Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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Jay Sean: On top of the world

Jay Sean
Jay Sean Jay Sean Jay Sean Jay Sean

Having broken records last October when - with his single âDownâ - he became the first UK urban artist to top the US Hot 100, Hounslow, West London-raised singer/songwriter Jay Sean again made chart history in January of this year when his current release - âDo You Rememberâ - saw him also becoming the first British artist in recent memory to score two simultaneous US Top 10 singles (entering at Number 10 the same week its predecessor âDownâ was holding at Number 7).

A privately-educated former medical student, Jay Sean - real name Kamaljit Singh Jhooti - was born 28 years ago in London to Punjabi Sikh immigrant parents. Having already got seriously into hip hop, at the age of 12 he began emulating the rhymes of rappers like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, before moving on to write his own lyrics while creating songs that mixed contemporary street beats with tabla samples. Which in turn later led to him performing at both Indian festivals and local clubs.

However, it was as a member of West London-based âAsian R&Bâ outfit The Rishi Rich Project that, in 2003, Jay attained his first taste of UK Top 20 success with the initially-underground track âDance With Youâ. Which in turn prestigiously led to a £1 million solo deal with Virgin Records and his 2004-released debut album âMe Against Myselfâ, which impressively sold over two million copies across Asia while also spawning two British Top 20 singles in âEyes On Youâ and âStolenâ.

Meanwhile, after leaving Virgin in 2006 due to disagreements in musical direction, Sean next scraped together the money to launch his own independent label Jayded. Which, in early 2008, enabled him to release his British Top 10 second LP âMy Own Wayâ plus its two Top 20 offshoot singles, âRide Itâ and âMaybeâ. All of which (in addition to his ever-busy international touring schedule) ultimately brought Jay to the attention of multi-million-selling US hip hop label Cash Money (home to Grammy-winning, chart-topping rapper Lil Wayne), with whom he signed as an artist later the same year.

Since which time his aforementioned first two US singles - the Lil Wayne-featuring âDownâ and the Sean Paul and Lil Jon-featuring âDo You Rememberâ - have seen him rapidly ascend into a bona fide mainstream pop/R&B star of truly global proportions. His melody-driven, current third album âAll Or Nothingâ (his first for Cash Money) finding him duetting with ex-Sugababe Keisha Buchannan (the midtempo groover âFar Awayâ) plus British R&B legend Craig David (the acoustic-guitar-laced shuffler âStuck In The Middleâ); while the feel-good flavour of his two aforementioned worldwide hits is matched by such equally-tuneful cuts as the soulfully anthemic forthcoming single âWarâ and the percussively-tough âFireâ.

All of which an ever-confident and upbeat Jay enthusiastically discusses with long-time industry acquaintance Pete Lewis, over lunchtime drinks in the spacious ground-floor bar of Central Londonâs fashionably-minimalist Trafalgar Hotel.
PETE: Letâs talk about your current international hit single âDo You Rememberâ, which features Jamaican dancehall superstar Sean Paul and US Southern crunk rapper Lil Jon

JAY: âBasically Iâd written this song âDo You Rememberâ, which I wanted to be a very positive anthem that would spark off nostalgia. Then, when I met Sean Paul at the MTV VMAâs, he came up to me saying how he keeps hearing my song âDownâ on the radio and wants to do something together. So, being a big Sean Paul fan, I went back, went through my songs that Iâd just recorded⦠And, when I heard âDo You Rememberâ, for some reason I could really hear his vibe on it! So I sent it to him, saying âListen, Iâve cut this song which I think youâd be perfect forâ... And literally the next day, he sent it back to me with his vocals on it! Then, because we felt we wanted some energy on it, we called up Lil Jon - and that was IT! The song was DONE! Simple as that... And, by becoming my second US Top Ten hit, itâs definitely done its job! Because itâs shown that the success of âDownâ was no flash-in-the-pan thing! Which for me was extremely important! You know, now itâs like âWell actually NO, mate! Itâs another Billboard Top 10! Take me seriously, thank-you!â!â

PETE: Is it right that the title to your current, third album - âAll Or Nothingâ - reflects your attitude to life in general?

