Dancehall superstar Shaggy, whose latest CD Intoxication, drops this month, stopped by the ESSENCE office recently to talk about his new record label, his taboo-busting music, and why he’s tired of all the homophobia in dancehall

ESSENCE: How is Intoxication different from your other projects?
The music is a little bit harder. We basically took it back to the streets. I think for the first time it’s in the direction that I wanted to go. There was way too much compromising on the last CD.

ESSENCE: Is that why you left Geffen for the Bigyard/VP label?
Yes, I don’t think we could have achieved this kind of success we’ve had for instance with a song like “Church Heathen” with Geffen Records. The market is so fickle right now and record company executives are being fired so easily that no one is going to take that risk, and dancehall is a risk. They would rather sign something that is sure.

ESSENCE: So you think dancehall music has a lot to prove?
You still don’t see a connection between the corporate sector and Dancehall. You don’t see Kellogg’s or Coca-Cola backing a Shaggy, Sean Paul or Wayne Wonder. But you see it with every other genre of music, certainly Rock, Pop, and Hip-Hop. I think we still have a long way to go.

ESSENCE: What inspired your latest single, Intoxication?
We just wanted to create a club vibe, and most of what happens in the club is drinking. How many people go to the club and come home and go, ‘Oh my God, did I really do that?’

ESSENCE: You seem to like controversy; your first single was “Church Heathen.” What’s up with doing a song about women doing wrong in the church?
: I’m always coming from left field. I wanted to capture that and “Church Heathen” is that. I’m only saying what everyone is thinking and I think it was done in good taste.

ESSENCE: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
My personal favorite is “Woman Scorned.” It paints that picture where you get the story straight in your face but it’s entertaining and you can relate to it at the same time. I think you can write adult content without being explicit; you just have to be clever about it. When I listen to other music out there, everything is booty music, party music, shaking music. I’ve never had a Parental Advisory sticker on any of my albums and yet I write adult content.

ESSENCE: Why are so many of your songs about men getting caught cheating?
Because I think it happens in every society and everybody does it. Cheating happens! If you write about religion, not everyone will relate to that since everybody has their own religious beliefs and denominations. But you write about relationships and whether you are young, old, straight, gay, West Indian, American, you can find a way to relate.

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ESSENCE: Let’s address the issue of homophobia in dancehall. You’ve come out and publicly said it doesn’t matter to you…
I never said it doesn’t matter. It does matter in the sense that we just put way too much energy into it. It taints our music and our culture. There are way more important things in the world to worry about other than someone’s sexuality. There is so much energy that could be put into education, poor kids and helping sick people. It’s a waste of time and nobody wins. I don’t see the sense of it.

ESSENCE: You say writing this album was one of the most rewarding creative experiences you’ve had. Why is that?
The whole thing is just having the freedom to do it. The problem I had before was I would write a song and take it to the A&R person. The A&R person would take it to the vice president who would take it to the president who would take it to the head of radio and then everybody comes back with 16 different opinions. It gets to a point where they can’t really hear a hit; they can only see a hit. That’s why collaborations are so [big] these days. You can take the same song that everybody had five different opinions on and slap Justin Timberlake on and it and suddenly they’re like, ‘this is a smash.’

ESSENCE: Did I hear that you once served as a Marine?
Yes, living in Brooklyn in the late 80s, the drug scene was heavy and kids were getting in all kinds of problems. I was one of those kids just going down the wrong road. You get a wake up call when all your friends are either dead or end up in jail. So I said, ‘Aight, if I keep going down this road this is where I’m going to end up.’ Enlisting was the most immediate thing for me to do where I wouldn’t be tempted.

ESSENCE: Do you regret joining the military?
No, because it made me grow up. That’s where I became a man and responsibility hit me head on. I wouldn’t have the discipline I have now if I wasn’t there.

ESSENCE: You have three children: Ritchie, Tyler and Sydney. What kind of dad are you with them?
With my sons, who are 13 and 10, when I’m serious, I’m serious. They look up to me I guess because of my accomplishments. It’s like, well let’s not disappoint Dad. My daughter is a different situation. Sydney is 2 years old and the biggest Shaggy fan, but she doesn’t care what I have to say. I can scream, yell, she’s just going to do her own thing. The look doesn’t quite work on her.

ESSENCE: Speaking of children, you’ve donated a lot of money and time to the Bustamante Children’s Hospital in Jamaica. How did this come about?
A child of a producer friend of mine, Tony Kelly, was sick and I went there to visit and was appalled at the condition the hospital was in. I said if ever blow back up, I would do something about it. I put my money where my mouth is and donated a dialysis machine and a sterilizing machine. Every Christmas, I sit in my living room and wrap about 200 toys and give out toys to each of the wards. Last year, I took Sean Paul and Baby Sham with me to hand out toys to the kids.

ESSENCE: OK, let’s get a little personal here. Are you single?
Hell no…I’m Mr. Lova Lova. I’m not married. But I have been seeing someone for quite some time now.

ESSENCE: What qualities do you look for in a lady?
Confidence! See a lot of women think that sex appeal is being scantily dressed but sex appeal for me is confidence. I like a woman with grace. If you walk in a room and you got that head up, showing that neckline, poised, gracious. I don’t like indecisive women. Know what you want. If you say you want this and then you want something else, I’m out of here. See you.