Snow alert

MIKE ROSS

, Last Updated: 2:32 AM ET

Snow has never understood the "white rapper" label he's worn all these years.

"I've never been a rapper," he says. "Eminem's a rapper. I'm on the borderline. I'm not a reggae artist or a pop artist or a hip-hop artist. It's just everything mixed."

If there's still any doubt, it should be banished with the release of Mind on the Moon.

Snow is now a singer all the way.

While there are traces of his reggae-rapping style, called "sing-J," he has a surprisingly high and airy singing voice, well suited to the album's light pop sheen, marked mainly by (real) acoustic guitars. The artist known as Darrin O'Brien - an Irishman who got into reggae growing up in the "projects" of North York, Ont. - didn't plan to be a pop singer, but fans have embraced his new sound. Everybody Wants To Be Like You is Snow's first big hit since 1993's Informer. It might as well be a different artist.

Snow's music isn't the only thing that's changed.

Yes, this will be another one of those "bad-boy-gone-good" stories.

PRISON STINT

Gone is the angry thug who spent more than 21/2 years in prison for various crimes, all related to alcohol abuse, he says. During an interview at the Hotel Macdonald yesterday, the two-years-sober rapper - sorry, singer - is humble, gracious and soft-spoken as he talks about his music and his troubled past. A firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, he says he wouldn't take anything back. He wrote Informer while he was in jail - the worst place imaginable being the very thing that launched his career.

Although he looks like a hip-hop Robert De Niro, not once does he mutter menacingly, "Yo, you talkin' to me?!" In fact, there's no trace of anger in his manner.

"I don't get angry at all anymore," he says. "I think in the last year I got angry, um," he pauses to actually count, "maybe three times. I've changed a lot ... My whole criminal record is all drinking. Nothing else. I guess that's my problem here. Just quit drinking and I'll be OK. I'm like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When I drink, I get mean and angry, like I'm allergic to it. No more drinking, no more trouble."

NEW DAUGHTER

Snow credits his changed life to his daughter Justuss, who does guest vocals on the album: "This is my daddy and this is his new sound."

He laughs, "That was one take, too. Better than me. She was in and out. We have a great time. We sing together all the time. On my first three albums, she liked maybe three or four songs. This album here, she likes them all."

So he's got a stable, loving family, a nice house in Scarborough and a happening career. You could say Snow has come a long way. He recalls growing up in North York: "It was wild. There'd be like 30, 40 people in the parking lot drinking every night until six in the morning, fighting. That's who I looked up to. That was it for me. When I was 14, 15, all the Jamaicans started to move in and that's when I started getting into reggae music. But I still had the bad role models. My role model now is my daughter. Before I didn't want to learn nothing. I went to Italy, Paris and didn't want to know nothing. Show me the bar, I'd say. Now I'm learning, reading books because now I'm a teacher. I've got to teach my daughter."

Snow will soon be making his major motion picture debut with A Prison Song. It's planned for release next spring and stars people like the rapper Q-Tip, Mary J. Blige and Elvis Costello. The film happens to be produced by De Niro - and that's not the only coincidence. Snow will play a prison guard.

"I didn't even have to rehearse this one," he says. "The funny thing is, just as I got the part, I went into this bar where I've never been in and who do I run into? One of the prison guards that was there when I was inside. I hadn't seen this guy in so long. Why would I run into him and I'm going to be a prison guard?"

It must've been meant to happen.


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