Last year saw British R&B singer Jay Sean make history by becoming the most successful UK male Urban artist in US chart history. Now signed to Cash Money, Anna Nathanson caught up with the star as he prepares to release his latest album Freeze Time.
The Pop/Dance/R&B sound has really taken off, why do you think that is?
I just think it’s time; music changes, that’s just the evolution of it. We call Michael Jackson the King of Pop, yet it’s interesting that he’s inspired so many Soul singers and so many artists from all genres. It’s just what popular music has become. A couple of years ago it was all about Rock music, and that was Pop music. And now Dance meets R&B has become Pop music. It’s just timely that the songs I happen to release are during the time when it’s really kicking off.
Have you ever felt any pressure to do that sound?
I think I was very much at the forefront of it, releasing Down and Do You Remember. When I came to America there was a gap in the market, there were no male solo artists doing that at that time and the lane was clear. Chris Brown wasn’t there, Ne-Yo was taking some time off and so was Usher at the time. So I thought “Wow, maybe I can do this!” I was very fortunate to get in there at the right time.
What will your new album sound like?
It’s a Pop/R&B album, and there will be extremes of the genres on there as well. You have 2012, which is perhaps the poppiest song I’ve ever done, but then the song I recorded a video to yesterday is very urban; it’s a real R&B club record with Birdman on it. The album highlights the two musical genres that I do best and somewhere in the middle you’ll get a nice blend of the two.
Is America ready for Grime?
I think certain parts of America might be ready for it. I’ve already heard some Grime playing in various boutique shops in New York. In order for it to really break, it has to become a popular genre of music on a mass level. Coming to America has shown me that they need to be able to relate to your music. Not only the cool people in New York or the trendies in LA, it needs to go across the whole of America, you need to pick a random household in Wisconsin and see if they play Grime music on the radio, and that takes a while I think.
Why do you think you’ve connected so well in America?
You really need to think about the music you’re putting out there, to pull people in, to introduce them to you. And I consciously put out music that would be a good introduction to a new artist. When people hear a song on the radio in America, it’s very different to the UK; they play it for months. Down is still playing a year and a half later on radio. I’m hearing the same songs play every hour in every State in America. They’re songs that people just enjoy singing along to, and that’s how I managed to do what I did over here.
Who’s next up in terms of UK talent crossing over to America?
I’ve heard that N-Dubz are being signed here to L.A Reid, which I’m very happy about because I love those guys. I did a song called I Still Love You with Tinie way before we both blew up, and I’m so happy that we’re both doing well now because we all supported each other from way back. Hard work and self-belief pays off. I think he’s got some skills that could work in America, as his tone and his style are very universal. When I get back to the UK I’m going to hit up Giggs and Example to see if I can do anything with them.
You’re part of Cash Money, is it like being in a close-knit family?
It would be if we had the time. If you’re as big as Drake or Nicki Minaj, you don’t stay in the same place for longer than a day. Our diaries are just so busy, I saw Nicki just once since doing the video for 2012. We all talk on the phone, but it’s just so difficult to see each other.
Have you visited Lil Wayne in prison?
No, I haven’t you know. I really want to figure out a way to go and see him. Cash Money have a crazy entourage, they have about 100 guys rolling with them. And obviously a lot of people want to go and see Wayne and they’re all family and his best friends. So I haven’t really had a chance to go but I’d really like to.
What’s been your maddest encounter with a celeb?
Beyonce told me that she really enjoys my music and said that she has the CD at home!
You were privately educated and got straight As. How important is it to have a back up plan and what was yours?
I wanted to be a doctor and got into medical school. But I never let go of my dream of making it in the music industry. Getting an education is important as it helps you get on in the world. You have to be knowledgeable, regardless of the job you get into.
Words: Anna Nathanson