Jan 12

SHAGGY – “Oh Carolina”

Popular72 comments • 6,730 views

#686, 20th March 1993

Shaggy’s take on “Oh Carolina” acknowledges its debt to the past right away – sampling the intro from the Folkes Brothers’ 1960 original. Not just a nod of respect, it’s a canny move, as the crackling, wheezing shanty-town piano sounded like nothing else on 1993 radio, giving “Oh Carolina” instant cut-through.

But everything about Shaggy’s breakthrough hit is shrewd. His “Oh Carolina” is shooting for crossover smash and party smash at the same time, which means that every touch the production adds – bells, brass, “Peter Gunn” bass – is trying to bring new people into the tent. It’s shameless, but it works. The Folkes Brothers’ track is shockingly raw – Count Ossie’s drums mixed aggressively high, so the group’s lilting song gets buried under their clattering, peg-legged rhythm. And you could argue dancehall works best when it’s stripped down likewise – the novelty of the riddims and the swagger of the MC mixing confrontationally, without compromise. “Oh Carolina” is comparatively eager to please, but the theme park version of old Jamaica it conjures up is still a terrific place to spend a few minutes.

If anything lets the track down, it’s Shaggy – at the start of his career, pushing ragga MCing out to an international crowd, he sounds more hesitant than you remember, with growls scattered around the track but less of the gruff brio of later hits. Never the flashiest of MCs in any case, Shaggy here is having to spell out what ragga is and does for a big chunk of its new audience: at two decades distance, with that educational work done, his patience doesn’t seem so much of a virtue.



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  1. 1

    I only just made this connection, but this is not unrelated, surely!

    (There was a minor attempt at a revival in the late 80s, based round a movie, I think…)

  2. 2

    Haha yes the film was called Shag!

  3. 3
    Matt DC on 30 Jan 2012 #

    This record seemed to open the floodgates at the time, it was the start of what became a summer of reggae and pop-dancehall tracks throughout the upper reaches of the charts. They were everywhere, and it’s something that rarely gets talked about when pop historians mention 1993 (if they do at all).

  4. 4

    Yes, 1992 was the year of Beenie Man’s breakthrough in Jamaica, I think, and also Buju Banton’s: they were both 20, so presumably represented a significant generational shift?

    Like to read/hear — from someone who knows what they’re talking about — more about the links between Jamaican pop and US Atlantic-coastal pop. The connection between 50s New Orleans R&B and the dawn-of-reggae sound is well established — but (unless this Shaggy connection is purely an anomaly) there’s presumably off-radar trade and related interraction throughout the 80s and 90s. The kinds of social fact that words like “riddim” somewhat obscure, actually: but that documentaries like Miami Vice and above all Predator 2 hint at.


  5. 5
    jeff w registered on 30 Jan 2012 #

    #1 & #2 – oh great mark, *now* all I can think about today is Bridget Fonda’s “interpretive dance” with the Confederate Flag

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    Tom Lawrence on 30 Jan 2012 #

    Hooray for the return of Popular! Took you long enough Tom! (Actually, having taken on a similar project – I’m reviewing everything that gets in the top 40 in 2012 on my Tumblr here – I totes get the weary feeling of impossibility one gets when viewing the massive pile of things still to review)

    Anyway, Shaggy. I’d have been nearly seven when this hit #1 and so it’s just about on the cusp of my pop memory; we’re just about now reaching the point where I can be sure of having proper memories of the track at the time rather than the pseudomemories engendered by one too many I love the 90s retrospectives.

    What I recall of this from the time is mostly very white me and my very white friends larking about doing deep Shaggy voices in a manner that is in retrospect hugely embarrassing. But it was definitely Shaggy’s to me unusual vocal style that sold me on this at the time.

  7. 7
    swanstep on 30 Jan 2012 #

    This track is new to me (according to wiki it barely charted in the US, so figures – Snow’s Informer was massive around this time though). At first two listens, then, Oh Carolina just isn’t my sort of thing. For me, it needs either more hooks to its groove (if it’s going to stay in one place) or more variation/direction. Doesn’t sound like a #1 to me (whereas Snow’s somewhat maddening record does).

