With a new single and his fourth studio LP looming, Jay Sean recently popped into MTV HQ to have a chat with The Wrap Up‘s Vanessa Laker to discuss growth and new music, being a part of YMCMB, working with Nicki Minaj and why Birdman and Lil Wayne are inspirational…
The Wrap Up: Hi Jay! How does it feel to be back home in London?
Jay Sean: Hey! Well that’s it, you just put it there – its home. It feels great. The hard thing about being in America is that I’m away from my family and friends and my fans, my UK fans. You see, the UK fans feel it a lot, I know they do. Because you know, they’ve been here since the beginning and I think a lot of them do understand that I’m where work is taking me. At the end of the day, it’s still a job, it’s still my work and I have to be where my employer is based, and my employer is my record company. Cash Money is in America, so all my meetings take place there, interviews take place there, studio takes place there. But I do miss home. I miss home and my people. Even though I’m in the UK right now for work, a lot of stuff gets done in the day, so in the evening I can chill and link up with mates and stuff like that, so it’s good fun.
TWU: You recently played live at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden, opening for Enrique Iglesias. What was that like?
Jay Sean: It was just a very serial moment. I don’t think many artists in their life get to grace that stage. It’s what we all dream of. It’s pretty amazing to play that stage with my live band and play a full set, and to be handpicked by Enrique himself is not a bad thing. It was very flattering.
TWU: You’ve got a new single, ‘Hit The Lights’, which features Lil Wayne. Tell us a bit about the song…
Jay Sean: ‘Hit The Lights’ might actually be my favourite single to date, just because I feel like it satisfies something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I wanted to write a track which can be smashed across clubs worldwide, as well as (played on the) radio worldwide. That’s not an easy task to do, to try and make one song that can be played everywhere. It’s also just so exciting for me to perform. I get enjoyment from performing it, so I hope that people feel the same when hearing it.
TWU: This is the second time you and Wayne have teamed up for a single. Your previous collaboration, ‘Down’, went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic and sold six million copies worldwide. Because of this, do you now feel under pressure every time you release a single to have high chart success?
Jay Sean: No pressure at all. I feel like you can’t beat that, you can’t beat a number one. There’s no number zero. For me, the number one gave me faith that I can write great songs and it showed me that I have wonderful fans who enjoy my music. I just have to try and make sure that every song I do, I’m proud of it and I have to feel like my fans will appreciate it too.
TWU: You’ve got a new album, ‘Freeze Time’, which is coming out soon. Tell us a bit about that record…
Jay Sean: Well, this album, for me, is probably my favourite album, just because I feel like there are songs I’ve always wanted to write, but maybe I lacked the vocal ability to pull it off or the song writing skills to pull it off. For example, you’ve got songs on there that are real proper R&B slow jams, the kind of music I grew up listening to. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got something like ‘Hit The Lights’, which is completely fun and for the clubs and it fuses dance elements together with hip-hop, R&B and pop. Then you’ve got some songs that are in the middle, that are mid-tempo and ballads. I wanted to take the listeners on a musical journey, so one minute you could be dancing, the next minute you might be crying and the next you could be thinking about life and yourself. I really wanted to focus on musical genres, combining them in a way that really hasn’t been done before.
TWU: What’s the meaning behind the title, ‘Freeze Time’?
Jay Sean: The reason I came up with that name is because I feel like my life at the moment has been a rollercoaster. It’s crazy. From all the mad things that I’ve been experiencing, to the most wonderful experiences, to the insane things where you have to actually pinch yourself and go, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ Not to mention it happens very fast, and sometimes I feel like I can just press pause on life and just go, ‘Alright, stop for a second, take this in.’ I think we can all do that. You don’t have to be a pop star to wanna freeze time once in a while. Even my parents, I see how they’re so busy working and feel like telling them to chill out and just take life in. That’s what this album is about.
TWU: The first single from ‘Freeze Time’ was last year’s ‘2012 (It Ain’t The End)’, which features your label mate Nicki Minaj. What was it like working with the current queen of hip-hop?
Jay Sean: Oh, amazing! Nicki is an incredible talent. She’s very good at what she does, she’s an amazing MC, but she’s also a lot of fun and when you work with fun people, you have a great time yourself. There are lots of people who would love to work with Nicki, so it was really cool to work with her. But the best thing about it is that I got the chance to work with her before she really blew up. It was just great to have her be a part of this project.
