“What Would Shaggy Do?” bracelets have met with a surge in demand, forcing all production lines to add a third shift; emergency rooms are being flooded with a sudden outbreak of red-handedness; Home Depot is reporting a record number of calls for advice on how exactly one goes about hammering nails into the bathroom floor.
Yes, the reverberations of “It Wasn’t Me,” where Flatbush-bred ragga-rapper Shaggy imparts profligate wisdom to Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent, went from saturating Hawaiian radio last summer to sleeper-hit status through the fall. Most improbably of all, Shaggy’s fifth album, Hotshot, spent all of January nipping at the Soundscan tally of Beatles 1. Well, little did the Fab Four know it, but the career kiss-off B side to “Let It Be” would have the most seminal resonance for their nearest 2001 rival. The guttural growling at the tail end of “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” was a portent of Shaggy’s prime vocal technique.
Then again, we were all in phase in our dancehall days—or at least for the early-’90s spell when reggae 45 bins were raided for the next exponent of feckless party rap. The movement was quarterbacked by Shabba Ranks, paired with winsome crooners like Maxi Priest to give a silky sheen that offset exertions of stoic patois in a formula redolent of Johnny Cymbal’s 1963 “Mr. Bass Man.” The unfettered article registered a few crossovers—Mad Cobra’s coital incantations on “Flex” (rhymes with “time to have sex”), for instance—but Darrin “Snow” O’Brien’s tongue-twisting “Informer” (the first huge hit of Bill Clinton’s presidency) pillaged any North American groundswell. Ini Kamoze’s listless five-years-old “Here Comes the Hotstepper” was dusted off for a chart dash in 1995—probably the only No. 1 song where the artist boasts he’s a “murderer” 29 times while managing to sound cuddly. Still, as a top 40 device at least, a onetime contender like Super Cat was reduced to helping Sugar Ray sound more like Sublime.
Right around Snow’s bank-breaking, though, PFC Orville “Shaggy” Burrell spent weekend leave from his Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, military base exploiting interest in rough-hewn sides he’d laid down before taking off for Desert Storm. In the summer of 1993, “Oh Carolina” had Shaggy pairing the theme from Peter Gunn with ancient rocksteady wordplay to create a track out of time. It could have wedged snugly between “Dinner With Drac” and “The Witch Doctor” on a cutout bin collection of ’50s novelty tunes—lest that be mistaken for the makings of a career. “Boombastic” reprised “Oh Carolina” with a King Floyd sample, but Shaggy’s fast track to cruise ship lounge act was most exacerbated through covering “In the Summertime,” “Piece of My Heart,” and even adding lyrics to “Green Onions.”
As a block-partying eunuch, Shaggy ran out of condiments quick. So when he resurfaced on the soundtrack to How Stella Got Her Groove Back, with the Rose Royce “Ooh Boy” chorus brought to a moaning boil over six minutes by a refreshingly ephemeral Janet Jackson, Shaggy unleashed his libidinous bent. “Luv Me, Luv Me” appears on Hotshot with Janet replaced by surrogate Samantha Cole, and with its vamp severely truncated. Regardless, Hotshot leaks Jackson family values all over—the album’s unspectacular first single was a “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” retread, designating Shaggy as the harbinger of mambo potion number nine. Mercifully, past the three Jam & Lewis productions, the album’s vocal accomplices are more germane to Jermaine.
While Hotshot opens with Shaggy’s swaggering vow that he could “discombobulate your parts,” the sum of his own amounts to a downmarket Wyclef Jean, with a vague scent of Stockholm. Yet it all serves to make Ricardo Ducent’s entreaties for advice that much more arresting—the upright backing track on “It Wasn’t Me” sounds like a karaoke version of itself. Shaggy’s whacked-out perspective on RikRok’s indiscretions (“To be a true player you have to know how to play/If she say you’re not convince her, say you’re gay”) meets with absolute perplexity (“I’ve been listening to your reasoning/It makes no sense at all”). Absurdly enough, RikRok doesn’t get more indignant in the process. Great criminal lawyers have come up with more unscrupulous reasoning than Shaggy’s idea for an alibi (“Whenever you should see her make the gigolo flex/As funny as it be by you it’s not that complex”). Ducent, however, buckles under in four minutes (“You may think you’re a player, but you’re completely lost”). But wait—who had the marks on his shoulder to start with?
The narrative gets more convoluted than Fight Club; could the lack of a bellicose exchange mean that Shaggy and RikRok are meant to be the same person? We might have to wait for the DVD commentary track. Although, if Shaggy is such a twerp, how should his sincerity be taken on the follow-up single? Particularly when it is “Angel of the Morning” set to the riff from Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” interspersed with appreciation for she who stuck through Shaggy’s incarceration—the same Shaggy rebuked by a pal moronic enough to forget he gave his girl an extra key.
Well, being caught red-handed didn’t hurt Jesse Jackson, whose withdrawal from public life after his love-child revelation lasted all of 60 hours. When sales of Hotshot trail off, future prospects for Shaggy could be reflected in Snow, who recently reengineered himself into a cross between Joni Mitchell and Angela’s Ashes. Or if this Shaggy needs future career counseling, perhaps he can turn to a source that can offer similarly garbled advice about any dilemma, yet somehow knows the right way of every unpleasant situation: What would Scooby-Doo do?
Shaggy plays the Hammerstein Ballroom February 14.