Sean Paul: Just Cause

Sean Paul is known to sing during his interviews. In fact, he never stops singing or writing, his music being the obvious outlet for everything he has to say. But what do we really know about this Dancehall maestro, who has had a hand in bringing Jamaican music back to its glory days reminiscent of the Bob Marley era?

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Sean Paul’s complex ancestry includes Chinese, Portuguese-Jewish, and African-Caribbean. His father was sent to prison when Sean Paul was a teenager, and he turned his focus on swimming. He became a champion in the sport, traveling to places such as Mexico to represent Jamaica. Many locals doubted that a swimming champion could do Jamaican music, let alone represent the country on an international scale. In fact many of Sean Paul’s critics continue to doubt, despite multi-platinum plaques, high profile collaborations and even a Grammy Award. Some Jamaicans have even written him off questioning his Jamaican heritage, despite his being born and raised there.

After 10 years of dub-plates and making noise through the underground scene in Jamaica and New York, Sean Paul is shaking it off. His first album was an independent effort that was largely overlooked, however his breakthrough second album Dutty Rock went on to sell a whooping 6 million copies and introduced his style to the world. He finally responds to his critics on his latest effort, The Trinity, letting his true political self seep through the cracks of his well-known club anthems such as ‘We Be Burnin’. Sadly, for many Jamaican artists it is hard to escape the truth facing their homeland, and Sean Paul is no exception. The violence continues to escalate, notably evident in the recent drive-by death of Gerald “Bogle” Levy, a Jamaican icon whose dance steps continue to be seen in Sean Paul’s videos. It is Sean Paul’s desire to do serious material that is always prevalent. Alternatives goes one-on-one with the Gammy Award winner about the new album The Trinity, the real meaning behind the smash single ‘We Be Burnin’ and what he thinks about Hip-Hop artists trying to do Dancehall. Alternatives: Tell us about the first single ‘We Be Burnin’. How did [the title] go from ‘Legalize It’ to ‘We Be Burnin’?

Sean Paul: On my second album called Dutty Rock, the one that did so great for me thanks to the Father and the fans, had a song on it called ‘Ganja Breed’. That was talking about Ganja, about weed, so I didn’t expect it to be a single. But this time around I was making a song again about the more positive things about weed and why I think people should legalize it. However the [label] came to me and said, “Listen that’s kind of harsh”- they didn’t like the words ‘Legalize It’. I was like, “Well, if I change ‘Legalize It’ it will make every other word in the song obsolete, because it’s leading up to say Legalize It.” So I changed it to show them I’m the lyrical king, and all that girl them bouncin’, so I’m still saying we be burnin’ - but we be burnin’ the candles at two ends. It’s release music, expression music, because we don’t know how long terrorism and all these tragedies are going to last. You need to release.

AHHA: Was ‘Legalize It’ some sort of political statement before it was changed?

Sean Paul: My whole point is that when I’m socially drinking, I’m not thinking of people or my future; I’m just enjoying that moment. On the flip side, when I smoke weed I feel more euphoric and I feel good about my future. When I’m drinking my motor skills are gone, but when I’m smoking it’s different. Everybody got their own poison. So why are you going to legalize just one crazy thing? It’s like a bias. And weed is used for medication, that’s one of the things I say in the song- ‘The best thing for my meditation’. When a farmer grows it, he knows the economical benefit that will help those who are struggling around him. Most things in Jamaica don’t make sense right now. We import food. We import apples from Vancouver, and by the time it gets there, it costs more than a mango growing in the backyard. The farmers grow weed to make money for them and people around them. So my whole thing is legalize it, free it up, let them people make money off it. I know people who smoke weed and they can’t focus but I’m not one of those. It’s not necessary for my everyday life but it’s something that has helped me to maintain a constant effort.

AHHA: Why did you call the album The Trinity?

Sean Paul: I was looking at my life and seeing all the threes that exist. And not just the ones I was smoking. This is the third year since Dutty Rock has dropped. This is also my third album. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to work with all these great people. I did something with Ashanti, with the Neptunes, with Scott Storch, and then I said to myself, “What do I want from these things?” It sounded like I was getting another Dutty Rock. What I wanted was to be inspired, and what was inspiring me was the kids in Jamaica - in a so called Third World. These are kids who are doing music and surviving everyday instead of out there fighting a war with people. It reminded me of myself 10 years ago.

