Jay Sean has been an internationally known, pop/R&B/hip-hop singer/songwriter for the past 15 years. Although he’s best known for his worldwide hits “Down” feat. Lil Wayne (in 2009) and “Do You Remember” feat. Sean Paul & Lil Jon (2010), Jay Sean has been a popular artist in his native U.K. since his early hits “Eyes on You” and “Stolen,” and he has a strong fan base in South Asia and India.
Now in 2019, Jay Sean has signed a new label deal with Republic Records, and he’s returned with a new single “With You”, featuring rappers Gucci Mane & Asian Doll. This song is the first of several new singles that Jay Sean will be releasing, and he will eventually release his next album.
Jay Sean is a unique artist—he was born in London, yet due to his Asian ancestry, he has built a large global following. In 2004, he released his debut album called Me Against Myself, which was a hit in the U.K. and went multi-platinum in India. Then in 2008, Jay Sean released his second album My Own Way, and in 2009 he came out with his biggest album, All or Nothing (on Cash Money/Republic Records).
It was his All or Nothing album that truly established Jay Sean as a worldwide pop star. His single “Down” became a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it was a hit in many other countries. “Down” was one of the most popular, joyful hits of 2009, and it sounds as good today as it did when it first came out. The record featured excellent lead vocals by Jay Sean, and a terrific rap performance by Lil Wayne.
“Down” stayed on the charts for many months, and then was followed by Jay Sean’s next single, “Do You Remember.” It was another big hit, reaching Top 10 in the U.S. and in other countries. Also that year (2010), he had another hit called “2012 (It Ain’t the End)” featuring Nicki Minaj.
In 2011, Jay Sean had a Top 20 U.S. hit with his single “Hit the Lights” feat. Lil Wayne, and in 2013 he released his fourth album, Neon. In addition, he has released two mixtapes: The Mistress (in 2011) and The Mistress II (2014). His third mixtape, The Mistress III, will be released later this year.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Jay Sean. He tells how he got started in the music business, and how he wrote his biggest hits, “Down” and “Do You Remember.” He also discusses his new single, “With You.”
DK: How did you get started with music, growing up in the U.K.?
Jay Sean: My journey began early, around age 11, when I became obsessed with hip-hop. I remember watching Yo! MTV Raps from a young age. And that put me into writing, because I just wanted to write raps. I used to go and find instrumentals when I was around 13, and I would write my own rhymes and record my own mixtapes. Me and my crew were making mixtapes, writing original lyrics over other people’s beats, and that’s what really got me into writing.
Here’s the audio for Jay Sean’s single, “With You” feat. Gucci Mane
& Asian Doll.
I started progressing from rap…I would start to add melody. Then I learned how to structure a song…I’d break it up and then I’d have a hook going. I would add some melody, and before I knew it, I was singing. Then I started doing verses where I was singing, and that turned into doing whole songs. So it happened very organically…I went from writing raps into writing songs.
DK: You eventually signed with Cash Money Records and recorded your album, All or Nothing. Can you talk about that album and your big hit, “Down”?
Jay Sean: Signing with Cash Money Records was a life-changing experience for me. Things happened so quickly—“Down” took us all by storm. None of us expected it would be a number one U.S. hit; it was the first song I released in America. So to be honest, we were all playing catch-up. Everyone was like, “Yo, the song [is a smash], we need more songs now.” It wasn’t one of those situations where we had the album ready. We were playing catch-up to make the album, but it’s an album I’m very proud of.
DK: On “Down,” there’s a great feature rap by Lil Wayne on it. How did you decide to bring in Lil Wayne on this song?
Jay Sean: Lil Wayne and I were signed to Cash Money. The beautiful thing about it is, I had access to their roster of incredible artists, and Wayne couldn’t have been hotter at the time. And the great thing about Wayne is, he’s so diverse, he’s so versatile as an artist. He can sit so comfortably on a pop record, and at the same time he can sit so comfortably on a hard, urban record. And he knows how to switch his tone accordingly, so the verse he did on “Down” was perfect. It’s one of those verses that everyone knows every word of. If you’re a fan of “Down,” you knew Wayne’s verse. It was just that well-written.
