The last time we spoke to Jay Sean was after his Washington, DC concert, in 2006. Before recording tracks with Lil Wayne and Sean Paul, he independently distributed his music to pockets of fans all over the world. Capitalizing on word-of-mouth marketing in social networks such as Facebook, Friendster, and Youtube, he created an international fan base with desi-influenced hit singles such as “Eyes on You“, “Dance with You“, and “Stolen“. His music became a viral hit within the South Asian community worldwide. That momentum, along with the more R&B sound of his second album, crossed him over to the mainstream music industry in England, which ultimately led to his “break out” introduction to U.S. airwaves in 2009.
We had the chance to interview Jay Sean just as his first U.S. radio single, “Down“, was climbing the charts to #1.
SAPNA: We had the pleasure of interviewing you in 2006, learning about your rise to popularity in the UK and your dream of releasing an album in the States. Flash forward, 3 years, you are signed with Cash Money Records, have Lil Wayne on your debut single, and are climbing to the the top of the charts on iTunes with your new single, “Down”. Give me 3 words that describe what you are feelings right now.
JAY: I don’t know how to describe it yet. It’s really just sinking in. So three words. <pauses> Of course, unbelievable, very proud (not egotistical but proud of how far I have come), and fearlessness.
SAPNA: Cash Money Records co-founder, Ronald “Slim” Williams, noticed your success as an independent artist and in October 2008 you announced that you were signing with his record label. What were the factors that made you decide to sign with them?
JAY: The thing about Cash Money is that they don’t want to change anything about me. They picked me up simply because of what I have been doing independently. I think they respected the fact that it’s my record label, and they’ve come from that place themselves. So they don’t want to change the formula, they’re like, “Whatever you are doing, just keep doing it, and we’ll have your back.” That’s the best thing about being with them, it’s that understanding, we have a great relationship.
SAPNA: What did the year leading up to the release of “Down” look like?
JAY: It has been a whirlwind, man, it has been a mixture of writing, recording, touring, and serious serious jet lag, really. <chucking to himself> Of course, I have pretty much moved to America now from England, so going from New York to Miami, then going to LA, doing shows in Dubai and Romania. It’s just been complete manic.Â But the most exciting months of my career so far, without a doubt.
SAPNA: My Own Way (U.S. Edition), now being called All or Nothing, is going to be the first impression you make on many listeners in the U.S., what is the message you are trying to send with this album?
JAY: I just want to write great quality music. I think that now a days there are a lot of gimmicky kind of records out.Â Everyone is just trying to come up with the most dumb stuff. With me, I wanted the light radio friendly records, but the rest of the album I just wanted to show a deeper side of me and the songs are very honest. The kind of songs I hope that 10 years from now,15 years from now , you can still listen to it and go, that was a great song and not just the sound of 2009. I think that’s the most important thing I try to achieve on this album.
SAPNA: Is there a song that you wrote on this album that has that lasting effect, that you are really attached to?
JAY: Yes, there are loads. I changed the name of the album to “All or Nothing” and that song actually means a lot to me.
SAPNA: Though you have reached success as an R&B singer, your first love was Hip Hop. Have you ever spit a few lyrics for Lil Wayne?
JAY: <interjects> Hell No! <laughing>No I never have, I’m not even trying to tell him that I used to rap. I don’t think he knows. UK HipHop and American HipHop are extremely different, especially the kind of HipHop that he does.Â So I don’t think he would even understand it. It’s a whole different vibe.
SAPNA: On Twitter, Priyanka Chopra made a verbal commitment to star in a video, will she be the leading lady in your second single?
JAY: <chuckles> I do want her in my video, she was actually meant to be in “Down”, you see. She was meant to be the girl in “Down”, but she couldn’t do it because she was filming.Â Then I sent her a tongue and cheek message over Twitter saying, ” I don’t care I’m stealing you for the next one.” She and I have a good relationship, so she messaged back, “Yes, I promise!”. From that, it just escalated into something nuts. It’s ended up all over the Internet forums, all over the news, and the headlines in India, England. Nothings even finalized yet, but if I can get her. I will.
Update: If you notice, there is no Priyanka in the behind the scenes video (below)! The girl grinding up on Jay Sean towards the end of the video is unidentified.
SAPNA: You have reached unparalleled success in the U.K. with desi and non-desi audiences, all-the-while representing your Indian heritage proudly. In your video for “Down”, there is a predominance of desi faces, including your leading lady. Just as Michael Jackson broke the color barrier for Black artists on MTV, you will be the first desi artist on MTV. How are you taking this all in?
