A Hot Reggae Artist Named Snow

Source: Dennis Hunt, www.latimes.com

You want to see Snow heat up?

Just call the 23-year-old singer-rapper from Toronto the Vanilla Ice of dancehall reggae.

“I don’t like it,’ he says, seething, during an interview. But some similarities are inescapable.

Snow is the first big white star in this black, Jamaican-dominated genre, just as Vanilla Ice — best known for his 1990 hit single Ice Ice Baby — was the first white solo star in black-oriented rap. Also like Ice, Snow is a hunk who attracts the young pop audience — particularly females.

And both performers talk about coming up from the streets. While many observers have accused Vanilla Ice of fabricating elements of his background to appear more street-tough, Snow has an actual criminal record. To remove any doubt, his co-manager Daniel Eng will even supply the singer’s rap sheet from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Snow, whose real name is Darrin O’Brien, recently completed eight months in jail in Toronto for assault — his second stretch behind bars. When he was 19, he served a year for a variety of charges, including assault.

That first jail term, Snow says, turned out to be the inspiration for his Informer single, which has been No. 1 on the pop chart for the past two weeks. The single, a catchy grab bag of high-speed, reggae-style vocals, rap, funky beats and jazzy horns, is the first big hit from his debut album, 12 Inches of Snow, on Motor Jam/EastWest Records.

“The record is a true story about people ratting on me for two attempted murders,’ he says. “They knew me, and they told the police. I didn’t do it — my friend did. But I didn’t rat on him. ‘ Snow recorded his album early last year, before going to jail. “We had to rush to finish it in time,’ recalls Snow, who’s candid and matter-of-fact about his criminal career. “I didn’t like jail, but it wasn’t horrible. You adjust — do what you have to. But I was happy to get out so I could get on with this music thing. ‘

Snow plugged into the dancehall scene in Toronto and worked at developing his singing skills. By the time he reached New York two years ago, he was adept enough to impress producer MC Shan, who later produced Snow’s album. Shan introduced him to Steve Salem, who became his co-manager.

“We could tell right away that he had something,’ says Mr. Salem, who also heads the tiny Motor Jam Records with his partner, Eng. “Here was this good-looking Irish kid who could do dancehall like some of the best singers. We know he could be big time, so we worked out a deal with EastWest. ‘

Given his criminal record, it’s surprising that EastWest signed him.

“We wanted to get into dancehall, and we saw he had talent and took a chance, guessing that his background wouldn’t be a problem,’ said Wendy Goldstein, senior artists and repertoire director for EastWest Records, who signed him.

On the one hand, Snow says he’s rehabilitated, having moved out of his old neighborhood and into an upscale section of Toronto. But he admits missing those nights hanging out with his pals.

“I had to stop seeing most of them, or I’d be back doing what I was doing,’ he says. “I was hanging out with these Irish dudes since I was a kid — fighting, drinking and stealing — which is what you did if you grew up in that neighborhood. ‘

Snow admits being fascinated as a youngster with the gangster lifestyle. “While other kids were dressing up like Batman, we were dressing up like the Mafia,’ he says. “I’ve always wanted to be one of the bad guys. ‘

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