Shenseea has barely released her debut album and she’s already made history. In addition to being the first female act in 17 years from Jamaica to appear on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, she is also one of only a few artists from the island to sign a major label deal. That’s not all she has to flex about, however. Missy Elliott gave her the seal of approval after the rap icon checked out her viral freestyle for “Bad Habit/Don’t Rush.” In addition to that, she has already earned herself four Grammy nominations after featuring on albums by Kanye West, Major Lazer, and Masego.
With a long-awaited debut LP, ALPHA, just released and being announced as Apple Music’s latest Up Next artist, Shenseea is certainly having her moment. EUPHORIA. sat down with the artist to learn about her journey to becoming one of music’s most in-demand rising stars.
“I was raised in a musical household,” the 25-year-old says, adding, “My auntie used to play music so loud when I was young so I was forced to hear it. Everybody in my family can sing or play an instrument or write. I feel like it’s in my genes at this point, but I’ve always wanted to become an artist. That’s always been my dream and I think it’s safe to say that I’m out here living it.”
Shenseea’s real passion for music started around the age of 6. But it wasn’t the dancehall genre many know her for today that was Shenseea’s first love. “My family raised me strict, and I wasn’t allowed to listen to raunchy music growing up, so I didn’t really get exposed to dancehall until high school,” she says. Megastars who had already made their mark on the industry such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Whitney Houston were some of the talents Shenseea paid close attention to during her adolescent years. Her first inspiration, however, was King of Pop Michael Jackson, whom her family approved of. “I feel like he’s the one I used to play on my CD and be like ‘Yo, I just love him.’ His music was clean too,” she continues.
If her ambitions of being a musician didn’t work out, Shenseea made sure to have a plan B to fall back on. “I always have a backup plan with everything that I’m doing,” she says. “I wanted to be a police officer. I took my subjects to become one, but my family didn’t want me to be a police officer because they thought it was too dangerous.”
What gave Shenseea the real motivation and confidence to chase her dream of being a musician was when she gave birth to her son at the age of 19 in 2015. For this reason, she has continued to credit him as her driving force. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but deep down, I was listening to some of my family members, and then also I was really shy,” she says. “When I had my son, something clicked in me. I thought, who cares, just do it! He will tell me straight up if he doesn’t like a song or if I’m singing too explicit. I love to play my music to my son because he is a fan of mine. He sings almost every one of my songs. Even the explicit ones, I have to tell him ‘Yo, do not sing that.’ It’s pretty much embarrassing because I wrote it and now he’s singing it.”
Shenseea has been in the game for over five years now, grinding hard. She has embarked on many tours back and forth, signed multiple corporate sponsorship deals, and featured on a variety of established artists’ albums from all genres. With that being the case, her growing fanbase around the world will have different stories to share from when they first discovered her. Shenseea personally believes her breakthrough moment was way back in 2016 when she teamed up with fellow Jamaican dancehall artist Vybz Kartel for “Loodi.”
“That was the record that made me look up and be like ‘Yo, I’m famous now,” she says. “I used to walk out onto the streets and I noticed that people were noticing me. They’re calling to me and I’d be like ‘Oh, you know me!’ I remember that feeling, so it’s always going to be my breakout collaboration.”
Talking of collaborating, her career rapidly leveled up in 2021 when hip-hop heavyweight Ye came knocking on her door asking to work with her. One feature wasn’t enough for the musical genius, though, as he asked Shenseea to appear on two of the tracks — “Pure Souls” and “Ok Ok Pt 2” — on his most recent LP, Donda. On top of being appreciative of the opportunity, Shenseea has since realized she identifies with him on a personal level. “I literally just sat and watched his documentary and his journey reminded me of myself,” she shares. “He took a leap of faith and moved to different parts of the country to chase his dreams and a lot of people were rejecting him and making it seem like he doesn’t have the potential. I feel like I do resonate with some of his personality. He’s always been a kind person to me. He gave me that open opportunity without me being a platinum-record-selling artist. I look up to people like that because I will never forget that they gave me a chance.”
Her newfound fame didn’t change or affect Shenseea’s lifestyle in any way, though. If anything, receiving attention from others isn’t something that she’s ever had to adjust to. “I still live how I want to regardless of the people that are watching,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been prepared for this my whole life because I’ve always been a standout and a popular child growing up in my schools. I’ve always been that person that stood out, so I feel like I was used to the attention but now people have started going crazy. They don’t know you at all, but I think it’s normal for me.”