DK: You had another big hit, “Do You Remember.” How did you co-write that song?
Jay Sean: “Do You Remember” was such an effortless, organic song when it came to writing it. When it comes to writing these songs, my approach is if it feels good, I don’t question it. A lot of times, the melody and the lyric will come to me at the same time. I will start humming the melody and the lyric will come. And that’s how “Do You Remember” and “Down” happened.
“Do You Remember” was one of the songs I wrote with Jared Cotter, who I also wrote “Down” with. Me and Jared wrote so many of those songs on that album together. It was just a winning team…we worked really well together.
DK: After your All or Nothing album, a couple years later you recorded a mixtape called The Mistress, and then you released another mixtape called The Mistress II. Can you talk about those projects?
Here’s the video for Jay Sean’s #1 hit, “Down” feat. Lil Wayne.
Jay Sean: Truth be told, as a songwriter and as a singer, I know I’m very diverse. I can write a pop record, an R&B record, or a hip-hop or reggae record. For me, it’s very natural. I listened to a lot different music when I growing up. Reggae, dancehall, hip-hop and R&B were the main genres that we would listen to.
With All or Nothing, I was doing more high-energy, uptempo super pop. So with my mixtape The Mistress, it was me putting out music that I was missing. I love R&B music so much. I especially love those slow jams and emotional records. I feel like that was something I wasn’t able to write for my albums, and there was a part of me that was unfulfilled, and I wanted to do it for my own artistry. It was like, I wanted to do a sideline project, where I just did something that I wanted to do. It was a passion project.
To me, The Mistress mixtape series is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on. There’s The Mistress, The Mistress II and The Mistress III.
DK: I like your new single, “With You” feat. Gucci Mane and Asian Doll. How did co-write this song?
Jay Sean: There’s a funny story about how we wrote this song. I was in a writing session in L.A., where I’d already written a song during the day. and by 1 in the morning we finished and recorded it. So I was getting ready to leave, but my [co-writer] played me a beat. He said, “Yo, before you leave man, check this out.” Then he played me the beat for “With You,” and I was like, “Oh, man, I can’t leave now!” ‘Cause we didn’t want to lose the moment…we had to do it while we had the vibe.
So I said, “Switch the mic back on, Bro.” I went behind the booth and I just turned out a bunch of melodies over the beat, and I said to my boy Xander, who I’d been writing with, “Bro, I’m not leaving until I write this song.” So we wrote it and it was like 6 in the morning. The sun was coming out, and we were blasting that shit loud from the speakers…we were on a vibe. And I just knew it was gonna be a single.
DK: Are you working on a full album or EP now?
Jay Sean: Right now I’m putting out songs (one at a time), that’s what I’m doing. It’s 2019…I feel like the notion of an album is a little outdated. What is an album? An album is a compilation of songs. I feel like when Drake puts out a song, you don’t know what album it’s from. He’s giving you song after song, and you’re just vibing with it. And eventually, he will put out an album, but he’s probably dropped seven singles before he dropped the album.
Here’s the video for Jay Sean’s hit “Do You Remember”
feat. Sean Paul & Lil Jon.
For me, I have more than enough songs for an album, but it has to feel right. I don’t want it to be a mishmash of different songs. Of course, there will be an album, and the tone of the album will make itself clear, as I start to put the songs together.
DK: You’re known for having a large, international fan base—not just in the U.K. and U.S. but in India and Southeast Asia due to your Asian ancestry. As a music artist, how do you connect with all your fans around the world?
Jay Sean: I think I’m in a very unique place, where I am still one of the only South Asian mainstream artists on the planet. And that really is a special privilege to hold…there’s not many of us. So [Asian fans] have known me for 15 years…they’ve grown up on my stuff and really followed my entire career. So I’m very blessed to have these fans.