Darrin Kenneth O’Brien better known by his stage name Snow, is a Juno Award winning Canadian reggae musician. He is best known for his 1992 single “Informer”, which reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Snow was born and raised in the North York district of Toronto, Ontario. For much of his childhood, he lived in the Allenbury Gardens public housing, and at the age of 16 moved to Ajax, Ontario. Growing up in a diverse neighbourhood, O’Brien blended dancehall and reggae with rock and popular music to create his own unique style of music. In 1988, Jamaican-born DJ Marvin Prince witnessed O’Brien deejaying at a party and the two quickly became friends. For the next few years, they practiced in Prince’s basement with Snow providing vocals and Prince scratching the turntables. While on a trip to New York City, Prince mentioned Snow to rap star M.C. Shan. Shan then invited Snow to New York and introduced him to music producers, David Eng and Steve Salem. Snow eventually signed a contract to record on their Motorjam/Elektra record label and in 1993 released his debut album 12 Inches of Snow.
While Snow served prison time for an assault charge, M.C. Shan, David Eng, Steve Salem, and Marvin Prince promoted the recordings. Upon his release from prison, Snow’s first single “Informer”, written by Snow, M.C. Shan, and Edmond Leary, became a chart-topping hit. The album sold over 8 million records worldwide, with the “Informer” single remaining number 1 on the American Billboard charts for seven consecutive weeks. “Informer” has been recorded twice in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best selling reggae single in US history, as well as the highest charting reggae single in history. A second single, “Girl I’ve Been Hurt”, reached Number 19 on the Hot 100. In Japan, Snow received the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s 1994 Gold Disc Award for Best New Artist.
As Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau continued reforming immigration policies, instituting social reforms, and promoting multiculturalism in Canada, a larger influx of Jamaicans immigrated into the greater Toronto area. One of Snow’s neighbouring Jamaican families, the Browns, first introduced the teenager to reggae and began calling him “Snow” and “Snow White.” With the help of his neighbours, Snow began borrowing and ordering reggae dub tapes to perform over.
In Ethnicity, Politics, and Public Policy: Case Studies in Canadian Diversity, Rebecca J. Haines examined Snow as a symbol of Canadian ethnic identity. Instead of hiding his “whiteness” and “Canadian-ness,” Haines argues, Snow proudly boasts of his Irish heritage and traces his reggae roots to the diverse community of Allenbury. While other artists, such as Snoop Dogg, don a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey because of its resemblance to cannabis, “in the video for his single Anything For You, shot on location in Jamaica, the white Canadian reggae artist Snow is seen wearing the same jersey (Maple Leafs), perhaps in an attempt to proclaim his Canadian roots among the all black cast of this video”.
Many reggae purists viewed Snow, along with Ini Kamoze, Diana King, Shaggy and Shabba Ranks, as another example of “watered down” commercial reggae that rose to international popularity in the 1990s.The sketch comedy show In Living Color, parodied Informer featuring Jim Carrey as Snow in a parody titled “Imposter.” In 1996, WBLS New York disc jockey Pat McKay observed, “purists have a problem with a non-Jamaican doing reggae. But I choose to think of it as the greatest compliment to reggae culture, and Snow is a genuine, dedicated artist. He has a fine singing voice, he’s a great writer, and he very generously includes other artists in all of his work. His authenticity amplifies the realities of his generation, and his sensitivity conjures up intimacy with all of his love songs.”
SNOW is still active and in pre-production for new product and Cashbox Canada will be releasing more on this in 2014. What many do not know is how generous SNOW is and his ‘behind the scenes’ charity work.
The song ‘Informer’ paved the way for many rappers and stands the test of time. Log on to the video with lyrics for those of you who still have no idea what SNOW is actually saying.