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A Conversation With Sean Paul

A Conversation With Sean Paul

Uptown Rude Boy Returns to Conscious Music with New Album “Live N Livin.”

By Shelah Moody

 Buju is a hero to me— someone I’ve looked up to throughout his career. When he was incarcerated, I was able to visit him twice; just to give him the strength; just to tell him that no one has forgotten him; that we believe in him still. To see him bounce back on his feet now, and giving us amazing music again is a dream come true to me.” — Sean Paul 

Dutty Eh!   

       When Sean Paul Henriques says “Get Busy,” he means it.

        On a bright afternoon in Kingston, JA, the day after his latest dancehall album, “Live and Livin” dropped, the Grammy winner’s phone is literally ringing off the hook during our Zoom conversation. 

    But on this day, Sean Paul, who set off the dancehall hip-hop movement in the 2000, comes to us clean shaven and optimistic. Despite health challenges and the loss of loved ones; Sean Paul produced two albums in a global pandemic, collaborating with more than 20 artists from around the world.

      Since the birth of his two children, Levi, 4, and Remi, 3, Sean Paul says he’s matured and become more conscious. On “Live N Livin,” the Dutty Rocker tackles subjects like post traumatic slave syndrome, gun violence, economic empowerment and rivalry between urban and reggae artists that he believes is encouraged by the online Verzuz battles that Swizz Beats and Timberland started last year when the pandemic hit.

    But don’t worry, Sean Paul is still fun. He still wants you to shake that thing! 

    Take “Crazy,” featuring Buju Banton for instance. The two dancehall titans, one uptown and one downtown (Sean Paul attended the elite Hillel School in Kingston) engage in a witty verbal exchange about women in the club, which turns into a social commentary. It is almost a throwback to 90s party tracks like “Love Dem Bad,” featuring Buju Banton and Red Rat.

“Them say we crazy, we crazy, we crazy

With gal pickney a what we going do

That mean no gal fool can’t shoot pool

Now all gal ago get slew

Houses and babies flowers and roses

Pretty gal fashion models too

Flat Bush Huntigan Jamaica Kingston, Brooklyn Astron Avenue.  

Bubble pon the riddim feel it under your skin

Ash wid expression and show the feeling

Hot hot gal hot all when winter is in

Stay physical them live inna the gym

Gal a no Anorexia make you body look slim

Still a mash up heads through everything is everything…”

“Them say we crazy, we crazy, we crazy

With gal pickney a what we going do

That mean no gal fool can’t shoot pool

Now all gal ago get slew

Houses and babies flowers and roses

Pretty gal fashion models too

Flat Bush Huntigan Jamaica Kingston, Brooklyn Astron Avenue.  

Bubble pon the riddim feel it under your skin

Ash wid expression and show the feeling

Hot hot gal hot all when winter is in

Stay physical them live inna the gym

Gal a no Anorexia make you body look slim

Still a mash up heads through everything is everything…”

Here’s the full transcript of our interview with Sean Paul. To watch the video version, go to:

Island Stage: Congratulations on your new album, “Live N Livin.” How are you, and what it like where you are now? 

Sean Paul: I’m at home in Jamaica; I’ve been here since last year, Feb. 2020. I live here, but I tour about six months out of the year. Since the pandemic, I’ve been here. I’ve been kinda busy in the studio.   

Island Stage: What was it like working on an album. a major production,  during a pandemic?

Sean Paul: The first five months, I was scared, to tell the truth. I have asthma, so I was trying to listen as much as I could to everything—news reports and conspiracy theory reports as well, to get a good picture in my head of whatever was going on. After those five months, I came out of my shell a little and started to go back to the studio and conceptualized  everything. So, here we are, two albums later. The first album “Live N Livin” dropped March 12; and it’s being received very well. The next one is coming in May. That album is called “Scorcha” because I just think people need music right now. No, I can’t tour to support it and do those live shows right now, but there will be a time when I get to do that. I believe in the work, I believe it’s strong.

Island Stage: Before we go into the album, can you give us some reflections on two of the great ones we lost this year, Bunny Wailer and U-Roy?

