SNOW as part of Reggae on the Lake at the Docks (11 Polson), Sunday (September 3). $25. 1-866-954-8859, www.ticketbreak.com. Rating: NNNNN
It's been 13 years since Darrin O'Brien, aka Snow, heard Informer drifting out of the speakers of his jail-cell radio. Serving a one-year sentence for assault, Snow couldn't believe his ears. He'd just assumed the sessions he'd done with producer MC Shan were never going see the light of day.
Obviously, it didn't work out that way; Snow exited the pen in a limo. Informer was a reggae hit to the max. Its catchy patois chorus and rapid-fire delivery had huge crossover appeal, something that eludes most dancehall and reggae heavyweights.
To this day, the former Billboard number-one song reigns in record books as the highest-charting and biggest-selling reggae single in history. Though Snow's made three proper studio albums since, and a few hits, nothing has come close to touching the success of his debut single. Curiously, Snow doesn't see Informer as the highlight of his career thus far.
"The song I did with Buju [Banton] was bigger in my mind," says O'Brien, referring to Anything For You, from 97's Justuss (East West), which was named after his daughter. "I see that as more of an accomplishment, because it launched me and got me accepted by the reggae community.
"Informer opened a lot of doors for people. At the time, blacks in the U.S. didn't know how white people lived in Canada. They thought we were in igloos or something. When I met with MC Shan, he didn't have any white friends, let alone an Irish dude who could sing in patois. That's more of an accomplishment than being in the Guinness Book Of World Records."
The song also kept Snow from doing any more cellblock time. O'Brien says if it hadn't been for Informer, he'd still be in prison today, living the same thugged-out lifestyle he subscribed to coming up in North York's Allenbury projects, where he first picked up patois cadences and toasting skills from Jamaican immigrants.
During our phone conversation, O'Brien says he's visiting his old stomping ground. Every few minutes he interrupts with a "Whassup?" or "How you been?" to passing friends and admirers. Though the scene feels suspiciously staged for my benefit, you can't knock commitment to maintaining a positive image for the kids.
"I come to see the kids striving for goodness," says O'Brien. "I come back here every time I do a new album, for inspiration." That new album is in the bag, but the title and release date are yet to be confirmed. It was cut in New York with "Commissioner" Gordon Williams and will be mixed by the Trackmasters production team, who are best known for banging out hiphop beats and R&B jams for Nas, LL Cool J and Will Smith.
"I'm going back to more issues from the street," says O'Brien of the new record, which includes guest spots by Slick Rick and Damien Marley. "I'm talking about things like police killing people, but staying positive. I'm not singing about being a criminal, cuz I've already lived it. I don't need to express it through my music. The kids need role models. "