HT sits down with the dancehall superstar at the HIGH TIMES Medical Cannabis Cup.
By Mark Miller
Dancehall demigod Sean Paul dropped by the 2011 HIGH TIMES Medical Cannabis Cup in San Francisco prior to performing in concert, and webestowed a slick new vaporizer on him as a thank-you. He truly appreciated the gift, especially since he hasn’t smoked pot in over a year. Don’t get us wrong: Paul’s been getting high as often as possible in the last 12 months – just not via smoking.
“Since June 2010, I’ve been eating weed,” Paul discloses. “I have asthma, and at first [medical pot] was good for me and helped with the asthma, but after 15, 16 years of smoking 10 joints, pipes and bongs every day, it started to really affect my sinuses, which messes with my voice a lot. So I decided to give smoking a break. One day I had popcorn with some weed oil I made, and it was great – so I’ve stuck with that and been making [medicated] oil and tea every day.”
It’s no surprise Paul is choosing to preserve his million-dollar throat and its soulful ability to execute the turn-on-a-dime toasting – rapidly rap-chanting over the beat – that fuels his pot-party anthems, such as “Gimme the Light” (winner of a 2002 HIGH TIMES Doobie Award) and “We Be Burnin’.” He also spawned electro-hop on “Press It Up” and smash singles like 2009’s “So Fine” from the Grammy-nominated LP (for Best Reggae Album) Imperial Blaze, the first Jamaican album to debut atop the Billboard rap charts. For the still-untitled new album, Paul plans on expanding his musical canvas, as can be seen on his recent hit single “Got 2 Luv U.”
“This time around, I’m aiming to get a bigger dancehall sound. I’m working with [pop producer] Benny Blanco; the drumbeats are dancehall, but the strings and bass sound like what he does. He’s adding layers and a different flavor to stuff I recorded at home first.”
Paul has also branched out into producing, as on the forthcoming riddim-dubbed Blaze Fia, a compilation album with over 20 Jamaican musicians representing a return to old-school dancehall, as exemplified by Paul himself on “Hardcore” and the evocative ode to herb “Blaze Up” by Looga Man. He has another compilation CD coming out soon (Material) as well as unreleased songs with former schoolmate “Jr. Gong” Damian Marley. And if that’s not enough, he’s recorded yet another weed track, a “one-drop” (snare-drum backbeat) reggae riddim with Collie Buddz called “On My Way Back Home,” about two stoners seeking to avoid getting arrested while baked. Paul also aspires to open his own studio and provide an influential artistic outlet for up-and-coming Jamaican dancehall DJs and toasters.
Pretty much every HighTimes reader has burned a spliff to a Bob Marley record and knows what reggae is, but what is “dancehall” specifically? (Surely not that 1980s Wang Chung crap.)
“If reggae is our fathers’ music, then dancehall is the child of reggae; it’s the kids’ expression for it. Most kids in Jamaica don’t have the money to buy instruments and start bands – economics is one of the reasons our music [reggae] went more computer-oriented and became dancehall, with kids rhyming and rapping over beats.
“Now I’m trying to take dancehall music to a level where it’s not just ‘ours’ anymore. I’m trying to make the indigenous sound more global. Dancehall sometimes may sound a little hip-hop-ish, sometimes a little RB-ish or more like dance music. Dancehall is versatile and evolving.”
Even before he attained musical success, Sean Paul’s early life makes a fascinating biography. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he was raised Catholic in a nation where only two percent of the population is such. He was a notable athlete in his youth, representing his country on the Jamaican National Water Polo Team, translating the skills honed in the pool to serve him creatively in the competitive realm of dancehall.
Paul’s diverse DNA includes Afro-Caribbean, Portuguese, British, Chinese-Jamaican and Jewish-German genes; he’s used this bounty of backgrounds to both sharpen and widen his global appeal.
“I just see myself as a Jamaican kid, but when people see me, they don’t know what to make of me. But that also helps me, because people can’t put me in that box and say, ‘Oh, he is this or that.’ I’m just me.”
On his family influencing his aesthetics: “My mom loved the Beatles. That’s where I got a sense of melody and complementing harmonies from, before I got into dancehall.”
In light of the increasing cultural awareness – and acceptance – of pot’s powers to enhance the mind’s creative faculties, Paul confirms that he receives inspiration when irie.
“Yeah, it gets me in a type of zone,” he says. “When I first started to smoke weed, I found myself thinking about the things I wanted to think about. I’d forget about trivial things and concentrate on putting my dreams and goals of being an artist ahead.
“I’ve written songs without it, for sure,” he adds, “but weed helps me really concentrate on doing some songs, so it’s a good tool.”
Perhaps the most intriguing revelation Paul dropped was on the subject of so-called “pain clinics” after we asked him some questions about medicinal cannabis.
“In Florida, instead of medical-marijuana dispensaries, they have these ‘pain clinics’ where they sell OxyContin and Percocet. And even people from Middle America that don’t have these clinics, they drive to Florida to get drugs. Doctors there get paid $100,000 a month just to write prescriptions. So if you say, ‘I broke my finger years ago but it still pains me, Doc,’ they’ll give you a prescription. Plus some [of the ‘patients’] take these pills and resell them [on the black market]! That’s crazy, rather than having medical marijuana.”
Paul’s remarks proved topical, as state and federal shutdowns of these illegal “pill mills” continue to make the news – including the curious fact that Florida Governor Rick Scott has placed obstacles in front of state lawmakers seeking to create tighter restrictions on the pain clinics, including a patient-monitoring database.
Paul relayed his own personal experience with such dangerous prescription medications following knee surgery in Florida earlier this year. After the operation, he says, “I took [prescription opioids] for three days, since I was in a lot of pain with my knee. But when I woke up the fourth morning, I was thinking, ‘What time do I have to take this pill?’ – even though my knee wasn’t throbbing anymore. And I caught myself and said, ‘That’s pretty fucked up.’ And I didn’t take any more Oxy after that.”
Concluding our session with his metaphysical views, Paul was especially forthright and insightful, even with people banging on his green-room door because our interview had gone over schedule and it was time to take photos.
“I’ve always thought there was a connection between weed and spirituality. I had this idea that seven was a blessed number, and there are seven leaves on a pot leaf. Plus those I knew who smoked weed were more thoughtful of people and of life.
“I was raised Catholic, but when I sing about God, I say ‘Jah’ – which might upset some people, but to me the lines of religion are blurred. Religion has caused a lot of problems over the years. Meditating together with people is probably the best spiritual experience I’ve had – better than feeling guilty or being upset at someone else’s thoughts for being a Muslim or Seventh-Day Adventist or whatever. The powers that be want things to stay the way they are, so when someone thinks different, it’s deemed suspicious. I don’t know when we can get past that and all get along and understand each other – but hopefully soon.”
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