Written by Snow, M.C. Shan, and Edmond Leary, “Informer” was the lead single from Snow’s debut album, 12 Inches of Snow, which sold over 8 million records worldwide. Not many know that the single made U.S. history in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling and the highest-charting reggae single ever. We spoke with the artist about his place in pop history, his exile from the U.S., and watching your own music video while you sit in jail.
GAMV: I’m sure a lot of people are saying they can’t believe that it’s 25 years.
Snow: I know. 25 years, I can’t believe it either. It’s like, okay. we got to come up with something fresh.
GAMV: Tell me about this new reworked recording. How did the idea begin to do these remixes?
Snow: It’s started from my manager, Paul. He put me on a call with Audiofreaks with Matt. So – and then they were like, “Yo, what would you even think about doing ‘Informer’ over for our 25-year anniversary?” And I was like, “I never really thought about it.” He was like, “I think it will be fresh.” And I was like, “All right, let me do the vocals.” So I just did the vocals and send it over to him and then he just started to get different – you know, different producers and stuff and then we did about 15 to 20 mixes and then we just picked out, you know, and that’s how it came. And then Radikal Records was just like, “Okay, I’ll help. I’ll put – you know, I’ll put it out.” So the team just came together and I was like, “I mean, let’s just do this and let’s have fun.” And so that’s what I did about it, just having fun and just doing it. And I was like, “Oh my god, I hope it blows up again and it’s going to do –” I don’t care about none of that stuff. I just did it. I just had fun doing it.
GAMV: That’s great. Now, I guess when you were standing at the mic and you’re doing this song that’s – you know, it’s your most famous hit. It’s the one that got you on the map and all that kind of thing. What was – I mean, obviously, it’s 25 years later and you’re a different person than you were at the moment you were recording that. But did you sort of stand there and kind of think about the kid that was recording it 25 years ago?
Snow: Not really because, you know, I do that song a lot too.
Snow: And I recorded a lot because I do dubplates. I don’t know if you know what dubplates is. A dubplate is a Jamaican thing where you’d put someone’s name into the song. So I do that song all the time.
GAMV: How often do you do the dubplates?
Snow: I do like a lot of them. Yeah, a lot. And it’s funny because my biggest reggae song is not Informer, it’s “Anything For You”. It’s not with me and Buju Banton and Beenie Man and Terror Fabulous.
GAMV: Sometimes is it hard to really completely grasp that fact that Informer is the bestselling highest charting reggae single ever?
Snow: It was just like – but it’s Bob Marley’s fault. It’s Bob’s fault for letting me become in love with the music so much. So it just reflects back to them, you know, if it reflects back to Jamaica and Bob Marley. Yeah, it’s embarrassing a little bit but it is what it is, you know?
GAMV: I interview a lot of directors and I talked to George Seminara for a long time and he had wonderful memories and great things to say about working with you on these videos. And he told me a story about you being outside on the street in New York, and you’re singing and doing your thing for the crowd. And then he and Steve Salem saw you DJing at a party.
Snow: Well, I went to New York City because what happened was I got charged with two attempt murders up here in Toronto.
Snow: Which I didn’t do, which I was found not guilty by a jury. But at that time I wrote that song “Informer” just a little piece though because I didn’t want to be a singer. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to be singer and I’m going to go to New York to be a singer.” I didn’t want to be a singer. I just went to New York, stood at a corner, Queens, Jamaica Avenue, Queens, standing there singing & talking, and that’s when MC Shan came up. MC Shan introduced me to George and Steve Salem and all of them and they all came down to see me singing. And they’re like, “You got to go to studio.” I’d never had been in a studio before. I’ve never been on a mic before! I’d been on dance hall mics but I’m not talking studio mics, like I’ve never been in a studio really, They’d say “do a harmony there.” I’m like, “Harmony? What’s a harmony, brother? Like I knew music but I didn’t know what it was called, harmonies and all those stuff and I was like okay. So MC Shan taught me a lot, you know. And we recorded “Informer”. And then we shot the video but I didn’t see the video edited. Because back then, you know, it took a couple months back then.
Snow: So we did the Informer video, but I went back to Toronto for another charge, a different charge, and then that’s when they gave me a year, another year. So then I went back to jail. And the first time I’ve ever saw my video was in jail. I had a month left to do with my 12 months, and that’s when they released it. So I saw my video in jail. And I’m in in jail in the video, and I’m in a video in the jail. First time I saw it, I thought I was going crazy. I mean, there’s the TV with MTV, playing my music.
GAMV: That’s nuts.
Snow: Yeah. I’d never even see myself on TV. I’ve never seen myself on like a video or anything before like, you know, we didn’t have video channels to watch. I never see them.
Snow: Next thing I know I’m in jail and here I am on a big screen and everybody in jail is going crazy, the bikers, everybody. They’re like, “Hey, bud, give me an autograph.”
