Shaggy Talks “I Need Your Love,” Career Highs (And Lows) & His Return To Pop Radio: Idolator Interview

Mike Wass | June 4, 2015 9:00 am
Shaggy's Rap Battle
Shaggy threw down the gauntlet to 'Jimmy Fallon' announcer Steve Higgins. Watch.

Shaggy was a staple on pop radio at the turn of the millennium, churning out iconic hits like “It Wasn’t Me” and “Angel.” Clashes with his (then) record label took a toll on that momentum, however, and the 46-year-old ultimately decided to concentrate on the reggae market. That is, until this year. Mr. Bombastic is back on a major for the first time in a decade and has a massive hit on his hands with “I Need Your Love” — an irresistible collaboration with international stars Mohombi (Sweden), Faydee (Australia) and Costi (Romania).

I recently caught up with Shaggy to find out more about his comeback and he turned out to be a real straight-shooter. The “Luv Me, Luv Me” hitmaker spoke openly about his career highs and lows, the brave new world of music promotion and his plans for the future. The pop veteran also shed some light on how “I Need Your Love” came together and promised that he already has more than enough songs to fill an album locked away on his computer. Find out more below.

Could you have imagined back in 1993 when “Oh Carolina” exploded that you’d be having a huge radio hit 22 years later?
I was dubbed a one hit wonder. That was the biggest headline because it was such a massive record and it was just the kind of a record that people… it was like, “It’s a cover, he’ll be done.” I had an argument with my record company Virgin. They were asking me to do another song like “Oh Carolina,” but I wouldn’t do it again. Then I wrote “Bombastic,” which was totally different.

They believed in it so little that it became a double A-side with “In The Summertime.” They thought it was safer. We wanted “Bombastic” and they wanted that song, so it was a compromise. And when it came out, they wrote something in The Sun that said: “This is not even worth the vinyl it’s pressed on.” It went on to become a number one hit. I’ve always believed in myself. My biggest problem throughout my career is convincing other people about my capabilities and what I do.

But you have such a track record of hits…
You would think, you would think. Yeah I’m the only guy that’s a five-hit wonder.

That’s crazy.
You would think by this point they’d be like, “Let’s give this guy a budget, the dude sells millions of records, at least give him a budget.” No, not even, because I’m reggae. They sit at a table, a whole bunch of record execs and they say, “Okay what radio format is out there that supports reggae?” And there is none. They’re like, “Show me a track record of reggae doing great numbers and doing all kinds of things.” Besides myself and maybe Sean Paul, there isn’t anyone else doing big numbers. So you get Britney Spears’ catering budget.

As an artist that began before the digital revolution, how has the music business changed for you over the last 20 or so years?
It’s harder now I would think. There are so many different options, people’s attention spans are all over the place. In the past, you had three platforms that you used to use when making records. There was touring, there was TV, and there was radio. They were your three things. You target those three things, and you pretty much could work a record.

Now there is Spotify, there’s social media. TV ain’t the same five channels. It’s so spread out and even if you have money to advertise, where do you do it? Magazine advertising doesn’t even exist anymore. You know, one time we used to spend seventy thousand dollars just to get half a page to advertise. Nowadays you don’t get that, because nobody really buys magazines anymore.

That’s true.
Everybody’s on their phone. You get all the information there. So, it’s a different game. I’ve got to be more on my social media now, and things like that. I’ve got to teach myself that. You’re more open now. For a person like me — I’ve always been the guy to put a record out but keep my life to myself. It’s difficult because now you’ve got to open your life to people just to make it. You used to just see me when a record is hot.

I don’t need a red carpet, you don’t see me in the tabloids. I do my tours, I put some records out, I make some money and I go live my life with my kids. Now if you’re not there, their attention span is so short that if you’re not there, you’re forgotten. That’s the biggest thing right now.

I totally agree with that. On the other hand, if your song is good enough, you can navigate around the whole label situation now.
Yeah but you know, I’ve done the independent route and I’ve done the major route. I’m back on a major again on Sony. When you’re dealing with pop music, there’s a bargaining power with the majors that you, as an individual, don’t have. When you’re talking about pop radio, that’s an expensive format just to advertise and get it going, and pop music is just expensive.

These major labels can leverage stuff. They’re like, “Okay, you need a Beyonce for a festival, you gotta give Shaggy X amount of plays.” When you’re doing it solo, it’s all you. With a label you have a staff that on your own, you’re not gonna have. You’re gonna get some independence, but it’s just a lot more work. You know, the reward could be bigger, I’m not saying no, but… for this stage of my career and the amount of hits that I have, I just need to have a team around me.

Let’s talk about “I Need Your Love.” It’s so catchy. Is it a dark horse for Song Of The Summer?
Absolutely, that’s what we’re counting on.