AHHA: At one time Jamaican artists were trying to be more Hip-Hop. Now it seems like the tables have turned. How do you feel about this?

Sean Paul: There are kids in Jamaica that aren’t benefiting from this. This music has broken all over the world so is why nobody going to these producers in Jamaica? When people want Crunk music, they go to Lil Jon. When they want a unique Hip-Hop sound, they go to Pharrell. When they want something funky, they go to Timbaland. When they want the West Coast sound, they go to Dr Dre. But none of those people, who want the Dancehall song, go home to Jamaica to do it. They don’t go to the Jamaican entertainer. And that’s why respect to Gwen Stefani because she went home to do it. And respect to Lauryn Hill. I really respect Jessica Simpson and Willie Nelson for their work but that’s a Dancehall track and they didn’t go home to produce it. And people suffer because of it. The young artists at home- The Trinity, the Third World, are not getting that benefit. That’s the inspiration for me. Yo the Third World - big it up! It’s not three worlds, not two worlds; it is one world, one earth.

AHHA: You sound very self-critical. Is that why the album took so long?

Sean Paul: Yes, I am. I’m basically somebody who is a professional. But that’s not the reason. Dutty Rock took two years to promote. Two years in different territories, different countries and all over the United States. And in the last year 2004, I basically did a world tour. I went to places like Indonesia, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, all of Canada, Hungary - places you don’t usually see Dancehall selling that many units! That’s why I wrote the song ‘Change the Game’ because I’m basically saying we changed the game. I’ve helped to make Dancehall music more popular on this earth. And that’s my claim to all these critics – that I’ve done it straight from home. All the riddims and all of the work I’ve done is from Kingston, Jamaica.

AHHA: Most people in America probably aren’t aware of the political situation in Jamaica. Obviously, the violence is still pretty intense. Can you shed some light for our AllHipHop readers?

Sean Paul: It was the ‘60s is when we finally became independent from England. It was 1962. We became free and our dollar was actually stronger than the U.S dollar. It was a life that had come out of hundreds of years of blood, sweat and slavery but we had a better standard of living. However the poor people got more and more poor as the years went on. I blame a lot of what has happened on the politicians. They sell many, many guns to the kids to defend their territory. Over the years it has become notorious. When I was growing up, every evening you would hear the shots and you would see it on the television. We don’t make guns in Jamaica; they are brought into the country. They are brought in by politicians so that they can stay in power.

AHHA: Is it getting better or is it getting worse?

Sean Paul: Well it’s gotten to a point where it’s not even about the politicians anymore, all of us know this. There are a couple of different things that are happening. The kids either turn to sport or to music or they either have to fend for themselves and they become thugs. That’s what Damian Marley’s song ‘Welcome to Jamrock’ is about; it’s about what is happening. But I do blame the politicians because when they retire, they get richer than the people. I don’t even want to get into Bush right now.

AHHA: Well apparently corruption is what separates undeveloped nations.

Sean Paul: Some Jamaicans say that when we have hurricanes it’s hard to get back on our feet, and if we were with England we would be better off. We would be looked after by America and England. But then look what happened in New Orleans. That’s why I don’t like the First World and Third World labels because it’s not decent. A decent country is not going to say, ‘We are the First World’ - but then spend more money on the war than the poor. They didn’t go to New Orleans for three days! It shows it really is one world and it’s just foolish not to recognize our ignorance.

AHHA: A lot of artists don’t discuss politics. So it’s refreshing to hear someone actually speak out. Will you ever get tired of making club music?

Sean Paul: Yeah, I have. I’ve done many songs and many ways I’ve tried to stray from it but a lot of times management has managed to stop me. But I’ve recorded some songs here and there in my career and I’ve been learning how to write songs differently. I wrote a song called ‘Time Rolls On’. It says ”Will we ever live together? Will we ever share one god? Will we ever care about life as time rolls on?” I’m talking to leaders- leaders of religion, leaders of government, and even leaders of street gangs. I’m saying war is so unclever. Everyone goes into it and the only result of it is death and destruction. There is nothing that comes out of it.

AHHA: Ok one last question on a lighter note. You have a loyal female following. Are you single? Can you set it straight?

Sean Paul: I have a young girlfriend that I’m with right now, though I want to say this. I am very, very accepting and very, very thankful of the love that I do get from the females. They’ve been my first fans; the people who have always encouraged me first are the ladies. I’m grateful for that. The groupie thing has come into play at times, but right now I’m in a relationship and I’m more mature about that.