British reggae singer Maxi Priest — renowned for his smooth pop-R&B-reggae fusions — and gruff-voice toaster Shaggy first toured together in 1992. At the time, Maxi was enjoying a succession of Billboard Hot 100 hits that commenced with his 1990 No. 1 “Close to You,” followed by the dancehall crossover smash “Housecall” from Shabba Ranks, which peaked at No. 37, and the romantic “Set The Night to Music” alongside Roberta Flack, which reached No. 6.
Shaggy, who had just released what would become his breakthrough single “Oh Carolina,” said that watching Maxi perform before thousands of screaming fans provided a blueprint he aspired to follow. Shaggy left the tour prematurely, with Maxi’s blessing: “Oh Carolina” reached No. 1 in the U.K. and Shaggy needed to be there to promote it.
Since Maxi and Shaggy’s initial tour, they’ve shared stages all over the world and teamed up on several singles, including 1996’s “That Girl,” (which peaked at No. 20 on the Hot 100). Their professional relationship recently entered a new phase with Shaggy helming the production on Maxi’s album, It All Comes Back to Love, due Sept. 20 on BMG subsidiary S Curve Records. The album’s first single, the ska-kissed, life-affirming “I’m Alright,” featuring Shaggy, was released on June 14. Shaggy joins Maxi on three additional tracks: the smoldering “Cool Nuh,” Shaggy’s verses contrasting Maxi’s smooth vocalizing; “My Pillow,” which evokes the velvet lovers rock grooves heard on Maxi’s earliest U.K. hits; and the sultry dancehall EDM fusion, “Anything You Want,” featuring Estelle and Anthony Hamilton, which debuts here.
“Shaggy and I have written many songs together so it was a no-brainer there would be an album,” Maxi told Billboard during a recent phone conversation. It All Comes Back to Love was recorded during a three-month period earlier this year at Shaggy’s Long Island studio, The Ranch. “We work very well together in the studio,” Maxi continued. “We sometimes get upset with each other and walk out but we always come back, and that’s when you realize you have the right chemistry with someone.”
Following their Aug. 9 performance at Sirius XM’s Manhattan headquarters (which will air on Sirius’ reggae channel The Joint on Sept. 21), Shaggy told Billboard he grew up listening to Maxi’s music. “I know his style, melody and the way he writes, so for the album’s production, with my guys at Ranch (producers Shane Hoosong and Dwayne Shippy), we built a real mood-setting soundscape around Maxi’s dulcet tone,” Shaggy offered. “My producers at Ranch play and arrange the music, I’m the ear, the guy who says this should be here, that should be there. Sometimes I refer to older songs, saying I want a hybrid version of this, or drums like that; it’s a puzzle in my mind that they bring out.”
“Today, there’s so much equipment available to tune voices but on the sound system [back in the day], everything was live: there’s a circle of guys, some deejaying, some singing, and someone passes you the mic,” Maxi recalls. “You didn’t write down your lyrics, but you might sing about something you saw in the dance and if you hit it right, people would shout yeah, great; if you hit it wrong, there was silence and you tried again next week. No recording studio can give you that kind of training and when I finally reached the studio, I felt confident enough to do what I was there to do because of the folks that stood in front of my face when I was performing on the sound system.”
That training helped Maxi cultivate his approach, and as each of the 14 tracks on It All Comes Back to Love verify, his vocals remain as captivating and supple as those heard on his hits from the ’80s and ’90s. The songs range from the reflective, Afrobeat tinged “If I Could Change It” to the traditional one-drop reggae beat of the gorgeous title track to the scorching “It’s A Summer Vibe,” featuring Jamaican dancehall legend Bounty Killer and Che Sav, Maxi’s son. Che co-produced “It’s A Summer Vibe,” which premieres below.
“Shaggy wore a different hat as producer this time and if we really understood what we were getting into, we might not have done it,” laughed Maxi. “But we learned from our sound system days that whatever it took, we were determined to get it done. Shaggy approaches his production through his creativity as an artist expressing whatever we want to put across, not by saying play this in A minor, etc. It’s not like Quincy Jones: we just got our hands dirty and laid our emotions out there.”
Given Maxi and Shaggy’s proven successes within the pop and reggae spheres, Steve Greenberg, President of S Curve Records, believes It All Comes Back to Love will connect with a broad swath of music fans. “This album isn’t just one musical genre, you can take it in many different directions, which makes it very exciting to promote,” Greenberg told Billboard. “We’ve released a video for ‘I’m Alright,’ we’ll be releasing more singles, shooting more videos, providing exclusive digital content and we hope to secure the right TV opportunities for Maxi. Every song is great, and Maxi’s vocals are amazing. He’s performing spot dates now and we hope to be touring within the next two months, which will certainly take this project to the next level.”
Maxi says he’s deeply grateful for the opportunity to have collaborated with Shaggy in a newfound role and he’d like to see more artists develop working alliances throughout the reggae music industry. “People may think when you become somewhat successful, you can just sit there and things work out but when your successful peers give you a helping hand, it gives you a sense of purpose, belonging, motivation,” he acknowledges. “I’d like to think Shaggy and I have helped each other along the way; in this dog-eat-dog business, lasting friendship is something to cherish because at the end of the day, it all comes back to love.”