For the last decade, Sean Paul has been the go-to-guy for merging dancehall music into the lanes of hip-hop and pop. His blend of reggae crooning and rhyming has ushered in a new school of the genre, catching the ears of Beyonce, and a slew of other artists — most recently T-Pain and Pitbull on the latter’s remix to ‘Shake Senora’ — all who have collaborated with the Kingston, Jamaica native.
If Bob Marley was the dreadlocked, free-love reggae king of the ’60s, then when it comes to dancehall, Sean Paul could quite possibly become this generation’s musical equivalent. Like Marley, Sean Paul marches to the beat of his own drum. Instead of locks, he rocked cornrows — now shaved off — but he never switched up his style of reggae, even when inviting artists outside of his lane to indulge in the music of his home country.
After taking a few years off from entertainment, and healing from a basketball injury, the 38-year-old, who has four albums under his belt, of which have sold millions, is slowly but surely making his return to the spotlight. Currently, he’s putting the pieces in place for his fifth studio release, though its title is under wraps for now. The BoomBox caught up with Sean Paul to discuss his much talked about time off, taking on production, his new song with Kelly Rowland and the sports injury that nearly led to an addiction to pain pills.
You’ve been gone for the past few years. What have you been doing?
I’ve been touring but last year in November, I broke an ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] in my knee, so I been chilling out. [I had an] operation in February, and since then I’ve been in therapy every day, going to the gym, trying to get back in shape. I finally got it to a level where I can tour again, so I started a tour in June — we’ve been going to places in Europe. I’m on a break [now] then I go back to do some more touring in Europe until September.
How did you get injured?
I was playing basketball. It’s a hard game for me but I like it because it keeps me on my toes and what not, but I guess I was going too hard. That day I was winning [laughs]. I broke my ACL, it was painful. I had broken my right ACL when I was 19 years old so I guess it got weak. I never really fixed it, I just went to rehab. It’s still a knee without an ACL. Having two knees with no ACLs, the doctor wouldn’t have it. He was like, “You got to fix one of them, then fix the other one another time,” so I did the operation. It was a big [wake-up call] for me. Taking the [pain] pills I didn’t like. I’m a big advocate of marijuana and these pills are kind of addictive. I was realizing by the third day I wasn’t feeling much pain but I was like, “What time do I need to take that pill?” It pissed me off so I stopped taking them.
What did you do during your time out of the spotlight?
During the hiatus, I was sitting in the couch or sitting in the gym, thinking about my career a lot. I decided to produce. I produced my own one or two songs, I produced for other people in Jamaica too. I have a [song] called ‘Blaze Mia,’ a Jamaican project that’s out on the radio here [in Jamaica]. It’s gonna be available on iTunes soon. I was able to hook up with different people while being in Miami doing therapy for the knee. Akon heard I was there and called me up, we did some work. We did a song called ‘Lights On,’ a very interesting song because it’s dancehall music but it’s sung in mainly English. Less patois, a lot more English sounding stuff. He initiated that so that was kind of cool.
I also did work with Stargate with [my] first single [for the new album] called ‘Got 2 Luv U,’ which features Alexis Jordan. I did another song with them called ‘How Deep is Your Love’ and that features Kelly Rowland, so there’s an album shaping up pretty soon. It was great to have these guys makes dancehall music from their perspective.
Why did you want to work with Roc Nation signee Alexis Jordan on your first single?
I was looking for a girl to sing the hook that was not very fully known by everybody. I have been following her; she’s big in Europe and Australia so when the option presented itself I was like, “Oh yeah, amazing!” I’ve never really met her. She’s about to be a lot bigger in the states. I think the music she’s doing in the states is about to translate well.
How did all the other collaborations that you have done for the album come about?
We’ve been working with friends of people who we’ve known and have met through the business. I’m not sure when it’s [the album] going to drop yet but hopefully by the end of this year.
Do you have a title for the album yet?
No, I don’t have a title in mind. I just have a lot of songs. Basically, I have over 20 songs that I can pick from right now. I’m not doing such a long album. I think that people don’t really pay attention to the rest of the songs, only the singles. That’s a very unfortunate thing, however, I do put more than the average Joe. This album will have half Jamaican dancehall producers and half international sounding dancehall. It’s very interesting. I don’t know when it’s going to hit the streets. I’m hoping late this year instead of early next year.
You’ve worked with a lot of big name artists, one of which was Beyonce for ‘Baby Boy.’ Do you plan on working with her again?
Well, I worked with someone who has worked very close to Beyonce: Kelly Rowland. Last year, April, we all were on a tour — myself, Akon, Pitbull, Jay Sean, Kelly Rowland. It was a great tour and we all had fun. It was the biggest urban tour Australia had ever had. It was a huge tour and we all kept in touch. It was a good feeling to know that we all spoke good of each other and said that we would love to be working and we kept our word.
Having been in the industry for so long, what is the biggest change that you have witnessed?
Computers are the biggest change in human life right now. People pay their bills on the computer, people get news on the computer, people translate different languages and talk through their iPads now. Some of the biggest changes I’ve seen have to do with computers. People downloading music illegally, people that don’t have a studio making music, there’s a lot of computer programs out there that facilitates that. While it’s a great thing, there’s a negative side to it. There are people who don’t have that much talent and before they would have to be known and seen and doing their thing. So I get a lot of people approaching me like, “Hey, I produced this. What do you think?” Sometimes it’s damn good and sometimes it ain’t that great. I think that in the long run some quality can be lost.
When it comes to dancehall music, not everybody was producing good s—. I was having a real hard time picking people that I really wanted to work with. There were some kids who had a hype here in Jamaica, and they may have had a hype but it wasn’t anything close to what I’ve been on, so I pinpointed certain people [for my album]. When I first started in the business, there was a 24-track reel-to-reel tape, but now I can record stuff on my iPad and transfer it to a computer. It’s like music is at your fingertips now. It’s a great thing but we just have to be mindful of losing authenticity.
You’re known for summer anthems. How do you top yourself?
That’s why I started to produce myself because there are things that I hear. Turning into an artist who produces other people as well, it kind of inspires you. I really can’t go much higher. I’m not a one-hit wonder. I’ve got my Grammy, I’ve got my American Music Award, things like that let me know that I can’t go any further in the genre that I’ve done. I’m the top of what there is to be in this genre until someone comes to provide a different competition. What I better do is raise them up, too, so I’m working with younger artists who don’t have that much exposure in Jamaica, people who I think they have talent. That’s all I really think I can do. I can’t do anymore.