By Jason Storbakken
“Everyday, we be burnin’ / Not concernin’ what nobody wanna say / Some got gold and oil and diamonds / All we got is Mary J. / Legalize it, time you recognize it,” sings Sean Paul on “We Be Burnin’,” the first single from his latest album, The Trinity (Atlantic), which hit the Top 10 in November. Though he’s never claimed to be the king of dancehall reggae, Paul is the biggest-selling dancehall artist of all time: The Trinity set the record for the most reggae albums ever sold in its first week.
Born Sean Paul Henriques on January 8, 1973, the multiethnic Paul (his mother is Chinese-Jamaican and his father is Sephardic Portuguese–Jamaican) grew up comfortably in St. Andrew, Jamaica. When he was in his early teens dancehall reggae became Paul’s passion. Super Cat, Shabba Ranks and Bob Marley were early influences, followed by Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Capleton. “They are very strong reggae soldiers who’ve had careers that span over 10 years,” he says about the latter three. “They showed me how to do this.”
As rock’n’roll was born from the blues, dancehall found its origin in reggae. “Jamaican music really started back in the ’50s, when people were into ska,” Paul explains. “It’s a music that still exists today, and there are a lot of guys who still consider themselves ska men. Ska music is happy music.”