Emerging in the early ’90s, Shaggy was the biggest crossover success in dancehall reggae. Not only did he become the genre’s most commercially potent artist in the international market, he was also more than just a typical flash in the pan, managing to sustain a career over the course of several highly popular albums. Perhaps in part because he wasn’t based in Jamaica, he never really needed to have it both ways: virtually ignoring the hardcore dancehall crowd, his music was unabashedly geared toward good times, a friendly (if horny) persona, and catchy party anthems. He wasn’t shy about lifting hooks wholesale from pop hits of the past, a chart-ready blueprint similar to that of hip-hop stars like Puffy Diddy, but he also had fairly eclectic tastes, giving his records a musical variety lacking from other dancehall stars. As a result, he became one of the scant few reggae artists to top the album and pop singles charts in America, not to mention numerous other countries where he’s had even greater success.
nicknamed after the Scooby-Doo character. At age 18, he joined his mother in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, New York, and soon began performing with the local Jamaican-style sound system Gibraltar Musik. A steady income proved to be a more pressing matter, however, and in 1988 Shaggy joined the Marines. Stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he continued to pursue music in his free time, and often made the drive back to New York for recording sessions. He cut his first single, “Man a Mi Yard” b/w “Bullet Proof Buddy,” at age 20 for producer Don Ones own small label; for the follow-up, “Big Hood” b/w “Duppy or Uglyman,” he worked with producer Llyod Spiderman Campbell.Shaggy’s most important connection, however, proved to be radio DJ/studio engineer Sting (born Shaun Pizzonia), who got him a gig cutting dubplates at Philip Smart’s studio. One of those records, “Mampie,” became a huge hit among New York reggae fans; its follow-up, “Big Up,” was even more popular locally, and marked the first of several duets with Brooklyn singer Rayvon. However, Shaggy still had obligations to the military, and his budding career was interrupted by Operation Desert Storm in 1991; he was sent to Kuwait for a five-month tour of duty. After returning to Camp Lejeune, Shaggy resumed his sessions in New York, and waxed a cover of The Folkes Brother’s ska hit “Oh Carolina.” Originally recorded for Prince Busters label, the song was given a modern dancehall update complete with a prominent “Peter Gunn” sample. At first, “Oh Carolina” was simply another local hit, but thanks to some overseas promotion, it was picked up for release in the U.K. by Greensleeves in late 1992. It was an instant smash, vaulting all the way to the top of the British pop charts early the next year and doing the same in several other European countries.