  8. 8
    wichita lineman on 30 Jan 2012 #

    Tom, good to have you back! And with this little gem – I was thinking there was something grisly round the corner that was holding you back.

    I don’t really hear Oh Carolina as “shameless” as it sounded like nothing else at the time, and still sounds rickety and bizarre. Far too odd to be planned for massive crossover appeal, it struck me then and strikes me now as a loopy novelty record. The bells and whistles are pretty avant; I can’t work out what the chord changes on the verse are at all.

    Oh Carolina sounds like the Arkansas Chug-a-Bug being towed along by an ice cream van. With a rag and bone man at the wheel. Shaggy’s drunken MC’ing only adds to the sense of chaotic fun.

    The wave of reggae-based hits that came in its wake were largely weak and watery, more like UB40 spin-offs than dancehall – the only other hit single I can think of that shares Oh Carolina’s wonky pizazz is Chaka Demus & Pliers’ Tease Me.

    Re 5: Lawks. I’d forgotten all about that. Steady, now.

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    Tom on 30 Jan 2012 #

    #7 – Yes, “Informer” might be a bit better (better hook but Snow’s MCing was pretty nasal) – as Matt says, better was to come in the Summer of Ragga but most of it didn’t get to #1. As we’ll see though, the public’s appetite for reggae “flavour” wasn’t satisfied by this alone.

    My memory is that the summer of ragga was predicted for at least one year before it actually happened – the style mags were all over it. I didn’t ‘get’ it at the time, I was deaf-eared to reggae until the mid-90s or so and even then took a while to get into the modern stuff.

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    wichita lineman on 30 Jan 2012 #

    I preferred my ragga to be filtered through the likes of Shut Up & Dance, it seemed more futuristic somehow. Or maybe it was just easier to swallow with its obvious London-isation. I couldn’t take the hardcore JA ragga/dancehall stuff at the time, and still find it a massive turn-off.

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    Cumbrian on 30 Jan 2012 #

    Was 11 at the time, so genuine question: Is Shaggy spelling out ragga for its new audience – or is this actually further evidence of there being a reasonable ragga audience as shown by SL2’s On A Ragga Tip (which got to #2 in 92, if memory serves)? By which I mean, slowing it down from SL2’s pace, building on an existing song and generally looking for a commercial breakthrough from the scene as it was then constituted.

    I imagine some people will have bought this who didn’t buy SL2, but it also seems that there was some sort of ragga scene too, so it might well have been speaking to a reasonably large, already existing constituency. What is the truth, from those that were there?

    Mind you, I suppose you could make an argument that SL2 had more in common with hardcore or rave than ragga. Maybe they had two totally seperate audiences? I don’t know.

  12. 12
    JLucas on 30 Jan 2012 #

    There’s something about Shaggy that makes him very difficult to dislike. All of his songs are borderline irritating, but land just on the right side of harmless fun.

    I also like his habit of enjoying a massive hit then vanishing for a few years, only to come out with another one just at the point when everyone had pretty much forgotten about him. Who’d have predicted the success of It Wasn’t Me in 1999?

    He’s probably gone for good now, but I’d never totally write him off…

  13. 13
    Kat but logged out innit on 30 Jan 2012 #

    We LOVED this because it sounded like they were singing ‘jump on bras’ and bras are funny*. It was a big hit at our end-of-primary-school disco, at which I spent a lot of time STANDING BY MYSELF in front of the strobe light moving my hand up and down, awestruck at its magical properties. At least an 8, probably a 9.

    *Obv we liked ‘Informer’ better because Snow apparently said ‘lick your bum-bum down’. I promptly went and bought the tape of Ragga Heat Reggae Beat which is an excellent mixture of 90s ragga and reggae classics for an 11 year old to start on. Until then I’d never heard of Johnny Nash or Musical Youth or Susan Cadogan or most importantly ALTHEA AND DONNA. I loved that tape nearly as much as Rave 92 – perhaps I should do another series…

  14. 14


    Include discussion of Predator II, the Dick Hebdige of Danny Glover movies.

