People congregate in the lobby for their turn at the bar while others patiently wait for the DJ to drop the track.
You know the one. It’s the track that has you clearing the way, running to the dancefloor to show off your flawless moves, engaging in your best Spiderman, Driveby or Log On. A track that’s ultimately come from the Grammy Award-winning album Dutty Rock by reggae artist Sean Paul.
There’s no denying how Paul took over dancehall music with his signature sounds back then. Hit after hit, Paul etched himself into the luminous reggae echelons with “Gimmie the Light,” “I’m Still In Love,” “Get Busy,” and “Like Glue.” And he’s still churning out hits with mass appeal.
His crossover success has transferred into collaborations with a roster of pop, hip hop and Latin artists. From Toronto’s own Baby Blue Sound Crew (noted as one of his career springboards. Paul has deep roots in Toronto via videos, production, location, collaboration and choreography) to Enrique Iglesias, Nicki Minaj, Keyshia Cole, Major Lazer, Beyoncé and Columbian artist Feid, and that’s just the beginning of the illustrious list.
Today, Paul celebrates his career and longevity with his eighth studio album Scorcha, released in 2022 on Island Records. Recently, his new lovers rock single “Rebel Time” with the legendary and iconic reggae crooner Beres Hammond had fans asking, ‘What took so long?” It’s a collaboration you would have thought had already taken place. But like anything worth the wait, alignment is critical.
“There's a great connection between his music and the feeling and the vibes,” says Paul. “I don't like to overstep. I kind of wait. I can call quite a few elders in the business or people who have paved the way for what I have been able to do that I have revered and rated over the years. So, I had been speaking with Sly Dunbar. He’s another legend, and I was telling him the types of rhythms that I liked that he produced. One day he linked me back and said, ‘Yo, you want me to build two jump tracks for you?’ I was like—what? He said, ‘Yeah, man, two like the ones with the style you like.’”
“I had the tracks in my phone, and saw Beres at the airport, and said to myself, ‘I wonder if I just walk up to him.’ We had a show in Canada that we were co-headlining. We had such a great interaction there. That weekend we went to a show in the Caribbean. I sent him the rhythms and ended up playing basketball down there with somebody whom I've previously played basketball with. I didn't realize that it was Beres’ son. So I felt very close to the camp. And we decided to get this song done. It’s been a great relationship since it started,” says Paul.
After Hammond chose his preferred version, it cemented the collaboration and “Rebel Time” was born. To see the pair finally uniting has also prompted more music on the horizon for fans. They have another two tracks in the vault that should be coming to us soon. But right now, the sweet, ethereal sounds of “Rebel Time” is finally here.
Over the years, Paul has worked with a variety of artists. The cross-pollination of genres has helped his artistry grow and allowed him to take reggae music to higher heights. His sound has always been flexible enough to mesh with musical genres flawlessly, enabling him to work with some of the best, from Afrobeat to pop. Paul has always dabbled outside of the quintessential reggae box. This is what made him stand out from the rest. However, there are still genres he would love to tackle. Can you imagine Sean Paul in a rock collaboration?
“I worked with the group Simple Plan. It’s a pop group, but we did a more reggae-oriented track, so it was more reggae pop. But there's a group called 21 Pilots, and they do a modern-day type of rock. My son and I love singing some of their songs. Back in the day, Super Cat and Sugar Ray did a song that worked. Nobody thought or ever envisioned it before that time to put somebody spitting in a reggae dancehall style, flow and rhythm. But that worked. I would love to do a song with a group like that where they have modern rock types of ballads and fast-paced, headbanging (laughs). I think we can sound very different on it and add a distinctive element to it for sure,” says Paul.
The reggae artist is usually on the road bringing fan favourites from his discography to fans worldwide. When he returns home, Paul thanks his bona fide friends and family, who keep him humbled. It’s usually a common denominator for those who stay rooted in who they are and remember where it all began. “Well, I have a very beautiful and crazy wife who helps to keep me grounded (laughs). And, of course, my kids, but also my family. My mom, brother and I live close to each other, and they are not afraid to tell me the real. They're like, ‘Yo, yeah, yeah, yuh name Sean Paul but…’ They'll give it to me (laughs). I like that they keep it real. There's no time at all that it feels good to think that I am this being who has created all this stuff. Yet at the same time, I'm just little Shawn Henriques who stubbed his toe, and his mother hushed him when he cried.”
“So I don't lose that part of myself. Yes, I do grow. Yes, it's important to become a strong man in this society. But I’ll never lose that kid that's with me, that’s not afraid to cry about things that affect me emotionally. You can lose yourself very quickly in fame and fortune. I remember thinking, ‘That's like seeing somebody go crazy due to music, drugs and the fast, high life. That's what fame, unfortunately, does. I'm always aware of it and try not to go overboard. So many things don't happen to a regular person like it does with a 'star'. But it's always good to remember yourself, and these people keep me grounded,” says Paul.
With his Dutty Rock Productions neon sign blinking in the background of our virtual call, we chatted about parenting and how it translates to him mentoring his label artists. Parenting at any age is tough. Nonetheless, when you start a family later in life, you’re mentally, physically and spiritually in a different space. Your self-actualization years become a robust learning foundation for what’s to come. Paul believes that parenting has unquestionably changed him for the better.
“It did change me, but it hasn't changed my work ethic. I'm still hungry for the music. I still want to produce other people, which I have been doing. Being a parent has also given me more of a vibe to mentor younger artists. I've produced before, but I would take the song, put it out, and that was it. But now I'm finding myself giving more advice to the younger artists. Valuable advice, you know? Before I would see them doing something, thinking they shouldn't take that step, I would leave them alone because it's their career. Now, I find that maybe if I say something, they will perceive it differently and do something about it. So I've been more vocal as a mentor toward younger artists. I think that has a lot to do with parenting,” says Paul.
His aura tells me he’s at a stage in life where he’s ready to take it easy and vibe out. Gone are the racy, explicit lyrics of yesteryear. Now we’re hearing a more mature undercurrent from Paul. It’s still fun and lively and will swiftly get you to the dancefloor, but the transition is happening right before our eyes. There’s no doubt that Paul will continue to have an illustrious career in reggae. He represents his country every step of the way. Whether it’s as a mentor, international artist, friend or father—Sean Paul will continue to leave his iconic imprint, adding to his musical legacy—one that will make him, his family and his fans proud.
You can catch Sean Paul on his Scorcha Tour at History in Toronto on Saturday, July 2, 2023