Sean Paul: ‘Drake and Bieber do dancehall but don’t credit where it came from’

A decade after he defined the genre in the 2000 s, the Jamaican artist is having another moment. He explains how he plans to take dancehall back to its roots

I will have some of dat green juice. Sean Paul has hardly stepped over the threshold of Westlake Recording Studios, located in the sprawl of West Hollywood, where reference is politely induces any such requests. Knowing of Pauls life-long love affair with marijuana, his muse for many a club make over the years, I presume this is a smoke-free style to enjoy the herb. But when Ritchie his security guard coming through moments afterward, it is with a cold-pressed kale concoction in hand.

Thats quite the clean-living transformation, I remark. Sean Paul smilings and leans back, relaxed, against a grand piano. Gone are his signature cornrows( or, afterward, his not-so-signature mohawk ), and he has given up smoking weed due to asthma. It turns out that I wasnt far incorrect after all. Oh, I still like to get high, it helps with the imagination, he says. Except now I merely have it in tea.

Life has clearly changed since the early 2000 s, when Sean Paul Henriques brought the booty-bouncing rhythm of dancehall out of the Kingston clubs and onto the world stage. The Jamaican artist was once the go-to man for dancefloor dynamite, sungs that advised us all to shake that booty non-stop, when the beat drops merely keep swinging it. Get Busy, Gimme The Light, the Beyonc-featuring Baby Boy, Breathe with R& B singer Blu Cantrell these sungs became cliche, at carnival, in a bougie Chelsea bar or a suburban Oceana club. Back then he was among the worlds pop elite.

But while his 2002 album Dutty Rock launched dancehall into the mainstream, musical tastes unavoidably moved on. And though Paul himself has been critical of some of dancehalls homophobic content, there was outcry over the derogatory lyrics of contemporaries like Beenie Man and Elephant Man. Soon the genre fell out of favour and out of the following chart. Pauls 2005 followup The Trinity was popular among fans but panned by critics, and he recollects his fade-out from global notoriety a little remorsefully.

Paul and Beyonc in 2003. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/ WireImage

Since about 2009, I was fighting that worry that I wasnt relevant no more, he says, as we sit in the windowless womb of a studio. It does stress you out at times. I was like, I was up here and now Im nothing to people. His last album, 2014 s Full Frequency, sold fewer than 5,000 copies in the US. In 2015, the Grammy award-winning performer left his label and became an independent artist for the first time in a decade.

Over the past year, however, dancehall has been dutty wining its style back into the worldwide consciousness. Diplo, long in debt to dancehalls digital rhythm, brought them to an even wider audience as Major Lazer. Last year, Lazers track Lean On became the most streamed single of all time, albeit one thats since been given the dubious title of tropical pop. Then went Justin Biebers mega-hit Sorry, which teamed a skeletal dancehall beat with pure pop and was a accompanied by dancehall moves in the dancing video. Never one to be left out, Drake openly drew on dancehall throughout Views From The Six. Dancehall talent Assassin, meanwhile, constructed his mark both on Kanyes Yeezus and, more recently, Kendrick Lamars To Pimp A Butterfly.

Its an international resurgence that Sean Paul has witnessed with both amusement and scepticism. Hes even detected dancehall influences in artists who might be considered unlikely adopters of Jamaican riddims. You can definitely hear it in Taylor Swift, he says. You know that song? He launches into a high-pitched rendition of the chorus of Shake It Off. See, theres definitely dancehall in there.

One thing was for sure, though: if dancehall was coming back, so was he. Sean Paul still lives in Jamaica, but we gratify in LA because this is where he has come to work on his new album. The surprise success of Cheap Thrills, his recent chart-topper with one-woman pop made machine Sia which not only reacquainted the starring with the top of the charts but also landed Sia her first Billboard number one has spurred him to finish his new material quickly. As the 43 -year-old says himself , no one is better placed to bring back some authentic dancehall.

