Quick: name the biggest-selling reggae single of all time? Surprise: it’s “Informer,” the 1992 crossover hit from Irish-Canadian singer-songwriter Snow. Born Darrin O’Brien in the North Toronto housing project Allenbury Gardens, Snow discovered Jamaican music through his neighbours, and was discovered in turn by New York rapper MC Shan, who produced his debut album 12 Inches of Snow. The slick pop beats and rapid-fire patois vocals about a snitch hit No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, where it stayed for seven weeks, eventually selling more than 8 million copies. “Informer” wasn’t Snow’s only hit (1997’s “all-star mix” of “Anything For You” was No. 1, in Jamaica and 2000’s “Everybody Wants to Be Like You” won the MuchMusic Video Award for Best Canadian Video), but it remains his defining song.

What kind of music were you into as a kid?
Rock. My first concert was KISS at Varsity Stadium with my brother. He was nine and I was six. We used to put on KISS concerts in a neighbour’s basement. Make-up, fake blood, everything. Meanwhile, upstairs, they were playing Jamaican music. Where I grew up, it was mostly Irish. And then when was 14, Jamaicans started to move in. They introduced me to their music.

What appealed to so much you about reggae?
I don’t know. Growing up, my mother was always into music. R&B, though. No rock. No country, Nothing else. When I started getting those dancehall tapes from my neighbours? I was just hypnotized by the voices! I would just rewind the tapes constantly, playing the songs over and over. “What did he say?”  The singers just captured me.

When did you start writing your own songs?
Before “Informer,” I wasn’t anything like that.  I wasn’t a songwriter, or a performer, or nothing. I got charged with two attempted murders, went to jail. And while was in jail, and I just came up with these verses: [Sings] “Informer. You know say Daddy Snow me, I’m gonna blame. A licky boom-boom down.” Like a jingle. But I had never been in the studio. I’m just a fan of music. Then when I got out, I went to New York, I ran into MC Shan, right? And he was like “I heard you can sing? Come to my house!” He taught me everything. About music. About harmonies.  I didn’t know anything about writing, but melodies just came to me. You’d put on a beat and I’d just hum melody after melody. And that’s how it started. Now, I think I’m a professional, but I wasn’t then.

How long did it take to write the song?
Maybe a day. When I first met MC Shan, I was always singing, “skippity boom down.” He kept singing it all day, too, he loved it.  But we changed it to “a licky boom-boom down.” I was just having fun. And I think that’s what made it. Because I actually wasn’t expecting it to be big.

Is it true you were in jail when the song went to No. 1?
Yes. We did the record in New York. We did a video. But I had to go back to Toronto, to go to jail. So I signed the contract. Then went to jail, for another year. I figured that’s what I was doing with my life. Nobody around me had made it big. And first time I saw my video was in jail. I got a weekend pass to go on MuchMusic.

How do you describe your vocal style in that song?
It’s kind of sing-jay. You can hear a little bit of Michael Rose. Junior Reid. Sting. All these influences on me. I just spit out words. I’m not a lyricist. I’m not Eminem. I just grab the moment and do what I feel.

Jim Carrey made fun of the song on In Living Colour – with a spoof called “Imposter.” What did you think of that?
It was perfect! Because it’s not wrong! [laughs] He’s Canadian, so that’s why I let him get away with it. Weird Al asked us too, but we said no.

What’s the best thing that happened to you because of “Informer”?
I don’t have to boost no more. No more crime. That was the best thing. But the worst thing was it gave me more money, so I was drinking too much. But I’ve quit. I got rid of that.