Sean Paul on New Album, The “New” Dancehall, and Nicki Minaj’s Influences


In March, Grammy-winning singer Sean Paul will be releasing his fifth studio album, Tomahawk Technique, after taking the past two years to tour the world and plot his next move. In a few short weeks, that move will be revealed as his new album will reintroduce fans and the world to a newly-interpreted Dancehall sound, brought to listeners by some of the industry’s hottest DJs and producers. spoke to Sean recently while he was in New York promoting the album to hear about the new approach he took to creating Tomahawk Technique. We also learned how different the production and recording process was this time around, along with his thoughts on the Dancehall scene as it currently stands. What’s going on, Sean? How you feeling?

Sean Paul: I’m good, man, enjoying the sun today. I’m in New York riding up and down Chinatown. It’s cold, but there’s a lot of sun, so I’m enjoying that and then I go home in a couple of days. How excited are you for the release of your fifth album, Tomahawk Technique, in a little less than two months?

Sean Paul: I’m f*cking excited, son! Tomahawk Technique, the two T’s. I’ve been asking producers to make Dancehall music from their perspective for me. So my four albums before this was all Dancehall production, all Jamaican production, which I was and still am very proud of. How does this album represent the new Sean Paul, and who did you get to work with this time around?

Sean Paul: This time around, being that I’m more established, I would like to try and step out. I would like to try and do things I’ve never done before. Usually, I like to sing mostly my own hooks in certain songs, but this time I’ve got Stargate giving me hooks from Alexis Jordan. They also produced a track with me and Kelly Rowland. I did a crazy song with Benny Blanco, who is a Pop producer, and it goes real high. I’m doing stuff out of my comfort zone and expanding as an artist.

I’ve got my own production on there. I’m working with DJ Ammo, who produced “Dirty Bit” for Black Eyed Peas. That’s for the Dance element being added to the whole Dancehall flavor of the album. I’m working with Rico Love, which is like the meat of the album; he got five tracks on there. I’m just looking forward for the people to hear it. I just love to be expanding musically right now. So, why are you just now starting to produce your own material?

Sean Paul: Let me tell you the story. In Jamaica, when people produce me, they kind of let me write the song and mostly, I produce myself. I’ve been doing it for a lot of years now. I started producing in 2000 and didn’t really know much more than just the drum machine. Then I left it alone for a little while and let the producers do what they do, and I was being professional about doing what I do. So, how are you doing things differently this time around?

Sean Paul: I want to expand, I want to have a different sound, I want to sound more fresh, I want to have a unique approach. I’m one of the biggest in the [Dancehall] game, so people are kind of afraid to tell me to do this over or do that over. And, most of the producers right now are younger producers, they’re junior to me. They’re not challenging me enough. That’s the opposite of what Benny Blanco and Rico Love was doing. Five songs in two days with Rico, come on, and they’re all going to be on the album. They’re hits.

With Stargate, they made me go back and forth a couple times with the songs, like the one with Kelly Rowland. At first they loved it, but said it was a little too mushy and a little too long in the verse, so we went back and cut some stuff and did it myself. That’s all the kind of stuff I’m talking about when I say I’m expanding my artistry and being directed by them. So now this is all perfect. It’s like a second breath for me then to just get on a track and do it my way, but when someone else directs me, that’s a whole different street you can go down. Other than their track records, what was so special about these specific producers that you know you had to work with them to expand yourself musically as you say?

Sean Paul: Well, first of all, Stargate produced a track for Ne-Yo a couple years ago called “Miss Independent,” and it definitely sounded very Dancehall to me, so I had to know who produced that record for Ne-Yo. Jamaican kids were running to the radio, because it sounds like Dancehall, but the chorus they were using was a little different then what our musicians do, so that was my decision from the jump to try and work with them.

I wanted to work with many people and I gave my record company a lot of names and they said, ‘okay, we’ve got these kids lined up for you, let’s see what can happen.’ And that’s basically what happened. I had no links to Rico Love or Stargate; I just knew that they could produce something that sounded Dancehall. So the whole issue for me was to find producers that could produce Dancehall from their own perspective. Blanco asked me to send him some Dancehall tracks that I liked; he listened to them and studied them, and put his own twist on what that was. What about Rico Love and Stargate?