He is outspoken about the new generation of artists whove appropriated the audio of dancehall without acknowledging its roots. It is a sore point when people like Drake or Bieber or other artists come and do dancehall-orientated music but dont credit where dancehall received from and they dont necessarily understand it, he says, shaking his head. A plenty of people get upset, they get sour. And I know artists back in Jamaica that dont like Major Lazer because they think they do the same thing that Drake and Kanye did they take and take and dont credit.

While Paul says hes a fan of Drake( I love some of his songs but I dont think hes the best rapper) the bashment hooking and patois phrases being implemented in Views From The Six are find by Paul as less of a homage to dancehall and more of an exploitation. Hes not alone. In May, respected dancehall figure Mr Vegas openly assaulted Drake as a fake for not fully crediting his Jamaican influences.

A major problem, Paul adds, is that many of the authentic dancehall artists in the Caribbean who gain popularity online cant get visas to travel in the US, both to tour and work with producers, because they have sentences on their records. One crossover artist Popcaan, for example, who appeared on Views From The Six and has also worked with Jamie xx, has, according to Billboard, struggled to work in America because of past marijuana-related offences.

Sean Paul is equally dismissive of tropical home, a music genre which began as a style to describe the soft, Balearic-infused synth of DJs like Kygo but has since been attached to tracks which clearly draw from dancehall. Rolling Stones review of Rihannas Work describing him as a tropical house-flavored track featuring Drake while a Wall Street Journal article described how Biebers What Do You Mean? was pioneering the Caribbean, beach-party vibe of tropical house in the mainstream. Its no surprise that the genre has been accused of whitewashing Jamaican influences out of popular music.

Paul in the studio. Photo: Bampson

But Paul does acknowledge that major label artists have adapted the dancehall audio for current tastes, and this really is styles he has to look to, too, if he wants relevancy again. Dancehall is back but this time its also infused with Afrobeat, with hip-hop, with trap, and thats fine with me, he says. Sure, I would like what we do in Jamaica, that authentic dancehall, to be on top, but it simply isnt. So I want this album to bridge that gap.

Over the past year, hes penned more than 200 tracks, both on his own and in co-operation with musicians and producers back in Jamaica, and recruited a series of starry producers, such as Blood, who was behind Biebers Sorry. Theres a track with Wiz Khalifa as well as another with one of this years breakthrough pop stars, yet to be announced. It doesnt sound too far off familiar Sean Paul province, merely with more EDM drops.

Pauls attitude is more one of pragmatism than puritanism when it comes to stimulating sure this album recurs his success of ten years ago. Hell apparently work with anyone who is up for it. I merely worked with Clean Bandit, and the other English pop group what are they called? There is an awkward pause as he tries to remember. Oh yeah, Little Mix.

The one constant is Pauls ole intent to stimulate people dance: hes the first to admit he makes party music because it was one of the few levellers he had as small children. Growing up in a middle-class suburb in Kingston, Paul was just 13 when his papa was sentenced to 15 years in jail for drugs offences. As a result, his mum ran two jobs to keep the family afloat.

Music provided a sense of equality with everyone, and a release on the weekends when I didnt think about papa in prison, or mum having to conflict, or me feeling like an outcast, he says. It was just like, This song is fucking dope, and that girls hot, let me wine on her. Thats what I want my music to keep doing.

Now that hes marriage, and with a baby on the way, Sean Paul may no longer be the lothario we once knew( South American girls, Europe girls, Harlem girls, Jamaica girls, Down Under girls he genuinely did love us all ), but his talent for getting bodies sweaty on a dancefloor has not softened. As Blood takes to the desk and begins blasting out one of the new beats recorded in Jamaica, the exhort to shake that thing is undeniable , no matter that were in a cramped studio. And that, right there, is why we still need Sean Paul.

Sean Paul performs at Bestival, Isle of Wight, 11 Sep, and Electric Ballroom, NW1, 13 Sep

Read more:

About the Author

Leave a Comment: