Don’t focus on skin colour: Shaggy says artistes should find cool factor despite racial prejudice

Jamaican entertainer Shaggy says racism still exists in the music business.

“So because mi brown mi nuh fi tell you the truth?” asked international superstar Shaggy.

Artiste manager Delroy Escoffery was cautioning the deejay from speaking about his advantage in the mainstream market because of his skin colour.

But that wasn’t Shaggy’s focus in his address at a Jamaica Music Conference (JMC) panel discussion at the Courtleigh Auditorium in Kingston on Saturday.

“The three biggest artistes out of Jamaica – Shaggy, Bob Marley, Sean Paul – a three brown bredda, a nuh coincidence that.”

— Shaggy

“I say don’t dwell on it, what we need to do is continue what we are doing which is the ‘cool factor’…because everybody mi know wants to be Jamaican,” Shaggy said.

“Don’t ignore the fact that it (racism) is a part of it. Yes, it is, very much so. The three biggest artistes out of Jamaica – Shaggy, Bob Marley, Sean Paul – a three brown bredda, a nuh coincidence that. We’re not saying we’re not talented people, but mi a tell yuh seh years and years, a ghetto me born, mi used to be the red boy inna di ghetto place and mi get picked pon because mi a di ‘likkle red youth’…mi never see uptown til mi buss and come back a Jamaica.”

White reggae bands

The Rae Town native said the first time he witnessed racism was when he was part of the US Marines in the late 80s. Since making his music debut in the early 90s, Shaggy said he has seen the ascension of white overseas acts who perform reggae music.

“The biggest reggae bands right now are white reggae bands. They have the biggest tickets, biggest sales, and you may be wondering, what are they doing that we are not?” he asked.

“Let’s face it, anybody in here that thinks racism has not played a part in it, you’re mad… If you look at the history of what reggae has done, even for instance The Police. Sting said to me he used to watch Steel Pulse, Bob Marley and these guys and be mesmerised about what they’ve done, and he went and did a hybrid version of it which then became The Police. Part of it is they made great music and became massive, but how they got on radio was, they were white.

Shaggy says he first experienced racism when he joined the US Marines in the 1980s.

“You look at the great Bob Marley, arguably to some people the king of reggae. Him biggest chart position song was I Shot the Sheriff sung by the white guy, so don’t think it’s not a part of it. What we should not do is dwell on it. We’re from a country where it’s out of many one people.”

Learning the ropes

He added that his hard work should not be undermined when speaking about his success.

“Me nah tell you I’m the baddest deejay. Me far from it. But mi a go tell unuh, none a unuh nah go outwork me, it will never happen,” he said. “When you look at Sean Paul, he works his ass off. When you look at Spice, she don’t stop. You cannot just sit there and figure seh things will come to you, you gotta get it. We’re at a disadvantage, we’re a small country with a small genre, but when we mek noise. It’s a big noise.”

“You cannot just sit there and figure seh things will come to you, you gotta get it.”

— Shaggy

He added that it is equally important to reinvent oneself and be intentional about learning the ropes of the music business if one wishes to crossover.

“When I started off, I was a young youth and I was led by somebody else weh mi haffi just follow, and as I go along, I learnt things,” he said.

“There’s a book called ‘All You Need to Know About the Music Business’, regular book that… Back in the days, the older artistes would have to go research these things and certain music executives would meet up and sign everybody’s publishing for £2,000 and own them for life because a lot of us weren’t educated on it. Nowadays it’s easy to be educated; you have a cell phone where you can go and learn everything you want about publishing. Matter of fact, if you is a man weh nuh like read yuh can go pon YouTube and a man will explain it you.”