Dutty Cup Music – An Interview with Sean Paul

This went unpublished in the newspaper for reasons I’m not sure of but I think it has to do with the fact that Sean was doing a show in Dubai and it had nothing to do with Mumbai to begin with. When Deborah called me to ask if I’d like to interview Sean, I jumped at the opportunity because I’m a huge fan of his work and a visit to Jamaica in 2009 for research had only made me grow fonder of his message. 

Brother Sean Paul, more than a decade ago you said ‘Dutty Cup music drive dem insane’, and you sort of predicted the impact dancehall reggae would have on the world of pop music in second half of the 2000s. It literally changed the game, but where do we go from here? So much commercial pop music sounds the same these days. How do you find cool, new music to listen to?   

The fact that dance music is the hot thing right now is just a fact of life. Life is like a ball, it goes around. I’ve worked with dance producers like Congo Rock, Diplo and DJ Ammo – all these people are coming to the dancehall to see what’s up. I’ve had Dallas Austin in the middle of the dancehall in Jamaica, we brought down his new artist to work with Sly & Robbie and it is unmistakable to not see the influence reggae and dancehall has had on mainstream music throughout the world. Even Wretch over here in England – his first song that blew up is dancehall and we big that up. 

Your popular discography of singles, albums and features is one matter. There’s also everything that’s been released on 7”, 12”, dubplates dating back till the year 1995. It feels like you have one foot in the world of mainstream pop/dance music and another foot in the underground dancehall world. Is that really the case? And if so, how does it feel living this dual life?  

I want my album or singles to define what dancehall is. I don’t want people to say, “Oh, but he’s pop,” “Oh, but he’s this,” “Oh, but he’s that.” So I’m doing mainly dancehall tracks. I work with producers who have proven reggae hits over the years. In my albums, I try to define what dancehall is. I don’t want people to be confused. I’ll do step-outs with Mya, and Jay-Z, and whoever, and I’ll be on their R&B rhythms and that’s great. I would love to do rock too but my albums need to define what that music is about. I don’t claim to be a big R&B singer. I know what I can do, I know what my assets are and that’s what I’m hitting at.

How did you find common ground between your dancehall style and hip-hop, like your collaboration with Busta?

In terms of myself, I love to see people trying to emulate our thing. That’s how hip hop grew back in the day too. It was just in the Bronx, and then moved to Brooklyn, Queens, LA, Miami, New Orleans For the music to grow it means more pie for the people involved. Dancehall sometimes may sound a little hip-hop-ish, sometimes a little R&B-ish or more like dance music. Dancehall is versatile and evolving. The influence that dancehall has had on popular music culture is immense. I think we borrow back and forth from each other. I wouldn’t say that reggae is definitely driving the hip hop industry. It’s very interconnected – it’s because of the way that the culture interacts. If hip hop kids are in Brooklyn making records, there are a lot of Jamaicans in Brooklyn, so they’re going to hear the reggae music. Miami is a cultural melting pot. In Miami you’ve got Latin music, they’ve got reggae, and they have all this other stuff, so of course Miami rappers are going to be influenced by that as well. It’s a cultural exchange. Hip hop looks huge, like a mountain in front of us, and maybe we just look like an anthill, but I think they borrow from the anthill at times, just as we borrow from the mountain. Don’t forget people like R. Kelly. He did stuff that sounded like dancehall and they gave him best R&B album. I was like wow. I respect his musicianship, but when we hear that it is straight dancehall. When Stargate hit with Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent”, that’s a dancehall track; it’s just that Vybz Kartel and Spice stole it and did their thing.

The modern music industry seems to shape artists today, like there is a machine-made mold of how a musical star should be and they make the artist fit into that mold before they are marketed as “products” to the rest of the world. Did you ever have to do that? What do you make of this whole thing?

