When talking about notable or controversial Jamaican artistes, a proper discussion cannot possibly be complete without mentioning Mr. Shabba Ranks. Rexton Rawlston Fernando Gordon, stage name being Shabba Ranks, was born in Sturgetown, St. Ann (The Garden Parish), Jamaica on January 17, 1966. Shabba moved from Sturgetown however when he was eight (8) years old to Trenchtown, Kingston. Within the area of Trenchtown, Shabba became fascinated by the sound system DJ’s in local clubs by age twelve (12).
Shabba Ranks spent the early 1980’s under the tutelage of Admiral Bailey of Roots Melody sound system toasting. Under the stage name of Co-Pilot, he recorded his first single “Heat Under Sufferers Feet” in the year of 1985 at the age of 19. He then changed his stage name to Shabba Ranks and, when noticed by Josey Wales, recorded at King Jammy’s recording studio where he produced other singles which did not gain much recognition such as “Original Fresh”.
His explicit lyrics surrounding sexual endeavors began during the year of 1988 with the song “Needle Eye Punany”. He rode this wave of hype by being signed to a King Jammy’s engineer/producer’s recording studio called Digital B in 1989. Shabba attained star status within the coming years by producing exhilarating and raw songs (approximately 50 within the years of 1989 and 1991) such as "Wicked Inna Bed", "Roots and Culture", "Live Blanket", "Mama Man" and "Peeny Penny,".
The lewdness of his songs did not, however, take away from his influence on the musical scene of the Caribbean. Particularly he helped in defining the reggaeton of Puerto Rico through his catchy and popular riddim (rhythm) for his song “Dem Bow” so much so that the styling in Puerto Rico became “The Dembow” and is an inseparable part of reggaeton in Puerto Rico.
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Shabba Ranks is one of the predecessors for the Jamaican artists that now market themselves abroad. He had his first real break on the international market through the remake of J.C Lodge’s “Telephone Love” which proved very successful on the UK market as well as the album “Golden Touch”.
The major defining occurrence that showed Shabba Ranks' marketability on the world stage was “Shabbamania” at a performance in London’s Tower Records. Shabba signed with Epic Records in 1991 where he made his debut “As Raw As Ever” which featured a duet with Maxi Priest, "House call", which had a spot on the US R&B Chart Top five which sky rocketed the album to the number one spot on the R&B listing.
Other works includes: "The Jam" which was high in the R&B charts of 1992. In 1992, "Mr. Loverman" was re-released as a single in the U.S., prior to its appearance in the film Deep Cover; it obtained the number two spot on R&B charts subsequent to that and ranked number 3 in the UK. One of his biggest achievements, however, was that his album “As Raw as Ever” was awarded a Grammy for Best Reggae Album, making him the first ever Dancehall artist to do this.
By: Alexandra Daley