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Snow talks newly-inducted CSHF song “Informer”, collaborations and new music

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By Karen Bliss

Snow’s “Informer” was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame last month at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Studio, as part of the Legends Series.

The 1993 single from the dancehall-rap-reggae artist born Darrin Kenneth O’Brien (DKO) became a global smash, spending a record seven weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 — earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest selling reggae song in history — and hitting No. 1 at home in Canada on The Record chart. The song also rose to No. 2 in the U.K. and the top spot in several European countries. Snow won a JUNO for Best Reggae Recording in 1994.

The impossible-to-karaoke lyric was inspired by Snow’s arrest for a fight and incarceration on bogus attempted murder charges. He wrote the song while at Toronto’s East Detention Centre and recorded the it — and landed a record deal — while out on bail.

A white guy of Irish decent, Snow grew up in “the projects,” North York’s Allenbury Gardens, listening to reggae and soaking up the Jamaican patois spoken by his friends and neighbours. He soon developed a stunning skill of rapping in a rapid-fire toasting style, which led to him work in New York with producer MC Shan, who co-wrote “Informer” with Snow, Terri Moltke and Edmond Leary, and cut his full-length debut, 12 Inches of Snow.

The album came out while Snow was in jail and eventually went platinum (1 million units) in the U.S. and triple platinum (then 300,000) in Canada. Snow was acquitted the charges but was imprisoned for two years for assault, all the while his star rising on the outside.

While he couldn’t tour in the U.S. due to his criminal record, he launched a global career and made albums at his own pace, 1995’s sophomore Murder Love, then 1997’s Justuss, 1999’s Cooler Conditions, 2000’s Mind On The Moon and 2002’s Two Hands Clapping. For some 16 years, he’s operated DKO Music Group/Productions for his own music and work with other artists.

In 2019, recently retired Puerto Rican superstar Daddy Yankee interpolated “Informer,” recruited Snow as a featured guest on the recording and for the video. The Spanish-language remake is approaching 3 billion views on YouTube alone, and won seven 2020 Latin Billboard Awards, one Billboard Music Award, four Lo Nuestro Awards, a SOCAN pop music award, and an MTV Video Music Award nomination. The remix featuring Kate Perry also charted.

Karen Bliss spoke with Snow for the CSHF about all things “Informer” and what’s next.

“Informer” is over 30 years old. You’ve created many songs since but that is the one you’re still known for — your first single ever. How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel good. It’s funny how it is my first single, my first song, and it was a song that I went through the hardest time, probably of my life. I had the two attempted murder charges when I came up with the song.

It’s generational. New people discover it.
Yeah, especially with Daddy Yankee. When Daddy Yankee got ahold of me and was like, “Yo, we want to do it,’ I was like, ‘Alright, let me hear it.” That brought it back to the Latin market. I was big in the Latin market, but was even bigger with the Daddy Yankee single, so it’s good to see.

He said that he used to listen to it as a kid [Daddy Yankee was 16 when “Informer” came out].
Yeah. It’s funny because I see it on a commercial and the song is talking about me getting charged with two attempt murders and don’t rat and everything. And it’s on the car commercial — [Snow sings ‘informer’] — they don’t have no clue what the song’s about [laughs].

Speaking of that, even now when I listen to it, I cannot sing along. Do you meet people that actually can sing along to the words, with your toasting and rapid-fire delivery because that is a skill?
Yes. Some people get it right. And I’m like, “Oh, you’ve got the words right.” But some people, when I said, [toasts] “me born and raised in the ghetto,” people will come up to me in the beginning and say, ‘Yo, I’m from where you’re from.”  I’m like, “Where are you from?’ He’s like, “Connecticut.”  I’m like, “Connecticut?” [sings “born and raised in Connecticut.” They thought I was born and raised in Connecticut. I was like, “Connecticut? I never even heard of Connecticut. Where the fuck is Connecticut?”

There are so many classic songs where we can’t quite get a lyric, but with “Informer,” it’s practically the whole song. What are some of the other funny things that people have misheard in it?
Well, of course “I’m a farmer.” Just stuff like that. But a lot of just mumbling. They’ll mumble it, and that’s the closest they’ll get.

The police line is hard to figure out.
Yeah. [Snow raps the line]. Police a comin for me now dey blow down me door,
Breakin’ de bar troo, troo my window.
Or “When me rockin’ the microphone me rock on steady.” That’s kind of a fast one too. There’s words, but even when I was doing the second album in Jamaica, the, Jamaican producers, Tony Kelly and them, when I’d be in the booth, they’d be like, ‘Yo, Snow, what language do you speak?” [laughs]. “I don’t know. It’s like Irish- Jamaica. I don’t know. It’s from Toronto. My neighborhood. I don’t know what it is.”

