The average person probably won't notice the quick sample shouting "Sak pase!" at the onset of Rihanna's 2011 hit "Man Down." But it's liable to make any Haitian who hears it do a double take.
Sak pase, a common Haitian greeting, translates to "What's happening" in Creole. The nod to the Haitian massive comes courtesy of the song's producer, Shama "Sham" Joseph, AKA Sak Pase. Raised in Lauderdale Lakes by Haitian-born parents, Joseph has made the phrase his calling card, a way of branding his productions while also representing for his community.
"Growing up, I had the Fugees, who [were] familiar to what I experienced at home," Joseph says of his musical ID. "And I wanted to make sure my little brother had that. I didn't feel like my little brother had anybody to look up to, that kind of spoke the same language as he spoke at home."
The producer certainly distinguished himself with "Man Down," a reggae-tinged hit that reached number one on charts in several countries. It also caused a small uproar with its controversial video, in which Rihanna shoots and kills a man who has abused her.
Little known before that single's release, Joseph, who makes up one-half of the songwriting and production duo the Jugganauts with fellow Broward product Verse Simmonds, has since gone on to produce tracks for Jay-Z and Kanye West ("Who Gon Stop Me" and "Made It in America," from the superstar duo's platinum Watch the Throne), Busta Rhymes ("Why Stop Now" featuring Chris Brown), and Ashanti. No Doubt, Usher, T.I., Sean Paul, Keyshia Cole, and Ciara have all tapped him to work on tracks for their respective upcoming projects.
Influenced equally by hip-hop, R&B, reggae, arena rock, and traditional Haitian styles like kompa, Joseph's tracks have demonstrated remarkable versatility. While "Man Down" returned Rihanna to her roots as a pop-friendly interpreter of reggae and dancehall, Joseph studied Queen before working on Watch the Throne, and the drama of that band's recordings are reflected in the epicness of a track like "Who Gon Stop Me."
"I grew up listening to Julio Iglesias and Sting and Bob Marley -- basically like world music," Joseph says. "It was never like separated like this is American music and this is Haitian music and this is Jamaican music. I listened to everything how the world listens to it. So I don't have a specific 'genre' that I feel like I'm good at."
His involvement in a project as hyped and successful as Watch the Throne, meanwhile, has boosted demand for his services in the hip-hop world considerably. Since the LP's release in August, the calls haven't stopped, a change in fortunes for a producer who struggled to get his tracks heard while working out of Los Angeles a few years back.
"When you have two of the biggest, influential people -- in not just hip-hop but pop culture -- saying that you're dope enough to make contributions to a classic album, it's kind of silly for someone else to look at you any other way now," Joseph says. "I know for a fact my music is listened to differently. That album was going to be classic before they even recorded a vocal to it, just because it's so monumental."
Although they now work out of Atlanta, Joseph and Simmonds (who was raised in St. Thomas before coming to Fort Lauderdale and is also a budding solo artist) are part of a growing contingent of Broward-area Caribbeans currently making their presence felt in the music industry. Jamaican-born producer Dwayne Quee-Chin, better-known as Supa Dups, was behind Eminem and Royce Da 5"9's summer anthem "Fast Lane" and has produced tracks for Bruno Mars, John Legend, and Estelle out of his Fort Lauderdale studio. X-Factor winner Melanie Amaro of Sunrise grew up in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.
Growing up in an area with a large Caribbean population, Joseph identified closely with reggae and dancehall. One of his primary goals as a producer, he says, is to continue bringing the authentic rhythms of the Caribbean back onto the pop charts, like he did with "Man Down."
"During Sean Paul's wave, when he was the biggest thing, a lot of the different rhythms that were going on in the islands were making their way to mainstream music, but the music was still very much authentic to the Caribbean," Joseph says. "Now when you hear artists that are Caribbean guys like Sean Kingston, the music is very much dance, pop. It's dope what they did by meshing it together but come out with something that's more true to the Caribbean rhythm. [I want] to make sure I get this idea of Caribbean music back and reintroduce it into mainstream music."