Jay Sean

Me Against Myself

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Five years before his Americanized Usher-esque reinvention helped "Down" to become the first song by a U.K. urban act to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100, North West London vocalist Jay Sean was more focused on becoming the first British-Asian artist to break through to the mainstream. The likes of Bally Sagoo and Rishi Rich may have all charted inside the Top 20, but Sean was the first to grace Saturday morning kids' TV shows and the pages of teen magazines as well as commercial radio playlists. While his pin-up idol looks may have played a part, his unprecedented success was largely down to his unique fusion of contemporary R&B, British hip-hop, and the Indian influences of his Punjabi-Sikh upbringing, a sound which he's showcased throughout the 15 tracks on debut album, Me Against Myself. Produced by Mentor and Rishi Rich, two of Asian crossover's pioneers, it's a highly inventive and genre-straddling collection of songs which fully validates Sean's decision to drop out of medical school to focus on a music career, something he questions himself on the "Irony Skit" interlude. Alongside the three big hit singles -- "Dance with You," which combines Craig David acoustic R&B with snake charmer-like instrumentation, "Stolen," an atmospheric soulful slow jam which borrows from the 1973 Bollywood film Yaadon Ki Baaraat, and the Luniz-esque club anthem "Eyes on You" -- there is Hindi-sampling bhangra ("One Night"), tabla beat rhythms and kaleidoscopic Indian flutes ("Holding On"), and a synth-led tale of a failing relationship inspired by A.R. Rahman's "Ramta Jogi" ("Man's World"). And unlike many of his counterparts, Sean doesn't appear to take himself too seriously, as evident on the fabulously schizophrenic closing title track, in which he battles against his Eminem-style MC alter ego who mercilessly mocks his new-found success ("Wow, big deal, you got to number twelve, I'm not surprised if your mum bought half of the copies herself"). The album is less interesting on the more conventional moments, such as the neo-soul-inspired "One Minute," and the New Jack Swing-style ballad "Come with Me," both of which could have been lifted from any generic urban artist's back catalog. But even though Sean would go on to receive much more attention for his future collaborations with the two "Lils", Jon and Wayne, Me Against Myself shows that he was a far more exciting proposition when he was doing things his own way.

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