A BEAUUUTIFUL INTERVIEW WITH SEAN KINGSTON
While his 2007 debut international chart-topper ‘Beautiful Girls’ may have been based on Ben E. King`s seminal 1961 soul classic `Stand By Me`, its lilting old skool charm nevertheless belies the fact that 17-year-old Miami-born, Jamaica-bred Sean Kingston is most definitely a child (and artist) of today`s internet generation.
Indeed, proving that MySpace is more than just a place for friends, back in spring 2006 then-aspiring singer/rapper Kingston (born Kisean Anderson) sent his first message to hit producer J.R. Rotem (of Rihanna `S.O.S.` fame). With Rotem initially not responding, repeated daily messages would nevertheless eventually lead to said South Africa-born producer investigating further Sean`s refreshingly melodic blend of reggae, pop, doo wop and rap… To where, just weeks later, an ever-ambitious Kingston had left his native Miami for West Hollywood to record tracks with Rotem who, by the end of the year, had prestigiously made him the first signing to his new (Sony/BMG-affiliated) Beluga Heights label. In turn proving that, for an unsigned young artist today, the internet is not only a strong promotional tool but can also be used to make crucial industry connections.
“Yeah, once I ran into J.R.`s page and saw that he did Rihanna I was like `That`d be tight if he replied back!`”, recalls a talkative Sean down a transatlantic phoneline: “I just wanted to get my foot in the door with a producer that`s lacing these hits. So I was like `Yo, check out my music! I really really need you to give me a chance!`! You know, I kept hittin` him up about eight times a day for like for four weeks...And it WORKED!"
With the aforementioned `Beautiful Girls` going on to become THE global summer smash of 2007, Sean`s self-titled debut album went on to prove his musical versatility - and this month (to coincide with his first-ever full UK live set, at London`s indig02) spawns his engagingly catchy new single `Take You There`, which reflects on the four pre-teen years he spent living in Jamaica: “Both my mom and dad were born in Jamaica. So growing up I stayed in Kingston for a little bit, as well as later going to Ocho Rios High. And, while Ocho Rios has a lotta resorts, a lotta beaches and a lotta hotels, Kingston is more about the streets, the ghetto and the poverty - where you don`t really wanna go outdoors after a certain time. So in `Take You There` I`m basically telling a girl `Let me take you to where I`m from - to Jamaica, to the paradise AND to the slums!`. Because, while many people just think of the tropical beaches, there is definitely another, rugged side to the island too!”
Having written 100% of his album`s lyrics, Sean claims his songs are totally representative of his personal life. Ranging from the self-deprecating-schoolboy tale of lost love in “Beautiful Girls` to the much deeper `Dry Your Eyes`, where he visits the hardship of watching his mother and sister being sent to prison when he was just 15 years old: “I always had my brother. But, when my mother and sister went away, it took a lot out of me”, he reflects soberly: “My sister went away for four months, while my mom has been away for over two years now (allegedly for either tax evasion or identity fraud). But, while I missed her like crazy, I actually used that as my motivation for writing that song. I`m basically telling her `We`ve been through a lotta stuff and the struggle`s been crazy. But don `t cry - everything`s gonna be cool`. While in the verses I`m also explaining to other people how the whole situation put me under pressure. You know, while most people around 14/15 have their mom around them, go to school and live a normal life, I was homeless doing lawnmower services - cutting grass and doing whatever I had to do to get money.”
With the bulk of his upbringing being spent in Miami and dominated by hip hop, Sean (whose future plans include launching his own label Time Is Money) nevertheless still feels a strong bond with Jamaican reggae. His grandfather having been legendary Bob Marley/Burning Spear producer Jack Ruby: “Yeah, before he passed away, he influenced me a lot”, he remembers fondly: “He had the Platinum plaques from all the different artists he`d worked with, but he was still very humble. So he`d often sit me down and just be like `Yo, this industry is crazy and you gotta keep FOCUSED! You gotta keep God first; you gotta wait your time; and you gotta pay your DUES!`... And that`s exactly what I`m trying to do today!”
The download single `Take You There` is released March 17. The album `Sean Kingston` is out now, both through RCA Label Group
Words PETE LEWIS