GAMV: Now what do you remember from actually shooting that video here in New York because I know there was two sets, there is the one where it’s you and the dancers just stepping and then those the one in the midtown lockup?
Snow: What I remember, I just remember coming over the bridge and see Silvercup Studio, you know.
Snow: I was like, “That looks pretty good, you know.” I never did a video before. I didn’t know what I was doing. So he was like, “All right, action.” But they made me comfortable. George made me comfortable and stuff so it was simple, you know. So – and then, yeah, we did it at the precinct too, the jail precinct. That was kind of cool.
GAMV: Was that strange to you? I mean, for some people, it would be like – you know, I know this is what the song is about, but I’m trying to stay out of jail, so can I like not do it this video in jail?
Snow: Oh, yeah, no, I made sure the doors weren’t locked. (laughs) I made sure there were no keys. I said, “you’ve got to leave it a little bit open, man.” Before they even said “that’s a wrap,” I was out.
GAMV: That’s funny.
Snow: But, yeah, yeah. Then that’s what kind of messed me up though, my past, my criminal record. When I get out of jail and I had the number one song in America, then I went to the border and they threw out me out of America for life.
GAMV: You were just getting started and then all of the sudden you can’t get back over the border, but I know that you managed to get out to the West Coast to shoot a video the one for “Runway” where you’re out in that big airplane graveyard. How did you get across the border?
Snow: I went to Buffalo on a bus. I had a lot of aliases back then because I didn’t really care.
GAMV: Now what do you remember about shooting the second video for “Girl, I’ve Been Hurt?”
Snow: I love that one too. I love that. That was in Woodstock, that was in Woodstock and New York City. So, you know, it was freezing, we had the snow bunnies out there, and that was mostly it, nothing too special.
GAMV: Wow. Now, what do you remember about shooting Runway?
Snow: “Runway” was, half of it in New York, and half of it in the airplane graveyard which was amazing idea. It was like all these planes, old planes, and then at the end, I was actually flying all of that, flying – but I was flying that plane that takes off at the end, you know?
Snow: For the “Anything for You” video, the director was Hype Williams. He’d never been to Jamaica before. We did the video in Jamaica, big video, and then that’s what got him to start doing the movie Belly and all that kind of stuff because he fell in love with Jamaica…
GAMV: Can we talk about “Sexy Girl” because George told me a funny story that the Sexy Girl was actually the makeup girl?
Snow: Yeah, yes, yes, she came, yes, she was doing the makeup and we’re like, no, okay, now, okay, you’re the girl. Yeah, it was in an Irish pub, yeah, up the street right here, right around the corner [Snow was calling from his home in Canada]
GAMV: Oh, that’s great. Oh, man.
Snow: It was an Irish pub. You know, I would go to the Irish bars, and I would bring my friends with me. One of the guys in the movie Belly, was one my boys tall, 6’8″, a big black guy. I brought him up here from Jamaica. He was my, you know, not my bodyguard, he was keeping me out of trouble. So we come in there and there’s the band playing up there, the Irish band, right? So we got our drinks, and stuff. We sit down and the song they’re playing is, “There’ll be no black bastards in heaven,” right? That was the song was called.
GAMV: Oh, boy.
Snow: But every time he would sing it, he would look at me and my big black friend. He will be like, he would, no, he would be like this – “No offense, no offense.” He will be like so he keep singing. “There will be no black bastards in heaven.” And he’d look at him and he will be like “No offense, no offense.”
At the end of the song, he came up and he was, I wasn’t talking about black people because I was talking about the police, because the police were black, right? So there would be like, “There will be no black bastards in heaven.” He looks – tall. He’s 6’8″. He is like no offense, no offense, every time he’d sing lyrics, singing the chords.
GAMV: So let’s talk about Joey Boy “Fun Fun Fun”. And actually how did you even – how did you connect with Joey Boy in the first place?
Snow: Well, that’s a story. What happened was, they threw me out of America so I said, ah, I said, but they love me in Japan, right? So I can go to Japan. So I went to Japan a couple of times but my last time in Japan they came to me and they’re like, you, you got to come into the office. And then like, alright, and this is like ’96, I have no clue they know my criminal record. I don’t even you know, nothing about that.
So they come in, I come in, and they go, “you ever been charged with police?” I said, “no, and that’s not a very good Japanese accent.” They go, “You’ve been charged by the police?” I said, “No, maybe a ticket but not really much,” when in reality I probably I have three, four pages of criminal stuff on my record at the time.
GAMV: Oh, no.
Snow: They’re like, “Are you sure?” And I’m like, “I’m positive.” They come back and say, “Are you sure you never have charges?” They pull up my criminal record.
GAMV: Oh, boy.
Snow: “What about all these?” I said in my mind, how the hell you get that? This is before computers could check all that, or so I thought.
