I Went on a First Date with... Sean Paul
I whisked off the dancehall star to a hotel bar to chat about Nirvana, French kissing, and finding out you're dead.
I'm not going to patronise you: you know who Sean Paul is. Whether it's "We Be Burnin'", "Get Busy", "Temperature", "Gimme the Light", "Breathe" with Blu Cantrell, "Baby Boy" with Beyoncé, or his feature on Sia's "Cheap Thrills" – which has been blasting through club doors and Uber windows for the duration of summer 2016, reaching number one in more than ten countries – you have probably had some sort of meaningful life experience to a song involving Sean Paul. Perhaps you sang one of his songs in a karaoke bar somewhere in mainland Europe and then immediately wished you hadn't, because you're not Jamaican. Maybe you met your current partner because you pressed your butt against them in a club to the intoxicating rhythm of "Ever Blazin". Conceivably, you got high and had an extremely deep revelation that recalibrated your perceptions while listening to Dutty Rock. Either way, real recognise real. Humanity recognise Sean Paul.
Gone, now, is the signature combination of bandana, baggy jeans, and cornrows that established his early image, but Sean Paul has the enduring appeal of a really, really, really nice drink. His vocals are smoother than Hennessy dripping down a dolphin's back, and he is the most internationally successful Jamaican dancehall artist – so it makes a lot of sense that we would look to him once again for the authentic goods, as dancehall rhythms wine their way back into the charts through every currently popular hit vessel from Drake to Justin Bieber. But who is Sean Paul, really? Let us think about this for a moment: What makes him tick?
As it turns out, Sean Paul is a man who orders apple juice from the bar because he hasn't drank for a year. One of Sean Paul's favourite songwriters is Kurt Cobain. Sean Paul will enter a room bearing an armful of complimentary Jamaican patties for everyone he is about to meet, while also keeping one hand free to hold a tennis ball for reasons he doesn't have to explain, because he is Sean Paul. I know all of this because my editor recently made him go on a date with me at London's Sanderson hotel, where we sat in a room decorated with oil paintings of dogs and chatted about snogging, Nirvana, and how everyone thought he died in 2006. Here's how it went.
Hi Sean Paul. How are you today?
I'm good thanks. Nice cut.
Mine's a little shorter than yours.
Mine was even shorter last week but I figured I'd let it grow long. You know, for the date.
Thanks for the patties by the way.
No problem. You vegetarian?
Vegan, but close enough.
I recently did a juice diet for a week and a half. Five juices a day. Detox thing. Orange, turmeric, brazil nut, flax seed and coconut; green juice with lemon grass in there. Good stuff. When I came off that diet I kind of ended up more on the vegetarian side. I still eat meat, but a whole lot less than I used to. My mum's been a vegetarian for 6 years or so too.
Do you think you'd ever go fully veggie?
I don't know. When I went to India I thought so. Everything tasted dope! Since doing that cleanse I went to LA and didn't want to eat meat, so I just had salad and soup and a sandwich and felt great. But then I ate a beef patty today, so...
How's the rest of your day been so far?
Good! It's been good. Nice drink here [laughs]. We just came back from Bestival, which was wicked. I didn't know the reception would be so crazy. There's like 50,000 tents alone, so there's even more people. Great energy. Loved it. When we came back this morning I slept a little and I've just been up on the internet watching documentaries about dancehall – what's happening with certain artists and stuff – and some hip-hop ones. I do a lot of that, and I did that until it was time to play tennis.
You play tennis?
Yeah! I don't really play for points, I just let the person train me. I've been doing that in the past five years.
Your whole family is quite sporty right?
Yeah, yeah. Swimming ting, you know.
Do you remember the first ever date you went on?
The first date… That would have been movies, back in Jamaica. We had a drive in near the airport and that's how we used to watch movies a lot. Our parents would drive us out there and we'd go into the stands to sit with each other. I had one of my first dates and kisses there at the movies.
What movie did you see?
At the time it was about 1987 so… The Fly, I guess?
That was my year. You know those years where you start the dating and the kissing and the holding hands...
