Grammy-winning artist Sean Paul has topped the charts for over two decades and he's returning this year with two new albums. He told us all about the visions and collaborations for the projects & why he's taken on the responsibility of bridging divisions in Dancehall.
You don’t have to travel far to hear the global influence of Dancehall music. The genre has spread from the clubs in Jamaica to radio stations in countries that were once void of the body-moving beats. Kingston native Sean Paul has been an instrumental figure in many of Dancehall’s mainstream moments for over 20 years, and the Grammy award-winning icon isn’t slowing down anytime soon as he prepares his return with two new releases.
There was already a buzz about Sean Paul in his hometown prior to the release of his debut studio album Stage One back in 2000. Two years later, we received Dutty Rock, the No. 1 album that earned Paul his first Grammy Award but not his last nomination. Over the years, he would go on amass a collection of accomplishments including trophies and chart-topping classics as he collaborated with artists like Keyshia Cole, 2 Chainz, Tory Lanez, Kelly Rowland, Nicki Minaj, Keri Hilson, David Guetta, Stefflon Don, and Beyoncé. His feel-good songs are, to this day, party-starting playlist essentials, however, lately, the singer is creating music that he hopes will spark a movement.
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“The album is called Live & Living. I'm kind of throwing it back in everyone's face who said Dancehall is dead,” Sean Paul told HNHH exclusively. “We have a very strong pulse. So, here we are. Live and living. I believed in the music as a kid, as a teenager, and I've been able to become an artist to bring new fans to this genre internationally. I feel like I am an ambassador of, and a coach on, the music.”
He described the project as a "mixture and a mood of who I am and how I feel right now." Being locked under quarantine wasn't an easy adjustment for the jet-setting artist when "Stay Home" mandates were put into place worldwide, but he learned to adapt. "This pandemic kind of put me in a panic for a while, for five months just not going nowhere," said Sean Paul. "I started to go to the studio and music kind of opened my thoughts back up. So, this effort is to kind of show unity in Dancehall and I hope it really blows up in people's faces [for] the naysayers or the people who claim that the genre is dead when there's a clear, alive, and living pulse."
"Pop people have used it, the Biebers and the Drakes and the Rihannas. And you know what? I salute all of that, even Ed Sheeran," said Paul. "In fact, the backbeats for a lot of you guys’ songs lately have been very Dancehall-oriented. That being said, I'm very proud of the genre and I just kinda wanted this one to show the new sound in Dancehall, some of the new artists, and also some of the greats in producing...and also just being an artist on the album."
It’s about more than just the genre of Dancehall for Sean Paul. The culture is something that is apart of his life, not just his creative process or a simple category of music, so honoring his fellow artists who have not only paved the way but are also new to the scene and finding their footing is essential. This sense of responsibility radiates from Paul as he talks about the triumphs and pitfalls of his community, and he spoke at length about clashing, a staple in Dancehall culture that has been a source of contention for some.
"We clash each other a little too much. I’m not saying that people have to stop clashing because it’s part of our culture, but it’s also good to look at people like myself and Shaggy who didn’t clash."
“I have seen that Dancehall music has evolved. It’s become the biggest music in the world but our numbers have been very scattered,” said Paul. “We clash each other a little too much. I’m not saying that people have to stop clashing because it’s part of our culture, but it’s also good to look at people like myself and Shaggy who didn’t clash."
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“A lot of people think that in this genre they have to prove themselves by talking derogatory about someone else,” he continued, mentioning his single “Lion Heart,” released last October, where he penned lyrics about standing his ground, often alone, because his opinions go against his own community. “I’m a lionheart, I’m clashing my own culture.”
He kept that same temperature on his follow-up release in December, “Guns of Navarone" featuring Jesse Royal and Mutabaruka, a single where he speaks about how “our complacency with violence is becoming more and more sad.” The increasing gun violence in Jamaica is an issue that Sean Paul believes deserves more attention, but not always artistically.
“It's existed for a long time. We are not the people who brought the guns here and we're not politicians or big businessmen. We are the people that are singing the songs about killing our own brothers... We’re singing the songs that’s allowing younger kids to think that it’s the norm and to become complacent with not living past 25-years-old or going into prison," Paul said.
