Rik Carey of Baha Men

by Carl Wiser

Fifteen years ago, Baha Men let the dogs out, unleashing one of the most invasive hit songs of its era. The story of the song has recently been the subject of a few think pieces, including one from Sports Illustrated that explains the backstory and how it ended up barking out of arena speakers at sporting events. (The song was marketed directly to stadiums, which are always looking for high-energy hooks to fill the space between plays.)

So what else is there to say about this old dog and its breeders? Well, for starters, Baha Men are the biggest act in the Bahamas and in many ways serve as cultural ambassadors of the country. And part of that culture is an alluring sound that is unique to the Bahamas, incorporating goat-skinned drums and musical hardware.

Another storyline: These guys have real talent. By circumstance, they had a very kid-friendly hit, which made it hard for them to be taken seriously by more mature audiences ("Dogs" won the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award for fave song over tunes by Britney Spears and another canine-friendly act: Lil' Bow Wow). Now that they've done their time backing Aaron Carter (the 2002 song "Summertime"), they are free to embrace the Bahamian sound they love, which they've done on their 2015 album Ride With Me.

Rik Carey was one of the guys that was brought into the group for "Who Let The Dogs Out" to give them a younger energy. He's the lead vocalist, and also a percussionist and studio boffin. He spoke with us about the evolution of the group, their new album, and how he really feels about "Who Let The Dogs Out."
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Are you the most popular man in the Bahamas?

Rik Carey: I wouldn't go so far as to say something like that, but I kind of feel like that right now based on my Facebook response.

Songfacts: You guys are in such a small community. I'm wondering if you're major celebrities there, and what it was like when you were blowing up worldwide.

Rik: We still get a lot of love from the public at large, but once there's a lot of hype and lot of excitement around something that you do worldwide, of course you're going to get a lot more love. But back then, we had parades in the streets, parties... a lot of people were really proud of the fact that these Bahamian guys did so well, bringing back home a Grammy Award, two Billboard Awards and all these other accolades. So yeah, it was great back then.

Songfacts: On Ride With Me, you guys are very much ambassadors - it makes me want to go to the Bahamas. Not that I ever wouldn't want to go to the Bahamas. Can you talk about the title track?

Rik: We are real, authentic musicians. There's not one person in the group that does not know how to play at least one instrument, so that keeps us grounded and it keeps us creative. We try to instill our culture - which is junkanoo - into almost every song we produce because it's a part of us and we feel like there's not a sound out there like what we've done.

I don't like to compare the records we did back in 2000-2004 to now, because what we're doing now, this sound has excelled in an even higher quality. This is really special. We had a really good team of producers - I've got to shout out Black Shadow Productions, Troy Rami and everybody who worked tirelessly on these records. We put our heart and soul into these records trying to depict who we are as individuals from this tiny little archipelago island.

"Ride With Me" is how we would approach all our guests from foreign lands and our friends that we'd meet along the way. They always have a bunch of questions to ask about this country because all they see is the beauty - the sun, sea and sand - but really you've got to get to know the people too. That's why we did that song. The focus was trying to get people involved and aware that there are 700 islands, including keys, out there. It's not just about Nassau, it's not about Freeport, there's so many islands you can visit.

We have a term called "island hopping." Basically you just hop on a boat or a bohengy and go to a few islands at a time, one stop after the other. It's beautiful: you get to meet people, you get to see historic sites and enjoy the food and scenery. That's why we did "Ride With Me." We hold that dearly.

Songfacts: You did a video for "Night & Day," which is a pretty clever track.

Rik: Yeah, we had so much fun doing that. That was one of the songs that compelled us to do the whole album.

We re-wrote that track at least three times, and I said, "This just doesn't feel right." I took a break from the studio with Dyson [Knight], who's also a member of the group. We came back and came up with this hook, and I was like, "That's it right there." After that it was meat and potatoes - everything was just added. Sony was gracious enough to get us in the FIFA World Cup soundtrack album. They picked us among hundreds of top artists that were on that list - it was an honor.

Everybody loves it over here - they absolutely go nuts on that song.

For the video, we used all Bahamian talent and crew. It was an all-Bahamian thing, so it felt really special to us. So we could show that world that we have a lot of talent here.

Songfacts: Did you do the "Who Let The Dogs Out" video in the Bahamas?

Rik: No, we did that in Miami. That was shot by Eric Heimbold, a big Hollywood director. It was exciting. It was like a million-dollar-budget video back in the day when they used to be spending that kind of money on videos. A lot more people involved. You'd wake up at 7 a.m., be on the set and start shooting an hour later and shoot straight to the nighttime. We did that for two or three days at different sites around South Beach. It was cool.

Songfacts: Whose voice is that doing the big "Who Let The Dogs Out" vocal?

Rik: That was a former member. His name is Marvin Prosper.

Songfacts: If you don't get exactly the right sound for that, the song isn't going to work, because that's what you hear over and over...

Rik: And over. Exactly. We had auditions for that, I kid you not. There's nine of us in the group and every member auditioned for that. But that part was Marvin Prosper. We backed him up. We did all the barking.

