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 Sean Paul shows he has what it takes to battle 50 Cent on the pop singles chart ...

Page 2

 Puffy, Biggie and Mary J. Blige help dancehall cross over into the mainstream ...

Page 3

 Dancehall has its own Snoop, its own Tupac, its own Jay-Z and even an R. Kelly ...

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-- by Tomika Anderson

Dancehall, the hipper, sexier offspring of traditional reggae, and the hottest export from Jamaica since jerk chicken, is experiencing an explosion right now in the United States, and its name is Sean Paul.

Paul's rise to the top in the States comes courtesy of crossover, ganja-scented smashes like "Gimme the Light" and "Get Busy" and a sound that is the aural love child of stomping New York rap beats and Jamaican dancehall, the island nation's club version of reggae. In the hot spots of Brooklyn, Miami and Boston, his alluring fusion of brash lyrics, fierce electronic riddims and winding body movements has translated into packed, sweaty dance floors and 50 Cent- and Eminem-level billing on DJ playlists.

  Sean Paul
"Get Busy"
Dutty Rock
(VP Records)
And why not? Dancehall and hip-hop are practically brothers — they're around the same age and they even share Caribbean roots via some of hip-hop's most well-known progenitors, including Kool Herc, a Jamaican who's widely considered to be the father of hip-hop. Having made the rap-to-rude-boy transition, Paul is a direct beneficiary of the island-meets-borough exposure and thus a perfect candidate for international ambassadorship.

Paul's "Get Busy," his swelteringly sexy ode to the ladies, is currently fighting over the top slot on the Billboard Hot 100 with rap megastar 50 Cent's "21 Questions" — a testament to the similarities between the two genres and their appeal.

"It's urban street music — it's the same feel, the same thing [as hip-hop]," the cornrowed vocalist said proudly of dancehall's most recent foray into the pop market. "It just feels good that [dancehall] is finally being recognized."

"Hip-hop started in the Bronx, with Jamaican DJs toasting over records and MCs," explained Def Jam General Manager Randy Acker, who is helping put together the label's first compilation of collaborations between well-known dancehall and rap acts, Red Star Sounds, Vol. 3: Def Jamaica. "Both music [genres] are driven by emotions based on struggle and living on the street ... but [many] people in the U.S. don't have the same kind of emotional connection to reggae music. There hasn't been a real crossover cycle for a bunch of different reasons, the language barrier being one."

Case in point: In patois, the words, "Beg yuh carry wan aerated wata fi mi deh" translates to "Get me a soda, please."

Sean Paul knows all too well how speaking patois can limit an artist's ability to attract U.S. audiences.

Having tasted widespread success in 1998 with his first international hit, "Deport Them," Paul saw the warning signs early — either he'd have to bring fans to his music by speaking in a way they could identify with, or risk losing them.

  "I've been conscious of trying to tone down my accent."
"I've been conscious of trying to tone down my accent," he admitted recently during rehearsals for a show in Manhattan. "It's the same language but just a certain street twang, [which reflects] the whole culture of a country. In my songs I'm trying to express myself in a way that people can understand but still be hardcore. 'Get Busy' is a hip-hop term. For me [to use that term] paid off because [the song reached #1]."

If Paul is taking any aspects of his moment in the sun for granted, he's certainly not showing it. Though fingering a huge platinum and diamond "SP" medallion, he appeared humble, readily conceding that there were many dancehall artists before him and Wayne Wonder (with whom he performed recently on "Saturday Night Live") worthy of making it big in the States. He attributes his success to the mastering of a certain musical formula and by sticking with authentic dancehall producers from Jamaica.

  "In Jamaica they were like, 'What's happening with those artists?'"
"Super Cat, Shabba Ranks, Beenie Man, so many artists," he said, referring to the flash-in-the-pan syndrome suffered by most of his dancehall predecessors. "Basically what happened [to those guys] was a lot of companies put money into dancehall music without knowing how to market [them]. And [they] put them with singles and R&B stuff. They immediately lost the base crowd and — pfft! — in Jamaica they were like, 'What's happening with those artists?' My theory was that if I did [my music] straight from home, supporting my own production, my own people and that kind of thing, by the time it reached [the U.S.] everybody would be on it and would say, 'Yeah, that's ground stuff. That's home.' "

NEXT: Puffy, Biggie and Mary J. Blige help dancehall cross over into the mainstream ...
Photo: VP Records

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 Sean Paul featuring 50 Cent
"They Not Ready" remix
Dutty Rock
(VP Records)

 Sean Paul
"Get Busy"
Dutty Rock
(VP Records)

 Sean Paul
"Get Busy" live from "TRL"
Dutty Rock
(VP Records)

 Wayne Wonder
"No Letting Go"
No Holding Back
(VP Records)

 Busta Rhymes featuring Sean Paul
"Make It Clap" remix
It Ain't Safe No More
(J Records)

 Beenie Man

Tropical Storm

 Super Cat featuring Biggie Smalls
"Dolly My Baby" remix

Don Dada