With a mixture of dancehall, reggae, ragga and pop, Sean Paul from Jamaica became a world star. After countless hits, "Scorcha" is his eighth studio album. With ntv.de he talks about the music business in the past and today, life on tour with children and his dream duet partner.
ntv.de: With "Scorcha" comes your eighth studio album. But first I want to talk about another album of yours: "Dutty Rock". That came out exactly 20 years ago, brought you the worldwide breakthrough and has certainly turned your life upside down. How do you think back to that time?
Sean Paul: Of course, unbelievable emotions and feelings come up in me. It all happened incredibly fast, but at the same time a lot has happened since then. When a career like this picks up speed, you suddenly have a lot to do. At the same time, life seems to be passing you by. So when I look back over the 20 years, on the one hand they fly by, on the other hand it seems like a million years. That's pretty paradoxical.
Many artists are still very young when they celebrate their international breakthrough. You, on the other hand, already had a successful time as a musician in Jamaica and were almost 30 when "Dutty Rock" came out. Was that an advantage or disadvantage?
In fact, I was 24 when I even started releasing my first songs. And yes, when the international breakthrough came, I was 29. It's a good question how that affected me. In any case, I can say: At 24, I knew who I was. When I was 17 or 18, on the other hand, I was still trying to find myself. But I think everyone goes their own way. Take Prince for example. By the time he was 24, his life was already like a feature film. (laughs) He was already writing songs for all sorts of other people. And he definitely already knew who he was and could reflect all of that.
I remember seeing the video for your hit "Get busy" on MTV for the first time. The music business has changed a lot since then. Has it gotten better, worse, or just different?
It is definitely different. Whether better or worse, I can't say. Today a lot comes from Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok or whatever is trending at the moment. So many different things are created, which in turn influence the music and bring forth new artists. At the same time, there is such a flood of information that even great artists and hit songs can get lost in it. You have to see where you position yourself in the market and how you can take advantage of the constant new developments. As an artist who grew up before any of this existed, it would be silly to be upset that you're not the top star on Tiktok. But you can also benefit from it.
Like your song "No Lie" for example. It appeared at the end of 2016, but only recently broke the one billion hits mark on YouTube...
Yes, the song was already a hit, especially in Germany and Great Britain, when it came out. But because of his work at Tiktok, it went through the roof again later, which is great.
Speaking of Germany, Great Britain and Europe. Here, too, you've made it to stardom with a dancehall sound, although these countries may not be the classic terrain for it. How do you explain that? Is it because you found the perfect combination of dancehall, reggae, ragga and pop?
Of course, I like the thought of having found the perfect combination. (laughs) I'm sure all artists feel the same way. Everyone tries to produce their music on such a high level that the vibe really resonates with the fans. Basically, I think it's important to strike the right balance. One should not become arrogant and take things for granted. And you should take a step back and give people a break. After all, when I look in the mirror, sometimes I don't even like to see my own face anymore. (laughs)
Germany may not be the number one country for this, but we do have a few very successful dancehall artists, such as Gentleman and Seeed. tell you what
Yes, Seeed tell me something and I even know Gentleman personally. I also did a song with him. He's a really cool guy and great artist.
Let's come to your new album "Scorcha". It follows the album "Live N Livin", which was released just last year. How come you recorded two albums in such a short time?
About two years ago I started working on the new songs. But then I suddenly didn't really know when I could go on tour again. So I focused on the songs and put a lot of work into them. Now, of course, it looks like two albums have come out. But it felt like I was working on just one. And in fact I'm already working on another album at the moment, because I still have a number of songs that I haven't released yet.
You're actually constantly working on new songs. Some of them make you think: Now is exactly the right time to publish them. Others, on the other hand, do not yet seem ready for it, so that they are postponed to a later date. That's why some songs have been sitting in my drawer for years. One of them is "Light My Fire", the song with Gwen Stefani on "Scorcha".
You say that "Live N Livin" and "Scorcha" are actually just one album for you. But on "Live N Livin" you gather all kinds of dancehall greats around you, while "Scorcha" comes along more in the classic Sean Paul manner for me. Am I wrong?
No, that's right. When "Live N Livin" came out I felt the need to make a real hardcore dancehall album that goes back to the roots. I've done so many collaborations over the years, including with producers. The album reflects that, which is why it sure sounds a little different. It was also about bringing the dancehall community together - across generations. Artists as diverse as Buju Banton and Intence come together on the album. "Scorcha" is also dancehall - just in a different style. For me it flows together. It's one and the same genre. It's just different variations.
You also have a few guests on "Scorcha", although not quite as many as on "Live N Livin": You've already mentioned Gwen Stefani, but Tove Lo, for example, and once again Sia are also part of the party. How do you choose your cooperation partners?
Quite simply based on whether I like what someone is doing. It's that simple. For example, I don't care if all sorts of people think a certain song could be a hit. If I don't feel like it myself, I won't do it. But the other way around, I've also been asked why I got involved in this or that thing of all things. It's very simple there too: Because I liked the song and the artist at the time. For me, these are very natural decisions that are not made at the green table. In fact, I've turned down requests from really big artists because it didn't suit me in the specific situation.
Do you have anyone else on the list that you would like to make a song with?
In any case. For example, I really like Billie Eilish and as a band Twenty One Pilots. There are still many people in hip-hop that I would really like to work with. Especially with this young generation of rappers that is currently making its way. For example, Lil Uzi Vert has great melodies. I really like that.
Soon you will finally be able to go on tour again. You're coming to Europe in July. The continent is being rocked by the war in Ukraine. Does that concern you or do you prefer to be left alone with politics?
Actually, I don't want to have anything to do with politics. But of course that bothers me. I've been touring since 1996. During this time there were a few wars - in Iraq, for example, or in Afghanistan. Friends of mine have been there too. On my new album there is the song "Good Day". It's about being aware of happiness again and again when the sun is shining on your face again. That's what I do. And I pray for peace. One must never lose hope.
You are now the father of two children, a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. Some artists take their children with them on tour. You also?
No not that. But before the pandemic, my son was on two shows, one in Orlando and the other in the Cayman Islands. Since then he has been really interested in music. He sings a lot and plays around on the drums. I hope this passion continues. Now they both need stability. And they have to go to school. In the future I'll definitely take them on tour with me so they can experience what's going on - as long as my knees keep up. (laughs)
Volker Probst spoke to Sean Paul