Wasn’t the song released internationally under a different name?
“Habibi.” Yeah, there were two versions. It was “I need your love” and “Habibi.”

How did you all come together? Everyone from that song is from a different country.
Well Costi’s a producer from Romania, and I worked with him on a track called “I Wanna” with Bob Sinclar. The track was a big track overseas, and we struck up a friendship out of it. We ended up working on another track with Pitbull called “Fired up” just for the Spanish market. We ended up doing another track called “Dame” with Kat DeLuna.

So he came to me with a song called “I Need Your Love.” I heard the track. It had both Faydee and Mohombi on it. I didn’t know either of them. I just listened and I was like, “Wow, this is a smash!” So I cut a couple of vocals for it and let it go, and he hit me up later and asked if we could do a video. I’m like, “Sure.” I was on tour at the time and I was like, “I ‘aint got no time, you’ll have to figure it out.” He said, “We’ll meet you in Spain.” So when you see the part of the video where we’re hugging each other after I walk off the plane. That was literally me walking off the plane after I landed in Spain.

That’s crazy.
We just went from the airport straight to the boat. We shot, and I couldn’t give them much time because I was playing the same night. So right after I did that I went to soundcheck. He was like, ‘Yo, can we take a couple of shots at the show?’ So we gave them some all-access passes, and they took a couple of shots at the show. A couple weeks later they hit me back with the video and I was like “Wow, this is amazing.”

It turned out great.
We had bad weather when we were shooting too, so I thought it was going to be shitty. But when they put it out, we got 900,000 hits in the first week. It just so happened, at that time, I was doing a deal with Sony and Brooklyn Knights. They wanted me to come back into the game of pop music and I kept holding off because there was no deal that made sense. Everybody wanted a 360 — they wanted touring and merchandise — and I’ve built that before, so I didn’t want to do that.

But these guys were the only guys that were willing to give me the opportunity to come in and do a couple of singles and not take a piece of that. So we were doing the deal. By the time we finished negotiating the deal, we’re at about six million views on this record. It’s blowing up. So Costi started getting a lot of offers from independent labels to license it, and they were huge offers.

At the same time, I brought it to the attention of the head of Brooklyn Knights, and he was like, “Dude, that’s the record! Let’s jump out with this, the work is already done, you don’t even have to do a video, everything is done.” That’s how it ended up on Sony.

How did the other guys feel about it?
Costi was in. Mohombi was for it straight off the bat. He’s been around for a minute and understood the magnitude of what he could do with a major pushing it. We had to convince Faydee. He’s from Australia and he’s like, “Dude, everybody’s asking for this record here, we could do it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but it’s a better look to do it like this.” He didn’t need a lot of convincing. He made his point and afterwards we all agreed.

Are you at all surprised by how well it’s doing on pop radio?
It has its own legs. It’s a frustrating record in a sense. It sounds like such a hit, but then it will jump in some markets and in other markets it will just… take its time. I’m used to records like “Oh Carolina” and “Bombastic” that just explode.

What has the reaction been like from fans? They must be excited you’re back on the radio.
You know the sound of my voice is so distinctive. I mean last night I was with Nicole Scherzinger and we were playing a couple of joints and she’s listening to the record and she’s like, “Oh that fucking voice.” It’s one of those things you take for granted. You know, I live with this shit every day! You do get those reactions from people.

Do you already have an EP or album ready?
It’s not like [2000 album] Hot Shot. All of a sudden, the record companies were throwing money at me, saying “we need an album.” You know, the record was hot and they don’t want to lose the momentum. I was like, “Here’s my computer, pick some other songs.” But I did the same thing with “I Need Your Love.” When I brought it in, it was among a bunch of songs. I have about 200 songs. You just gotta pick some shit.

Do you have any other collaborations on your computer?
I know a few people, and collabs are like this, man. I’m excited to do some collabs but then I have a track record of breaking without collabs. You know what I mean? “Angel” and “It Wasn’t Me” had Rayvon and Rikrok on them. Nobody knows who these guys are, but they’re massive records. I had “Luv Me, Luv Me,” which had Janet Jackson on it, but Janet wasn’t in the video. She didn’t want anything to do with the record, so I ended up doing the record myself.

Why was that? It’s a great song.
It was a great song. It was produced by Jam & Lewis, which are her people but I think it was just produced to be an album track. So Janet just did it because it’s just part of the album. Nobody thought it would be a single. The soundtrack came out when the movie came out, and radio just picked my song. Remember, Mary J. Blige had the first single off the album. Her record just didn’t connect.

