If you love Shaggy, it’s probably not for his depth or social pertinence. Despite the fact that he performed his first hit, “Oh Carolina” in army uniform while he was still stationed in North Carolina, he’s not scruffy or political—his songs aren’t necessarily classic in nature and don’t have the staying power of those performed by, say, a reggae legend like Bob Marley. But the Brooklyn-born Shaggy who crept up on the American music scene in the mid-‘90s with his “dog-a-muffin” singing style is more of a sexy pop star than an apt dancehall representative. If you’ve purchased any of his four albums—from Pure Pleasure in 1993 to Hot Shot in 2000—Hot Shot Ultramix is an aural fiesta. They are songs you can sing along to at the top of your lungs, even though the lyrics are generic and trite. It’s fun, no less, despite the fact that Shaggy’s about as important in the music nerd sense as junk food is to the food pyramid.
None of that eclipses Shaggy’s appeal, particularly in the UK, where he built his fanbase and where his first single sold 60,000 copies (which isn’t bad for a guy who didn’t set out to be a singer in the first place.) He’s steadily made a name for himself as an experimental performer and though he sometimes falls short in creating complete and elaborate songs, it’s clear that he doesn’t care and he rarely misses the mark with his fans. If you’re new to Shaggy’s style, however, this remix album isn’t a good place to start. Better to listen to his whole catalogue and then, if you like the original, radio-friendly versions of his work, you’ll love Hot Shot Ultramix.
“It Wasn’t Me (Punch Mix)” is a close cousin of genuine dancehall, despite the fact that the original wasn’t that gripping to begin with. It’s not as glossy as it’s original incarnation, which was a huge international hit, but the beat makes it a little less grating on the nerves to listen to after a couple of spins. On the other hand, the second remix of the song, called the “Cartel Mix” features a lazy rap intro that sounds awkward and unrelated to anything the song is about. (And after being bombarded by the song for more than four months after it was first released, it’s hard to get adjusted to the sound of a rapper attempting to update it—especially in a languid way.) “Too Hot to Handle” is a dainty song that lingers in the R&B genre, but like most of Shaggy’s songs, blurs so many genres with it’s universal appeal for good times and carefree booty grinding. Like the mix of “Hope”, a sweet sappy voice is featured on most of Shaggy’s choruses while he maintains his rumbling trademark growl on each verse.
“Keepin’ It Real (Swinger’s mix)” is inspirational because of the lulling, sticky sweet beat and the less than profound shout out to all the “regular” folks who are struggling against life’s “harsh realities.” The message gets lost in the soft pop shine of the song, but it’s a nice thought. The dancehall mix of “Dance and Shout” takes a more than generous sample of Michael Jackson’s “Shake Your Body Down to the Ground” and spins it into a hyper club song that should only be played around a keg at college parties or when a Soul Train line is in it’s warm up phase.
Much of the album seems designed for those with a mild interest in dancehall without caring much about more hardcore artists like Shabba Ranks. Regardless, if there is one thing Shaggy is excellent at, it’s having fun and telling silly (sometimes slightly inspirational) stories with his music. While it’s not groundbreaking or legendary music, at least Shaggy’s having a good time—and selling millions of records while he’s at it.