Snow: I looked at the criminal record and I’m like, “Ah, that one there I should have beat.” I said, “This one here, I should have beat that one, too.” So then it’s “You, you sign here. You’re kicked out.” So they kick me out of Japan for life! Now, when they kicked me out, my managers said, “Let’s go to Thailand.” And I was like, “Alright, let’s go to Thailand.” That’s when we flew to Thailand and he introduced me to Joey Boy and then Joey Boy is like Michael Jackson at that time over in Thailand. So I just started singing in Thailand. And then I brought him back to Canada to record.
Not to change subjects to quick, but since ’97, I haven’t I had a drink. Nothing, not at a wedding, not my wedding, not in Ireland. So gave up that up and everything has been beautiful.
GAMV: Did it make a big difference in your life?
Snow: Both ways, both ways, the drinking. In my neighborhood, I grew up idolizing the guy who drank the most and punched other people and had all the girls. That was my idol, you know. Not singers, nobody. So the drinking got me in a lot of problems. So in ’97, when I quit, it got me out of a lot of problems, you know. It got me real calm, you know, all that kind of stuff. The alcohol was a poison for me.
GAMV: What do you think is this – the enduring power of “Informer”? I mean, some people talk about the fact that it’s the precursor to, you know, snitches gets stitches kind of thing?
Snow: Oh, yeah, that’s the biggest rap song theme in the world, you know. But it’s like I think about four or five years ago, Lil Wayne came out with a song called “Stand Up” talking about snitching. And he had to sing my song. He was like, “We got that white boy, that’s Snow, that Informer, Informer.” Just because he knew he had to sing it because that’s the biggest rap song about that.
Snow: But it’s funny because it’s like the charged me for two attempted murders, right? I’m looking at 15 years, and I’ve got three or four pages of this song, but I’m arrested already. So I’m looking at big time, you know? The next thing I know, boom, the number one song came out of it. Like when people win a million dollars and they say, “Oh, you’re lucky.” I said, “Maybe.”
GAMV: It’s amazing. At one point after its release, they had to put the lyrics on the screen as titles because so many people wanted to know what you were saying.
Snow: That’s crazy.
GAMV: Yeah. But then they weren’t exactly right, so then they had to re-title it again. Isn’t that right?
Snow: Yeah, because they’d ask me and I was like, “I’m not writing it out. Figure it out.” So, yeah, some of it was wrong and I’d look, and it will be okay, that’s funny, you know. It’s like this one part in a song. I said “born and raised in the ghetto,” right? So people always thought I said, “born and raised in Connecticut.” I’d be somewhere they were like, “Yo, I’m from Connecticut, man. Where are you from in Connecticut?” I’m like, “Connecticut? Where the hell is Connecticut?” I hadn’t heard of Connecticut before. So people just get their own version, and that’s cool, you know. Sometimes I don’t sing any words. I put out songs that don’t even have words in it.
Snow: No, just me mumbling. But you know how I wrote “Informer”? I got charged with two attempted murders. So while I was in jail, I was in jail with me and my father, my uncle Patty, my uncle Terry, my brother Shawn, and my best friend, all in the same jail, right? My mother would come visit the whole family. But anyways, so when I got that, I just sing that, “informer, detective said I stab someone on the lane, a licky boom boom down.”
GAMV: And where does “a licky boom boom down” come from?
Snow: You know, originally, it wasn’t even “a licky boom boom down”. The original is, “a skiddily boom boom down”. That’s the original.
Snow: And then that’s when we – like when I met with Shan and went to Shan’s house, so we did the demo at Shan’s house, it was skiddily boom boom down. But when we were in the studio it just turned into “a licky boom boom down.” Yeah. So now, the new version I put “a skiddily boom boom down” in there. But I do both of them.
GAMV: And does that kind of go back to the thing you were saying about words don’t necessarily mean something?
Snow: I did mean nothing. That was just – yeah, it was for the sound. It could have been, a skiddo boom boom day. It could’ve been anything.
GAMV: Now, how did you feel about Jim Carrey when he did a parody of you called “Imposter” on the TV show In Living Color?
Snow: Jim Carrey? I’m slapping him when I see him. No, I love him, I love him, especially since he’s from here. I saw that documentary he did (Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond), and when they cover his career, that’s in there! You can tell he loves this, you could tell he loved doing it because it’s in his new movie. No, I love that, that’s blessed. It was perfect. That’s exactly how he had to do it — I had to get beat up by the dreads, I had to do it as a black man to make me feel credible, right? If at the time I’d had a problem, I would have said something, and I probably would have slapped him, and grabbed him, and probably kidnapped him and stuff. It wouldn’t have gone well (laughs). No, that was just love.
GAMV: To this day, if the DJ throws “Informer” out there, and the dance floor still goes crazy. They still jump up and down and go nuts.
Snow: Especially now, because when it first came out, they didn’t know if they liked it – “are we supposed to like this guy?” But now, it just gives you memories, if it’s good memories, or bad, you know, it just gives you memories. People tell me, “Oh, I remember when I was in college, and I was with that girl,” so it’s more of that now.