JAY: âWell, itâs like the only reason Iâm still here, and still going strong after seven years, is because I believe 100% in myself! Itâs down to the fact that I believe in what I do, plus the fact that I love my music, I love my job, I love singing, and I love my craft⦠Because yeah, there are times when you do wonder âWhy do we do this?â! I mean, though a lot of people think itâs an easy job, itâs actually NOT! Itâs damn hard, and it can be SOUL-destroying! But then, at the same time, I also realise that I donât DO things by halves - because thereâs no POINT! So I donât want mediocrity - I wanna be the best that I can BE! I want it ALL! And thatâs what the title and theme of this album is all ABOUT!â

PETE: What did you want to achieve musically with âAll Or Nothingâ?

JAY: âI didnât want to make an album that was gimmicky, that depended on a certain hook or angle, or on a flashy, trendy sound thatâs in at the moment. I mean, thereâs four or five basic elements on there - drums, piano, guitar, strings and synths - and youâre not gonna go WRONG with those! You know, I didnât wanna incorporate any other stuff like samples, because I wanted it to be an organic-sounding album. So that, when we played it live and stripped-down with just a guitar or piano, it would still sound awesome. Which is why Iâm singing all my songs acoustically right now. Because I wanna show people the strength of the actual SONGS.â

PETE: The album has of course been pioneered by your US Number One single âDownâ, which features Cash Money Recordsâ multi-million-selling rapper Lil Wayneâ¦

JAY: âWell, Cash Money is a massive label out in America - probably the biggest hip hop label in the world right now. So, when I got to sign to them as an artist, of course one of the perks is you can get their boy Lil Wayne to get on your song! So it was like âWayne, hereâs my first song for Cash Money. Would you kindly bless it, thank youâ - and he DID!... And the song itself actually came about because I wanted to write an uplifting song at a time when I thought the world NEEDED it, to be honest. And I think the world has taken to it BECAUSE of the very fact that it makes people feel good! You know, they like to sing along to it; they forget about their worries for three or four minutes, act silly and stupid, sing along and have fun - and thereâs nothing WRONG with that! I mean, it took off like a ROCKET! Radio loved it, audiences loved it... To where, for about a week, this song - that I wrote - actually became the biggest song IN THE WORLD! Which, when you think about it, is just INSANE! You know, for me that was just the best feeling EVER!â

PETE: So whatâs your experience of working with the Cash Money family been like?

JAY: âAs you said, theyâre a FAMILY, and so theyâre not in this for the short term. I mean, what (label bosses) Slim and Baby keep saying is that they wanna make me the next Michael Jackson! You know, thatâs how FAR they think, thatâs how BIG they think! Itâs not like âWe wanna make you the next Chris Brownâ, or whatever OTHER artist may be around right now. Oh no, they go for MICHAEL! And that kinda loyalty is INCREDIBLE! Theyâve literally said to me âWhether that happens on THIS album, the NEXT album, or the album AFTER that, weâre gonna DO it!â!.. So, you know, theyâre definitely in this for the long haul. I mean, the amount of songs and things theyâve already done with me - which arenât even in the contract - is AMAZING! Whether it be on mix-tapes, in videos... Because, in their eyes, Iâm part of the FAMILY now. And, with the Cash Money family, thereâs no rules, thereâs no laws... They just do what the hell they WANT! Theyâll make 100 videos in a year because they CAN! And, if Iâm in 50 of them, they donât CARE! Itâs like âWho SAYS we have to have three - or maybe four - songs and an album, and then on to the next one?â⦠You know, thatâs why WAYNE has so many records, why DRAKE has so many records, and why I have so many records... And thatâs whatâs so amazing about being with Cash Money!â

PETE: And whatâs the whole experience of being a UK urban artist breaking America been like?