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    lonepilgrim on 30 Jan 2012 #

    @4 I guess one place to start would be talking to Don Letts

    ‘Oh, Carolina’ is a joy – Wichita nails it:

    ‘Oh Carolina sounds like the Arkansas Chug-a-Bug being towed along by an ice cream van. With a rag and bone man at the wheel. Shaggy’s drunken MC’ing only adds to the sense of chaotic fun.’

  16. 16

    I put “Vybz Kartel feat.Gaan Popcorn and Gaza Slim”* into Spotify’s “Radio Sounds Like” feature and so have encountered some of the VERY unexpected sonic directions that dancehall’s bigger names have been taking (Lady Saw’s “Passion” or Sean Paul’s “Get Busy”) — certainly DLetts is the not the only person to be asking.

    *bcz “Clarks” was one of my favourite songs of 2010…

  17. 17
    Mark G on 30 Jan 2012 #

    #13, maybe you’d have liked the “ya ras bumbo klaat” refrain of the ‘uncensored’ version on the 12″ version (broadcast over the instore system at HMV Ealing Broadway one time).

    Also, the ‘DingDing’ always reminded me of my Nana’s “Tubular Bells” style front doorbell.

  18. 18
    Tom on 30 Jan 2012 #

    Re. Predator II, I am sure I read once that it was the second-most sampled film ever on hardcore/jungle records, after Blade Runner. Mega City Two’s “Darker Side Of Evil” was a favourite (“The spirit world…the dark side… fucking voodoo magic man!”)

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    Kat but logged out innit on 30 Jan 2012 #

    Oh hell yes – anything to do with loo roll = instant tick.

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    punctum on 30 Jan 2012 #

    The singles chart for the week ending 27 March 1993 was one of the most significant of all charts; there, for the first time – and long, long overdue – stood the first all-reggae top three. In third place was “Mr Loverman” by Shabba Ranks, at number two was the forgotten Canadian great Snow with “Informer,” and at number one, the record which opened the gates and watched the dancehall craze flood out. While 1993 is apt to be described as a fruitless, waiting-for-Britpop-to-happen year by those who measure progress in terms of pale boys and guitars (and yet it saw the first Suede album, Modern Life Is Rubbish by the reborn, and real, Blur, New Wave by the Auteurs, So Tough by somebody or other, PulpIntro by Pulp, the debut Elastica single, the debut Tindersticks album…) in pop terms it was a rather splendid time with dancehall and ragga finally crossing over to the mainstream, in all of their flowering, florid forms.

    As with all great turning points in pop, “Oh Carolina” looks right back to the beginning in order to walk into the future; based on a 1959 single by the Folkes Brothers, produced by a young Prince Buster, a prominent example of the largely acoustic Jamaican folk music known as mento which would eventually mutate and evolve into ska, and then reggae, we hear, amidst crackles of ancient vinyl, the original’s barrelhouse piano and bamboo box percussion before the needle skips, a doorbell rings and the slinkily shabby nineties beat sails in as Gulf War veteran Shaggy stands as proudly as anyone who has cheated death has a right to do. “Carolina! Wind your body girl! Make dem know say you have it fi mad dem” he pronounces before settling into his luring baritone growl while backing singers chant “jump and prance,” a vaudeville saxophone chortles intermittently and the various loops and samples collide in beautiful chaos – in the chorus line “Oh Carolina gal prowl off” where the key would have changed, the background remains resolutely the same, with live DJ scratching and an implausible Peter Gunn bassline. Nothing quite fits, and that’s the record’s glory.

