"Gimme the Light" has become a solid radio anthem for dancehall DJ Sean Paul Henriques, commonly known as Sean Paul. In Jamaica, it isn't color or racial heritage that sets people apart; it's class. Paul, lucky enough to be born into an uptown family as the son of an esteemed painter, pursued a career in dancehall at a time when it wasn't an acceptable trade.
After all, he had other options, such as representing Jamaica in water polo sports while attending college for culinary arts or management. Yet music was really his calling. With a slight push from Cat Coore of Third World, Sean left the easier uptown route. He ventured to Jeremy Harding's studio to record dubplates while hanging out with other aspiring artists in the self-named Dutty Cup Crew, each one looking for a bly, for a break.
It was his first recording, "Baby Girl" with Jeremy Harding on the Fearless riddim, that landed Paul that bly. While the song earned recognition and comparisons with the legendary Super Cat, Paul had a slight battle earning his respect due to his uptown origins. By 1998 his second recording with Harding, "Infiltrate," made him impossible to overlook as the song experienced wide international success at the grassroots.
His uniquely handsome look, attributed to his mixed heritage of Jewish Portuguese, Chinese, and Creole Jamaican -- a true testament to Jamaica's claim "Out of Many -- One People" -- has often had him mistaken for everything from Belizean to Cuban and even Puerto Rican. Yet this look and hit songs like "Infiltrate," "Nah Got No Bly (One More Try)," "Deport Them," and "Hot Gal Today" have won him fans outside his native base.
However, "Gimme the Light" is his most notable hit, due in part to the exposure provided by the video. This song has a long history. It was voiced for Troyton Remi of Black Shadow Records over two years ago; Remi and Paul co-wrote the song for the then-upcoming Buzz riddim.
Sean says, "When Troyton first told me about the riddim, he expressed he was trying to do a fast ting but [in] the one-drop style. Like the old one-drop you used to hear in the dancehall, when someone like [Admiral] Bailey would come onstage and the band would follow his lead with a simple 'dup dup,' then slowly build up until they were hitting it fast, like 90 or 102 rpms!"
Black Shadow, an independent label based in Miami, was determined to push its own material. Without relying on a compilation deal with VP Records or Greensleeves, it sold over 40,000 units of the Buzz compilation. When Sean Paul's Dutty Rock album was being compiled by VP Records, "Gimme the Light" was included and became the first single. This second emergence of the song, which was serviced to mix-show DJs, resulted in instant radio frenzy. With the new hype on, Paul and his management wouldn't relent until a quality video producer was contracted. Enter Little X.
Little X has been incorporating the dancing vibes back into videos at a time when half-naked women are dominating the visual product. Of Trinidadian origin, Little X was hoping for such a project to be able to portray part of the distinctive Caribbean culture onscreen. Since its debut, the video has remained in rotation on BET -- a favorite on the fan-request countdown 106 & Park.
"I think he understands where I need to be," says Paul of X. "I don't have plans to work with another director right now."
Being that "Gimme the Light" is not only on Dutty Rock, which drops November 12, but was included on VP's Reggae Gold 2002 compilation, the song has enjoyed a steady climb on the Billboard reggae chart. Since other dancehall artists like Tanto Metro & Devonte have done the same, major labels have been looking to raid VP for a while. It was the obvious appeal of "Gimme the Light" that had Atlantic put in a bid for the album and partner with VP.
Dutty Rock, like debut album Stage One, is ram-packed with quality hits. Sean sees it as having "more party flavor than the first one." It's undiluted dancehall with songs like "Like Glue," "Can You Do the Work" with Ce'Cile, and "I'm Still in Love," featuring Sasha over a remake of an older dancehall riddim. "Punkie," which was produced by Miami-based dancehall producer Richie D, is also included. There's collaboration with other renowned producers Shams, Steely & Cleevie, Sly & Robbie, and Jeremy Harding.
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Sean's distinctive sound and flow along with his radio success have afforded him collaborations with artists and producers outside of dancehall. In 2002 alone, he's worked with the Neptunes, Mya, Tony Touch, Rahzel of the Roots, Clipse, and Lil' Kim, and others are still calling. The only addition to Dutty Rock featuring a hip-hop artist is the remix of "Gimme the Light" with Busta Rhymes. It was initially thought to be a hip-hop remix, but Busta insisted, "There's no way I'm going on a hip-hop riddim, I'm going to give respect to dancehall."
Quite a compliment when others fail to recognize that hip-hop is a by-product of dancehall. Sean still sees evidence today of dancehall's influence on hip-hop. "The vibes just spread," he says. "Ms. Jade, that Timberland's working with. Missy Elliott's 'One Minute Man' has a dancehall drop -- that boop boop. Tweet, all this new stuff has a dancehall vibe. You have to look at it and see they check out our ting. I'm not hating on that, it all sounds fresh to me."
For Sean Paul, right now he's busy with promotion for the new album, hitting the radio channels Atlantic has opened up, and performing at events such as this weekend's Caribbean Reggae Beach Fest 2002. He's excited to be pushing his music: "That's what me love still. Dancehall a bust. It's not just about me but it's dancehall!"