Shenseea ADD

Review

Album Review: Sean Paul - Scorcha

05/31/2022

by Steve Topple

Album Review: Sean Paul - Scorcha

Talk about building anticipation – because Sean Paul’s follow-up to his 2021 smash album Live N Livin was originally due out in 2021, too. So, we’ve been eagerly waiting it ever since. Fortunately, the new release is ‘scorching’ and well worth the wait.

Scorcha, released via Island Records, is almost a ‘part two’ to Live N Livin. It builds on what that album started, in terms of bringing together all the derivatives of Dancehall (and more) in a bid to show the culture should be/is in unity. The roster of production talents and featured artists show this also – but unlike Live N Livin, here the focus is less on the political/social, and more on the party. 

Chris Athens’ mastering throughout is a slick and efficient affair – not least given the multitude of genres and styles that the album covers. He’s paid attention to detail across all the tracks, especially in terms of the balances of instrumental lines. Executive production from Paul’s brother, Jason “Jigzag” Henriques, ensures that the entire record feels like a complete piece of work – not a selection of tracks strung together. And the music doesn’t disappoint either. 

The interlude As We Enter serves as an introduction, before we go into the brooding Trap Dancehall Wine Up. It’s sensual, seductive and moody – with production from Supa Dups, Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor and Jordan Manswell. All the Trap Dancehall devices are there: the grimy distorted bass; drums on a broken Dancehall clave, ambient instrumentation and some neat synths and samples. It’s effective and elegant work.

The previously released, Chimney Records-produced title track across the Hot Peppa Mix leans further into Dancehall but with some Afro cousin elements thrown in, like the broken clave plus a smattering of Reggaeton with those synth horns. The also previously released Only Fanz featuring Ty Dolla $ign is straight-up, modern Dancehall from producers Banx and Ranx – littered with EDM influences like the use of reverb, string arrangement and chord progressions. But the Dancehall wind is strong with the rhythmic clave across the kick – and the mix of the two creates a radio-friendly banger.

Banx & Ranx are back for Earthquake, and it takes Scorcha’s sound further forward with its Soca-led vibes. The four-to-the-floor is strong, coupled with the stuttering snare and hi-hats; the use of dampened horns is glorious and the up-tick in the instrumentation on the chorus is well-executed. Then, How We Do It featuring the really talented Pia Mia takes the album’s sound to AfroDancehall from Banx & Ranx That signature genre clave (‘oneeeeee-twooo-and-[three]-and-fourrr’) is strong and the use of higher Hz instrumentation on the verses juxtaposes well with the heavier chorus. Mia and Paul work well together (she’s especially strong) and the track is a pleasing and infectious affair.

Bouncing featuring the sublime vocals of Jada Kingdom moves the AfroDancehall sound up a gear, brining in elements of Trap. Production comes from Sak Pase and Stone, Xavier A. Baird and Isaac Copeland – and it’s lighter-touch than How We Do It – bringing in the higher Hz across the whole track, with a laid-back bass and some decent use of Trap buzz rolls on the hi-hats. Then, Dynamite brings legendary Sia into the mix – and sees Scorcha return to a Soca-ish vibe (but with some rhythmic leaning into Dancehall) courtesy of Banx & Ranx. EDM influences and arrangements are thrown in – and again, the track is a radio-friendly, very listenable one, with Sia sounding fyah. 

Light My Fire brings in perhaps the most unexpected combination of artists to grace a Dancehall album in a while: Gwen Stefani and Shenseea share the stage with Paul across a Reggae-based track (which makes sense given Stefani’s own eclectic musical background). It brings KoOoLkOjAk and AC in on the production, and the vibes are summery and fresh: staying authentic in terms of musical devices (bubble rhythm, one drop) with but with modern nods throughout (specifically the rich, low-passed engineering). Paul, Stefani and Shenseea are suited and the track works well – another instant hit.

Calling On Me features Tove Lo (whose voice is superb) with production from Banx & Ranx. The sound here has been smoothed-out into mellow Dancehall with a rich tone, that still has momentum along with EDM influences (check the strings) – and some nice nods to Afrobeats with the stuttering claps. Then, Good Day move Scorcha forward again – into Afrobeats territory. Supa Dups is back on production, along with Chin Quee, Rupert “Sevn Thomas” Thomas Jr and Cubeatz – and the stuttering percussion, winding bass, lilting keys and delicate strings create a fluid, Afrobeats-based sound which is really pleasing. 