“Luv Me Luv Me” just connected. And at that point, they were faced with a situation where it’s a single, but we don’t have single rights from Janet. So what are we gonna do? You gotta remember too, it wasn’t available for sale but it became a number one radio hit and the album sold platinum because people wanted “Luv Me Luv Me.” There were no single rights. I think we ended up cutting another version with Samantha Cole. We shot two videos.

Another song of yours that has a million lives is “It Wasn’t Me.” It’s sampled in Kat DeLuna’s new song.
Yeah yeah, Kat did it.

And you recently performed it on Jimmy Fallon.
I have some of these songs, like if you do “Bombastic” live right now people go nuts. Same with “Oh Carolina.” These songs still stand out. Same with “Angel.” They last. I think a lot of it has to do with my producer too, and the type of sounds he uses. I left him in New York sampling drum sounds and keyboard sounds from really old records. He doesn’t like to use the sounds from the new keyboards because he thinks it dates him.

You know certain synth sounds from certain keyboards… most of the producers use the same synths because they buy the same keyboards and have the same programs, so they have the same synths. He’ll sample old ones, so that his sounds are different, and they’re more of a classic sound. So instead of hearing synthesized sounds, you’ll hear real instrument sounds, and we just make the records with those so it becomes more of a classic.

You have all these classic records, but are there any that you don’t think hold up?
Oh, there’s a lot. I’ve done a lot of shit. And I’ve done songs that record companies wanted me to do. There’s a song called “Piece Of My Heart.” I hated that record. It was a first single off my third LP Midnite Lover. That whole project was a disaster. I hated that record.

Was it something you were pushed into?
First of all, they picked it as the first single before we even did the rest of the album.

That doesn’t make sense.
Yeah, it was because there was a chick on there [Marsha] that he had believed in. The whole thing was a disaster. So, yeah. There are songs that I could have done better.

A lot of people are wondering where you’ve been for the past 10 years. Was there a reason why you haven’t focussed on the American market until now?
None of it was planned. I never sat down and said: “Okay, I’m going to go away.” What happened was, after “Angel” and “It Wasn’t Me,” I was with a shitty record company.

Which label?
It was MCA. We kept the lights on. They would always ended up getting a big record to help them get through the year. You know, it was Blink 182 one year, after that it was K-Ci & JoJo, and after that it was me. So you know they always had that one record that sells millions, just to save their ass. And they just ran out of juice. After “Angel” and “It Wasn’t Me,” they wanted me to put a new album out because they’d exhausted all of their money in promoting a bunch of acts.

That just didn’t connect. They fired the president and shut the company down. So here I am, I’m a huge artist on this label that is now shut down. So they moved me over to Geffen. There were two presidents at Geffen — Polly Anthony and Jordan Schur, and they hated each other. So he took me to one side and told me to make a record and she did the same. Neither of them could agree on a record. So that went on for about two years.

They were both fired and Ron Fair took over. He came to Jamaica and was on vacation for a little bit. It just wasn’t working, none of it was working, none of it was. At that point I decided that I just wanted to get away, so I begged my way off. I asked Ron Fair to let me go, and he kind of took a couple of months then he gave me a letter letting me go. I went ahead. I got off the label in 2006.

I wrote “Church Heathen” and got a number one. I just kept doing reggae. I couldn’t go anywhere else because me and my manager wasn’t getting along either. So that relationship was breaking down too. A couple of international records came to me, a couple of projects like “Feel the Rush.” They’ll come to me, different projects, and I’ll take those but I wouldn’t do a pop album or get on a pop label.

When me and my manager split, I was trying to go back and get a deal… and it was a different climate. Nobody really wanted to give me a deal. In one way it gave me some credibility because I did a couple of albums that were nominated for Grammys. I did things that rounded off my career credibility-wise. I stayed away from the mainstream so long that the mainstream wasn’t really interested in me again.

It’s come full circle. You’ve been gone so long that there’s even more interest in you now.
Maybe with the right record. But we always knew we were one record away from it. I remember Jimmy Iovine saying to me, “You are one record away from being an icon”. He’s always said that.

Do you think that this is that record?
I think it could be. But I’m sitting on better records right now. There are other records that I have that are just massive. This could easily be a novelty record too.

When do you think we’ll be able to hear some of the other new stuff?
We put up a track called “Go Fuck Yourself.”

You’ve already won me over with the title. 
It’s on Spotify and it’s just fucking awesome. Another one called “Picture,” which is pretty cool too. So we’re just doing a bunch of records and as it goes along there will be other stuff.

Will there be an album or EP?
Don’t know what I’m gonna do yet. The record dictates everything. It might be a situation where there’s such a demand for it, let’s do an album. It depends. For me I’m just happy because I can tour. I do this to tour. So this just helps my touring all around. My profile is back up, my price is back up, let’s go!

Are you excited to have Shaggy back on the airwaves? Let us know in the comments below.

Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.