Sean Paul: Gettin' Down n' Dutty
With more than 12 million albums sold worldwide and spurred by a trio of American Number One mainstream singles, Sean Paul has already become easily the most successful Jamaican artist of all time on the US charts, while simultaneously - on a wider scale - giving his homeland its highest global music profile since the heyday of the late, great Bob Marley.
Thus the release this autumn of his new, sixth album “Full Frequency” will inevitably mark an important event on the global music calendar. As, currently pioneered by the international Top 10 success of its hook-laden, Benny Blanco-produced lead-off single “Other Side Of Love”, it boasts guest appearances from such contemporary US rap superstars as Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz in addition to featuring such stellar Jamaican talents as fellow internationally-successful reggae star Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and 28-year-old dancehall deejay Konshens.
Born Sean Paul Ryan Francis Henriques in Kingston, Jamaica on 9 January 1973, Sean’s family lineage in itself truly reflects Jamaica’s national motto “Out Of Many, One People”. As, with his Portuguese-Jewish father’s side boasting a family legend about the shipwreck of horse-hustling ancestors during an escape from bounty-hunters, his mother (a renowned Jamaican painter) on the other hand is of English and Chinese-Jamaican descent - all of which in turn resulting in his hazel eyes and mocha complexion of today reflecting a biological mix of Jamaican, English, Jewish, Hispanic, Creole and Chinese blood!
Indeed, with both his parents having also been renowned Jamaican swimmers in their teens, Sean grew up on “the right side of the tracks” in the Norbrook district of Kingston where he was raised a Catholic. Meanwhile, as a youth he too represented Jamaica in several international swimming and water polo competitions before graduating from the island’s University of Technology (UTech) with a degree in Hotel Management. However, with him developing a passion for dancehall music in his early teens (he recorded his first local hit “Baby Girl” in 1995, which was followed by a string of classic underground dancehall singles like “Deport Them” and “Hot Gal Today”) this eventually led to the release of his prophetically-titled debut album “Stage One “ in 2000.
Since which time the man dubbed in some quarters “the shaggable, telegenic star dancehall music has always been waiting for” (!) has unquestionably gone on to do more than any other dancehall deejay to bring the cutting-edge hardcore sound of underground Kingston to pop and urban audiences across the world; proving time-and-again that modern Jamaican reggae can be a viable genre in today’s international music mainstream.
All of which has ultimately resulted in a string of critically-acclaimed hit albums - 2002’s Grammy-winning, six-million-plus selling “Dutty Rock” (which spawned the global smashes “Gimme The Light”, “Get Busy” and “Like Glue”); 2005’s Platinum “The Trinity” (which featured both the Top 10 single “We Be Burnin’” and transatlantic chart-topper “Temperature”); 2009’s more Jamaica-centric “Imperial Blaze”; and 2012’s Grammy-winning “Tomahawk Technique”. The last of which - in addition to providing Sean with two further international Top Ten singles (“Got 2 Love You” featuring US teen songstress Alexis Jordan and the hauntingly melodic “She Doesn’t Mind”) - also brought with it a striking image-change, as his trademark braids were unexpectedly replaced with a striking Mohican!
Meanwhile, outside of his solo stardom, Sean has additionally over the years also enjoyed considerable international chart success as a featured artist on recordings for numerous US R&B/hip hop acts, ranging from chart-topping mainstream divas like Beyonce and Blu Cantrell to bona fide rap icons like 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes.
… Which in turn pretty much brings us back to today. As, taking time out from a hectic day of German promo in Hamburg, an ever-personable Sean (who earlier this year scored a UK Number One as guest-vocalist on pop girl-group The Saturdays’ single “What About Us”) happily reacquaints himself with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis to discuss his aforementioned new album.
PETE: Let’s start on obvious ground - titling your new, sixth album “Full Frequency”
SEAN: “Basically I decided to call it “Full Frequency” to signify that this time I’m going fully hard and I’m turning up the LEVELS! You know, it’s funny what happens in club culture when sometimes one particular area will come up with a saying and then years later it becomes popular EVERYWHERE. Like it just so happens that in Jamaica we recently came up with the phrase “turn up”, in that when someone says something is “turn up” they basically mean they LIKE it or it’s HOT. And so when people come up to me and say ‘Oh, it’s turn up’, my natural response has always been ‘Full frequency brother!’! Which is why instead of calling the record “Turn Up” - which is almost being played-out right now - I came with “Full FREQUENCY”, to let everybody know that I’m going hard in all kindsa DIRECTIONS. Like it’s pop-oriented, it’s hip hop-oriented, there’s dancehall music on there... You know, just a lotta different flavours where I’m just doin’ my THING!”
