Sean Kingston: Fired up!
Having to date sold more than 6 million digital singles, 4.5 million ringtones and over 1 million albums, 19-year-old Sean Kingston is unquestionably one of the true international front-runners of today’s digital-age urban pop movement.
Indeed, with his 2007 breakthrough summer anthem - the Ben E. King-sampling global smash ‘Beautiful Girl’ - having made history as one of the fastest-rising Number Ones in history, Kingston is currently again enjoying international Top 10 status with his catchy new single ‘Fire Burning’. Which - with its electronic dance groove coming courtesy of chart-topping Lady GaGa producer Red One - precedes the release of Sean’s soon-come second LP ‘Tomorrow’.
The follow-up to his 2007-released, Platinum-selling self-titled debut set, ‘Tomorrow’ again showcases Kingston’s winning trademark blend of reggae-flavoured vocals with catchy, melodic pop hooks on tracks like the acoustic guitar-laced ‘Magical’, charmingly lilting ‘Island Queen’ and sensually surging ‘Wrap U Around Me’; with big-name production input coming from the likes of Wyclef Jean, Timbaland, plus Sean’s original mentor, J .R. Rotem.
All of which seems a far cry from Sean’s humble and troubled beginnings. Born Kisean Jamal Anderson in Miami, Florida, at six years old he moved with his family to Jamaica. Where, at the age of just 11, he was charged with breaking and entering - resulting in the youngster spending 21 days in jail. Meanwhile, with his mother later being incarcerated for identity fraud, Kingston ended up homeless and living in a car - by which time he’d begun writing lyrics based on his own life.
At which point, having moved back to Miami, Sean started taking his ability to write rhymes and hooks more seriously and began hitting the city’s talent-competition and showcase circuit hard. Which in turn ultimately led to his demo (via MySpace) reaching the ears of aforementioned Rihanna/Britney Spears/50 Cent producer J. R. Rotem. Who, taking the then-16-year-old under his wing, quickly got Sean signed to Sony’s Epic label. Whereupon Kingston’s first single became ‘Beautiful Girl’… And the rest, as they say, is history!
An ever-personable and confident Mr. Kingston reacquaints himself with Pete Lewis for a breezy 20-minute update on his career.
PETE: Let’s talk in general about your new, second LP ‘Tomorrow’
SEAN: “As you know, I write all my own music. And, to be honest with you, since my first record I’ve grown SO MUCH - in terms of my writing, my melodies, my concepts… I mean, I have stuff on ‘Tomorrow’ that I’ve never DONE before - like my favourite song, ‘Wrap U Around Me’, which is a Sean Kingston BALLAD! Then I’ve also done a record with (pop/punk hit-makers) Good Charlotte (‘Shoulda Let U Go’), which is a mix of rock and reggae… And even the single - ‘Fire Burning’ - is very different, in that it has techno, rock AND pop influences in there.”
PETE: So does all this tie in with your own personal tastes in music?
SEAN: “Yeah, because I’m a guy who’s open to ALL kinds of music. So I don’t just want to do urban. Like if you see what’s on Sean Kingston’s I-pod, there’s pop, rock, hip hop, country... Because to me music has no boundaries and no limitations. And, with me becoming an international artist and going all over the world in the last two years, it’s definitely given me a lot more topics to WRITE about. Because it’s opened me up to so many different cultures and lifestyles.”
PETE: As well as generally reflecting your growth as a young man and your evolution as an artist, the album’s lyrics also touch directly on more personal issues…
SEAN: “Yeah, I’m definitely being totally myself. Like I have a song on there called ‘Why You Wanna Go’, where I’m saying it’s taken me so long to get here - to be living my dream doing music - that I can’t just let it slip away. You know, I refuse to let my career go down the drain. Then ‘Face Drop’ - which will be the second single and was produced by Timbaland - talks of an issue I’ve personally experienced. Where I’ve had girls say to me ‘You’re too chubby. I don’t want to talk to you, ‘cause I only like skinny guys!’... And I feel that for me to actually write a SONG about that was pretty awesome!”
PETE: I understand ex-Fugee Wyclef Jean has also contributed to ‘Tomorrow’…
SEAN: “Yeah, Wyclef produced - and features on - ‘Ice Cream Girl’, which is just a fun song that uses the New Edition ‘Candy Girl’ sample. And working with him was AMAZING! Because we’re both from the West Indies, and he’s like this reggae/ cultural typea guy who’s also really big on melodies. Which is dope, because a great song without a great melody is not gonna go ANYWHERE! You know, a lotta people sometimes don’t even LISTEN to the words! They just wanna chill out, hum and sing along! And Wyclef is really good at just making great, singalong music that people can have fun with.”
PETE: So, having moved to Jamaica at the age of six, did the music scene there influence you?
SEAN: “Yeah, the reggae definitely impacted on me as a child. Because Jamaica is HUGE with music and talent! You know, there’s so much talent down there it’s RIDICULOUS - culture music, dancehall… But - in terms of its impact on me today - while I love reggae, I do feel that - while Jamaica puts out great MUSIC - lyrically some of the directions that the artists like to go in these days are not great and could be harmful to their career. Whereas I am very much a clean-cut artist. You know, I don’t curse in my music and I make music for EVERYBODY, including children.”
PETE: And did your grandfather - the prominent Jamaican reggae producer Jack Ruby - make an impact on you?
SEAN: “Yeah, he did. He taught me a lot about the industry - you know, to be humble, to stay productive... He told me it was all about putting great music out, keeping God first, and staying focused on your craft. I mean, he was a huge producer - him and Bob Marley were so close - and so I do feel that’s where I get my good music genes from. Though I never got the chance to actually be in the studio with him. He passed away before I started doing this.”
PETE: So how do you now look back on your early days as a young-teen performer on the Miami talent show circuit?
SEAN: “On a personal level, for me those times were HARD. You know, 13 years old, being away from your mom, your dad… But, at the end of the day, I think all that negative stuff basically HELPED me, in that it made me more determined to succeed. You know, me going to those talent shows every day in different High Schools - and often coming first-place - really did mould me as a PERFORMER! To where today I know how to work the stage, and I’m totally comfortable up there performing. Plus it also taught me about COMPETITION! Which also prepared me for what I’m doing now! Because, at the end of the day, that’s what this industry IS - one massive competition!”
The single ‘Fire Burning’ is out now. The album ‘Tomorrow’ follows September 7, both through Epic
Words PETE LEWIS