    “Oh Carolina” is also one of the sexiest number ones to dance to, its low, bending bass and utterly charismatic rhythm demand palpability of the hips and beyond (what a glorious moment when we realised that the way to dance to happy hardcore or jungle was at half-speed, i.e. the slow and patient skank!). It skanks and it charms, its humour is good (“Bumper jus’ a move/It jus’ a cause a roadblock!”) and its universality and relevance to 1993 breathes excitedly through every pore of its structure (the closing references to “Brooklyn gals” and “Flatbush gals”). The first number one single for the venerable indie reggae label Greensleeves, and – while observers of and dancers to 1992 dance hits such as SL2’s “On A Ragga Tip” or the Prodigy’s “Out Of Space” could have seen this coming – as good and graceful a celebration of seizing the moment, and then licking it, as any in pop, “Oh Carolina” reminds me why, at twenty-nine, I still cared about where pop was going.

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    AndyPandy on 30 Jan 2012 #

    Snow surely THE most embarrassing performer EVER to hit the chart and that takes some doing – a white bloke who sang in the most ridiculous over the top fake patois ever committed to vinyl and who thought it was cool to pretend he’d murdered someone. He made Vanilla Ice look like Dr Dre.

    And around this time not ragga but also straight out of the London reggae charts and in the pop charts (it was in there for months before it crossed over)we had the wondeful ‘Searching’ by China Black

  22. 22
    Steve Mannion on 30 Jan 2012 #

    Hopefully a lot of people heard ‘Informer’ before knowing anything about who it was by and what they were like (irrelevant wrt the track’s 8/10 quality before and after that imo).

  23. 23
    thefatgit on 30 Jan 2012 #

    I’ve always had a soft spot for Reggae, but until I encountered Greensleeves compilations in the ’80s, my only exposure had been “Uprising” and a couple of Jimmy Cliff singles.
    During my time in London in 1990, I went to a couple of parties in Peckham during that summer. The music played at these parties were largely Reggae and Ragga. The Jamaican hosts monopolised the turntables and competently switched between the laidback Dub of Burning Spear, the Rootsier Gregory Isaacs and the more urgent stylings of Yellowman and Buju Banton. The coverage of Reggae in the NME, although scant compared to Black Echoes, had been helpful in recognising the changes from what outliers like me would have considered a kind of orthodoxy. It didn’t go unnoticed in 1985 when Wayne Smith’s “Under Me Sleng Teng” was released. The digitisation of Reggae paved the way for the genre to transform and accept HipHop. The result was Ragga. So when “Under Me Sleng Teng” and Frankie Paul’s “Worries In The Dance” cropped up as samples in Hardcore, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

    Like Punctum above, I got a kind of thrill to hear Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina” on the radio, but my recollection of this time was the buzz surrounding Shabba Ranks’ “Mr Loverman” and the accompanying explicit video, which IIRC was only shown after midnight on MTV.

    I make no apologies for not having the faintest idea what “Informer” was about. It was perhaps the most impenetrable of those 3 singles.

  24. 24
    Tommy Mack on 30 Jan 2012 #

    The first new, still in the charts single I bought. Quite liked it, but it was to be far from my favourite hit from the glourious summer of ragga. I later smashed up the CD to impress my mates at a drunken sleepover. What a charming youth I must have been…

  25. 25
    MikeMCSG on 30 Jan 2012 #

    This one will always remind me of a particularly ill-matched (were there any other sort I wonder ? ) companion from Dateline I was seeing at the time. I can vividly recall her assessment of this as “f**king garbage” when it came on the radio in the car. I couldn’t compete with that pithy concision but I didn’t like it either.
    It wasn’t that it was incomprehensible ; I was quite partial to “Uptown Top Ranking” but here instead of two self-confident street smart girls you have a leery bloke expressing his libido in terms as sexist as the worst offenders in Heavy Metal. I just found it really unpleasant to listen to and dumbfounded when it got to number one.
    Together with its predecessor and other horrors to come it made me realise there was now a permanent unbridgeable chasm between my tastes and what was popular in the charts and I wasn’t yet 30. Apart from REM’s dominance of the album charts ( and AFTP isn’t my favourite of theirs ) 1993 would be a constant source of disappointment in terms of hearing a great song and then seeing it stiff. How could such a brilliant record as Stephen Duffy’s “Natalie” not catch ? It’s tempting to say the Maoist purge of Radio One later in the year completed the process but actually I had already abandoned it for the old Radio 5 which had a fantastic playlist. I still can’t stomach the otherwise inoffensive John Inverdale because he replaced the superb “ 5-a-side” drivetime show with an anodyne sports chat programme, another of the year’s great disappointments.

