Dancehall Queen Shenseea Talks Debut Album 'ALPHA' & the Power of Manifesting

By Bianca Gracie | March 30, 2022

This feature is in the March/April Next Wave Issue. Click here to subscribe.

bt_WGFP44PUZI3PXYAHI67UGK5JCNGAA.jpg

After ruling Jamaica’s dancehall scene, Shenseea is ready to bring her flair to the international music scene. The first step? The release of her anticipated debut album, ALPHA.

The artist has been one of dancehall’s next-gen leaders since releasing 2016’s viral hit “Loodi” with Vybz Kartel. Since then, the Kingston native has helped relaunch the genre from Jamaica’s shores to overseas. Her witty humor, sharp lyrical tongue and vulnerability (which she unabashedly showcases to 5 million Instagram followers) led to an Interscope Records deal in 2019 and taking on Wassim Slaiby (best known for managing The Weeknd and Doja Cat) as management since 2021. Now, the artist has solidified her position with ALPHA (released March 11 via Rich Immigrants/Interscope Records). Here, Shenseea envisions this thrilling phase of her career.

Dancehall is such a male-dominated industry. Do you ever feel like you need to be rough and tough all the time?

No. I act on how I want to act. (laughs) I don’t let people dictate my life. If I don’t feel up to it today then I’m not up to it today. You know unless of course I say I’m not up to it today but I’m gonna put out the extra effort then I'm going to put out the extra effort. It’s always about how I feel, I never fake it. I don’t believe in that. I had to learn [to be strong] from ever since I was young, so it’s natural for me. But sometimes if I feel like I need to break down and cry I’m going to cry, you know?

Do you believe in manifestation? When we first spoke three years ago, you told me, "I wanna walk in New York City and everyone has to recognize me." You put those words into the universe and it’s starting to come to life.

I feel like I’m almost where I want to be, so it’s still important for me to keep going and keep saying positive things. [2021] was a learning year. I did a lot with switching management and taking a step back to look at the industry that I wanna take over, which is pretty different from dancehall and what I’ve accomplished back home. Over here it’s a whole different type of thinking. So I just sit back and be observant. I’m trying to upgrade myself and prepare myself for this year, ’cause I feel like it will be no breaks for me. So I believe in [manifestation] for sure. You’ve heard me speak highly of what I want to accomplish, and I’m still doing that up until now.

What are some lessons that you’ve learned being in a more mainstream industry?

Well catering to a smaller market [before], I wasn’t required to do too much. I feel like here I gotta be real consistent because there is so much competition in America, period. We got so much talent out here as opposed to Jamaica. Jamaica is just so small – it's like you hear about Shenseea from Kingston and you’re in Montego Bay. Here, I gotta be more consistent and keep at it. Last year, I was just sampling with my freestyles once in a blue moon. But I’ve noticed that I don’t need to do only freestyles to make people look at me musically, I can do covers, I can just stand up and talk some bars. But as long as I’m perfecting my craft because social media makes people have a low attention span – something new is always popping up. At the end of the day, tomorrow, or next week there's going to be a new topic. It’s a lot of competition out here. On top of that, I notice that I have to move carefully out here because people do crazy stuff for clout.

Yeah, it’s true.

If someone attacks you it's not personal. It’s just bait, you know? And I don't want to be caught in a position like that so I feel like I have to be stepping like I’m on glass. I can’t do that because my career really means so much to me and it holds so much weight. I’ve just noticed how I can’t take no breaks no offs, nothing. Last year was forced to rest because my body had just given up, but this year it’s just a minor setback for a major comeback.

What can fans expect from this album?

Expect that they won’t know if it’s the same person singing each song, because all of them are so different. They’re going to be like, ‘Who is this? She has so many different personalities and so many different souls in her.’ I made it like that intentionally. I always told myself that I want to be an ‘everybody artist.’ Even if you are not a fan of Shenseea, you still got a favorite song off that album. A majority of people know me for being a bad gyal, some know me for just being hip, some know me for being sexy—all of those flavors are on one album. The only one I missed—God forgive me—was maybe something gospel-y. I am God-fearing and I let God lead the album, and I hope it exceeds my expectations. I want something that goes higher than what I started it as, you know?


The artist’s 2021 “Run Run” video. PHOTO BY DARREN CRAIG
The artist’s 2021 “Run Run” video. PHOTO BY DARREN CRAIG

I like seeing dancehall artists putting out more albums nowadays because of course you know dance hall is such a single-based industry. But there’s definitely been a shift.

I like it too. I feel like I’m trapped between the old school and the new school because I’ve been dropping singles for five years and that's what got me to where I am. But now is the right time to drop my album. I worked on my album for three years and I didn’t drop it before because it wasn’t the right time. So I feel like my path is already ordained so when God says it's time then it’s time. And as you said, we don't really drop albums in dancehall. So for us to be doing that now, we have to have a good look.

People tried to put you in a box at the beginning of your career, saying that you could just do this one style of dancehall. You know, I always try to stick to my roots— that’s where you can stay authentic. The album has that as well.

Even if I’m rapping, you still hear some patois and my signature yardie style in it. It’s like adding on a lotus to a song, then adding on a hibiscus to another one, then adding another rose. But at the end of the day, it still has the roots of the flowers. This album took so long for me to release because I wanted to make timeless songs. I’m so obsessed with songs back in the 2000s, all the 50 Cents, the Nellys, the Ja Rules. I want to engage people where in 10 years’ time they’re still coming back to listen to my music. I feel like nowadays music comes and goes so quickly because of TikTok. So when you make a song that actually sticks during these times, that is major. I want to be able to sell out stadiums for years to come.

Many women like you are showing power by balancing different hats—from motherhood to being entrepreneurs.

I feel like it was always in us though. It’s just a stigma that we couldn’t [shake]. My career started when my baby [Rajeiro] was born. I literally took my baby to the studio with me. When you have that drive as a woman, there’s no one who can tell you you can’t get it done because that’s what being a mother is about. I feel like some people were actually afraid of the idea of me bringing a child into the industry, but once you make up your mind that you’re going to get it done, trust me—you’re gonna get it done by any means necessary.

It’s been five years since ‘Loodi.’ When you look back at that girl, what’s your reaction?

Every time I watch that video, I’m like, ‘Man, my ass is so flat!’ (Laughs) My hair is crazy. I thought that I was f-king sh-t up. I looked a mess. But that was my very first hit, which I did not expect. That’s how I want my album to be. I want it to exceed my expectations— that’s when I feel most accomplished as an artist. Five years ago, I was doing shows for free or at a discount price or just going on a stage where no one knows me but still trying to win them over. I was so scared to even perform in front of the cameras. Now I’m like, ‘Why am I shy? This is me. The cameras are here to see me.’

Photography by: Darren Craig