It’s a bit more of a haul than expected, via transit and feet, to the studio on the neglected, lower-western industrial fringes of North York where Snow — yes, that Snow — is holed up on a recent Friday night, so this conscientious music writer feels apologies are in order for intruding at the end of what must have been a long and tiring day of recording.
“No, no, man. I just woke up,” he laughs, once a couple of pals and the two-man video crew that was shooting the Star photographer shooting Snow when I turned up leave us alone in the control room and the apology is extended again. “I just woke up and came here and now it starts now and we’ll see what we’re gonna get into tonight.”
As it turns out, the friendly, self-effacing Toronto sorta-rapper/sorta-singer born Darrin Kenneth O’Brien 49 years ago and responsible for the indelible 1992 sorta-reggae smash “Informer” is as casual with his time as he has been with the pop career unexpectedly hatched by that same tune all those years ago — a pop career that has been abruptly re-hatched (again) in recent weeks by the explosive success of Daddy Yankee’s new single “Con Calma.”
A reggaeton earworm built explicitly upon “Informer” and featuring a guest verse by Snow himself, “Con Calma” has put the Canadian sorta-dancehall MC back on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time since “Girl, I’ve Been Hurt” reached No. 19 in June of 1993 on the heels of a seven-week reign by “Informer” at the top of the chart earlier that year. At the moment of writing, “Con Calma” was closing in on 259 million YouTube views and had bounced back to No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin Digital Song Sales chart after dropping to No. 4 the week before, had risen to No. 3 on the magazine’s Latin Songs chart and had lurched to No. 59 on the all-important Hot 100 — not bad for a song mostly in Spanish — after punching in at No. 90 four weeks ago. Given the continued, viral proliferation of online videos mimicking the dance routines in the original “Con Calma” clip à la “Hotline Bling” or “Gangnam Style,” this thing looks poised to rise even higher in the public consciousness as an internet meme than it probably would have on the back of the damnably unrelenting catchiness Daddy Yankee pinched from Snow and “Informer” in the first place.
The Puerto Rican “King of Reggaeton” — who, lest we forget, had a hand in the international phenomenon that was Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” along with Canada’s very own Justin Bieber two years ago — has been clear about the roots of “Con Calma,” in any case.
“It was one of my favourite songs growing up, and to do this the right way I needed the guy to be on the record. You got to give honour to a classic in order to make a new version of it,” Daddy Yankee told Apple Music upon the single’s Jan. 24 release, enthusing about the fusion involved in “a Canadian and a Puerto Rican making Jamaican music” and “two pioneers, two people pushing the cultures.”
You’d think Snow, a white boy who parlayed his colour-blind upbringing in North York’s multicultural Allenbury Gardens projects into unlikely success as a reggae toaster, might take a moment to gloat at being back in the spotlight. But no.
“Oh, that don’t matter to me,” he says. “That don’t matter. What matters is I get to see now. When I came out with ‘Informer’ we didn’t have no internet so I couldn’t see nobody dancing, I couldn’t see nobody singin’ along, I couldn’t see that little girl and her mother dancin’ together and all that kinda stuff. We couldn’t see that. But now, I can see people lovin’ it and the kids and the mothers doin’ the dances and I love it. But all the ‘fameness’ stuff? It don’t matter to me …
“I don’t have that big of an interest, no. I’m grateful. I’m grateful. I like seein’ the people dance to it and stuff, but I don’t know. It’s just fun.”
Even when the prospect of Daddy Yankee doing this re-version of “Informer” — produced by Dallas production duo Play-N-Skillz and co-written by A-list Latin-music mover-and-shaker Juan “Gaby Music” Rivera — came his way, Snow says, he was dubious until Warner Music phoned him looking to talk about accessing the rights “and then I knew it was legit.” He laid down the vocals at home, as he’s still limited in his ability to leave the country due to the conviction on an attempted-murder charge that landed him in prison in Ontario for eight months at exactly the moment when “Informer” was cracking wide.
“They mixed it, flew it back to me and I heard it and I got chills. He did a good job, you know what I mean?” says Snow. “He did the melody of ‘Informer’ and I did the ‘Come with a nice young lady’ bit, but the verses he did were all his own and I just loved it. I was, like, ‘OK, this sounds nice. This sounds good.’ “
The “Con Calma” video shoot was subsequently conducted by director Marlon P on the fly in Toronto under a veil of total secrecy, which still amuses Snow.