The time it’s taken Shenseea to get to where she is today may be longer than most are willing to wait, but it’s not something she believes has come close to defeating her. In fact, she is appreciative of some of the hurdles she had to face. “I feel like every obstacle I come across is a way to teach me how I should deal with another obstacle like this in the future,” she says. “It challenges me to push past my breaking point and keep going for what I want. I’m passionate. It feels like a journey, it doesn’t feel like something I have to be beating myself up for.”
“I embrace it all. That’s entertaining for me too. If it was such a smooth ride I’d be bored,” Shenseea continues.
Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Lady Saw, and Bounty Killer are some of the most noteworthy acts that have been representing dancehall music in the mainstream media long before Shenseea made her entrance. However, there is no denying that the current resurgence of the genre has benefited from Shenseea putting her own stamp and modern twist on it. “I feel people do see potential in me to bring that era back,” she explains after being asked why dancehall is being embraced by a whole new generation. “I’ve just been infusing my dancehall with pop, rap, and hip-hop-type songs. I’m infusing it so other people who aren’t familiar with dancehall and who are familiar with the sound but have been missing it can at least understand some of what I’m saying as opposed to me doing straight-up dancehall and them not understanding anything at all.”
Shenseea continues: “That is my goal, I want everyone to be accepting of my music. I want them to understand it, hence why I do so many genres and try to write more in English, including the dancehall music.”
While she hopes she’s opened the doors for other women to be able to join and thrive on the same stage as her, Shenseea makes it clear that it’s not an “easy road” and that her best advice for aspiring talent is to “have strength.” Due to her current status in the United States, Shenseea admits she thought everything was going to be a little more straightforward. “It’s as if I’m starting from square one, but I love it because it gives me a new purpose,” she says.
The edge Shenseea has over her peers is that she is equally gifted at being a singer as she is a rapper. Her versatility can’t be understated and her diverse back catalog of music already showcases such promise for the future. “I was singing first,” she declares. With that being said, Shenseea decided to debut on the scene with more rap-infused dancehall songs “because it catches the eye” and “people like more hype and entertainment.”
Since emerging on a worldwide scale, Shenseea has solidified herself as a genre-bending artist and is well aware she has divided some of her core fans who fell in love with her early material. “I had someone ask me, ‘I had dancehall completely on lock, why did I leave?’” she says. “I’d be so bored just being comfortable for the rest of my life. There’s so much more I can do with my life and take more risks because I’m still young. I still have time to do what I wanna do.” On the other hand, Shenseea says that time is also her biggest enemy right now. Even though she is only 25 years old, she finds herself focusing on the goals she wants to achieve by a certain age.
Shenseea’s much-anticipated debut album, ALPHA, dropped globally via Interscope Records on March 11. With much discussion about the direction she is heading and whether she is abandoning her original sound, Shenseea reassures listeners that she is constantly evolving and hopes her fans will still support that. “I want them to know that I’m not a person you can box in,” she says. “I do have a lot of my core fans saying I should only stick to dancehall, but I feel like I really want them to know that I don’t have to stick to dancehall and hopefully they will accept that I’m such a versatile artist that won’t get boring. It’s me experimenting with my craft and passion. I want them to be receptive and I want to inspire other artists to not box themselves in and explore their talents.”
One thing that hasn’t changed in her songwriting is the girl power message. “I’m always representing for women and telling them to stand up. I do have tracks on [the album] that are very confident but regardless of what the topic is, I hope they just enjoy the music,” she says. This won’t be an album for people to cry to — she wants it to be that go-to record that lifts your spirits when you’re feeling down.
The original title for the album she had in mind, Eleanor, was going to serve as a tribute to her late mother, who died in 2020. In the end, Shenseea opted for something else. “I realized that every time I go to speak about my album, it would bring back memories and have me in a sentimental mood and I don’t want to promote my album with sadness,” she says. Instead, Shenseea chose ALPHA because she insists it perfectly represents her whole persona. “I’m the one who provides for my family and myself, who looks out for their son as a single mom,” she shares. “I’ve always had that leadership mentality and that’s what alpha means to me, it’s about being dominant, being able to lead, and stepping away from the pack.”
