Anyone who has ever been to Miami’s biggest reggae concert, Best of the Best, knows that it trades on nostalgia, featuring such acts as Lady Saw, Wayne Wonder and Shabba Ranks.
To hear them, was to remember the ‘90s, a time when dancehall reggae was at the top of the music charts and Shabba Ranks made history winning not one but two Grammy Awards for albums with songs that boasted about his bedroom bravado in his raucous style.
Four years after his first Best of the Best Miami performance, Shabba is back and will be hitting the stage once more at Bayfront Amphitheater on Sunday during the Memorial Day weekend celebrations with a line up paying homage to the ‘90s. Among the acts being featured, Super Cat, Alkaline, Jahmiel, Frisco Kid and General B.
Shabba, who will share the stage with SuperCat, another popular hit maker from the era, said he’s looking forward to wooing fans with such hits as “Trailer Load A Girls,” “Ting-A-Ling,” “Mr. Loverman,” and one of his favorites, “Love Punany Bad.”
“It’s always a pleasure to give my service to people who have been listening to my music for so many years,” Shabba said. “It’s always my pleasure to come and deliver what God has given me to deliver, which is music.”
Like many dancehall reggae artists and Deejays, Shabba acknowledges that the genre has been hurting in recent years. Some blame the inability of major stars to travel to the U.S. For example, Vybz Kartel is serving a life sentence for a 2011 murder conviction in Jamaica and Buju Banton, who is now enjoying a resurgence of his career with a Caribbean tour, had been deported back to Jamaica after serving a seven year U.S. prison term for 2011 federal drug charge. Shabba, however, puts the blame on the major U.S. labels.
“The main entities are not making the investment in this day and age,” he said. “We have been having this issue and problem, even before my brothers fell into their mishaps or whatever troubles. The major labels seem like they don’t have an interest in what is going on in the Caribbean anymore.”
Back in dancehall’s heyday, label executives kept a keen eye on the Jamaican music scene, where rhythms are crafted almost by the hour and dance crazes are created in some of the grittiest neighborhoods. While that’s still the case, the music isn’t making its way into U.S. studios or the major radio stations.
“They will associate themselves with one artist but they are not paying attention to the genre like they used to pay attention back in the day,” Shabba said of label executives. “They have to pay attention to the younger youths too because they are doing great music.”
And this is the benefit of Best of the Best: it not only gives fans a chance to revisit some of their favorite songs, but also to see new emerging dancehall reggae stars as well. Shabba said one has to give credit to co-founders Joey Budafuco and Steve”‘Jabba” Beckford “for always [making time] to put Jamaican music together.”
For his part, Shabba’s last major album was in 1993 — a year after he won his second Grammy for his album, “As Raw as Ever,” and after he made headlines when he was asked in a televised interview to comment on Buju’s controversial reggae hit, “Boom Bye Bye.” Shabba’s comments, while holding up a Bible, were viewed by some as being as anti-gay.
Asked whether he thought the comments may have impacted his career at a time when it as on an upswing, he said, “No.”
“It didn’t have a negative impact,” he said noting that “everyone has freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, freedom to live life and do whatever they want to do with their lives....We all will have to answer to the Almighty Father.”
At the end of the day, Shabba said, fans should trust his music.
“Please do not judge me on something that happened 25 years ago,” he said.
If You Go:
What: Best of the Best reggae concert
When: 2 p.m.-midnight Sunday
Where: Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd, Miami
Cost: Tickets start at $59 and up. Kids 12 and under free with an adult.