“When we did the video, nobody knew about this thing because they were sayin’ once people find out that Daddy Yankee and Snow are comin’ out with a song they’re gonna have their own agenda and their own opinion already before it even comes out: ‘Oh, that’s gonna suck’ or ‘That’s gonna be great’ or whatever,” he says. ” They told me, ‘Don’t tell nobody about nothin’.’ When we were shooting the video I had a whole bunch of my crew guys there, all my friends, and they were takin’ pictures and stuff and the producer of the video was, like, ‘Yo, we can’t leak none of this stuff’ and I was, like, ‘Brother, don’t worry ’bout none of my people. They won’t leak nothin’.’ And nothin’ got leaked. And then it came out and blew up and now I understand why they just release it … People just gotta hear it.”
Holding the crew he grew up with through “Informer” and beyond — he released five albums since 1993’s eight-million-selling 12 Inches of Snow, the last being 2002’s Two Hands Clapping — close at hand has played a huge part in keeping Snow modest about his place in the pop world for the past 25 years. He happily busts out a photo from the Toronto Star of him when he was 13 and cavorting over the subway vents at City Hall on the last day of school and points out that the kid barely visible sitting in the tree behind him eventually wound up co-writing his last “comeback” hit, the sugary 2000 Cancon staple “Everybody Wants to Be Like You.”
“I grew up with all the same people, so when I made it big if I crumbled I still had the same people because I brought ’em when I was up there. Nothing in this ‘fameness’ thing could hurt me,” he says.
He’d snuck across the border while still facing the charges that would eventually land him in prison — and which, to this day, will prevent him from being able to tour much beyond Canada in support of any music he releases, even if he chooses to tour — and was stealing food to feed himself when he met “Informer” producer MC Shan in New York, he says. He’s kept a foot in music ever since, however, because the alternative was a dead end.
“That’s all I could keep a foot in — that and crime,” he says. “And I took my feet out of crime when I went into music. It was that or take both my feet outta music and put them both into crime ’cause I didn’t know anything else.
“But I didn’t want this. I’ve been saying this from Day 1 and I’ve been saying this to the Star from Day 1. I didn’t ever go out and do demos and ship them out … So when my second album came and it didn’t do well and my third album came and it didn’t do well, I was, like, ‘OK.’ I was the same person. I guess I could see how I coulda crashed if I thought I was all that. But it wasn’t my dream, so my dreams weren’t shattered.
“I respect it and I loved it and I guess this is what was planned for me, but my dreams don’t get shattered because I don’t look at it like ‘OK, now I’m gonna get some girls and some money.’ I didn’t have no goal with this music. I just did it. I didn’t think it was going to do anything.”
Snow is, perhaps, downplaying his ambitions. He was savvy enough to gift Yahoo with a half-amusing/half-irritating echo of “Informer” cooked up with Jingle Punks to liven up the tech company’s telephone lines in 2013 after then-CEO Marissa Mayer complained that its on-hold music was “garbage,” for instance, and since 2017 his business has been handled by Paul Farberman, a former member of Céline Dion’s management team. He’s got a diverse arsenal of tracks tucked away at the moment that he shares privately, including a hard-stepper featuring Jamaican reggae star Michael Rose and a keeper featuring rapper Fat Joe. He’s done a four tracks with hitmaker-for-hire Scott Storch, too. Where, when and how — or if — they’ll be released is anybody’s guess. He’s kinda bummed that he hasn’t been able to join Daddy Yankee in performing “Con Calma” on late-night TV or at the Billboard Latin Awards. He might tour at some point in the near future. But … whatever.
“I don’t have no timeline. I don’t want no record company. I don’t wanna sign to nobody,” he shrugs. “I’m not a hustler. It’s gotta come to me. Do you understand what I mean? It’s not like I’m too good to go out and do it, I’m just not one of those ‘go-getters,’ y’know?
“I don’t want all the problems, that’s what it is. I don’t want all the problems that come with it, y’know what I mean? ‘Cause I know it’s always equal. You know what I mean? You got a hundred million dollars, you got a hundred million dollars’ worth of problems. If you’re right here, you’re good.”