A 20th anniversary re-recording of your most popular album but reconfigured for modern tastes and trends: what could possibly go wrong? This is the Herculean task that Shaggy has set himself up for with ‘Hot Shot 2020’, which was seemingly inspired by a new generation of listeners recently discovering his music via TikTok. But seeing as his last album, an unlikely reggae team-up with Sting titled ’44/876′, produced a Grammy win and a performance for the Queen, who are we to doubt him?
One person not buying into the project, though, is Shaun “Sting International” Pizzonia, the producer who has long been Shaggy’s right-hand man and was responsible for ‘Hot Shot’’s biggest hits. “IT WAS NOT ME!” Pizzonia wrote on Instagram back in April (and yes, we see what he did there) as he denounced ‘Hot Shot 2020’ as a “desperate move” that would “devalue” Shaggy’s legacy, before clarifying that he had “zero involvement” with the new recordings and asking fans: “Please do not judge me for them.”
You can understand Pizzonia’s grievance — nobody wants their work tampered with, especially without their permission. But is it all that desperate a move, though? For most artists, sure, that would be the case: imagine Britney Spears releasing an EDM version of ‘…Baby One More Time’, or Eminem turning ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ into mumble-rap. But this is Shaggy: the self-styled “Mr Lover Lover” who has previously released a single with Ali G (2002’s dubious No.2 hit ‘Me Julie’), impersonated Donald Trump for a James Corden comedy sketch and whose own George Galloway-as-cat moment came when he played Sebastian the crab in a live production of The Little Mermaid.
He’s also a figure who, although wilfully leaning into his novelty status over the years, played a key — and largely unsung — role in the export of dancehall and Jamaican music at the turn of the millennium. “[‘Hot Shot’] actually shifted the culture and moved the needle in dancehall to where the mainstream really started to notice and deal with dancehall music as a force to be reckoned with,” Shaggy recently said. While there’s a hint of self-flattery in that quote, you can’t argue that he didn’t lay the foundations for more “legitimate” acts such as Sean Paul and Beenie Man to subsequently build on. Basically, Shaggy has earned the right to do what he wants at this point.
Upon reflection, NME doesn’t really recall ‘Hot Shot’ being all that strong aside from the hits. It seems that Shaggy himself feels that way too, opting to not actually re-record the entire LP but rather just five songs from it: ‘Angel’, ‘Luv Me, Luv Me’, ‘Keep’n It Real’, the album’s title track and, of course, fuckboy-apologist anthem ‘It Wasn’t Me’.
The rest of the tracklist is then filled with greatest hits (‘Boombastic’ and ‘Oh Carolina’ included), the odd new track, plus some covers of reggae classics (most notably ‘Electric Avenue’ and ‘Buk-In-Hamm Palace’). There’s even a cheeky nod to Shaggy’s aforementioned Little Mermaid star-turn with a cover of ‘Under the Sea’. Why not?
In Shaggy’s own words, these are “timeless records” that he wanted to “take to turbo” on ‘Hot Shot 2020’ to “resonate with all these younger generations”. While there’s much good will in wanting the album to work, the reimagined tracks aren’t exactly as wild a ride as you’d half-hope they would be. Instead, the songs remain largely faithful to their original versions, and the odd moments where Shaggy does unashamedly aim for that TikTok crowd sadly come off as jarring asides. ‘It Wasn’t Me’ is interspersed with hand claps and EDM-ish vocal pitch shifts, while there’s a dubstep breakdown on ‘Boombastic’ (in the year 2020!) and even a Daft Punk-like vocoder that’s thrown in on ‘Oh Carolina’ for no apparent reason.
Elsewhere, ‘Primavera’, a new song that Shaggy slides slap-bang into the middle of the album, starts off as a dramatic Eurovision-by-numbers ballad before turning into the kind of overblown but empty anthem that could pass as a World Cup song.
Ultimately, ‘Hot Shot 2020’ is just not as interesting, fun or even simply as weird as you imagine it could be. Shaggy said that he wanted to “bring different vibes [and] explore some sounds we’d never tried before” while still “retaining [the songs’] original energy”. Instead, he’s found himself stuck in a hinterland somewhere between the two. That being said, though, you’ve got to say the original songs still slap.
- Release date: July 10
- Record label: Mr Luva Luva, Inc/Polydor