Interview: Sean Paul – Dancehall King

Posted: July 20, 2011 in interview, music
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Sean PaulDate of Interview: 07/20/2011

A critical prerequisite in the provision of “second chances” is the determination of its recipient to persevere in the face of an initial failing. In retrospect, the sophomore success of Sean Paul’s Dutty Rock virtually supplanted all public memory of his Stage One debut; and following the swift impact of two massive singles, “Gimme the Light” and “Get Busy,” the dancehall artist became a mainstay on MTV and BET. His subsequent collaborations with Beyonce (“Baby Boy”), Blu Cantrell (“Breathe”) and Mya (“Things Come and Go”) were simply the prelude of the many accomplishments to come.

Within a decade’s time, Sean Paul has become the best-selling dancehall artist of all-time – with a GRAMMY-winning catalog eclipsing 10 million album sales. During a promotional campaign for his latest single, “Got 2 Luv U” (featuring Alexis Jordan), Sean Paul managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the origins of his music career, the international success of dancehall, and the significance of Little X’s video treatment for “Gimme the Light.”

Clayton Perry:  With more than a decade of experience in the music game, what do you consider to be your greatest contribution to the music world, or an aspect of your career that tends to be overlooked?

Sean Paul:  I am really excited to say that I had a hand in making dancehall music popular. Presenting different producers to the world from Jamaica, as well as other artists, over – as you said – the past decade, that is a very important thing to me.

Clayton Perry:  Few reggae artists have been able to have the longevity you have enjoyed, what do you consider to be biggest obstacle breaking into the US market?

Sean Paul:  Starting out, I did a lot of promo shows. Most dancehall artists didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of that option. Economics, you know, force people to focus on the money sometimes. I understand – they need to make it. I saw the bigger picture – and I wanted people to support my career. I did a lot of promo shows and radio appearances, where people would get used to me and get to know me.

Clayton Perry:  Taking those early experiences into account, what do you consider to be one of the valuable professional lessons that you learned?

Sean Paul:  Beyond interviews, the need to always accommodate fans on the road. I really appreciate the fans – but some people think it’s an inconvenience. I don’t mind my fans coming up to me and asking for autographs, or approaching me on stairwells for photographs. All they want is something tangible that they can hold on to and remember and share with their friends. Being accommodating in that way helped me a lot. And I developed a reputation for being a “people person.”

Clayton Perry:  Over the course of your career, you have worked with many of the industry’s leading ladies – Beyonce (“Baby Boy”), Rihanna (“Break It Off”), Keyshia Cole (“Give It Up to Me”) and others – on their rise to superstar status. Why do you think you were able to fuse reggae so well with hip-hop and R&B?

Sean Paul:  In many ways, the music is similar, even though no one really experimented in that way. But we have always done collaborations musically with different genres. Shaggy was the first to break with that kind of thing. When I came into the game, I think I became popular enough for other musicians to approach me and want a bit of the Caribbean flavor. The music world was expanding naturally and I came into the game at the right time I guess.

Clayton Perry:  To date, Little X has directed six of your music videos: “Gimme the Light,” “Get Busy,” “I’m Still in Love with You,” “Temperature,” “(When You Gonna) Give It Up to Me,” and “Hold My Hand.” What is it about his style that led you to foster such a long-term professional relationship?

Sean Paul:  Little X directed my first big video. It felt so comfortable. He understood the vibe. He’s a Trinidadian boy that grew up in Canada – so he had the Caribbean roots. He also knew how I wanted to be presented. A lot of the reggae music at the time was presented alongside coconut trees and sugarcane. With “Gimme the Light,” it was like I was coming from outer-space. It was different – and added twist to what was to be Jamaican. His videos also featured a lot more light on our dancing and that aspect of what we do in dancehall. I think that it helped me a great deal in terms of breaking expectations of who I was as an artist and what it meant to be Jamaican.

Clayton Perry:  “Gimme the Light” is considered to be your signature single. Considering the explosiveness of your career, between the release of Stage One and Dutty Rock, what actions do you think are necessary to propel your career to the next level and maintain dancehall’s international audience?

Sean Paul:  I think we’ve expanded so huge. For me, as the key international artist, it is my responsibility to see other artists get that kind of shine and help them get to where I am and where they want to be. I’ve broken the sound barrier and there isn’t so much that I can do other than maintain my career and help others. I am producing other artists. I have been working with a lot of other Jamaican artists, like Wayne Marshall, Nicky B and Tami Chynn. That is the greatest thing – bringing other people with me and helping them get some shine. When I got signed with Atlantic and VP Records, it opened up doors for Elephant Man and several others. But now, there is an entire generation of new Jamaican artists that I want people to know.

Clayton Perry:  Few dancehall artists have been able to enjoy your level of longevity. What has been the key to your success?

Sean Paul:  Well, I just try to make good music. Music that is danceable – yet appreciates the hooks and the melodies and the style of rhyming. When music sounds good, it sounds good. But I’m a human being: when people say I love you, it doesn’t mean as much as when they say I love your music. When I come out with a song, I want people to say: “that’s fire!” My focus is always about making sure that my music moves you.

Clayton Perry:  Before entering the world of music, what life events framed the path of your professional journey?

Sean Paul:  I really wanted to be a producer first when I was younger. My mother used to send me to piano lessons. I always begged her to buy me a keyboard and I would be more interested then. She put her money together and went to a flea market out here in Jamaica and bought a small Yamaha keyboard. And I started making “riddims” and then I would start to make songs on top of the riddims. And then that just took over. People heard my songs – and then my interests kind of switched. But I always wanted to be a producer. And I am more confident behind the mixing board now. You will see much more of my production in the future.

For more information on Sean Paul, visit his official website:

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