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Born Sean Paul Francis Henriques on January 8, 1973, the multi-ethnic Paul (his parents had Portuguese, Chinese, and Jamaican forebears) grew up comfortably in St. Andrew, Jamaica; his mother was a renowned painter. He was a skilled athlete, excelling in swimming and especially water polo, playing for the Jamaican national team in the latter. Although his education was enough to land him a prosperous career, dancehall music remained Paul's first love, particularly crafting rhythm tracks. He became a DJ after he began writing his own songs, patterning his style largely after Super Cat and finding a mentor in Don Yute; he also found contacts in several members of the reggae-pop band Third World in 1993, which helped him foster business connections.
Paul released his debut single, "Baby Girl," with producer Jeremy Harding in 1996; it proved a significant success, leading to further Jamaican hits like "Nah Get No Bly (One More Try)," "Deport Them," "Excite Me," "Infiltrate," and "Hackle Mi." In 1999, Sean Paul started to make inroads to American audiences; he was first commissioned to collaborate with fellow dancehall hitmaker Mr. Vegas on a production for rapper DMX; titled "Here Comes the Boom," the song was included in director Hype Williams' film Belly. Also that year, Paul scored a Top Ten hit on the Billboard rap charts with "Hot Gal Today."
That fall, Paul released his first album on VP Records. The sprawling Stage One collected many of his previous hit singles and compilation cuts, plus a few brand-new tracks. His breakthrough arrived in 2002 with sophomore effort, Dutty Rock (VP/Atlantic). The Grammy-winning album featured the hit singles "Get Busy," "Gimme the Light," and "Baby Boy" with Beyoncé. In addition to topping the Canadian and U.S. Reggae charts, Dutty Rock entered the Billboard Top Ten and was certified multi-platinum.
Paul followed with The Trinity (Atlantic) in 2005. The album peaked at number seven on the Billboard 200, his highest showing to date, and included chart hits like "We Be Burnin'," "Temperature," and "(When You Gonna) Give It Up to Me" with Keyshia Cole. Four years later he returned with Imperial Blaze. Featuring the singles "So Fine" and "Hold My Hand" with Keri Hilson, Imperial Blaze topped the Billboard rap chart, but did not capture the same mainstream attention as his prior two releases. The loose Odyssey Mixtape dropped in 2011 and was followed a year later by Tomahawk Technique, a more pop- and dance-oriented album with production from the likes of Stargate, DJ Ammo, and Benny Blanco. While the set yielded a handful of international hits, it stalled in the U.S. Although his sixth studio album, Full Frequency, topped the U.S. reggae chart in early 2014, it didn't make much of a splash in the pop mainstream. The effort spawned the singles "Other Side of Love," "Entertainment 2.0" (featuring Juicy J, 2 Chainz, and Nicki Minaj), "Turn It Up," and "Want Dem All" (featuring Konshens), which helped Paul score his fifth Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album.
In the years that followed, Paul would appear on notable singles by Enrique Iglesias, Major Lazer, and Pharrell Williams, but it wasn't until 2016 that he would experience massive chart resurgence, appearing on hits by Sia (the Grammy-nominated "Cheap Thrills"), Little Mix ("Hair"), Clean Bandit ("Rockabye"), and Dua Lipa ("No Lie"). After Paul signed a deal with Island Records, he returned to the studio to record his seventh album. The first single from the album, "Mad Love" with David Guetta and Becky G, arrived in early 2018. Mad Love: The Prequel was issued later that year and included collaborations with Jhene Aiko, Ellie Goulding, Stefflon Don, Migos, Tory Lanez, and more. Paul extended his prolific streak in 2019, pairing with J Balvin on "Contra La Pared" and Wiley, Stefflon Don, and Idris Elba on "Boasty." In early 2020, he and Tove Lo collaborated on the single "Calling on Me." ~ Steve Huey & Neil Z. Yeung