Words by Sherman Escoffery—
Sixteen years and five albums deep in the game, multi-platinum dancehall artist Sean Paul is still hustling harder than the new jack who just got his song added to the rotation on Hot 97. Sean’s latest album, Tomahawk Technique, has been out in Europe since January, but has only just been released this month in the USA. Sean has changed up his management and switched his signature cornrows for a mohawk, but he still works hard to stay relevant back in Jamaica, where deejaying is an ultra-competitive, gladiator-type sport that requires artists to drop several songs a month, and going on tour means fighting to regain your space when you get back.
Sean Paul says he has done everything there is to be done in the dancehall market, successfully collaborating with some of the biggest hip-hop and R&B acts of his generation, and he has the gold and platinum plaques to prove it. With nothing left to conquer in dancehall, S.P. says that Tomahawk Technique is about expanding his game while still staying true to his dancehall roots. No frills or fancy narratives in this interview, just Sean Paul’s words— still Dutty!
LargeUp: So where are you in your career now, given that you are on your on your fifth album?
SP: I have reached the point where I don’t have to prove myself to anybody in dancehall or reggae music. I’m up there with the best of them, so right now so I’m just expanding. I’ve started to produce, started to also voice for other dancehall producers and other producers outside of the reggae game. I’m trying to get them to make dancehall from their perspective, because I’ve done everything else I can do in dancehall, the hit songs, every award there is to get, songs about different topics, love. Expanding was the best way to do it—expanding on style, sound, know what I mean?
LU: Jamaican fans are very fickle. How do you stay relevant there and keep giving it to the rest of the world?
SP: Well, the thing is a balancing act, and that is what I did on this album. The first single was “Got 2 Luv U.” I picked it to please what you call the international audience ’cause it’s produced by people who they trust to make a hit. Secondly, it sounds amazing, and thirdly, it still has all the essence of a dancehall track. Back in Jamaica, I’m producing and voicing people like Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Spragga Benz—some of the biggest artists dancehall has ever seen, I recorded Busy Signal, Tarrus Riley, Charlie Blacks; so right there I’m showing people it’s a balancing act. I’m working with Stargate, Benny Blanco, I’m voicing for new producers in Jamaica such as Washroom Entertainment, doing collabs with people such as Future Fambo, keeping up close with the radio people and disc jocks, sound systems, listening to them often on my iPad.
I have an app that allows me to zone in on any radio station so I know at any time who is getting radio play. I want to know the hot deejays in Jamaica, so I keep myself up to do date. How I bridge that gap is to just keep on working with my Jamaican peers. Take part in the community that’s happening right there. I still voice on the relevant rhythms I need to be on, even going to certain stage shows just to check [other Jamaican artists], even if I’m not on the show and nobody knows I’m there.
LU: Who outside of Jamaica are you listening to right now?
SP: Musically, I listen to artists like Wiz Khalifa, not exactly new but still big on the scene, Tyler the Creator who was MTV’s best new act of the year. To stay relevant I have to know what is going on so, if this kid wins, I gotta check him out. I am still listening to Bruno Mars, Roscoe Dash, Rick Ross.
LU: Blu Cantrell, Beyonce, Sasha, Keyshia Cole and recently Alexis Jordan…does Sean Paul have a special chemistry with the ladies?
SP: Oh, definitely. I’ve done songs with Rahzel, Tony Touch, Busta Rhymes, Chico, Mr. Vegas. But the biggest songs I’ve done are the ones featuring the ladies. I think it work[s], and it[s] also a good look. Ladies like my voice; they like to feel that they are the ones singing the hook and I’m singing to them. It’s a good vibes.