When I first came out I wanted to prove myself in my genre now I want to blend my genre with other genres.  I’m not really thinking of trying to make a hit song every time. I definitely find myself trying to go back to the basics. Just be free, don’t think about trying to get a number 1 song or being like this pop superstar. People wanted me on their riddims and the first thing that came out of their mouths is, ‘I want a hot girl song just like ‘Gimme Di Light,’ ‘Get Busy’ and ‘Temperature’,’ because they’re looking for a hit. I started out doing songs like these mainly and people would ask ‘Why?’ Yeah, I was born and grow uptown, but my father went to prison when I was 13 and my mother was left with two youths growing up. I started to think about life a lot when I was 13 years-old, so when I started to rhyme, it was from that perspective alone. I have reached a point where I don’t have to prove myself to anybody in dancehall or reggae music. I’m trying to bridge the gap, broaden my artistry. I’m asking the producers to try and make dancehall from their perspective.

This is about your song ‘Sufferer (Inspector Riddim)’ in which I feel you highlighted real issues surrounding class, race, social and political divides, issues that do not see light as often in the music of the present day. As global stars, do you feel artists should be conscious about the music they are making, what it tries to say and how it eventually affects people?  

Yeah, they definitely do! I think everyone should have a mentor and a role model, but that they shouldn’t take one person’s opinion to be what we call final assessment or judgment about how life is supposed to be. Dancehall is just like hip-hop in that it doesn’t always talk about bling; it talks about conscious issues. In the dancehall you could move to a very religious sounding song. In the dancehall you could hear a very harsh sounding song, but it represents a part of society that’s out there in the world. In the dancehall you could hear a song that’s just hyping up the ladies and everybody enjoys when the ladies are enjoying themselves, even the men too. It’s a music that speaks on many different issues. I don’t see any other music like that. In the dancehall arena, look at me, I’m the girls’ deejay, and even I have conscious songs that are out there. Dancehall is a music that is digging into social stuff. Music tells you about the artist and what they were thinking about at the time, because the person has to think about it to sing it. I do feel I have a responsibility to the fans for real.

Who is your current favourite pop music star? And who is your favourite pop star from the years gone by? 

Alicia Keys, she has a deep, deep soul, something that you feel immediately as she opens her mouth. And Lauryn Hill. I think she’s another beautiful artist with a beautiful soul

You’re on your way to Dubai soon to launch the Pakistani Cricket League. Did you follow the cricket much growing up in Jamaica? 

Ah yes I do follow cricket. It’s an honour to be in Dubai for one the biggest sporting events of Pakistan. 

Can you name some of your musical and non-musical idols? And how do each of them influence your way of life? 

It’s my Jamaican origin that made me venture into reggae music as the style belongs to Jamaica too. I am my biggest motivation. My love for music has helped me do good work till now. This was something I knew I could do and all the successful Jamaican men like Alton Ellis, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, and Desmond Dekker were great inspirations for me. When I first came out, I was listening to Tony Rebel, Buju Banton, Terror Fabulous, and those cats,  just their styling, I was into them a whole heap! They encouraged me a lot. My mom loved The Beatles. That’s where I got a sense of melody and complementing harmonies from, before I got into dancehall.

I saw that you have a video coming up with Jay Sean. The question is when are we gonna hear some a new Sean Paul album? Is that on the cards at all? You know the fans are waiting. 

When you don’t hear an album from me right now, I’m still doing tours. I have done 500 countries all over the earth. So my thing is not so cookie cutter as people put together music nowadays. I do take time. I’m going to be performing at Pakistan Super League on the 4th at Dubai Cricket Stadium and I’m putting together the anthem for the league. I’m experimenting with my sound and looking at some collaborations for my next album that I’m working on in LA. I’ve loved hip hop and trap music and now I want to go in all different directions and get more variations to reggaeton and dancehall for my next.

You come off as an extremely positive person. The way you communicate with fans, the media, and the messages in your music is indicative of all of that. Is that the truest reflection of the life you live? 

Mostly, my message in music is just to party and get with the ladies. I think that music should reflect life and it should also pay attention to certain things such as entertainment. That’s kind of where I come from. When I got popular in music, that’s when I could send a message in other places. That’s what I do with my Twitter and my Instagram. I don’t think that you should just be trying to do what everyone else is doing. Just because someone’s being conscious right now, it’s not like let me go and do that. I think that I’m a conscious person, but it doesn’t always come out in my music. What my music is about and what my message is about is to have fun before your life is over.

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