  26. 26
    anto on 30 Jan 2012 #

    No particular attachment to this one. Its ok. Better than his other number ones anyway. I’m just not that keen on his voice. He sounds as though his lunch menu consists of golden syrup and moist tarmac.

  27. 27
    Erithian on 31 Jan 2012 #

    I’d forgotten that intro! – shambolic in a very good way. Another thumbs-up to Wichita’s likening the song to the Arkansas Chug-a-bug. Big, dumb and irresistible, as was the not dissimilar “Boom Shack-a-lak” by Apache Indian a month or two later. That was an astonishing top three – much of it barely comprehensible to most of us but hugely enjoyable nonetheless.

    Blessed light relief from the controversy at the tail-end of 1992 that I’m surprised no-one has yet mentioned: Shabba Ranks on “The Word” defending Buju Banton’s homophobic “Boom Bye Bye” and seemingly advocating the crucifixion of homosexuals. In possibly the most electrifying moment in the show’s history (Nirvana notwithstanding) Mark Lamarr rounds on him with “That’s absolute crap and you know it!” and it nearly kicks off until Amanda de Cadenet tells Lamarr to lighten up ‘cos it’s nearly Christmas…

  28. 28
    Erithian on 31 Jan 2012 #

    Ha ha, just noticed on a late-night flick through some 50s Popular entries that Wichita used the Arkansas Chug-a-bug comparison for Rosemary Clooney’s “This Ole House” three years ago! We all plagiarise ourselves at some point Lino.

  29. 29
    wichita lineman on 1 Feb 2012 #

    I’m grateful that the all reggae Top 3 has been pointed out as I didn’t think this happened until later in the year (one in which Chaka Demus & Pliers were involved).

    The fact that this wasn’t mentioned at the time – at least, not as I remember – shows how much Jamaican influence there was on pop in the years leading up to this and how accepted it was. I’d just moved to Clapton when this hit and Jungle stations were so prevalent I couldn’t tune my radio to Radio 2 without it jumping to a local pirate (all very fine, but not just before you go to sleep).

    The Jamaican influence on pop was more varied than at any time before or since: Andy mentions China Black’s smooth lovers rock-like Searching; there was Compliments On Your Kiss to come (which could have been from the 50s); breakbeat/hardcore; Apache Indian’s ragga pop Boom Shack A Lack; the ascendance of Shabba Ranks to crossover star; and the push-button reggae of U*4* had an unfortunate renaissance. Probably more, too, that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

    Island released the Tougher Than Tough 4cd box this year too, the first ever attempt at a comprehensive Reggae history (though bizarrely it included no dub at all). Disc 1 track 1 was the Folkes Brothers’ Oh Carolina.

    There was a record called Jump And Prance in ’91 or ’92, which I liked enough to buy, but now I can’t remember who it was by.

    Re 28: Erithian, do you think I can remember what I was doing or saying three years ago? I probably compared Betty Boo to Penelope Pitstop too at some point. Or the Four Seasons to the Ant Hill Mob.

  30. 30
    pearly spencer on 1 Feb 2012 #

    Can someone clear something up for me? What are the words in the tiny sample before the first “Oh Carolina” lifts off? To the then 14-year-old me and my then 10-year-old brother, it was “he’s a Roman Catholic”. Which I’m sure it’s not.

    This song reminds me of me being in the heights of my Chart Show song-recording phase – I must retrieve those knackered videos from my mum one day. Oh, and being on a school trip where all the boys kept singing “licky boom boom down” from the back seat of the bus. Snow has a lot to answer for.

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