JAY: âItâs been an INSANE amount of work! You know, America is like 50 different United Kingdomâs! So in America I have to do like 50 times the amount of promo I have to do here! Because there youâre flying around the whole country doing this EVERY DAY! And trust me, itâs SUPER-tiring! So I thank God that I have the ENERGY for that, because I think thatâs probably whatâs got me THROUGH it! Because a lot of UK people go out there and end up saying âYou know what? Fuck this! This is flippinâ KNACKERING! And I donât NEED to do this! I wanna go back to England where they already KNOW me!â!.. Because in America youâre telling your story from scratch EVERY DAY! You know, âWho are you?â⦠âOh, Iâm Jay Sean, a singer/songwriter from London. Iâve been doing it for seven years, had about 12 singles outâ... I mean, there you really do have to PROVE yourself. But, thankfully, I personally THRIVE off that!â

PETE: Despite being the only UK artist to have a Number One single in America in the last 12 months, you - amazingly - didnât even get a mention at this yearâs BRITS Awards! What are your views there?

JAY: âI think that was ridiculous, stupid and embarrassing. I mean, all the people that are in-the-know are SHOCKED at the fact I didnât even get a nomination or a nod at The BRITS this year! You know, EVERYONEâS talking about it! All my artist friends are like âMan, we feel so embarrassed because NO-ONE did what you did this year!â!... But, you know, the higher powers-that-be basically just donât know what goes on under their noses! They donât know whatâs going on in their own back yard - and thatâs the whole JOKE! Thatâs why I rebelled against the industry here years ago, and set up my own label (Jayded)! Because Iâm like âYouâre sitting behind a flippinâ desk in your office; you go home at five oâclock; you sit with your family having your bottle of wine; you donât go to the clubs, and youâve no IDEA whatâs going on in the streets! So how dare you tell me whatâs cool! Itâs only when someone throws something in your face that you SEE it!â⦠Because, you know, a year ago The BRITS hardly had any urban acts nominated for ANYTHING. Whereas this year it was PACKED with them, simply because they suffered such a backlash! Itâs like they always have to get criticised before theyâre AWARE of something. Which to me is PATHETIC! So Iâm like âYou know what? You keep your awards and lâll keep my cheque, thank you very much!â... Because I donât do music for awards, I do it because I LOVE it!â

PETE: So whatâs generally in the pipeline for Jay Sean right now?

JAY: âIâve had a few film offers from Hollywood - some great little cameos which Iâm very excited about. Plus we have the Cash Money/Young Money tour coming up in 2010, as well as a new venture that me, Lil Wayne, Birdman and Kevin Rudolf are currently working on called âThe Cash Money Heroesâ. You know, weâre actually working on doing an album together, because we feel that mixture of pop, hip hop, R&B and rock on the same album could be amazing. Then of course thereâs also my OWN new album that Iâm already writing... So yeah, this year is gonna be a very, very full one with lots of different activity going on. Because, with the entertainment industry changing so much, we do wanna do a little bit of everything and go right across-the-board. I mean, right now thereâs even talk about doing some reality shows, based on Cash Money and the difference between all our cultures and our worlds - because people find it so fascinating!â

PETE: And is true youâre also hoping to bring other UK urban talent through to The States via your own relationship with Cash Money?

JAY: âYeah, thatâs definitely something I really wanna do and that Iâve already talked to Baby and Slim about. I mean, one problem with that is, though I know so many people here who are very talented - many of them being my friends - a lot of them are actually already tied-up in record deals. Which makes it hard for me to take them over to the US, because we obviously canât sign them to Cash Money if theyâre already signed to OTHER labels! So right now, on that score, itâs really a matter of trying to keep an ear to the streets here in the UK, and bringing through people who are still AVAILABLE to be signed. Which, as I say, is definitely something Iâd love to try and be a part of.â

Jayâs album âAll Or Nothingâ and single âDo You Remember Featuring Sean Paul and Lil Jonâ are both out now through Jayded/Cash Money Records

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