You can say this for Sean Paul Henriques: he is a capable dancehall lyricist with a penchant for energetic, club-invading anthems that celebrate the form and fecundity of the female. At the same time, he is arguably the most successful pop ambassador Jamaican music has ever had who isn't surnamed Marley.
According to his biggest cheerleaders, Mr. Henriques has done more to bridge the gap between American and Jamaican musical culture than anyone in modern music. For others, the artist has made an enormous impact but his music has always inspired more dance-floor humping than socio-political activism. Sean Paul’s music has always been about merriment and women.
Where sales and chart performance are concerned, Sean Paul is the most successful Jamaican artist of all time on the US charts, with three #1 singles (“Temperature,” “Get Busy,” and “Baby Boy” with Beyonce), five Top Ten hits (including “We Be Burnin'” and “Gimme The Light”), and eight chart entries over two worldwide multi-platinum albums. His third LP, The Trinity, confirmed his stature as an international superstar with total global sales in excess of four million. That album was the follow-up to Sean's double-platinum 2002 VP/Atlantic debut, Dutty Rock, which sold more than six million copies worldwide, taking home the Grammy for Best Reggae Album a year later.
On his fourth and latest album, the lively but uneven Imperial Blaze, Sean Paul’s limitless energy carries him through the twenty tracks, helping him maneuver over every flashy dancehall riddim that comes his way. The album sags toward the middle, but when he sticks to his strengths, Sean Paul is a force to be reckoned with. “So Fine” is a throbbing, radio-friendly lead single, but its lyrics aren't saying much.
Tracks on Imperial Blaze were produced by some of Jamaica’s most popular beat-makers including Stephen McGregor, Craig ‘Leftside’ Parkes and Arif Cooper at such Kingston music houses as Keep Left Studios, Vendetta Studios, 2 Hard Studios, Coppershot Studios, Big Ship Studios, Fresh Ear Studios and Renaissance Sound Studio.
Followers of Sean Paul’s signature “girl” tunes will very likely fall for the bulk of Imperial Blaze, which is set aside for Sean Paul’s bedroom desires for the woman he is feeling. Look no further than “Press It Up” — during which he promises to give it to her in a way she will “never forget” — “Private Party,” “Don’t Tease Me,” and the Joe Grine-esque “She Wanna Be Down,” among others.
Among my easy favorites are the heartfelt “Hold My Hand,” which features Keri Hilson, the pulsating “Birthday Suit” and “Straight From My Heart,” a tribute to his mother and supportive mothers everywhere.
Overall, Imperial Blaze presents a batch of well-produced tracks with top-notch beats and infectious melodies, yet it lacks the requisite heft and variety in subject matter — as it's largely hinged to a singular topic — to nudge it into the territory of excellence and zing. To his credit, though, Sean Paul makes no bones about his intentions here while employing fierce energy and bravado throughout.
DOWNLOAD: “So Fine”, “Press It Up”, “Birthday Suit” and “Hold My Hand”