Shaggy Releases First All-Reggae Album at Kingston's Legendary Rae Town Dance

Shaggy, performing at the Rae Town dance night around the launch of his album (Roy Sweetland Photos)

Shaggy dominated the Hot 100 with "It Wasn't Me" and "Angel" and spent six weeks atop of the Billboard 200 with "Hot Shot" (MCA Records), his eclectic sound melding an array of influences. The title of Shaggy's latest album, "Out of Many, One Music," digitally released on September 24th on Shaggy's Ranch Entertainment label, transforms Jamaica's national motto, 'Out of Many, One People,' into an apt summation of his sonic recipe. Yet, "Out of Many, One Music", recorded primarily at Shaggy's Long Island studio, with production helmed by legendary Jamaican drum and bass duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, is the first exclusively one-drop reggae release of the artist's celebrated 25-year recording career.

Returning to his reggae roots after two decades of mainstream success, Shaggy launched "Out of Many, One Music" on September 29th at Jamaica's longest-running weekly dancehall session, Rae Town. The free event, held Sunday nights, began 32 years ago in front of the Capricorn Inn on Rae St., where it is still held. Area vendors do brisk business selling jerk chicken, roasted fish, Red Stripe beer -- even stalks of marijuana can be purchased -- all of which generates significant revenue in an otherwise economically depressed community, located east of downtown Kingston. Shaggy, born Orville Burrell in Rae Town, lived there until he was 6 years old, then in various tenements throughout Kingston prior to his migration to Flatbush, Brooklyn at age 18. While in the Marines and stationed at North Carolina's Camp LeJeune, Shaggy regularly commuted to Brooklyn on weekends where he refined his toasting skills working with various Jamaican sound systems, notably Gibraltar Musik, eventually crafting an inimitable pop-dancehall pastiche that has made him Jamaica's best-selling living artist.

The crowd at Rae Town (Roy Sweetland Photos)

During the late 1950s and early 1960s in Jamaica, the proliferation of sound systems, originally consisting of speakers, turntables, amplifiers and records chosen for play by a selector, and the selector's search for exclusive singles to attract larger crowds to their dances (and to trump their competition), led to the creation of the island's recording industry. "Shaggy took his launch [of 'Out of Many, One Music'] to where reggae came from: The sound system. Shaggy is the first artist to launch an album here, which has made the Rae Town dance more popular," observes Senor Daley, owner and selector with Klassique Disco, Rae Town's resident sound system, which specializes in oldies; from classic country and R&B to vintage reggae and dancehall. All are embraced by the Rae Town crowd, which Daley estimates at 700 each Sunday night.

Despite a forecast guaranteeing rain, approximately 1,500 patrons turned out for Shaggy's album launch, where he performed alongside several Jamaican collaborators featured on the album, including contemporary roots singer Tarrus Riley, dancehall star Konshens and "The Voice" contestant Tessanne Chin, whose dynamic audition on the September 24th segment of the popular NBC show had all four judges vying to coach her.

Shaggy's Rae Town launch underscores the mission of his latest album: To emphasize reggae coming from its birthplace, where, in recent years, it has been obscured by the dominance of synthesized dancehall beats while in the global marketplace -- especially in the US -- it's non-Jamaicans that are having the greatest success playing the island's signature rhythm.

"California reggae bands, like Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution, are pulling 30-40,000 people at their concerts and on the Billboard Reggae chart there's mostly American reggae acts. God bless them, because they have kept reggae alive while we [Jamaicans] have been asleep at the wheel. So I thought why don't I do what those artists are doing, real reggae, get the gods of reggae -- Sly and Robbie -- to produce it and feature Jamaica's hottest artists on the tracks," Shaggy explained in an interview at Kingston's Alternative Music Rehearsal Studio while taking a break from rehearsing for the European/UK leg of the Out of Many tour. The tour commenced in Munich on October 10, featuring Shaggy's longstanding Brooklyn cohort singer Rayvon ("Angel") and Sly and Robbie, who have collaborated as a production duo/rhythm section since 1975 with the likes of Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, No Doubt and Grace Jones.

:ead single "Fight this Feeling," intially released on April 22, finds Shaggy and the beloved veteran Jamaican singer Beres Hammond crooning romantic promises over a timeless reggae rhythm Sly and Robbie originally created for the 1986 hit "Sitting and Watching" by the late Jamaican singer Dennis Brown.

The second single, a melodic lover's rock gem, "You Girl" featuring Ne-Yo, dropped on August 13th. The "You Girl" video premiere originally scheduled for Rae Town will now debut on October 16th on VEVO.

"Out of Many, One Music" debuted at no. 3 on the Reggae Album chart, moving 741 units for the week of October 12 (the chart's No. 1 entry, "9ine," by Musiq Soulchild and Syleena Johnson, sold 955 copies). Despite a rigorous promotional campaign throughout its release week, which included interviews on NYC's Power 105.1 FM, the WPIX TV Morning News and release parties/performances in Brooklyn, Hartford, Albany and Boston, Shaggy expected slow sales at the outset (the multi-platinum Hot Shot also started out slowly). "Reggae is the underdog, so it's going to take time," he declares. "We shopped it to different labels, and execs weren't interested in a reggae album -- but some said if I did a pop collaborations album, we could do a deal. An exec told me he thought the Ne-Yo song was a hit, but the only difference between that song and the others is that Ne-Yo is a pop superstar."

Bobby Konders, who has hosted the weekend reggae/dancehall/hip-hop show on New York's influential hip-hop station WQHT 97.1 FM (Hot 97) alongside his partner Jabba for nearly 20 years, calls "Out of Many, One Music" a classic reggae album that "people will listen to 10 years from now." Konders' audience has responded favorably to Shaggy's recent singles and he's hopeful radio jocks across various formats will give them some spins. "Radio is always slow when it comes to adding [Jamaican] reggae, yet pop stations play reggae-influenced songs by mainstream artists like Bruno Mars," acknowledges Konders. "Shaggy is the one person these stations might take a chance with and play his reggae songs now, because they've played his pop records before."