“When everybody is going one way, you explore the other because it’s a different route for different things. Alpha is literally me and being strong-minded,” she continues.
After feeding fans with song after song and collaboration after collaboration, Shenseea kicked off 2022 by finally putting out what would become the lead single for her first-ever album: “Lick,” featuring three-time Grammy winner Megan Thee Stallion. Before anyone had their hands on the track, the single already had people talking online. From its suggestive title to its daring cover art, Shenseea strategically made sure from the jump that this song was going to be impactful one way or another. “I wanted it to stir controversy and I did exactly that,” she says confidently. “That’s all I really wanted so I could set out the next single and then, boom, the album.”
As the title suggests, the NSFW song is about the sexual desires Shenseea and Megan want from their partners. The song was accompanied by a playful and animated music video, which racked up more than 9.3 million views within a month and was filled with bold colors and provocative dance moves throughout. “I actually co-directed the video and helped to color and edit the video,” she says. “It’s definitely a co-production from myself. I feel like I exceeded my expectations. I felt like the video worked on its own and also the song worked on its own. I feel like it’s a double controversial song.”
Shenseea may be proud of the outcome, but the song was definitely met with a mixed reaction. “Lick” drew many comparisons to Cardi B’s previous collaboration with Megan — “WAP” — while others felt it didn’t represent the talent and potential they believe Shenseea has. “It’s a bit bittersweet because when I’m reading it I feel bad, but 20 minutes later I don’t because I don’t remember what they were saying,” she says with a laugh, referring to the feedback of the song. “Over the years, I’ve realized people just talk and they’re easy to flip-flop. They hate me today but I guarantee you’ll like me tomorrow. That’s why I can’t take them too seriously, because they’re literally just here to voice their opinions.”
On the plus side, Shenseea knows she is strong-minded enough to push through any negativity. “At the end of the day, people’s opinions can be cool but you have to stick to your own mindset, and know what you want, and believe in yourself and know what you’re capable of and exercise that,” she says. “Give yourself the confidence to move on from whatever because nothing that’s bad lasts forever. If they’re not talking, I have to give them something to talk about.”
As for getting to work alongside one of her contemporaries, Shenseea has nothing but kind words to say about Megan. “Megan is really really nice and she has been supportive,” she says. “She’s been helping me push the record, she’s been giving me good vibes since the day we met, even up until now. I really have to give hats off to her. Love it, women empowerment.”
“Lick” was quickly followed up with another collaboration, “R U That,” with 21 Savage, which came together during the final parts of making the album last year. “Men are always telling females that they are everything for you and they’re all that you want so it was more me expressing myself going against that and questioning if they are a certain type of person,” Shenseea explains about the inspiration behind it. “I low-key really wanted to call the song ‘21 Questions’ because it features 21 Savage. But, he didn’t get to the point of asking me that many questions.”
Other star-studded collabs on ALPHA include Tyga, Sean Paul, and Offset. One that remains a particular favorite to Shenseea is track 7: “Henkel Glue” with Beenie Man. “I can’t stop singing and listening to it, even though I made it three years ago,” she says. “It’s like Beenie Man from the 2000s.”
Among the many goals Shenseea has set herself, hitting the US Hot 100 chart with one of her own songs is something she proudly declares as her main priority. “With the push that I’m going to get with my album and other media supporting me, they will hear my music on the radio,” she says. “That’s my first goal, but my goal for the end of the year is to be in the top 10 of the US Hot 100 charts. I’m taking everything I want in stages, just like I have the past five years. If it doesn’t work out, that’s OK because I’m giving myself room to experience, learn, and grow.”
Her first Grammy win is also something that could be on the cards in a matter of weeks. If Ye takes home Album of the Year for Donda, Shenseea will be awarded a golden trophy of her own. “I’ve always wanted a Grammy,” she says. “I’ll be extremely grateful if I do receive one, but I guess I’m going to have two spots at the top of my shelf because I’ve always wanted one for my album. I’ll definitely take one for a contribution — they’ll just have to be side to side.”
They say confidence is key to success, so there is no reason we shouldn’t see Shenseea continue to propel in the forthcoming months with this album.