Live & Living is a record that will keep to the Sean Paul "riddim" that we all have grown to love on hits like "Get Busy" and "Gimme The Light," but he admitted that people will be surprised to hear "more conscious material" on the record. He's collaborated with artists like Buju Banton, Mavado, Busy Signal, Serani, Intence, and others in the hope of shifting some of the more negative narratives being perpetuated in the genre. As someone who was not only raised in the culture but is an influential artist with longevity in the industry, Paul believes that he will be able to reach the masses, especially younger generations.
Artists often use features on albums as a way to help boost the project's visibility, but for Sean Paul, he added names on almost every song with a purpose that goes beyond streams or sales. "I want the album to have the subtone of collaboration over confrontation," he explained. "I think that we push too much and we need to spend some time on the full spectrum of life. Even if you're going to tell us that the negative things that you are saying in songs are because this is what you're seeing around you and you are living."
"There's a time where it takes that responsibility to start trying to change that narrative from your own perspective so that the complacency doesn't continue, with complacency with violence," he added. "If kids can learn ABCs from a song and anybody can learn anything from a song, it should be taken seriously. To me, words are so important. It’s one of the key aspects of life. And so, I'm trying to bring unity in our culture, which has been a divided culture because of just how we are mentally, and the clashing kind of adds to the sentiment.”
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"My thing is like, to a younger artist, to do art is to reflect the life, and if you're going to just embellish one side of it and glorify that alone, then you're not being a full-spectrum artist. Maybe you’re in it for the hustle, maybe for the girls and the pics, or maybe you’re in it for the money—but true music, it comes from the heart," Sean Paul told us. "When I was younger, I felt from the heart with a lot of party music. I still do. I still love it. It is something that has me getting in a good mood every time when I see ladies dance, but also, we must tell the other side of things." He said that just as he talks about all aspects of relationships in music, the same should be said for street life.
"You should speak about the real side too and reflect the real side. ‘The police is coming. I can't trust my own friends.’ We don't really do that a lot, and that's the problem because Hip Hop music, Dancehall music, there's actually music in Trinidad, even Reggaeton. We often speak about what our generation likes or dislikes or we speak about what's happening right now. It's important to do that. I think that that's what the newspaper does. It speaks about what's happening now and I think that's what our music is supposed to do, as well. Speak about what's happening now, but also reflect the real things, man. And I think the music will go a further way because you are not just being a man of the moment or reflecting now, but you're also going to be a monument, which reflects a future, you know?"
"You should speak about the real side too and reflect the real side. ‘The police is coming. I can't trust my own friends.’ We don't really do that a lot, and that's the problem because Hip Hop music, Dancehall music, there's actually music in Trinidad, even Reggaeton. We often speak about what our generation likes or dislikes or we speak about what's happening right now. It's important to do that."
While Sean Paul remains a relatively unproblematic figure in the music industry, as opposed to the dozens of others who almost fight for scandalous headlines by the day, a reported comment from the singer kicked up dust after he visited a Jamaican radio station. We previously reported on the singer being asked about "Baby Boy," the Dangerously in Love single led by Beyoncé and featuring Paul. The song has earned both artists multiple certifications, but over the years, there have been rumors surrounding the No. 1 hit. During his conversation with the radio station last month, Paul was reported as saying there were issues while working with Beyoncé because a jealous Jay-Z wouldn't allow her to make certain moves. Sean Paul exclusively tells us that those viral comments were taken out of context.
"It was a radio show here in Jamaica and I get this regularly. When I go to Texas, also, radio shows there, I don’t know what it is, people are like, ‘So tell me…’ and it gets to that part in that interview where they're like, ‘What happened with you and Beyoncé?’ Nothing really happened. The hit song was dope," said Paul. "You know, some of them made up their own mind. That's the whatever. Sometimes with interviews, you can say, ‘I'd rather not speak about it,’ but then, people would think that something was going on. So, I was trying to defend it like, ‘Hey nah, but weird things did happen, that's probably why there were rumors,' but people leave out 'that's probably why there were rumors' part."