Really, there hasn’t been anyone able to replicate what you do. You definitely have a style all your own. Take me back to when you were writing it. First you got the lyrics, but then the deliver is a whole other level. You never thought, “Maybe I should slow it down?” No one ever said, “What the hell are you singing?”
I never had a thought in my mind. Nothing. I just went in, met MC Shan. Was fun. Went into the studio [scats fast]. I didn’t think, “okay, okay, this is not good.” I didn’t care because it’s not like,” oh my God, this is my first album. I need to make it big.” I didn’t care. Like I told a million times, I didn’t care to be, this is not where I wanted to be. So it wasn’t like I had rules, especially back then, because you weren’t allowed to sing rap and do the reggae all at one time. Like if you were a rapper, you had to get Jodeci to come in and do the R&B hook. But I was singing on it. I was [sings] ‘girl I been hurt’. I was doing beatbox, I was doing reggae. I was rapping on the first album. So I didn’t really care. I just had fun.

It would be pretty funny to do a version where you just slow it right down and enunciate every word.
Then they won’t understand it. It is like my mom, when I started doing the second album, [sings] “everybody wants to be like you,” my mother came into the studio and she’s like, “What’s with all this twangy twang bullshit? You’re reggae.” (Laughs).

Do you remember when your daughter first heard “Informer” and what she thought you were rapping?
No. Can’t remember. She was too young.  ’97.

Snow’s “Informer” was inducted into the CSHF with his wife, daughter, and grandson by his side.

But even later, when she heard it or it just became a thing where she just knew it was your song?
She was more into the newer ones, like [sings] “everybody wants to be like you.”  I have pictures of her on stage with me. It’s funny ’cause I have pictures of me holding the microphone to her when she was about five or six on the stage. And now I have the Hall of Fame of me holding her son. He’s six and I’m holding the mic to him.

And they don’t ask like, “What on earth are you rhyming about there?”
Oh no. Because she knows I can’t speak, spell. She knows I can’t do none of that. So when all that stuff comes out my mouth, she’s like, “Okay, that’s normal.” (Laughs).

Out of the whole lyric, a licky boom boom down is what people can latch onto, even if they don’t know what it means. That’s kind of the catchy phrase in it.
That there, when I first did it, it was skiddly. [He sings] skiddly boom, boom down.

Skiddly?
Yeah, that’s what it was. It was all the way up until I did it for real in the big studio. And then I don’t know what happened, but, I guess, I just changed it to [sings] a licky boom, boom down.  MC Shan hated that. He hated licky boom boom; he loved skiddly boom boom.  I didn’t know; he should have said something.

But you made that up, right?
Mm-Hmm. It was just something that I did, like a bit of bah-ding, you know, just a ding ding, ding ding. You know? So my mother then turned it into, “yeah, they’ll beat the informer down; they’ll lick ’em down. They’ll beat ‘em up.”

When Daddy Yankee did “Con Calma.” It’s Spanish. Do know what he is singing about?
I know some about, ‘Hey Lady, how are you doing?”

Your part sounds Spanish next to his.
No, it’s my English.

Where did the success of your collaboration with him take you?
Columbia and all them places. And then I won seven Billboard awards and a lot of Latin awards. I’m not a big award person, “Oh, this song is better than that.” But it got me around and it got me around more of the Latin community big time. So, now, with DKO, we have a Latin artist named Balam [Kiel]. He’s from Mexico. So it got me more connections and stuff so I could help him more ‘cause if I didn’t do the song, I couldn’t help. I try, but I couldn’t. But now I know some. So we have a whole bunch of people on the DK0 music thing and we’re just doing that and just having fun.

You just got a lifetime honour in the UK at the Boisdale Music Awards [presented by Jools Holland].
The Global Icon Award. And then next year, some Irish award. I’ll brag about that when I get it.

What about new music from you?
I got a couple of Latin songs. Me and Zion & Lennox. They’re not big like Daddy Yankee, but they’re up there. It’s crazy. And I got songs, back in Jamaica with Sly [Dunbar] and with Anthony Red Rose and all these people.  Me and Ky-Mani Marley, Sean Kingston, we got a nice song coming. So I’m just doing music, not to be, “oh my God, I wanna put out music and I’m gonna tour and I’m gonna be the biggest.” I just do music and I put it out there. I’m, just having fun doing what I do. It’s more about these younger guys, just let them come out and boom. That’s what we do.

 

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