Jenn Sanasie: Cannabis has really influenced your career and sound. How do you feel when you hear about legalization in different parts of the world?
Sean Paul: It's bittersweet for me because my father was one of those unsung heroes and someone who used to smuggle weed. He was trying to make money and was a crazy pothead. I think people like my pops are heroes. He crashed a ganja plane in the Everglades in the early ‘80s and got deported from the US. You know, that's just unfortunate. It's just funny to see the same scientists and politicians that would lock us up are now supporting it. Regardless, change is definitely a beautiful thing to see.
JS: You’ve been releasing music throughout quarantine, tell us about your latest track,“Dream Girl”! It’s become really popular on TikTok.
SP: It’s one of these TikTok rhythms that came out and people started dancing to it. Rhythms, or even songs, can break on TikTok so we got together with Ir Sais and Davido and created a song about the girl of our dreams: dope vid, dope song.
JS: Tell me about the girl of your dreams.
SP: Well, I married her, didn't I?
JS: I know you've been making music all quarantine, what are your plans for 2021?
SP: Since the pandemic hit, I've put out one single with Island Records who I'm signed with, and I also put some songs out on my own. One's called "Call On Me" with Tove Lo, about family and being there for each other. It came out right when the lockdown started, which was cool, because it's saying, ‘Call on me, Zoom me!’ You know what I mean? It's kind of saying, ‘Stay in touch and I'll be there for you.’ I think this year is a survival year, especially for me. I have asthma, and I'm not playing with this thing, man.
JS: Before the interview you were telling me about your intense cleaning habits. I’m imagining you surviving by cleaning everything, all the time.
SP: I've got a little alcohol bottle and I spray everything. When I go to the studio, I spray the earphones, I spray the microphone and the puff guard and spray up the AC vent because this enemy is the worst one, you can't see it. I treat it like it’s everywhere.
JS: I really wanted to ask you about dancehall culture. You've been a part of it for so long, and the culture is very quick to label artists who become successful as sellouts. What do you think about that?
SP: I feel that everybody likes to play scrimmage in the backyard. So, we go out there and we test each other's skills. And some people are very dope on that level. But, put them in a big stadium, and they probably won't do that well. The reason is more stamina is involved, more discipline, and more rules. I think the people who make it out of the small pond are the real gangsters. So I'm comfortable in my skin, I know that I played the game. I did well. And then I broke internationally. There’s a lot of people in the world who want to hear music that makes them feel good. I use the three L's: I look, listen and learn. And I tried to be very humble, no matter how big I got.
JS: Everything about this Zoom is very humble to me. You’re literally just sitting in your living room. Which I am very appreciative of. I read that you said you’re not a fan of clashing, can you talk to me more about that?
SP: I’d rather celebrate younger artists that are coming up instead of thinking I gotta clash them and get rid of them early. You know what I mean? I'd rather build champions than kill champions, which is what Supercat used to say. He's my mentor in the business. He's my father in the business.
JS: Your perspective is one that needs to be talked about more.
SP: In Jamaican culture, it’s very hardcore. It's not just a ‘your mama’ joke. It's like, ‘I will bust your head open.’ Some of my own friends have died by gun violence, I've had to bury them. And so coming to music now, I don't want to see that no more. I don't want to know my friend got nine shots and was suffering for air on the ground.
JS: Do you personally get involved still with the scene to promote non-violence?
SP: There's a Ghanaian artist called Stonebwoy, who clashed with Shatta Wale a couple weeks ago. I had to call Stonebwoy and be like, ‘Bro, no matter what happens, remember that dude is your brother.’ He was like, ‘Wow, no one said that to me before.’ I gotta say that right now I'm, I'm an elder in the music industry.
JS: You are an elder in the industry, with so many accolades and awards to your name. How does that feel?
SP: We see everyone using our sound, but we don't get the accolades. I can tell you about when I won my Grammy. It was 2003. I won a Grammy that evening and I also performed with Sting, and you won’t believe this, but they didn't have seats for us.
SP: Me or my crew, I guess we were just seen as little regular guys, and we had to sit outside in a caravan. I watched Black Eyed Peas walk past me on the red carpet. I just walked it myself. And I was told, ‘That's your caravan.’ I asked, ‘So I don't get to go inside and watch the show? And when it's my time to perform I have to go in and come back out?’ They were like, ‘Yeah.’ I was pissed off. People were calling me, saying ‘Congrats.’ And I was like, ‘You will never believe it, I'm outside the fucking Staples Center.’ You know what I mean? I take that as discrimination.
JS: It’s infuriating because you’re the star of the show and you have to stay outside.
SP: Beyoncé came to do work with me. Busta Rhymes was doing work with me. In 2006, I won an American Music Award and I treasure that award a lot more than the Grammy, because I was able to go on the stage and thank the world on behalf of my culture, on behalf of reggae and dancehall music. The Grammys gave me a thing which I'm honoured to have, but they didn't honour me. And at that time I was the hottest artist on the planet.
JS: It’s all about peace and love. I need you to clear something up for me. Everybody thinks you either lived in Canada or you are from Canada, what’s the story?
SP: In 1976, my Chinese-Jamaican grandfather, who was a doctor, went to Canada. By '78, all the rest of the family, except for my mom, and her sister moved there. We had cousins, aunts and uncles in Scarborough. I remember in 1984, Ghostbusters came out. We didn't have colour TVs when I was a kid here, and I saw it for the first time in Canada. I remember Canada's Wonderland, and the CN Tower, like that shit was a world like, ‘Wow.’ We didn't have nothing like that in Jamaica!
JS: Any other Canadian memories?
SP: One of my grandfathers of hip hop, Kardinal Offishall is Canadian, and he gave me one of my first paying jobs. He came to me, and was like, ‘You want a single?’ He was one of the first people to pay me, honest to God. I gotta praise him for that. He paid me $2,000 for a verse on Money Jane. At that time, that was a lot of money for me!
JS: "Gimme The Light" was a big part of weed culture. It was all about smoking and having a great time. 20 years later, how do you remember the song?
SP: It’s still a hot song. That just proves the music. I remember the producer, he was based out of Miami, he asked me, ‘How much are you gonna charge me to voice a rhythm?’ I was like, ‘$1,000 USD,’ but he only had $800. He was about to leave to go back to Miami, but I really needed that eight bills, so we went into the studio.
JS: Wow, $200 almost lost us that track?!
SP: I didn’t know what I was going to sing about. At the time, I had a big fan base in Manhattan. I went there every Thursday and Friday. In Jamaica, we weren't busting bottles of Moet, we would buy a crate of Guinness and put it on the ground. And I was like, ‘You know what? I don't have lyrics to spit, I'm going to talk about that.’ So, I was just freestyling ‘Just gimme the light and pass the dro, bust anotha bokkle of Moe.’ I was talking about last weekend in Manhattan. I just thought the song was something I was gonna make money off, then it would disappear. And here we are 20 years later. I have quite a few songs like that. Dope.
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