JAY: I am very fortunate for the fact that I have had 6 or 7 years behind me, it’s not new to me, all of this stuff, thankfully.Â I think if it was, my head would be exploding right now. I would not be understanding what’s going on. It’s all a bit crazy you know.Â The fact that I have been doing this for awhile and I have come up across all those obstacles before and I have had to answer questions about my race and my religion and background so many times. I think when it comes to America, people will start probing and asking me questions, and I’m ready to start telling them and letting them know what its all about. I’m really looking forward to educating America about our culture because being Indian here is not as well known as in England. America is huge and you don’t have as many Indians floating around, as you do in England. People know about Indian culture more in England than they do here. Here, they think I am Latino sometimes, Italian or Greek. I’m excited about letting them know.
SAPNA: You‘ve been able to accomplish something that many young desi youth have only dreamed of doing, what are the qualities about yourself that you think helped you reach this level of success?
JAY: I really would like to believe that I am just a hardworking honest dude, you know?Â I think I am doing it for the right reasons, I’m not doing it for the wrong reasons. I’m not doing it for the fame, girls, or the drugs, all the horrible sides to this industry. I’m not doing it for any of that, I’m doing it because I love music. I love music so much, I love writing music, I love singing, I enjoy meeting people, I love going around the world. I’m a very sociable person, I love talking to people from around the world. I love that side of it all and I think that’s why god continues to bless me with all that I have got. I think he knows I’m in it for the right reasons, I really want to do something to get our culture, our name out there, and who we are as people, as Indians, and break some boundaries.
SAPNA: Though you were received with acclaim from the start, your journey as an artist has been long, your first album “Me Against Myself” debuted in 2003. What are some of the greatest hurdles you have overcome in the last 7 years?
Jay: Of course in the beginning, the Indian thing was a very big hurdle. Who is this Indian guy? Why is he singing in English? Why isn’t he singing in Hindi? And I was like, man, I am talking to you in English, why can’t I sing in English? I felt like, what’s the problem, why won’t you just let me sing and let me enjoy it? When you’re the first to do anything, you are the first to come across those hurdles. Since I was the first Indian guy to sort of do Pop, R&B in the mainstream I was faced with all of those things, and bit by bit I managed to knock them all down. And I continued to show people that music is always meant to be about the music and nothing else. Why are we getting caught with everything else?
The one thing that really baffles me <he says passionately> is that every time I put out a new video, most of the time it launches on my own Jayded Record Youtube page, we have to monitor the type of comments that go out because people get so racist. There are people who say “He is Paki” or “No hes’ not, hes not Muslim, he’s Sikh”, or “No, he’s not Sikh, he’s Hindu”. And they’re fighting amongst each other, and they are fighting with White people and Black people. And I’m just like, why is there so much racism? It really really baffles me and upsets me so much that there is so much open racism on these forums, and I think we need to stop all of that. It is not helping out our cause at all.
It’s really disgusting how the kids now a days think they have a voice because they hide behind the computer screen and with such bravado think, “I can say whatever I want and I am going to spew out disgusting comments on Youtube.” I think its really disturbing and I just want to do something about it. I don’t know how or what I need to do, but I do want to do something. So I can have a voice and these kids can understand they need to stop this, that its not good for their soul, its not good for anyone.
SAPNA: Now that you are officially a member of the American music scene, do you have any funny stories about your experiences so far?
JAY: Oh hell yeah, I’ve got stories for years. You know the fascinating thing about America is that Indian culture is still so brand new here. They don’t know what Indian people are, I’m talking about general mainstream America. I’m talking about Middle America. Something like Slumdog Millionaire is the first introduction to Indian culture they’ve had in the mainstream. I’ve run into people, where I am actually quite baffled as to their limited knowledge of anyone outside of America. I remember I went into the store <chuckles to himself> the other day in New York and at the register, the girl at the counter goes <makes girl voice>”Oh my god, where are you from?” I told her, “I’m from London”, she goes “oh wow, I love that accent.” And I go “well thanks!” And she goes, “But I mean, originally where are you from?” And I go, “Oh, I’m from..” and she goes “Iraq? ….Afghanistan?” And I go, “Oh my god, no, I’m Indian”. But then she was completely baffled because she didn’t know what Indian meant. She thought I was Native American, she thought I was part of a tribe or something. There has been aÂ lot of that kind of stuff over here. I realize we have a long way to go.
It was a pleasure interviewing Jay Sean. Candid conversation and opinions from someone in the public eye are rare and certainly refreshing. His album drops Monday, November 23, 2009. For more information, www.jaysean.com.
– NATASHA KHAN