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Sean Paul's latest 'Scorcha' brings the rapper's signature heat back to the dance floor

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

When it comes to dancehall music, one name stands above the rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCORCHA")

SEAN PAUL: (Singing) Biddi bang, bang, bang (ph).

RASCOE: Well, actually, two names - Sean Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCORCHA")

PAUL: (Singing) Telling dem again. Cah man a scorcha, man a scorcha. Scotch bonnet pepper wen mi deal widdi daughter (ph).

RASCOE: This fiery beat is "Scorcha," the title track off of Sean Paul's latest album, which brings the Jamaican artist's signature heat back to the dance floor. Sean Paul joins us now from Los Angeles. Welcome to the program.

PAUL: Hey, what's up? Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: You know, we just heard "Scorcha," which I'm already, you know, grooving to. Everybody can't see it 'cause it's radio, but I'm moving to it. Like, is that what you are trying to bring with this new album - just bring the heat?

PAUL: Yeah, man, this album is full of that and also shows some growth. So it's a double whammy from me, you know what I mean? When I heard this track "Scorcha," it just reminded me of, you know, a clubby (ph) vibe, even though we haven't been clubbing as much. And I was looking forward to these times again. So I was like, what am I? Hot boy. What is this track? Hot track? All right, man a scorcha, man - so (laughter).

RASCOE: I mean, your first album came out 22 years ago, which is hard to believe. And now you're known all over the world for songs like "Get Busy." You also have, like, "No Lie," which you recorded with Dua Lipa. I want to know what - like, what goes into a Sean Paul Song?

PAUL: Well, for me, you know, every time I hear a track, it's the track that tells me exactly where it's going to go - if it's going to be moody or introspective or a dancehall selective, you know what I mean? So when I hear a track that I feel can make, you know, people bounce or have a lady feel like she want to shake it and, you know, show off her beautiful assets, that's always inspiring to me and helps me to write, as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYNAMITE")

PAUL: (Singing) I'm ain't goin' in tonight till the mornin' light, and the girl dem we have them whole heap (ph). When you keep press it back, girl.

SIA: (Singing) We're dynamite, oh.

PAUL: (Singing) You a blow up the spot, girl.

SIA: (Singing) We're dynamite, oh.

PAUL: (Singing) Make we reset the clock, girl.

RASCOE: You have a song with Sia called "Dynamite." When you get a track and you're like, Sia would be great on this, and then - and it just kind of flows from there?

PAUL: Yeah, like, sent it to her. She was like, dope. Wrote me, you know, the hook. And when I heard that, I was like, I'm ready. To me, it reminds me of an energy that I need this year.

RASCOE: I mean, it seems like more artists are doing dancehall music who are not from Jamaica or even - you see people trying to do Jamaican lingo even though they not Jamaican. You know, shout out to Chet Hanks. What do you think about that? Do you ever get a little, like - some people are doing a little too much or do you appreciate it?

PAUL: I appreciate it. It's been forever, you know what I mean? When I heard Lil Kim going - saying what the block, what the beastie (ph), you know what I mean?

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah.

PAUL: In "Benjamins," I was like, yo, this is dope.

RASCOE: Yeah.

PAUL: Those references have been awesome. And then people, like, you know, from the beginning - KRS-One putting familiar reggae bass lines to their hit tracks - also people like Slick Rick. And then, you know, when it came to my era, R&B people getting involved with Beyonce dem (ph) and Blu Cantrell hollering at me to do a tune. And you come up to this era where you have people like Drake and Rihanna and people like Ed Sheeran - you know, I've been criticized for criticizing people like that. But really what I was just trying to do was make people aware that the sound comes from Jamaican artists and what we've done. It's not only myself. But reggaeton, Afrobeat, and a lot of these pop cats benefit from what we've done before.

RASCOE: You did mention Beyonce. You had a very big hit with Beyonce, "Baby Boy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY BOY")

PAUL: (Singing) Beyonce. Sing it darling.

BEYONCE: (Singing) Baby boy, you stay on my mind, fulfill my fantasy.

PAUL: (Singing) Come on, girl, tell me how you feel.

RASCOE: Now, you did talk about this in a recent interview that you did. You only performed it a few times, that there seemed like there were some issues. And this was a long time ago, like 2003 - that there were rumors that you and Beyonce may have had...

PAUL: Yeah.

RASCOE: ...A thing - a romantic thing going on.

PAUL: They must hate me by now, and their children too, man. It's...

RASCOE: Who? You think Beyonce and them? Or...

PAUL: Yeah, because it keeps coming up and it's just 20 years later and it's like...

RASCOE: Yeah.

PAUL: Love to them. They're two great artists. The song me and her did was a very sexy song.

RASCOE: It was very good. It was a hot song.