Sean Paul: Yeah mon, my condolences to their families and their fans. Bunny Wailer, from an iconic group, a reggae superstar himself. He was someone who I definitely looked up to as a kid, someone who inspired me. Also, U-Roy was the first person to do what I do now. Big up to Toots, who we lost last year, as well.  Also, we lost Barry O’Hare, a great producer in dancehall music and engineer in reggae music. We’ve taken hits in the past year. I also lost a friend called Mr. Chicken, from the Dutty Cup crew, last April. I personally felt like this was a lot. I just give thanks for their lives. Every step they took—especially those icons we mentioned—are important steps that they took for me to be able to do what I do today. I’ve been sad; I’ve been kind of melancholy. It is life, though, it’s a part of life; something that we have to face. I’m just happy that they were able to do the work they did in life, not just because of me benefiting from it now, but the world in general. Their music, their stance on certain things to do in society; they made it all known. God bless them all.

Island Stage: What are some of the dancehall themes on “Live N Livin.” What subjects do you deal with on the album? It’s a wonderful album; very danceable! 

Sean Paul: Yeah! You know, dancehall music is called dancehall because it was developed in the dance halls, which were kind of like discos or places to go to dance. My music reflects that. A lot of vibes music, definitely, is what people know me for and expect from me; songs about ladies and dancing and parties. I’ve matured a bit and it shows on this album in terms of the topics. I have songs like “Guns of Navarone” and “Danger Zone” that are more conscious material. So are “Lion Heart” and “Protect Me” with Serani; it’s like a prayer and also, “I’m Sanctify” with Mavado. God rest his mom’s soul; he lost her yesterday. It’s a great balance. I’m still the party guy, but you see me mature in the lyrics and the topics I’m trying to present to the people. 

Island Stage: I love the rap at the beginning of “Guns of Navarone;” it’s so profound.

Sean Paul: Mutabaruka is a dub poet who I’ve known about since I was about six or seven. I remember seeing him on television reciting a couple poems. He was always controversial; he was always someone who I looked up to, just for the art work. He’s the person you hear in the beginning of the song. It’s an excerpt from a speech that he gave a couple of years ago, that we found on the Internet. I went to (Mutabaruka) and I played him the song and I told him that he inspired me so much. He has a radio show here in Jamaica and he speaks conscious things and he’s controversial, too. A lot of people don’t like him. I was really happy that he said yes to the project because the topics in his speech and in my song are about the circle of violence. He asks: how can we love our traumatic experiences that we’ve had from hundreds of years of slavery so much that we are still doing it to ourselves? It’s a very powerful song. Big up to Jesse Royal; he was perfect for the second verse. Stonebwoy is on the remix; that’s the version that appears on the album. Big up to Stonebwoy from Ghana; he’s the only person from outside of Jamaica who appears on this album. Big up to the entire country of Ghana and the continent of Africa as well. Our music, our genre, is supposed to tell people what’s happening in the streets now. Yes, we have to talk about the violence because the violence is there. But the way we’ve done it in this song is more against violence instead of embellishing it. I never said a song would make a kid pick up a gun and shoot somebody, but I do believe that it can make us complacent; it happens over and over again and the violence continues. So this is me, trying to be the change that I want to see in the universe and influence young producers and artists and also young listeners to try to think differently about it. What I’ve come to understand by talking to kids in the street is that they really feel no self worth unless they have a gun. They have no proper education; they can’t get a job. I wanted to write this song to combat that feeling, so they can know that there’s something else in life. 

Island Stage: Speaking of conscious music, what was it like working with the likes of Buju Banton and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley?

Sean Paul: Funny you should ask that, because Buju Banton and Jr. Gong on this album are kinda different from how people would usually hear them. They’re doing party songs and girl lyrics. Simply being, that’s part of my career and that where their brains went when they thought to do songs with me. I’ve known Jr. Gong from school days. He was in my brother’s class. They are both five years younger than me. I was kind of like the big brother for a little while. The camaraderie and friendship that we have kinda shows in the song. It’s how we talk when we’re together backstage just chilling out and having fun. That song is really fun. Chi Ching Ching is on it; he’s a really fun character; someone who’s magnetic in personality; he draws people towards him. I’ve taken him on tour and I’ve been on stage shows where I destroyed the stage show and the next day, I’m in the papers, the “Gleaner,” and people are reading the article about me, and I’m walking in the airport with Chi Ching Ching, but everybody’s looking up at this talk guy, not noticing me! He’s the first signee on my label. 

