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Sean Paul on Working With Will Smith for Bad Boys 4 Song and Beyoncé

Sean Paul on Working With Will Smith for Bad Boys 4 Song and Beyoncé

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Sean Paul says he usually writes songs for women, but when Will Smith called him to collaborate on a song for Bad Boys: Ride or Die, he needed him to turn up his inner bad boy.

“He sent me the song with him on it already and basically asked me to do a verse, and I went in. I usually don’t do badman lyrics, I’m more for the ladies, but the movie is called Bad Boys,” the Grammy-winning reggae-dancehall artist tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The track was dope and it’s definitely reflective of Run DMC, [LL Cool J’s] ‘Rock the Bells,’ old-school hip-hop with that energy.”

Smith and Paul join forces on the beat laden track “Light Em Up,” one of the 10 songs on the soundtrack accompanying the film that opened to a victorious $56.5 million at the domestic box office.

Paul, 51, recalls meeting Smith earlier in his career: In the early 2000s when he appeared on the soundtrack for the animated film Shark Tale, which Smith voiced the main character, and at one of his concerts, where he and Smith talked backstage.

“I was in awe that Sir Will Smith was there. He accomplished a lot at a younger age and led a lot of people down a path in terms of inspiring us, other artists and other younger producers, him and Jazzy Jeff,” Paul says. “I look up to him in terms of being a mogul and a music person for a long time.”

The voice behind hits like “Get Busy” and “Gimme the Light” adds that getting the call to work with Smith almost 25 years after he released his first album makes him feel proud and relevant. “I was very happy to know that basically I’m still considered someone with hot music,” Paul explains. “It’s awesome because this is a fickle business. Music is my life and I put my emotions into the music. But the business, I use my head with and you have to know that sometimes your time is a different time. And for my time to be still here, that is an awesome thing.”

Smith, in the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, released his first album, Rock the House, in 1987. They had success with hits like “Summertime” and “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” which won the first-ever rap Grammy in 1989. Smith went solo and topped the charts with the fun-flavored hits “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” and “Wild Wild West,” which also won him a Grammy. His last album was 2005’s Lost and Found though in recent years he’s been featured on songs by Marc Anthony, Nicky Jam, Joyner Lucas, Bomba Estéreo and his son, Jaden Smith.

Sean Paul and Will Smith at the 2005 Annual American Music Awards.


When Paul heard Smith’s verse for “Light Em Up,” he was blown away. “Everybody in the studio with me was like, ‘Yo, Will went in, bro.’ [I replied], ‘Yeah he did. He went hard.’ One of my favorite songs from him is ‘Summertime,’ which is more laid back, and this one was just more hardcore, more hitting. And it was fitting for the movie.”

The success of Bad Boys 4 comes two years after Smith slapped Academy Awards presenter Chris Rock on live television. Paul says it’s “very awesome” that the actor is having a comeback.

“There’s trying times in everybody’s life and I never ever write people up. There’s friends that I have that have done some crazy things at times — even my own pops, man — so when you give people the benefit of the doubt and give them a little space and they’re able to prove themselves and rise like the phoenix, that’s always an awesome thing,” he says.

Sean Paul and Beyoncé at the 2003 MTV Europe Music Awards.

Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Paul is used to working with legends, and he recalls his collaboration with Beyoncé over 20 years ago when she began working on her solo debut album. Together, they released the reggae-flavored groove “Baby Boy,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for nine weeks.

“She opened on a show here in Jamaica with [Destiny’s Child]. They only had one song and I was on that same show, so that’s where we all met. And knowing that she called me back a couple of years later for her first other project was awesome. I was writing my part of the song in the back of my house underneath a mango tree. And while I’m writing my verse, a mango falls out the tree and falls straight through the window [of my car] into my lap. And I was like, ‘That must mean that this song is a sweet song,’” Paul recalls.

“And one thing that I do recall about that time was being very proud that she used a dancehall-oriented track. Because at the time, people were hollering at me to do collabs — I was [working] with Busta Rhymes, I was doing stuff with Clipse and I was doing stuff with Blu Cantrell — and all of those stuff was very dope but they were more hip-hop oriented, and this was such a big artist and she was stepping out on her own. So it really made me feel that dancehall-style was coming into its own and that my music or my genre was being accepted by a lot of people,” he adds. “Coming from Texas, I know she’s heard a lot of dancehall growing up and [was] familiar with that whole vibe, so it made sense to me and it made history for both of us.”

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Paul has also collaborated with Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Sia, J Balvin, Santana, Major Lazer, David Guetta and Migos throughout his career. Next on his list? Alicia Keys.

“I’ve said this for 10,000 years, Alicia Keys, please call me,” he says. “Swizz [Beatz] did reach out to me one time to do a reggae collab with her, and when I called him back, I just haven’t heard back anything since. So, maybe they changed their mind, they got busy, I don’t know. But I still revere her talent very much. I think that me and her could make a great banger. Whether it be a one-drop, sensual, smooth, reggae kind of vibe or hip-hop, R&B vibes that she’s usually known for, or a dance thing.”

Paul, who recently performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, will wrap the U.S. leg of his Greatest Tour on Sunday. He will visit Europe and Canada this summer. 

He says he wants to keep the dancehall sound alive.

“Our shows have amazing energy. It proves to me that no matter what nobody tells me about dancehall not being accepted in the States anymore, I’m selling out arenas and I’m still doing it and people still love it. We helped to spawn different genres of music. They got reggaeton, they got Afrobeats, but the real players in the game know how much we have influenced them,” Paul says.

“I have to state the claim of dancehall being as strong and as powerful as it is in the international market today. There’s still a lot of people using or utilizing that infectious beat that we have, and I’m proud of it. A lot of people can look at me as an elderly statesman in the game, but I’m still performing like a young buck.”

Sean Paul

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

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