s, a deal with Virgin Records was in the offing. In short order, the single ”Oh Carolina” became the calling card for his first album, 1993’s Pure Pleasure. Two years later, he scored a hit with ”Boombastic,” from the CD of the same name, which won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album in ’96. His upward momentum hit a snag, however, with 1997’s Midnite Lover, a commercial flop that Shaggy believes led to his being dropped by Virgin. The label’s vice president of A&R Gemma Corfield says: ”His third album wasn’t successful, and much to my chagrin [Virgin] cut him loose when they decided to do roster trimming” — a decision she now admits was ”terrible.”

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