Shaggy Makes Stateside Return With 'Summer in Kingston'
Shaggy Makes Stateside Return With 'Summer in Kingston'

"I got to get some new pages in my passport," says Shaggy, Skyping from Tanzania in late June. Clearly. After rocking a crowd of 30,000 in the East African nation, Shaggy flew to Italy, Switzerland, New York and then Los Angeles for an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." From there, he headed down to Kingston, Jamaica, for the July 16 release of the video for "Sugar Cane," the lead single from his new eight-track mini-album, "Summer in Kingston," which arrived July 19 through Shaggy's own Ranch Entertainment label, with distribution by Sony RED.

Video: Shaggy, "Sugar Cane"

"I constantly tour every year, around the clock," Shaggy says. "That's how I make my living and I do very well. Because I have classic songs."

Shaggy's trail of hits stretches back to the days when he was a Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-based teenager serving in Operation Desert Storm as a Marine. His 1993 crossover hit, "Oh Carolina," reached No. 1 on the U.K. Official Charts Co.'s pop chart and landed him a deal with Virgin Records. His follow-up single, "Boombastic," reached No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it was after signing with MCA that Shaggy's career skyrocketed -- his 2000 effort, "Hotshot," rode the No. 1 pop singles "It Wasn't Me" (featuring Rik Rok) and "Angel" (featuring Rayvon) to 8.8 million copies sold in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Video: Shaggy feat. Rayvon, "Angel"

When two subsequent releases failed to repeat "Hotshot's" success, Shaggy returned to his dancehall roots, dropping the Grammy Award-nominated 2007 album "Intoxication" on the reggae indie VP Records. But while Shaggy remains a major star in Europe, South America and the Caribbean, he hasn't toured the United States in 10 years.

"The guy really is an icon out there," says Bob McLynn of Crush Management, the New York-based firm (Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes) credited with resuscitating Train's career. Last April, Crush signed Shaggy -- who had parted ways with longtime manager Robert Livingston -- not because the firm was looking for a reggae artist, but because, McLynn says, "Shaggy had more good songs than any other new artist we've ever seen."

"You listen to any rhythm and pop station, and every summer you're still going to hear some old Shaggy songs," McLynn adds. "He's still current in terms of his songs are still getting played... And when you hear the new stuff, its like, 'OK, we could do something with this because it's that good.'"

"Summer in Kingston" will be a digital-only release and will arrive aggressively priced at $2.99 through iTunes, Amazon and other major digital outlets, at least until Labor Day.

"It's like a summer special," McLynn says. "Shaggy owns the songs, he owns the label. It's like, 'Why not? Let's give people a taste.' Cheap is always a good way to get people into checking something out."

"Sugar Cane" has all the hallmarks of a Shaggy summer smash: an island vibe, a naughty double-entendre and a shameless appetite for pop ear candy. The track was produced by Teflon, formerly of hip-hop's Ruff Ryders crew and the producer of Eve's 2001 hit "Who's That Girl."

"We have a bunch of radio stations that are just starting on 'Sugar Cane' now," McLynn says. "[Now] it's just about, 'Can we get it across to the mainstream?'" The album's other sure shot is "Just Another Girl," a roots-reggae banger featuring Jamaican star Tarrus Riley singing a tasty vintage hook.

What isn't on "Summer in Kingston" is hardcore dancehall posturing. "When you see a Jamaica video, it's always the hood," says Shaggy, who holds an annual concert to raise funds for hospitals in Jamaica. "Everybody in the video's got guns and the world looks at it like that's what Jamaica's about. And it affects the economics of the music. I'm doing a whole different side to it."