The lip-licking, bicep flexing of LL Cool J are nothing compared to the innate charm of Dancehall superstud Sean “dutty eh” Paul. The Ladies love Sean Paul, or at least he loves himself a whole heap of women, and offers no apologies for this. Bursting into the dancehall scene in 1996 Sean Paul’s single “Baby Girl” was dedicated to…Yep, the ladies, a crooning, melodic, reggae ballad, advising women to step out of abuse relationships, [insert Ch-Rihanna reference gag here], from day one Sean’s music always struck a chord with the ‘gyal dem’. Sean affirms, “Some people DJ and talk about money ‘I’m he richest motherf***er’, some people talk about how they got all the guns. For me, it’s all the girls. Girls in my country choose my music, because they realise that the first thing I said to them was not “girl cock up your batty and ride…”.
And so began PinBoard’s chat with Mr Sean Paul on a sunny Wednesday in a swanky London hotel. Prior to meeting Sean-a-Paul one of his larger-than-life (literally) workers informed me that Sean was in particularly good spirits that day, attributable to ‘popcorn’. Whether that was literally or figuratively speaking remains to be confirmed. Either way, that fine day Mr. Paul was feeling particularly expressive, rather cheery, occasionally abrasive and ever charming.
Sean Paul’s career has spanned over 12 years and counting, with each of his albums propelling his popularity with his worldwide audience. With over 10 million albums sold off three alums: Stage One, Dutty Rock and The Trinity including a collaborative catalogue the size of a phone book, Sean Paul is one of the fair few dancehall artists that can boast international stardom.
International recognition, yes. Love from his wider Dancehall community in Jamaica? At first- not really. I recall a conversation I had with a tourism worker during a recent trip to Kingston, Jamaica in which I was told about the initial Sean Paul backlash. He was accused of not being Jamaican enough (his heritage of Jamaican, Chinese, Portuguese & Sephardic Jewish) not being ‘real’ enough (coming from privileged background young Sean played Water Polo for the Jamaica National team, not quite the rags to riches/ Rose out of concrete story that is often championed in the Dancehall circuit). And his music supposedly too commercial sounding to be appreciated by the underground Dancehall DJs.
It’s a bit of a sore subject, but one that Sean is anxious to get clear, I ask how he feels about often not being recognised by Jamaicans as one of the best Dancehall artists, to which he sharply responds, “Oh no for sure, neither was Bob Marley at the time, Shaggy, at certain times neither is Beenie Man even. In 1996 I was the latest artist and by 1999 I was old and Lexus was the new artist, so we have 10 times the number of artists that you do per land mass ‘pon here so. With the amount of artists you have there, there’s definitely a power battle. My step-up in the business has been exemplary to show people that competition sparks greatness. I know there’s no way everybody in the world would like me, but I know that everybody in my country respects me for what I’ve done and everybody feels good about where I’ve taken the music.”
Then, in a strange sequence, Sean Paul’s Press Officer, signals that there’s five minutes left of the interview. Clocking this, Sean playfully belts “Don’t ramp with me. I’m controlling this mate, got to get this out ‘cause she’s pissing me off with these questions. Facing me, he says calmly, “I have to get my story out to you tall girl, y’hear?”
…Stunned, I ask, ‘Am I really pissing you off?’
To which, Sean, dark glasses giving nothing away, retorts “Yeah because you’re asking some kind of crazy questions, for real but [in cockney accent] I got you mate.”
We stare at each other in silence for a few second, me attempting to work out if he’s being serious. He cracks a wide, gleaming smile I decide that even though he wasn’t joking, he’s not that pissed off. It’s all love.
Sticky subjects behind us, we move on to positive territory, his long awaited comeback, as Sean Paul offers insight on his creative process since 2005 album “Trinity” in preparation for the soon to be released album, Imperial Blaze.
“I decided I needed to draw back to myself and take about three years out and learn how to produce some things. I would run in the days then go home and learn to play the drums and listened to riddims from producers all over the world …”
Sean Paul’s aim with this time around was to show a little creative growth “No longer am I only saying ‘Just give me the light’ I’m saying, ‘Girl you’re so fine I’ll be there for you anytime’. So the swagger is getting more mature as I move on and I groove on.”
On this Imperial Blaze album, Sean’s even penned his first song for Mama Paul, called “Straight From My Heart” which he recorded on her birthday “When I was a youngster, I think I was trying to prove myself to the world, prove myself to Jamaica, prove myself to myself. So I wasn’t singing songs about my mother. These days when young men keep talking about they have a gun, what the f***, people have had guns for 20,000 years and we’ve been doing the same things over and over to each other, so I just have to big up my mother.”
With most of the U.S hip hop and R&B world having worked with or continuing to seek Sean Paul out for collaborations including Estelle, Rihanna, Keyshia Cole and Beyoncé (he tells me he has a song with R Kelly to be released), what’s the next step in Sean-a- Paul’s climb to the top? As I ask, I silently pray that he doesn’t say “movies”. “I want to be a better producer”, he candidly reveals. (Phew). “I produced “I Know You Like”, which is on this album. The reason only one of the tracks I produced made the album is because I don’t think I’m the best producer. The people I’ve picked to work with me on the album are some of the best in Jamaica right now and the future of Reggae music. But me, myself I’m growing and I’m trying to expand musically that way and I hope to be better at it in the future.”
If there’s one thing about Mr Sean Paul, he’s ever so earnest and true to his strengths…And weaknesses, a refreshing trait in a world of inflated egos. As I leave the room after the interview, he offers well wishes and sheds light on his earlier annoyance with me, “You have preconceived notions just because you went to Jamaica and spoke to people … you just need to roll with me in Jamaica to understand”, he smiles, I reflect on how honest he’s been and I think I understand Sean Paul’s appeal.
Words by Felicia Okoye