Songfacts: You guys did all this promotional stuff at arenas and radio stations after that song came out. What was it like doing that and probably answering the same questions over and over?

Rik: You kind of get used to it. It's one of those bittersweet things. We would get interviewed maybe three times a day and promote, promote, promote. It was always a fun atmosphere, and we'd try to make the best of every moment. It's always cool to sit down and have a little interview, because they seem to get the fun factor, and that makes it fun for me.

Songfacts: Do the Bahamas have a specific sound?

Rik: Yes, actually we do. Every Caribbean country has an African descent, so our roots are Africa, and Africa is the king and queen of rhythm. It branched off to the Caribbean because of its people, so each island has a particular sound. Jamaica has reggae, dancehall, ska. Trinidad has soca. Haiti has zouk. But the Bahamas has junkanoo.

People think of junkanoo as a sound, but it's really a culture, a lifestyle. We have a festival every year and junkanoo events all year round. The tourists, it's something to look forward to for them. They come here and spend all this money in Atlantis and all the expensive resorts, but really they're not getting the Bahamian experience. Every time I meet up with tourists, I try to encourage them to get off the Paradise Island side and go in the countryside and explore. Check out the junkanoo sites where everything is happening. They're never disappointed.

So junkanoo is a part of the culture. It's one of the rawest art forms. When I say "raw," I mean the use of the instruments, mainly the goat-skinned drums. Then you've got cowbells, whistles, horns. That's the junkanoo sound.

And we also have another sound called rake-n-scrape. That's where you take a regular saw like you saw wood with, and you use a screwdriver and you scrape it and you bend it. It gives you a really unique scrape sound. So Bahamian music is based around the saw and the goat-skinned drum.

We got our own thing going on here, and it's high time we're recognized for what we do. We really have a unique sound.

We're international, so we have to follow certain criteria to please the international crowd, so our music is always a fusion. If we give you the raw sound, people won't get it. It might be infectious, but at the same time, this is a business and we've got to sell records.

When their "Dog" days were over, Baha Men released a single called "You All Dat" with Imani Coppola on vocals. It made #94 in 2001, their last chart entry in America. Their 2002 single "Move It Like This" was another attempt at a stadium anthem, but it didn't pick up speed. That same year, they backed teen sensation Aaron Carter on "Summertime."
Songfacts: After you guys took off with "Who Let The Dogs Out," you were marketed a certain way. How did you feel about that?

Rik: I did not agree with what the record company was doing, because I knew my roots and I wanted more. But at the same time, the record company had their plan, which worked, and I kind of got overthrown. I was patient and a team player for the most part. I tried to creatively lend my services wherever I could, playing percussion and playing junkanoo stuff wherever I could.

The rest of the pop artists at that time were in the bubblegum era. It was unique for a group like us because we were pop, but we weren't bubblegum. We were real, skillful musicians, and people started to take notice of that. So we really wanted to focus on live performance and getting the public to notice us for live music. It's been a struggle - in that era we didn't have any iPhones, so there's not much video footage of us performing live back then. We got a little lost in the industry, and weren't able to market ourselves as a live band.

Songfacts: You also had that problem of this song overshadowing anything else you've done.

Rik: Yeah, it definitely overshadowed everything that we did. It took off into the sporting arenas and it just went like wildfire. We tried it with "Move It Like This," which did grow a little bit of legs, but nothing like "Who Let The Dogs Out." There's a certain magic about certain songs that you cannot help, so you dare not fight it.

Songfacts: What was the magic of "Who Let The Dogs Out" that made it so different from everything else?

Rik: It was a combination of many different things. People are into their dogs as pets - that's how it started off. Record companies are looking for a sellable factor, and people are just into their dogs. The kids grabbed it and got into it, and then we had a sports agent who was a good friend of ours. He saw a vision for it, and it just took off in arenas.

I think the first to grab it was the Seattle Mariners, and it spread through the rest of the teams after that. First it was baseball, then it got to football and basketball. Then some soccer, and the next thing I hear the astronauts are playing it in space. I've heard people using it as a song they walk up to for their wedding.

It's a blessing, so I wouldn't ever want to change that. It gave us all this experience, so I'm not going to fight it.

Songfacts: Clearly you're not fighting it, since you update the song on your track "Off The Leash."

Rik: This was the perfect way for us to celebrate "Who Let The Dogs Out." People could call it annoying, but they still love the song and go crazy when we perform it. So what better way to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of "Who Let The Dogs Out" than by bringing out a remix.

We just went nuts on this. The cool thing is, previous records, before my time with Baha Men, the group was big in dance music. And that sound is relevant to what music is going through now, the EDM stage. So this is the time to strike, because our music is always dance-infused.

Because we're from the island, we're always partying and we love upbeat music - our music that we produce is always upbeat. So this is the perfect time to marry that sound with EDM. So that's why we did "Off The Leash." When you hear it, you'll think, "This is crazy, nuts."

October 19, 2015.
Get more at bahamen.com.

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