For the committed, reggae is honed on the tropical sufferah’s redemption: sweat, riddim, and a virile roots-rebel stance. So where to place a gregarious hip-swiveler like Shaggy and Intoxication, his latest set of dance-floor fodder? A well-mannered brown chap rhyming about erotic antics is no hero to those who prefer artists served up as avenging myths. Still, plenty of fans within and without the London-NYC-Jamaica reggae axis have already demonstrated their appreciation for a sharp musical intelligence that merges catchy choruses with deep, fluid growls landing like smart bombs over irresistible beats.
Back in the day, when I used to drive the streets of L.A., windows open, volume cranked up, gauging reactions to pre-release cassettes, Shaggy’s first major album, 1993’s Pure Pleasure, won more whoozthat‘s than any other. Fourteen years later, Intoxication merits even higher road-test scores. The slick Shaggy sex formula is intact, plus he steps off the well-worn with booming first single “Church Heathen,” already scorching JA parties with its keen indictment of religious hypocrisy, and “All About Love,” featuring his raw, ragged, utterly compelling singing voice. “Body a Shake” comes harder than before: All it needs to launch an armchair boogie (at least) is a bare-bones percussion track and Shaggy’s vocal imagination. The biggest surprise of all, though, is Sizzla, the greatest and most mythic of today’s Rasta chanters, contributing serpentine verses of disgruntled alienation to “Mad Mad World.”
So if Shaggy hasn’t gotten full props at home before and his public persona remains a vague blur even to the millions who’ve bought his various major-label CDs—and will surely jump on this new independent release—he can laugh all the way to the bank. Now, it seems, even the most grandiose of Rasta music men want to walk that way with him.