PETE: So how did your collaborations with US hip hop stars Juicy J, 2 Chainz and Nicki Minaj on the track “Entertainment” come about?
SEAN: “Basically I just wanted to be involved in what’s happening in hip hop again. You know, the last time I collaborated with hip hop artists was quite a few YEARS ago - I think it was when I worked with The Clipse and The Neptunes back in about 2002. So with me being such a fan of the urban scene over there in The States, I basically just went looking for TRACKS. And when I came across this track called “Entertainment” that Juicy J had already been messing with, because I’m a fan of his I was like ‘Yo, I DEFINITELY wanna try something on this !’… So I did - and then from that the hook-up with 2 Chainz just kinda came through word-of-MOUTH. Basically someone had told him I was in town, he was like ‘Oh, tell him to come over to the studio if he wants’… So I went over there, we played basketball for a minute... And then, when we got to talking about tracks and he heard the “Entertainment” song I’d done with Juicy J on it, he was like ‘DAMN, let’s go in there NOW”!… So we went in the studio straightaway and DID it!... And then once the song was out on the underground and causing a little stir, Nicki MINAJ heard it. And because she was basically trying to do the same thing I was - you know, she wanted to get back into more of a hip hop-oriented game as opposed to, in her case, the more pop kinda stuff she’d been doing - she basically hit us up and was like ‘How about us doing a REMIX together?’… So of course I was like ‘DEFINITELY! For SURE!’!... So yeah, that’s basically how those collaborations came ABOUT.”
PETE: A particularly interesting collaboration on “Full Frequency” is your long-anticipated teaming up with fellow Jamaican international reggae star Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley…
SEAN: “Well, me and Jr. Gong have known each other from prep school in Jamaica when he was in my brother’s class. And because his father for me is such a hero - I mean, Bob Marley is probably Jamaica’s biggest-ever music icon - I’ve always felt a close RELATIONSHIP with him! You know, I think me and my brother always felt like we wanted to take care of him even though he didn’t NEED taking care of! And then in terms of today, in addition to me really loving his music I also really respect and love the fact that Damian does wear the flag for Jamaican culture very STRONGLY... So yeah, he and I initially decided to start working together a couple of YEARS ago. But although we did a few demos together and he actually produced some songs for me, we never actually put any of that OUT. Because we didn’t think it was STRONG enough. You know, because you have the names “Damian Marley” and “Sean Paul” working together we wanted to do something that would really hit hard when it was RELEASED... So anyway, we decided to go back in the studio together for like five days, I played him this track I happened to have… And as soon as he heard it he was like ‘Yo, that riddim is FIRIN’ - let’s DO somethin’ on that!’... So that night we worked on the riddim, everything came together perfectly - and we ended up with the song called “RIOT”, which is on my new album and basically talks about JUSTICE. You know, the bottom-line is ‘You give ME respect, I give YOU respect; You treat ME well, I treat YOU well’… So yeah, it’s a really hardcore SONG... And the track itself was actually produced by a guy called Hard Work - a really talented kid who’s based in Atlanta but actually moved to The States from JAMAICA. So while his stuff definitely has that Southern-US/trap-oriented feel, it’s also very dancehall-oriented and REGGAE-oriented.”
PETE: Interestingly - and unusually - I understand you attribute your decision to pursue a music career partly to your middle-class upbringing...
SEAN: “Yeah, I basically grew up in an uptown neighbourhood. Which meant I was well-provided-for, put through school, and I didn’t have to worry about clothes, food or shelter. But, while it was a good life for me as a youngster, as a teenager I did start to become aware of the fucked-up differences AROUND me, Why some of the friends I went to school with every day lived in shacks; how five miles in one direction there were crazy mansions and five miles in the other there was GHETTO... And that’s when, although I wasn’t a ghetto kid myself, I decided I did want to do something that would enable me to express to the world what a paradise Jamaica was, and also what a hell it was at the same TIME! Which is why to this day it’s still very important to me that I do still wave the flag for my culture and for my country through my MUSIC.”
The album “Full Frequency” is released October 21. The single “Other Side Of Love” is out now, both through Atlantic/VP Records
TO READ MORE FROM THIS INTERVIEW WITH SEAN PAUL CHECK OUT OUR PRINT ISSUE - CLICK BELOW OR VISIT YOUR LOCAL MAG OUTLET (inc: WH SMITH AND JOHN MENZIES)
Words PETE LEWIS