TWU: This is your fourth studio album, right? Now that you’ve well and truly proved yourself as an artist, do you feel with this LP you have more creative control and are free to experiment more?
Jay Sean: Yeah, it’s about growth. What is the purpose of an album? The purpose of an album is to showcase a body of work. Is to showcase how you feel at this moment in time. Where you’re at. Where your mindset is at. What you wanna be and tell the word. I feel that nine years into my career, I’m allowed to push the envelope a bit. I feel my fans are growing with me and that’s the nicest thing.
TWU: In the UK, you’ve been in the music industry for nine years – which in this line of work is practically a veteran. But over in the US, you’re considered a new artist. How does it feel to be a ‘new’ artist all over again?
Jay Sean: I love that. I feel you’re able to step into two different worlds. I feel like when I go to America I’m totally aware of the fact that I’m still relatively new there. So it gives me fuel, a fire that burns inside, which tells me I’ve got so much to prove and it pushes me, which I love. What’s quite interesting here in England is that to some people I’m still considered a ‘new’ artist. We actually have an internal joke about this, some people are post-‘Down’ fans and some are pre-‘Down’ fans. Some people here only knew me after ‘Down’, so it’s okay and I’m very aware of that. But the good thing about England is that there are people here who’ve witnessed my journey from the beginning and you feel like you’ve got an army of soldiers who are behind you and rooting for you.
TWU: Cash Money/Young Money is arguably the hottest hip-hop label right now and is a powerhouse in the music industry in general. How does it feel to be a part of such an elite movement?
Jay Sean: It is AMAZING! There is no label hotter than Cash Money right now. There isn’t. They’re taking over the whole scene. You name some of the world’s biggest rappers and people’s favourite artists and they’re signed to this label. It’s a very cool thing. The fact that it’s a family thing and people have so much love and respect for each other is the best part about it. Wayne, Drake, Nicki, myself, Bow Wow, Tyga and all of us who are on this label, we are all fans of each other’s music and when we see each other around, you know we’ve got each other’s back. It’s a wicked label to be a part of. It’s like a family. Birdman – who co-owns the label with his brother Slim – calls me up every other day just to see how I’m doing. It’s not corporate; it’s like a family thing.
TWU: You’re the only Brit on Cash Money, so how did you end up meeting Birdman and signing to the label?
Jay Sean: They actually spotted me on the internet. I was working with a producer in New York and he happened to know the Cash Money crew, he does work with them. They were having a conversation and he got talking about me. Slim and Birdman were like, ‘Who is this guy? What’s his story?’ The guy told them and he said I’m a global artist who’d been around for seven years now. He explained that I had fans in countries all around the world, but just didn’t have a deal in America. So we sent over some music – they specifically fell in love with the song, ‘Ride It’ – they saw the video, Birdman said straight away, ‘The guy’s a star, bring him over to the States,’ he said.
TWU: Like you mentioned before, a lot of people only know you for the 2009 smash hit single, ‘Down’, meaning that they only heard of you after you signed to Cash Money Records. But you’ve been in the business for nearly a decade and have sold millions of records worldwide, long before you joined forces with Birdman and Lil Wayne. So, does it annoy when people say, ‘Jay Sean’s only successful because he’s signed to Cash Money?’
Jay Sean: As frustrating as that may appear, I actually love that part of it. I love that I have that experience in my back pocket. I love that I have graced stages around the world and that perhaps people don’t know about it. What that does for me, is it pushes me. It means I never rest on my laurels. It means I never stop trying to push myself and take it to the next level. In life as a whole, if you have it too easy, you get complacent. It’s the exact same thing with Birdman and Lil Wayne. How many albums did those guys put out? They’ve been doing their thing for years. But it’s only now and over the last few years that they’re really getting the right type of recognition and they don’t complain about it. They use it as the fire that burns inside, and it inspires you to say, ‘OK, this is my time and I’m gonna show you all.’It’s something that I love. I’m glad that I had all the years of experience, because having all this happen only in the last two years; it might have been too much for somebody who’s a new artist to handle. So I’m truly appreciative of all the years I’ve had in this industry.
Words: Vanessa Laker (@VanessaLaker)