Superstar Sean Paul Reveals All

Superstar Sean Paul Reveals All

At Reggae Sumfest, the Jamaican superstar talks weed moderation, his iconic song with Beyoncé, and his new baby.

At Reggae Sumfest, the Jamaican superstar talks weed moderation, his iconic song with Beyoncé, and his new baby.

Text: Alex Frank

It is around six in the morning before I get a chance to talk to Sean Paul, perhaps the most consistent hitmaker in Jamaican music of the past 15 years. This scheduling sounds extreme, yes, but considering the context, it really isn’t: we are backstage at Reggae Sumfest, the enormous Red Stripe-sponsored reggae and dancehall festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and acts go all night, with the headliners showing up sometimes in the bright light of sunrise at seven or eight. The smell of weed is all around, there are coconuts to drink from to stay hydrated, and fans have planted chairs in the grass to fortify a spot for the long haul. “I remember staying until almost twelve noon to see Dennis Brown,” Paul remembers of an old trip to yearly party, which is in its 25th year in 2017. “I was done because I drank a lot that night.”

These days, Paul is as big a draw to the festival as anyone. Over his twenty-year career, he has made more hits almost than he knows what to do, and his four A.M. set is a rapid chain of memorable, catchy songs like “Gimme the Light” and “Get Busy.” It is astounding to stand in the crowd and watch him cycle through so many songs burned into the consciousness of the brain, though Paul is humble about how he was able to bring the dancehall sound to such a broad audience around the world. “I do have a crazy tone, and I’m able to put catchy lyrics together,” he says. “It’s all about the beat for me first. When I hear the beat, it makes me say, 'Oh this beat is about ladies or dancing or reality.' It’s the riddim that gets me.”

At its height, his success was so pronounced that he worked with the likes of Beyoncé on "Baby Boy," one of her best and most beloved hits from her early career. “She opened for me in a stage show here in Jamaica in 1997, with [Destiny’s Child]. When she was doing her solo ting, her people said, She has a song she wants you on,” he says. “I remember writing the song back by my mango tree, and a mango dropped straight down on my lap, and I was like, this is a hit song!” A few years back, Beyoncé included it in a medley of her songs while performing on the world’s biggest stage: the Super Bowl, a fact that Paul takes in characteristic stride. “I was in my studio my wife started saying, ‘Yeahhhh, yeahh,’” he says. I wasn’t watching it—I was doing some work, and I turned the channel and said, ‘That’s cool.’”

More exciting for him is that he has been riding a massive second wave in his career, recently featuring on hits by Sia and DJ Snake with Justin Bieber, as well as recruiting the hottest rappers on the planet, Migos, for a song, proving he is able now as he ever was to break through pop culture. “It’s about taking advantage of the right time. You do get good opportunities, and if you ain’t ready, it ain’t gonna work,” he says. He’s been on the road for the last three years trying to capitalize on the moment: “I live out of three bags,” he says. He has also been using his fame to shine a spotlight on younger dancehall artists, including Alkaline and Chi Ching Ching, who he brought out on stage at Sumfest. He says he gets as much out of collaborating with them — notably a splash of youthful energy — as they do him. “I like to find riddims from the new generations that remind me of when I was 15 years old and first drank my beer and experimented with love and sex and girls,” he says with a smile.

His life now has undergone one big change: he had his first baby, Levi Blaze, with his wife Jodi. “I’ve been on the road so much, I’ve only spent two solid months with him,” he says. “He’s probably going to call me FaceTime before he calls me daddy.” At 44 and a family man, he’s also found a balance when it comes to the kind of partying he sings about on his songs — even the propensity for weed that he is so famous for. “I didn’t drink alcohol for a year and a half and I just started again this year. I started smoking more recently again, too. But more moderate. I think life is about balance,” he says, saying his last words as the sun came up after a long night. “I got over all the hype a long time ago when I realized it’s all bullshit. I like hype, but I don’t live in it.”

Credits: Images Courtesy of Skkan Media Entertainment

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