Contemporary Jamaican dancehall star Sean Paul flavored his Caribbean style of music with hip-hop and garnered hits on the American charts. Dancehall, says Newsweek, is “Caribbean club music, a hard-edged and party-heavy offspring of reggae.” Paul’s 2002 album, Dutty Rock, climbed into the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and peaked at number three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Newsweek noted that “Most hip-hop fans … can now recite the chorus” of his mega-hit single “Gimme the Light.” The song “marks the first time a distinctly dancehall single has infiltrated the pop mainstream,” wrote Joseph Patel in the Boston Globe.
Sean Paul Henriques was born on January 8, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of a Portuguese-Jamaican father and a Chinese-Jamaican mother. His mother is a renowned painter, and Paul grew up comfortable and well educated. When he was 13, his mother gave him a little keyboard. “I remember thinking this was all I needed to make dancehall rhythms,” Paul said in online interview at the VP Records website.
A competitive swimmer and water polo player, he played on the Jamaican national water polo team. He went on to study business and hotel management at the College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Hope Road, Jamaica. After a brief stint as a banker, he chose instead to follow his longtime interest in dancehall music. “Dancehall was really the right avenue for me to express myself, to get people to hear me out about how I saw the world,” Paul remarked online at the Dance-HallMinded website. Paul had to promise his mother that if his dancehall career didn’t work out, he would return to banking.
He began to write his own songs, but was more successful as a singer, also called a deejay or “sing-jay” in dancehall. His first performances were at local barbecues and block parties. “I remember being a bathtub singer,” Paul reminisced in an online interview for MTV. “You know, the type that sings and everybody’s like ‘Shut up!’” Paul was inspired by the works of such reggae and hip-hop artists as Super Cat, Shabba Ranks, Lt. Stitchie, Papa San, and Major Worries, and enjoyed American hip-hop even as a kid growing up in Jamaica. “It was the first music that spoke to me…” he continued. “They were expressing something like how I would express myself, in first music that spoke to me…… My flow follows sometimes what’s going on in the hip-hop industry even though I’m speaking Jamaican patois.”
Jamaican rapper Don Yute mentored the young artist, and Paul also struck up a relationship with the popular reggae group Third World in 1993, becoming friends with members Cat Coore, Bunny Rugs, and Carrot Jarret. They encouraged his talent and helped further his connections in the music business. Those favors were not forgotten, Paul told the DanceHallMinded
Born Sean Paul Henriques on January 8, 1973, in Kingston, Jamaica. Education: Attended College of Arts, Science, and Technology, Hope Road, Jamaica.
Connected with popular reggae band Third World, 1993; recorded debut single “Baby Girl” with producer Jeremy Harding, 1996; released popular Jamaican singles “Ladies Man,” “Nah Get No Bly (One More Try),” “Deport Them,” “Excite Me,” “Infiltrate,” and “Hackle Mi,” 1996-99; toured Europe, Japan, and United States, 1999; collaborated with Mr. Vegas and rapper DMX on “Here Comes the Boom” for soundtrack of Hype Williams’s Belly;, 1999; scored a U.S. top-ten hit with “Hot Gal Today,” 1999; performed in Summer Jam 2000 concert in New York City, 2000; released Stage One on VP Records, 2000; released Dutty Rock and hit song “Gimme the Light,” 2002.
website: “I am very grateful to those musicians for giving me my first exposure to the business.”
He recorded his debut single “Baby Girl” with popular reggae producer Jeremy Harding in 1996. A string of Jamaican singles followed, including “Ladies Man,” “Nah Get No Bly (One More Try),” “Deport Them,” “Excite Me,” “Infiltrate,” and “Hackle Mi.” In 1999 Paul collaborated with dancehall artist Mr. Vegas and rapper DMX on “Here Comes the Boom” for the soundtrack of video director Hype Williams’s debut feature film Belly.
Paul released his full-length debut, Stage One, on independent VP Records in March of 2000. (VP has become the leading label for reggae and dancehall in the United States and struck a huge deal with Atlantic Records in 2002.) The album contained many of his Jamaican singles, including the Caribbean hits “Infiltrate,” “Deport Them,” and “Hot Gal Today,” which sparked interest in the United States and climbed to the top ten on the American charts. While the hits earned him superstar status in Jamaica, the American market was slow to pick up on the artist’s blend of hip-hop and dancehall, though “Deport Them” became popular in clubs.
There were other problems, too. Washington Post critic Alona Wartofsky chided what she called his negative attitude toward women. Most of the songs on Stage One, she said, “suggest that Sean Paul is preoccupied with women: getting them to look right, getting them to act right, getting them into bed right, then getting rid of them.” She conceded, however, that two tracks on the album, “Next Generation” and “You Must Lose,” address issues of violence and poverty. “These tracks suggest that perhaps Sean Paul,” she wrote, “like so many dancehall stars before him, may find that his passions shift as his career develops.”
A tour of Europe, Japan, and the United States followed the release. In 2000 he was the first dancehall artist to appear in the Summer Jam concert in New York City. He has also performed at many major music festivals, including Sting, Reggae Sunsplash, Reggae Sunfest, and Reggae SuperJam, as well as showcases in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean, and the United States.
Paul fared much better with the release of Dutty Rock in 2002. Producers Tony Touch, Rahzel, and hot hip-hop producers the Neptunes all had a hand in shaping the album. “This album, I’m trying to show growth where my music is spread out to more than just the dancehall riddims [sic],” he told MTV. “Sometimes you have to do things different from that mainstream and just make music the way it feels… I been doing some different things. I’m trying to stick out in different ways.” Dutty Rock produced the hit single “Gimme the Light.”
Paul and business partner Daniel Abbot launched the dancehall record label Bassline Records to promote the genre. “Not enough time is put into the full production of Dancehall,” Paul told the DanceHallMinded website. “The talent is there, but we have to look at the rest of the world as a marketplace as well, not just Jamaica. People should stop just trying to make a quick buck and develop the music. Then reggae can move forward again.”
Stage One, VP, 2000.
Dutty Rock, VP, 2002.
Billboard, November 23, 2002, p. 16.
BostonGlobe, November 22, 2002, p. C14.
ChicagoTribune, November 22, 2002, p. 30.
Newsweek, December 16, 2002, p. 66.
New York Times, November 3, 2002, p. 9.4.
Washington Post, September 13, 2000, p. C5.
“Biography: Sean Paul,” Hip Online, http://www.hiponline.com/artist/music/p/pauLsean/ (February 7, 2003).
“Dutty Stallion: Sean Paul,” DanceHallMinded.com, http://www.dancehallminded.corn/seanpaul/bio.htrnl (January 15, 2003).
“Sean Paul,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (January 15, 2003).
“Sean Paul,” MTV, http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/pauLsean/bio.jhtml (January 15, 2003).
“Sean Paul,” VP Records, http://www.vprecords.com/artists/sean/vp_sesanpaul.html#LEXBIO (January 15, 2003).
“Sean Paul: Dutty Rock,” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/bluessoulreggae/reviews/pauLduttyrock-shtml (February 7, 2003).
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