Sean Paul: It was a major experiment working with all these guys, but they all came to bat. All of them said, ‘let me make Dancehall for you, how we think it should sound.’ There were some tracks that Stargate did that were much more Dance oriented which I don’t mind ‘cause they sound good but I think I’m holding them for another album.

I did a lot of work for this album and only 13 songs are on it, which I’m p##### about ‘cause I got a lot more. I’ve got stuff from Akon that we’re saving for another thing, and some Jamaican production from my usual big producers back home, Steve McGregor who produced my last album, Don Corleone, people like Left Side, people like Washroom Entertainment, new dudes in the game.

So I’m just spitting out a lot of stuff this year, and that’s why I called the album Tomahawk Technique. This summer a lot of people were in the studio like ‘yo you’re spitting them bombs son,’ and I would say ‘yeah, like a tomahawk’ [laughter], and it kind of just stuck and with the hairstyle and everything I decided to just fly with it. I was going to ask you about the hair anyway so thanks for clearing that up [laughter]. What are your personal thoughts on the current Dancehall and Reggae scenes within the industry right now? I know that your most recent video is already at 33 million views, so there’s no denying that people are still listening to and loving the music.

Sean Paul: I think that the genre in general is much huger than 10 years ago; however, our music was the most underground music to start with. It was played in every club, yet no one bought it. It’s even more like that now with the advent of all these computers. When I first started in the game, there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no computers in terms of Logic and Pro Tools and all of that; it was reel-to-reel tape.

The whole game changed in terms of, music-wise, there’s less skills in music in general. I’m talking Dance music, Pop music, Country, Hip-Hop, all of that; everything is lower, so Dancehall music is not selling. Our numbers are weak, but the scene is bigger. What about your thoughts on some of the other artists that have come and gone within the genre?

Sean Paul: There is Mavado right now, Serani was out like a year ago; there’s a lot more people eating off the game. So I think we need to get organized and more together. It might sound cliché, but “united we stand and divided we fall.” We’re a small country, and we’ve been impacting, not just American music, but music in general throughout the world. When you look at even the biggest rappers right now, I would say Nicki Minaj does it more than anyone else right now. How so?

Sean Paul: There’s just certain sounds, slangs, and lingos that come from the Caribbean, and she’s from there, but we are definitely the most dominant culture in that area, and there’s just a presence in Hip-Hop. In Rap and Alternative Rock music with the bass lines, there is definitely an influence. But it’s not just me. Yeah, there’s 30 million views on my new song, but the whole genre stepped up, and it’s just that there’s a lot more people in the game and a lot less money, a lot less pie, and so there’s less people buying it. As a Dancehall and Reggae artist, what do you think is one of the largest barriers to overcome?

Sean Paul: The biggest barrier that there is is that our language is different from what people are used to. When I search Twitter, the biggest comment about me is ‘I don’t know what the f*ck he be saying anyway.’ Sometimes they’ll say that I’m hot, though [laughter]. So that’s the biggest barrier. But I’m not going to sing a whole song in straight English so that everyone can understand. I mean, I think my song “Like Glue,” is a straight English hook, but people say that they don’t understand it.

Either way, I will not compromise my own language, and you still have a kid from Staten Island or somewhere who sings every word and then the rest of America gets with it, and they say, ‘oh, that’s what he means.’ It’s kind of hard to listen to something that may sound foreign to you, but there’s people with bigger accents then myself so that’s the biggest barrier we got honestly is the language barrier. I think that if our language was more understandable, I think our music would be triple-force to reckon with Lastly, you have Tomahawk Technique coming out in February so based on what you just said, do you believe that this is the music that’s needed right now to get people back on the genre’s bandwagon again?

Sean Paul:  It’s what I need. I needed to do an album where I was expanding my artistry. You know, Dutty Rock was my most successful selling album; a lot of people know that album and that work. Trinity did its thing. Imperial Blaze didn’t really do that well and from Trinity to Imperial, I’m defending Jamaica to the ground. To me, that’s what Jamaica needed. I needed to work with people in my industry and take part in the history of that.

Right now, I just needed to expand and work with people I never worked with before and take that opportunity. I think it’s going to be very interesting for people to hear these producers making Dancehall from their perspective. So, if it is not what the industry needs, it’s what I need, and I need to be an artist and express myself and just live. That’s a great answer, and I’m looking forward to hearing the album and seeing what you have in store for the fans.

Sean Paul: Yeah, man. Thank you.

Follow Sean Paul on Twitter: @DuttyPaul