    Buju is a hero to me— someone I’ve looked up to throughout his career. When he was incarcerated, I was able to visit him twice; just to give him the strength; just to tell him that no one has forgotten him; that we believe in him still. To see him bounce back on his feet now, giving us amazing music again is a dream come true to me. 

Island Stage:  Since I last spoke with you in 2003, you’ve had two children. How has fatherhood changed your perspective? I saw you and your adorable children on Instagram singing “Baby Shark.”

Sean Paul: (Laughs). At first, I I didn’t think it was changing me at all, I’m the same dude. I’ll never be different from the persona that people know. But there’s another part to me that’s more conscious. My first demo tapes —all of them were conscious music. I was singing about the disparity between uptown and downtown Jamaica; the ghetto life and the uptown life. I was singing that we should come together. Out of many, one people is our motto. From those times, I was really conscious. Buju was doing it; Tony Rebel was doing it, Capleton was doing it. Most of the producers looked at me as if I was trying to compete with what they were saying. They encouraged me to do more party music, which they thought, looked more like “me.” After having my son four years ago, and my daughter year and a half later, I’m seeing that I have to tell them right from wrong everyday. “No no, you can’t say that to people, don’t do that.” I’m encouraging them in positive ways. That is changing me in terms of me wanting to say something to the rest of society. That’s why songs like “Guns of Navarone” “Lion Heart” and “Danger Zone” are on this album. (Fatherhood) has been changing me in that respect, it’s expanding my thoughts.

Island Stage: Tell us about your upcoming album, “Scorcha” and your vision of dancehall culture 2021 and beyond.  

Sean Paul: “Live N Living” is a more hardcore dancehall album. I haven’t done that in quite a few years. Reason being is that I became so popular, especially with the “Dutty Rock” album. I got a lot of fans from that time, who never really knew dancehall before; it was a more pop audience. So, I have my base fans, who love dancehall, and then I have the people in the middle who kinda listen to both. I have fans who listen soley to pop. So, to try to balance all of those people, I started to do music and put out albums that had a blend of  different things. The new “Scorcha” album that’s coming out in May is more of the blended type of thing. I have hardcore dancehall tracks on it, but I also have very pop-ish  tracks. Big up to Sia—-me and her have the number one song already, and she’s also on this album, a very big song called “Dynamite.” I love working with her; I’ve never met her in person, but she is an awesome artist. Her fan base ranges from my mom, who just turned 70, and my niece, who just turned seven. Big up to Gwen Stefani and Shensea who are on one song; a one drop love song. Also, Stylo G is on the album; he’s a UK based dancehall artist from Jamaica. His profile is a little more pop and a little bigger than the average artist out here. Ty Dolla Sign is on the album; he’s a rapper who I respect right now in the game. Back in the day, I used to respect a lot of artists in the hip-hop industry. But nowadays, they are kind of few and far between when it comes to the amount of people who I like. I like Tory Lanez; I worked with him on my last EP about three years ago. Tove Lo, from Sweden, is on the album; with a very meaningful song called “Calling on Me.” I wrote that song last year and it came out when the pandemic hit. It’s a song that says, “I’ll be there for you, I hope you’re there for me.” Its a message we need in this time. Jr. Gong is on this album as well, with Nicky Jam, axreggaeton act. I believe in both albums, I think both are gonna do well. Big up to the younger acts; people like Intence, Squash and Chi Ching Ching, and big up to the established artists: Buju Banton, Jr. Gong, Mavado and Serani. Big up to Bugle, who’s also on the album.  I have a good balance on “Live N Living” of traditional dancehall and the new sound that’s happening right now.

Island Stage: As you know, this iis Grammy Week, and I’m sure there will be a Grammy buzz next year surrounding these albums. Are you going to watch the Grammy ceremonies tomorrow? 

Sean Paul: You know, I haven’t done that in years. I always listen to hear what’s up with this or that, but I haven’t fully watched the show. Maybe it’s because of the family. My kids are probably not interested in that type of show and usually around that time, I’m reading stories and putting them to sleep. (Laughs). 

Island Stage: In closing, is there anything else you’d like to say?

Sean Paul: Yeah, you know I’ve been in the game for more than 20 years now and I’m very appreciative of all my fans. My fans can find me on Twitter and  Instagram @duttypaul, and look for me on the Sean Paul fan page on Facebook. I interact with people there, too. Yeah! Look out for these hot albums this year, 2021 is about to be sprung! 

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