PAUL: But people keep, you know, bringing it into different contexts. And so - headlines. I thought to myself since the last time, maybe I should just not say nothing about the song ever again.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

PAUL: It is what it is. They were rumors about the song. But what I said was, I didn't start them. Maybe they started because of these crazy incidences. There was three times...

RASCOE: Because, like, your sound was cutting out during the performances and stuff like that.

PAUL: But I'm not saying that anybody had really sabotaged. I'm saying maybe that's why people got, like, mixed up and construed. So it is what it is. It's just music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORROWED TIME")

PAUL: (Singing) What you does with your body. No flaws, no flaws, no flaws.

RASCOE: You have talked about how, this album, you wanted to show kind of different sides of yourself. You have a song called "Borrowed Time." I want to play a clip of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORROWED TIME")

PAUL: (Singing) All right, girl, this love has doomed us by design because we're here on borrowed time, we're here on borrowed time. 'Cause I'm not yours and you're not mine, seems like we're here on borrowed time, we're here on borrowed time. We both see love but we're both blind, and it's never satisfying. Never satisfying.

Yeah, that song is interesting. It's about me coming to the realization about, you know, the jump-off. Like...

RASCOE: The infidelity. Like, the...

PAUL: Yeah, it's about cheating.

RASCOE: From a long time ago, I'm sure.

PAUL: Yeah. Thank God that's not in my life no more.

RASCOE: Yeah.

PAUL: But, like, you know, coming to the realization, like, yo, even though I do love to spend time with this person, she ain't mine. This is borrowed time. Is it really satisfying? Do I get to do everything in life with the person? And so in the song I say, I wish we never crossed the line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORROWED TIME")

PAUL: (Singing) I wish we never crossed the line. We live on borrowed time.

RASCOE: And, I mean, you talk about, like, kind of a deep and, like, strong love in "Calling On Me," right? That's about, like, family.

PAUL: Yeah. Like, you know, at the time, I was losing my father. He was sick. Basically, he was there when I did that song. But shortly after that - and the words just came very quickly to me. There's a lot of space in the song. I usually eat my lyrics up like - you know how I mean?

(Singing) Make I see the gal them bruk out pon the floor, from you don't want no worthless performer (ph).

But this one was more, you know, (singing) true love never fail, love never fall - space, you know what I mean? Just kind of giving you the perspective to kind of think about what I just said for a sec. Real love conquers all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALLING ON ME")

PAUL: (Singing) All right, then. True love never fail, love never fall. Real love conquers all. Yeah.

TOVE LO: (Singing) Oh, yeah.

PAUL: (Singing) I want to be easing your pain and all your frustration to be gone. Yeah. Fade away. I'll be there to give you what you need. I support your causes selflessly. Yeah.

Those are lyrics that's very personal to me, but also it could be for a lot of different people. It just goes out to anybody who really feels love for whoever it is, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALLING ON ME")

PAUL: (Singing) I don't need GPS, fi go show me mi friend (ph).

RASCOE: Obviously, you know, you repping Jamaica. You - that's what you're doing. You can hear it in the music. There is, like, a really reggae-heavy track called "Light My Fire" featuring Gwen Stefani and Shenseea.

PAUL: (Singing) Rock steady, girl to di riddim and bass. Come, baby girl, we nuh have no time to waste. Don't wann' run you down, don't wann' chase (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHT MY FIRE")

GWEN STEFANI: (Singing) Baby, won't you light my fire?

PAUL: (Singing) Bang, bang, bang.

RASCOE: Amazing. Thank you. Thank you. I, like - that's amazing (laughter).

PAUL: Yeah, man. Let's be doing it.

RASCOE: Speaking of Jamaica, you got an Order of Distinction in 2019.

PAUL: Yeah.

RASCOE: This is a special honor given by the Jamaican government for your contribution to the global popularity and promotion of reggae music. Like, how do you feel representing your home sound?

PAUL: Just awesome because, as a kid growing up, there was no - no one would have guessed it would have been me. And myself either. Like, I did feel strong in myself that I had a great talent, but I'm not from the usual place then or area that people would consider to be - you know, someone to be in the lead of the genre. So I feel honored, man. So big up to everybody who loves the genre in Jamaica and the diaspora and just want to continue to take part in history and salute everybody that supports it.

RASCOE: That was Sean Paul, whose new album "Scorcha" is out now. Sean Paul, thank you so much for joining us today.

PAUL: Thank you for having me and giving me the time. Nuff love (ph). I respect you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHT MY FIRE")

PAUL: (Singing) Knowin' that nothing ain't lackin'. Brand spankin' new machine, keep going. Listen to me, DJ. Listen to me sing. Sean da Paul from di heart, girl. I keep talking. Dem deh-deh nuh know a good love, girl. Yow dem-deh, deh nuh know a good love, girl. baby girl, dem deh-deh nuh know a good love, girl. Yow dem deh-deh nuh know a good love, girl. (ph).

STEFANI: (Singing) Baby, won't you light my fire? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.