Here are a few things I didn’t know about Shaggy, the chart-topping Jamaican reggae-ish singer behind hits like “It Wasn’t Me,” “Angel,” and “Boombastic,” prior to prepping for our interview: He served in the Marines, achieving the rank of lance corporal, and fought in the Persian Gulf; he honed his singing voice during his Jarhead years; he is not named after the stoner Scooby-Doo character; and he’s a happily married man with three daughters.
He’s also very, very funny—although that part I was aware of, having been subjected to his smash tune “It Wasn’t Me” (and butchering it at karaoke) on a number of occasions. Which brings us to the occasion of our chat: the 20th anniversary of the so-called cheating anthem, released on July 8, 2000.
You’re probably aware of the premise. Rikrok, in a last-ditch effort, phones Shaggy for advice on what to do after his girlfriend caught him “butt-naked bangin’ on the bathroom floor” with another woman. Shaggy’s advice? Say those three little words: “It wasn’t me.”
The song’s since become a pop-comedy classic, selling close to 2 million copies, featuring in a number of TV shows, and even birthing what is known as “the Shaggy defense.”
In an amusing interview, the 51-year-old singer opened up about the history of the song, its cultural impact, and why it’s the perfect song for these confined times.
How are you doing amid the coronavirus pandemic?
I’m stuck in New York. I was coming off a tour in the U.K. and got out the day before they closed the U.K., and I was heading to Jamaica, but because the first cases of the corona were from tourists coming to Jamaica from the U.K., they locked out all flights coming from the U.K. I could have gotten in, because I know some people, but I was on tour performing to 20,000 people a night and doing meet-and-greets, so I didn’t know if I had anything either. And by the time I’d stayed here a week or so to see if I was good, they had closed the airports in Jamaica. My wife and kids and family are there, but unfortunately I’m stuck in my home in New York.
I’m here too. It’s pretty crazy in New York right now.
My uncle drives a bus in New York City, and he says people are just congregating in the back of the bus, bringing babies on board. People are just stupid. I think the country needs a national shutdown and strict martial law to make this work, because people are just not complying.
I read that you were in the Marines, even serving in the Persian Gulf, and that’s where you honed your singing voice?
I did dancehall before I went into the military, so I was in Brooklyn spitting at local dancehall spots, but it wasn’t until I was in the military, running and singing cadences, where I developed my stamina singing from my gut, as opposed to my throat. When you sing from your gut it’s a whole different projection. I used to try to sing like the drill instructor, because they always put this voice on: I don’t know but I’ve been told… Because we were running and doing like five miles, it really built up a lot of stamina, and by the time I did songs like ‘Oh Carolina,’ that became the sound of Shaggy.
And you’re named after the Scooby-Doo character? What’s up with that?
I got my name because I was a skinny guy out of Kingston and my hair was shaggy, so they called me ‘Shaggy Dog.’ Some people tried to associate me with Shaggy from Scooby-Doo because he was a skinny guy with bushy hair, but then I went to England and found out that ‘shag’ meant something else, and that was fascinating to me. I was like, Wow, for all these years I’ve hated my name until then, now it’s the coolest fucking name I could think of.
Well, it’s the 20th anniversary of “It Wasn’t Me,” which remains a classic.
The amount of TikToks that have been on this right now… it’s crazy.
And it was inspired by a bit in Eddie Murphy’s Raw?
I wrote it in my townhouse in Jamaica, and I had watched Raw and there’s a bit in there where he got caught and says it wasn’t me. I just thought it was so relatable, because with young people, that’s all they’re doing—either you’re bangin’, you know somebody’s bangin’, or you wish you were bangin’, so there’s always some bangin’ going on.
Once I got the idea when I was writing it, I was like, this is too harsh. So I wrote at the end of it: I’m gonna tell her that I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve caused… You may think that you’re a player but you’re completely lost. That’s an apology by Rikrok, the singer, who got caught, by saying that he’s not listening to the guy who’s saying, say it wasn’t me. So as classic as it is with people thinking it’s the ultimate cheating song, it’s actually the ultimate anti-cheating song.
Is it strange that it’s become, like you said, the “ultimate cheating anthem,” then?
It’s frustrating, man.
I gotta ask: Have you ever been caught cheating yourself—or caught someone cheating on you?
I’m too good for that, brother. I don’t get caught. [Laughs] I wrote the book, what are you talking about!
“I’m too good for that, brother. I don’t get caught. I wrote the book, what are you talking about!”
Have you caught someone cheating on you?
First of all, if anyone is cheating on me, do me a favor and don’t let me know. [Laughs] That’s not something that anybody should wanna know. Leave me in that bubble of bliss. No but I’m happily married. I’ve been with my wife for about 20 years, and we’ve been married for around six.
So you met her around the time “It Wasn’t Me” came out?
I met her a little before that. While I was writing it, we were dating at the time.
You were dating your future wife while writing “It Wasn’t Me.” How did she take it at the time? Was she like, what’s up with this?
Oh, she would come home to that townhouse [in Jamaica] and we were writing songs, and she knew that I wrote a bunch of songs every day—different songs with different vibes, different energies—and I’d come down and sing them to her afterwards, and she found them funny. If you listen to the songs I write, there’s a level of comedy to it. I love to put that comedic spin on everything.
Have you ever had occasion to use the “It Wasn’t Me” defense?
I think you can’t go through life without using the “It Wasn’t Me” defense. That’s why it works so well!
It’s strangely become this thing, “the Shaggy defense.”
Oh man, it’s everywhere. And that’s a reason why the song is so relatable, and so significant. And it went through a journey, you know? At one point, “Angel” was really the bigger song from the album, and when we did it live, “Angel” was the big song. Over the years, “It Wasn’t Me” took on a life of its own and became this cult anomaly, for lack of a better word.
Why do you think it’s endured?
I think it’s how cleverly written it was. Jimmy Iovine once told me that the thing about “It Wasn’t Me” is it’s such a well-written song, and it’s relatable. So, I think that’s what really did it.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t ask you whether you’d banged on the bathroom floor before.
Haven’t we all? [Laughs] What are you tryin’ to tell me? You haven’t?
On the bathroom floor? I don’t know, man… that feels a bit unclean.
Listen, I don’t know how you’re livin’! But at my house, the bathroom is pristine. And dude, this is the perfect time for it. This is make-baby song time. With coronavirus, if you’re having a lot of older people that are dying, we’ll have a boom of new babies coming in because of corona. You’re gonna have such a boom of corona babies, it’s going to be incredible.
“It Wasn’t Me” should help facilitate that, then.
I would think!
Is it a burden though knowing that should you ever get in trouble, “It Wasn’t Me” will be the headline plastered everywhere?
Oh, absolutely. I think about that every day. No matter what happens, that’s gonna be poppin’ up: ‘Shaggy: It Wasn’t Me.’ It’s certainly one of the drawbacks of it! I gotta walk that really, really straight line.