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With the vocal stylings of Sean Paul, modern Jamaican reggae has secured its own space on the international musical stage.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Paul says his heritage has been a boon to his musical career. “It makes me unique, stand out more and carve a space in popular music that no one else really occupies,” he says.
And carve out he has. When Paul’s fourth album, “Imperial Blaze,” is released next month, fans can expect “the future sound of dancehall; a lot of club bangers and songs dedicated to women,” he says.
Watch Sean Paul perform live in New York’s Central Park Friday for “Good Morning America’s” Summer Concert Series!
Paul’s first album, “Stage One,” debuted in 2000 and, since then, he has had a string of successes. His song “Gimme the Light” was a huge hit, and the multiplatinum album, “Dutty Rock” (2002), was a Grammy winner. He followed that up with “The Trinity” in 2005, which also went platinum. As Paul’s popularity grew, he won the American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist in 2006.
Paul, 36, has always been about pushing himself forward as an artist. His first album began with songs comprised from the dancehall and each successive album has had more exclusive music. The mix of energetic and reflective tracks on “Imperial Blaze” has been “recorded especially for this album,” Paul writes on his Web site.
All the while, his heritage has infused different facets of his music. For instance, his new album’s lead single, “So Fine,” combines fast lyrics, harmony and digital percussion.
In the creative process, he’s revealing the talent of young Jamaican producers: Craig “Leftside” Parks, son of Jamaican bandleader Lloyd Parkes; Jeremy Harding, Paul’s manager, and Jazon “Jigzagula” Henriques, Paul’s brother.
Through his career, Paul has found that his Jamaican reggae and dancehall music don’t penetrate some places. “Sometimes, people can’t understand my lyrics and that makes it hard to reach certain audiences sometimes,” he says.
Paul’s Effort to Connect With Artists and New Audiences
Paul has been able to help expand the reach of his music by being mindful of the possible language barriers.
“I try to make sure at least my ‘hooks’ are in more straight English and less patois,” he says. “Also I’ve done versions of ‘punkie’ [“Dutty Rock”] and ‘hold my hand’ [“Imperial Blaze”] in Spanish to help reach that audience.”
In addition to pursuing new audiences, Paul has also sought to connect with other artists. He has worked with hip-hop stars 50 Cent, Clipse and Busta Rhymes, and recorded a fair share of duets, including “Break It Off” with Rihanna and “Baby Boy” with Beyonce.
“It’s great sharing ideas and collaborating with artists with different styles and perspectives,” he says. “It’s also amazing when someone I have so much respect for like Busta Rhymes calls and says he wants to work with you.”
For Paul, another major influence is his family and, in “Imperial Blaze,” he takes the opportunity to describe how much they matter. “I … show a deeper side with songs that talk about relationships and a song [‘Straight from My Heart’] dedicated to my moms.”
Amid the stardom, Paul gives his family credit for keeping him grounded, he says.
They’ve been instrumental in his key pursuit outside of music as a competitive water athlete. Paul spent much time as a teenager in the pool playing for the Jamaica national water polo team, as his father and grandfather had before him. His mother, meanwhile, was a backstroke swimmer.
Some of Paul’s fans might also be surprised to learn that he worked as a bank teller and went to hotel management school for two years, he says.
No matter what he has been involved in, he has maintained his passion for music. “I was doing music even while I was swimming. … Unless you’re Mike Phelps, there isn’t that much future in swimming,” he says.
But Paul’s future in music looks bright, and it could be because he doesn’t take his fans for granted. “I just know that fans aren’t easy to come by,” he says, “and you have to work to keep that respect and love.”