And someone becomes your girlfriend after a few hours of hanging out.
Yeah, yeah! Like now we're going steady. We have a word in Jamaica for French kissing. We called it "throats". Do you have that?
No, but I love it. We say "snog" instead.
Snog! That's similar. When I say "throats" or "throatsin" now to someone younger they're like "What?! Why do you call it that?" I guess it's because you're so far down in the person's throat…
Have you ever had trouble talking to women?
Yeah, there's times when you get nervous. It depends on the situation. I was very close to my mum and she grew me up with her perspective and how I should behave. She said you can only be yourself. So yeah, I'm more comfortable like that. But sometimes you do get nervous. When I heard that this was going to be a date I was like, "Darn… I'm gonna have to revisit my tactics!"
What are your moves?
Back in the movie days it was like, "Oh something's on your ear [makes kissing noises]." But my game has developed and I've become a little more smooth since.
I'll be real with you Sean... I have no moves.
That's fine. Just go with the flow!
If you had to give up sex or food which would it be?
That's a hard question. If I gave up food I would die right?
After a while, yeah.
But then… If I gave up sex I would probably die quicker. I think I'd probably just give up food and die with a smile on my face.
Where did you party when you were younger?
My aunt actually half-owned a soundsystem and we had a big front lawn so we'd have a Halloween "putting on the hits" party. Did you have those?
Like a Stars in Their Eyes but at home sort of thing?
Yeah! So people would come and pretend to be Boy George and stuff, it was funny. They did a few every October, Christmas, summer, and Easter. So that was like my introduction [to parties] growing up. I used to love watching them create where the dancefloor would be and where the speakers would go. It was always like: "Okay, kids, when the thing starts you go into your rooms and watch TV, eat candy, don't stay up late…" But I was always out there. The first thing I loved was feeling loud music, in my chest, and seeing beautiful ladies doing their thing; people having fun.
You're throwing a party, and you can invite anybody you want, dead or alive. Who do you invite?
He-hey! Oh, damn. I would invite Jimi Hendrix… and Cindy Crawford. Great people like Muhammed Ali would, of course, have to be invited. People who I look up to today but have never met, like Michael Jordan. Because I'm a sports type of person, I like to feed alcohol to sporty type people and see what happens. So I guess those people, but also my family and friends would have to be there.
Good shout. It's not a real party without family and friends… or Cindy Crawford.
Yeah, I need her around.
I hear that your party trick is doing a handstand while other people try to push you over.
What? [laughs] That's a funny one. Who told you that?
It's on your Wikipedia page.
Man, Wikipedia is funny as hell. One time I was reading Wikipedia about myself like, "Oh Sean Paul did this and that… and then he died in 2006." I was like damn, I'm dead! That was a pretty shocking, to find out that way. There was a period of time where every YouTube video I had coming out there was kids going, "But I thought he died?!"
Apart from that, what's the weirdest rumour that's ever circulated about you?
That I'm not really Jamaican. And it's not weird because I guess I don't look like a typical Jamaican, but it does annoy me. People think I'm putting on an accent sometimes and it's like, I'm not trying. It's where I grew up and where I still live.
What are some of your all time favourite songs?
I have mixtures... Bob Marley songs, The Beatles songs, Kurt Cobain songs… I can't claim to have know every rock song, but I did get into Nirvana.
Oh yeah? What did you like about them?
In the early 90s I just needed something different. I'm a big hip-hop head, but at the time it was the same thing over and over to me. I was always listening to dancehall, I loved it, but Kurt Cobain - a lot of his melodies and harmonies, they kind of reminded me of The Beatles, which my mum used to listen to a lot. I haven't listened to Foo Fighters like that, I miss [Kurt's] voice. I listen to his albums still.
Kurt Cobain's aunt apparently gave him his first guitar and some of the first songs he listened to and learned were by The Beatles.
Yeah? That song "all in all is all we are…" [singing] reminds me loads of The Beatles.
Ok, I think we need to end the date now before I lose my shit to Sean Paul singing Nirvana songs at me. Could we do this again? Maybe I could get your number?
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Photography by Christoper Bethell.