Life and work
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 project, 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.
Origin of stage name
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. After befriending Marvin Prince, Prince began referring to Snow with a phrased backronym meaning "Superb Notorious Outrageous Whiteboy." Snow never claimed the title himself and simply continued to perform with the stage name of Snow.
Legal dispute over production of 12 Inches of Snow
While touring as Snow's DJ in December 1994, Marvin Prince abruptly left the tour after discovering Snow, according to court documents, "was receiving more money from management than he was." While listed as only the co-writer of the song Runway
on the 12 Inches of Snow
album, Prince claimed to have co-written five songs and co-produced the album with Shan, Eng, and Salem. Furthermore, Prince alleged in court that Eng and Salem provided "a draft of a multi-album production and recording agreement" for both Snow and himself. Unable to understand the contract, Prince allegedly "sent a copy to his mother to get legal advice from her friend" and "never saw the agreement again." Moreover, Prince claimed to have entered an "oral agreement" with Snow implying that the two would share profits from the album "fifty-fifty." The first agreement, Prince alleged, occurred "in 1990, when the two men began working together on songs in Prince's basement and he "allegedly suggested to" Snow, "if something comes out of this, let's be partners." The second oral agreement, according to Prince, took place in August 1991 while Snow auditioned for Shan. While Snow frequently referred to Prince as his partner in promotional videos, he claimed to have used the term "only in the slang sense." Prince, moreover, "admitted that these discussions were not concrete; the parties never organized a formal business plan, nor was plaintiff in New York to advance defendant's career."Shan, Eng, and Salem testified that they were unaware of a partnership between Snow and Prince, and Shan denied that Prince co-produced 12 Inches of Snow
and co-wrote the five songs in question. While initially winning a $1.5 million judgment, the court overturned the original ruling and dismissed Prince's suit on grounds that he had "no viable claims" to a partnership with Snow.
In the mid-1990s, Snow's executive producer David Kenneth Eng broadened his artistic horizons and deepened his personal and spiritual roots by establishing a base in Asia. Eng included Snow as part of this expansion, leading the Canadian artist into a new market. As a follow-up to 12 Inches of Snow
, Snow recorded his second album Murder Love
in Jamaica, Canada, and New York. While not a commercial success in North America, the album featured Snow performing with reggae and dancehall legends Ninjaman, Junior Reid, Half Pint, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Dave Kelly, and Sly and Robbie. The "Anything for You" remix became a club favorite and, according to Billboard'
s Elena Oumano, made Snow a figure of respect on the Jamaican music scene. Indeed, "Anything For You" became the top-selling single in Jamaica in 1995 and "Si Wi Dem Nuh Know We" also reached the number one slot in Jamaica. Murder Love
proved to be a popular album in Asia, with the single "Sexy Girl" remaining on Japan's Top Singles chart for 16 weeks, ultimately reaching number one. The success of Murder Love
allowed Snow to tour Asia and collaborate with Thai rap artist Joey Boy. In 1996, Eng created Dimsum Entertainment, producing Joey Boy's album Fun, Fun, Fun
. Ultimately, Snow performed on the chart-topping Thai single "Fun, Fun, Fun" and appeared in the music video. Joey Boy returned the favor by appearing on Snow's Thai single Me and Joey
. In 2008, Snow also featured Joey Boy on the track "Catch a Kick."That same year, Snow collaborated with Cyndi Lauper on Junior Vasquez's Homegrown
and Sly and Robbie's Pop Goes the Dancehall
remix of Girls Just Want to Have Fun
, retitled Hey Now (Girls Just Want to Have Fun)
. By the end of 1996, Murder Love'
s Si We Dem Nuh Know We
received a Juno nomination for Best Reggae Recording. Overall, the album produced three music videos: Anything For You
, Anything For You (All Star Cast Remix)
, and Sexy Girl
. In the film Klash
, Snow appears performing Rivertown
.Snow followed up Murder Love
with an album named after his daughter, Justuss
. The first single "Boom Boom Boogie" took Asia by storm, achieving gold status with the music video appearing on MTV Japan five to six times a day. Released in the United States and Canada in 1997, the single If This World Were Mine
failed to chart but the video regularly appeared on The Box. The album reached number 12 on the U.S. reggae charts and in 1998 was nominated for Best Reggae album at the Juno Awards in Vancouver, British Columbia. In late 1997, Snow released a "Greatest Hits" compilation, called The Greatest Hits of Snow
.In 1999, Snow reunited with M.C. Shan, producing the album Cooler Conditions
in Japan. The only single, "The Plumb Song", spent eight weeks on the Japan Singles chart, peaking at number 27.
Return to the Canadian charts
In 2000, Snow released Mind on the Moon
. The single "Everybody Wants to Be Like You" landed Snow back on the Canadian Singles chart and earned him three Juno nominations.In 2002, Snow worked with Shaggy and Blu Cantrell's producer to record Two Hands Clapping
. "Legal", the first single, reached number 13 on the Canadian Singles Chart.
In November 2009, Snow's common law wife and the subject of many of his songs, Tamei Edberg, was diagnosed with cancer; she died three weeks later on November 27, 2009 at the age of 41. On June 24, 2010 Snow held a fundraiser called "ClosURE For Cancer" at Alley Catz Restaurant in Toronto during which they raised $15,000. Snow also started his own non-governmental organization called "Pure Snow NGO," which assists "tenants living in non-profit housing". Periodically, Snow releases new songs from his site and over the internet.
Television and film appearances
Drew Carey, a long time Snow fan, had Snow record a reggae version of The Drew Carey Show
theme song, "Moon Over Parma", for the series' eighth and ninth seasons.In 2001, Snow played a prison guard in the film Prison Song
. Snow appears as himself in the 2012 film "The Movie Out Here" produced by Canadian brewing company Kokanee and Alliance Films.
Ethnicity and Canadian identity
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."