Borrowed Time switches things up again, with its almost Alt RnB sound. It takes a Dancehall clave, breaks it up slightly then engineers it to feel distant; EDM vibes are also to be felt with the strings and heavy reverb – but then the almost anthemic drum arrangement and lilting keys bring something Afrobeats in. Production from Sermstyle, Okan and Paul’s own Dutty Rock is really strong – and the result is one of the most ambiguous and interesting tracks of Scorcha

Pon Di Reel featuring Stylo G and produced by Izy Beats, Bassto and Creative Titans is an inventive merging of Dancehall (the broken rhythmic clave), Trap (fleeting buzz rolls), Reggaeton (those distorted horns) and even some MENA influences (is that a rhaita we hear across the pattering djembe?). Peak Izy Beats – as the sound is fascinating and unboxable-in. 

Two remixes then feature: Back It Up Deh (Remix), produced by Henriques, is back to Dancehall but with the rhythmic clave being mashed up slightly and Reggaeton coming in – and Bend You Back (6:30 Mix) leans further into Reggaeton but with some pleasing instrumentation – production coming from TJ Records

Scorcha closes with No Fear featuring Damian Marley and Nicky Jam. It’s a slowed-down, brooding Reggaeton track, produced by Tainy and Supa Dups, that sees the hard, rhythmic focus being contrasted extremely well with lilting horns, some striking breaks, attractive chord progressions and extremely good engineering on the bass which winds in and out. It’s powerful, with Paul, Marley and Jam being a perfect collective. No Fear is an affecting end to Scorcha and a fitting conclusion. 

It goes without saying Paul is on-point throughout. As a writer of a certain age, it’s fascinating having grown up with his sounds omnipresent to listen now and hear that his voice, rhythmic skill and lyrical prowess hasn’t diminished at all over the years. His performances swing from the forthright to the subtle, and he makes especially good use of rhythmic variation and varying melodic pitch, and dynamics, across Scorcha

OK, so - there’s not much to be said for the lyrical content, as the focus is undoubtedly on bruk-out and gyal tracks. These swerve from the explicit to the radio friendly – and cleverly so, meaning Paul doesn’t lose his edge while still ensuring airplay. There are some more subtle highlights to be found, though. Good Day’s message of positivity is strong; Borrowed Time’s almost satirical look at the emotions surrounding a one-night stand, and No Fear’s engaging and damning look at the state of the system, its built-in inequality and oppression, and how it affects us individually – including even those like the three artists at the top of their games. 

Overall, Scorcha is a strong release from Paul and all involved. The sweeping across genres is impressive and feels like it should be that way. On the production, all tracks are top-class and often inventive with only a few which could be classed as slightly derivative (and that’s being harsh). Paul has still ‘got it’ and the roster of accompanying artists is impressive – giving platforms to both established and new acts. Is it as revelatory as Live N Livin? Possibly not – but it feels like that wasn’t the point of the album, anyway. Scorching summer sounds that require infinite pull-ups. 


Release details

Sean Paul - Scorcha

Sean Paul - Scorcha

DIGITAL RELEASE [Island Records]

Release date: 05/27/2022

Tracks

01. As We Enter     
02. Wine Up     
03. Scorcha (Hot Peppa Mix)     
04. Only Fanz feat. Ty Dolla $ign     
05. Earthquake     
06. How We Do It feat. Pia Mia     
07. Bouncing feat. Jada Kingdom     
08. Dynamite feat. Sia
09. Light My Fire feat. Gwen Stefani & Shenseea     
10. Calling On Me feat. Tove Lo     
11. Good Day
12. Borrowed Time     
13. Pon Di Reel feat. Stylo G
14. Back It Up Deh (Remix)     
15. Bend You Back (6:30 Mix)
16. No Fear feat. Damian Marley & Nicky Jam

Featured artists

Damian Marley / Shenseea / Jada Kingdom / Stylo G