"There were weird things that happened on stage with our performance, with the video. I know a headline said that, ‘Oh, Jay-Z didn’t want me there.’ It had nothing to do with him as far as I'm concerned," Sean Paul explained. "[Beyoncé's] her own artist that was managed by her own manager. They were going out at the time. They weren't married yet. I don't think he would have influenced whatever her vision was. She's a very determined person. She's very precise with her thoughts and her movements and she works very hard. It was probably her vision."
"[Beyoncé's] her own artist that was managed by her own manager. They were going out at the time. They weren't married yet. I don't think he would have influenced whatever her vision was. She's a very determined person. She's very precise with her thoughts and her movements and she works very hard. It was probably her vision."
"So, what I did speak about in that interview was that there were some weird things that happened and that's probably why people had rumors about it because a couple of times while on stage, we tried to perform [‘Baby Boy’] properly. There were problems with the ProTools, which doesn't usually happen. There was problems with my mic in one performance in Germany. That’s probably why people started talking about [it] and then this guy did the same thing back to me. So, hey, big up to him," he said with a chuckle.
"It became viral for him, I guess. Great moment for that. But one thing about the social media generation tactics is that unfortunately, stuff like that kind of goes away until the next time. I said things were weird at the stage show level, but that's probably why people made the rumors, but nothing ever happened with me and her, except for a hit song. And I never said anything about what they're reporting me to say."
"I said things were weird at the stage show level, but that's probably why people made the rumors, but nothing ever happened with me and her, except for a hit song. And I never said anything about what they're reporting me to say."
There's an earnestness about Sean Paul when he speaks about his love of music and respect for the artists who have not only worked with him but inspired him as a creator. He's a veteran in the industry, an icon as an artist, and a legend in his community and beyond, but he told us that at the crux of it all, he's a modest family man.
"You know, my music is very much on bravado and 'I get all the girls,' but I'm very humble and conscious behind that," he said. "The point I'm making to a lot of kids who did not understand my clash argument is that I put that persona on, in the sun, on the stage, in the videos, but mostly other than that, I'm a humble person. Aside from all that and those around me, what I try to be positive and make things happen for people who I think deserve." He did just that under quarantine as he became introspective and refocused his sound with his team of artists.
"I'm on tour more than six months a year, or about six months a year, usually scattered throughout the year. Sometimes away for three months. I come back for two weeks. I go in for four weeks. I come back for a day. I go away for two more months. That’s how my year is, usually," he said. "Obviously, in those times when I come back home, I do record, and I just try to get material for future albums or something like that. So, my work ethic has been pretty savage. However, there is a factor of, it's true, the factor of us not traveling and actually seeing the fans, seeing the signs, and seeing the instant gratification or feelings...it’s different."
"As my good friend Junior Gong put it—oh, by the way, Junior Gong is on the album, as well—as he put it to me, he was like, 'I can’t speak and listen at the same time,' and that’s exactly how I felt." Protests erupted worldwide after people took to the streets following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and simultaneously, COVID-19 was looming as reports of deaths flooded our timelines. "I felt like I had to watch the news. I had to keep up to date with this invisible boogeyman that was coming for all of us," Sean Paul recalled.
After struggling with writing songs, Paul decided to enjoy uninterrupted time with his family—including his young son and daughter—and it's something that hasn't happened in decades. "This pandemic thing, in that respect, is a blessing in disguise. I've been able to spend way more time with my family, which I'm loving, and that kind of helped me keep focus," said Paul. "I haven’t flown away from Jamaica in a year and that’s the first time in over 20 years that that’s happened." All that time at home has given him enough time to also create Scorcha, an album that he exclusively tells us features a few pop-centered heavy-hitters.
"[The album] comes out in May. It features Sia, it features Gwen Stefani, Jada Kingdom who is an up-and-coming Dancehall artist, as well. People like Stylo G, Tove Lo is on the album and also, Ty Dolla $ign with a song called, 'Only Fan.'"
"It comes out in May. It features Sia, it features Gwen Stefani, Jada Kingdom who is an up-and-coming Dancehall artist, as well. People like Stylo G, Tove Lo is on the album and also, Ty Dolla $ign with a song called, 'Only Fan.'" With all that Sean Paul has accomplished in his career, we wonder if he ever feels pressure for his future project to amass the same success as his past efforts.
"It's been a whirlwind. It's been crazy, but I'm a swimmer, so I don't know." He chuckled. "I'm making sure not to go under."