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LI Sound: On his new album, Shaggy still going against the grain

Shaggy performs on the red carpet steps

 Shaggy performs on the red carpet steps during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2018 in Cannes, France. Credit: Getty Images/Matthias Nareyek

The Shaggy resurgence continues.

After focusing more on reggae in the years since his “It Wasn’t Me” reign on the pop charts, Shaggy’s return to the mainstream spotlight began last year when he teamed with Sting for their album “44/876,” which resulted in a Grammy win, an international tour together, and Shaggy hosting the Grammy pre-show in March. His new album “Wah Gwaan?!” (Brooklyn Knights/300 Entertainment), his first solo album in six years, builds on that momentum.

“Wah Gwaan?!” (Jamaican patois for “What’s going on?”) opens with “Caribbean Way,” an uptempo combination of reggae and EDM, and a pretty, spare pop ballad “When She Loves Me.” The duality sets the stage for the rest of the album and Shaggy’s way of straddling both worlds, much like he splits his time between Valley Stream and Jamaica.

Shaggy also balances his playful and serious sides. He gives Nyanda a star-making turn in “Makeup Sex,” while he talks about his social media profiles and emojis. But he also offers some of the most serious advice of his career.

“Touring with Sting, I realized I really wanted to write more personal songs,” Shaggy told Newsday earlier this year. “I opened myself up a little bit more. I wanted to do songs that were a little bit more relatable.”

That shows in the lilting, sunny “Live” which features the gentle warning, “So focused on making a living, I forgot how to live” as the chorus. In “Wrong Room,” where he declares, “I was never born with a golden spoon and I never really liked going to school,” before revealing advice from his mother about always learning that he took to heart. “If you’re the smartest person in that room,” Shaggy recalls her telling him, over a beat that is reminiscent of Eminem, “you’re in the wrong room.”

That rule could also explain Shaggy’s embrace of collaborations throughout his career. On “Wah Gwaan?!,” he teams up with a wide range of stars, including Nicky Jam who brings bilingual life to the reggaeton winner “Body Good.” The 19-year-old Canadian YouTube sensation Alexander Stewart adds some pop sweetness to the current single “You,” the follow-up to last year’s hit love song “Use Me.”

“Record companies like the cookie-cutters,” Shaggy said. “I’m not a cookie-cut artist. I’ve always been the one to go against the grain. I’m dancehall, but more of a hybrid.”

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