Shabba Ranks gained his fame mainly by toasting (or rapping) rather than singing, similarly to his dancehall contemporaries in Jamaica. A protégé of deejay Josey Wales, he arrived on the international stage in the late 1980s, along with a number of fellow Jamaicans including reggae singers Cocoa Tea and Crystal. Ranks also worked with Chuck Berry and American rappers KRS-One and Chubb Rock.
He secured a recording contract with Epic Records in 1991. Having released five albums for a major label, Ranks remains one of the most prolific dancehall artists to break into the mainstream.
The stylistic origins of the genre reggaeton may partially be traced back to the 1991 song "Dem Bow", from Ranks' album Just Reality. Produced by Bobby "Digital" Dixon, the Dem Bow riddim became so popular in Puerto Rican freestyle sessions that early Puerto Rican reggaeton was simply known as "Dembow". The Dem Bow riddim is an integral and inseparable part of reggaeton, so much so that it has become its defining characteristic.
His biggest hit single outside of Jamaica was the reggae fusion smash "Mr. Loverman" (memorable for bringing the cry "Shabba!" to the music world). Other tracks include "Respect", "Pirates Anthem", "Trailer Load A Girls", "Wicked inna Bed", "Caan Dun", and "Ting A Ling".