The first thing you notice upon meeting Sean Kingston is his boyish smile. His unadulterated delight for the success he has enjoyed so far verges on giddiness and is the only hint that the up-and-coming artist is only 17 years old. But almost instantly following whatever is your initial impression, Kingston engages you with the passion and intensity of someone who’s been working the music circuit for over a decade.
A Jamaica native, Kingston grew up in North Miami where he was exposed to music from his relatives at a very young age. His uncle, the iconic reggae artist Buju Banton, and his grandfather, Jack Ruby, who produced records for both Bob Marley and Burning Spears, heavily influenced Kingston’s sound as he began drawing from his Miami surroundings and his Jamaican roots at the ripe young age of fourteen. The result: a unique blend of reggae, rap and soul.
Last year, while randomly reaching out to music contacts through MySpace, Kingston caught the ear of producer J.R. Rotem, who previously lent his talent to such stars as 50 Cent, The Game and Snoop Dogg. Rotem knew immediately that Kingston was the perfect flagship artist for his new Beluga Heights label, a joint venture with Epic records.
Two tracks have already been cut. “Colors 2007,” featuring The Game and Miami’s Rick Ross (and a Jamaican remix of “Colors 2007,” featuring dancehall legend Vybz Kartel and Kardinal Offishall), has already made its way through the streets as an anthem for any and every block Kingston and his guests represent. “Beautiful Girls,” a reggae-induced pop tune about heartbreak, which flips Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” at Kingston’s request, will be the lead single off the full-length debut. The yet-to-be-titled album also features original beats from The Runners, Cool and Dre, DJ Khaled and DJ Felli Fell, and peaks with “Prosecutor,” Kingston’s heartfelt ode to what he calls the wrongful imprisonment of his mother and sister. It is expected to drop in early fall.
Ballerstatus.com: How long have you been working on the album?
Sean Kingston: Five months.
Ballerstatus.com: You’re recording in L.A.?
Sean Kingston: Yeah, recording with JR. He’s got a studio in L.A. It’s going great so far.
Ballerstatus.com: Did you ever imagine this kind of success?
Sean Kingston: Never, never, never, never. Not in a million years. Music is my life. I’ve always wanted to get a record deal, but I didn’t think it was gonna happen. I wanted to get one at fourteen, around that time, but it didn’t come then. It just hit me when I least expected it. Like how could you meet a guy on MySpace and get a record deal like that?
Ballerstatus.com: The Internet’s been good to you then?
Sean Kingston: Yeah, yeah.
Ballerstatus.com: How else did you start to get recognition? From the industry and on the streets?
Sean Kingston: Just being young. Basically, my cousin Ike was a DJ at 99 Jamz. He’d take me up to the station and I’d meet different people, crazy people, like Trick Daddy. I’d meet everyone just by going up there. I used to bring my demo tapes and he’d pass them out at the station. We’d be so young, like 15, at South Beach handing out CDs. They started recognizing me, and people in Miami starting knowing me. I didn’t have huge buzz, but a few people knew me.
Ballerstatus.com: Did your musical roots help?
Sean Kingston: Yeah, definitely.
Ballerstatus.com: What was life like growing up in Miami?
Sean Kingston: I grew up in North Miami. I wasn’t really in the hood hood, I’m not gonna lie. Growing up, I was in the black areas, but it wasn’t like in the ghetto. It was cool: simple, chill. Basically, I was just trying to make it. I was trying to make music. I would go to school, come home, do my homework and write a song.
Ballerstatus.com: Was there a defining moment in your life when you realized you wanted to make music?
Sean Kingston: It just came about. My grandfather, Jack Ruby, he was a big producer. It was in my genes. Music was me. I wasn’t into sports, just music. That was me. When it came about it was just about developing as an artist. Like when I started I wasn’t good, I was young. I kept on persisting, kept on writing kept on doing what I had to do.
Ballerstatus.com: How far do your influences range?
Sean Kingston: It’s crazy. Reggae, rap, pop. Everything. That’s me. Rapping is cool. I did the whole battle thing, went through that phase. Rapping is me, but when you jump into rap and do pop and go to Jamaica and combine all that into one, that’s something fresh. That’s what I’m trying to bring to the game. I don’t thing America needs another young kid trying to rap. I’m trying to be different.
Ballerstatus.com: How was it working with The Game?
Sean Kingston: It’s crazy. I’m a big fan of Game. And it wasn’t even like a situation where you pay The Game and he just did the record and left. He’s a cool dude, cool personality. He’s easy to work with. He was on tour and he told us he was gonna bless us with a verse. He knocked out the verse like that. He made us wait a few times, but told us, “Hey the verse is gonna be crazy.”
Ballerstatus.com: And Rick Ross?
Sean Kingston: As for Ross, I wasn’t actually in the studio with Ross when he did his verse. But he’s a cool dude. Like I said, I met him at the station when I was younger, so he came in and gave me a good verse.
Ballerstatus.com: How was it working with some of the other producers on the album, The Runners and DJ Felli Fell? Was that your idea or J.R.’s?
Sean Kingston: I’m a fan of The Runners. The Runners are dope. They’re from the crib, Florida and whatnot, so I wanted to work with them. They’re hot. You know, they’re doing a lot of stuff right now. They’re on the map. I thought my sound and their sound together would be crazy. As for Felli Fell, that’s my dude. I actually met Felli Fell. It was a connection right there. He’s one of the coolest DJs I ever met. His personality is off the hook, so we teamed up like that. And when I found out that he was a producer, I heard some of his beats and was like, “Yeah I wanna put this on the project.”
Ballerstatus.com: Any favorite artists you want to meet or work with in the future?
Sean Kingston: I wanna meet Jay-Z, but who I really wanna work with is 50 Cent. He has a work ethic that is crazy. I think he is a talented dude.
Ballerstatus.com: Do you have a title for the album yet?
Sean Kingston: We came up with two strong titles. We came up with Eyes Above Water, and first and everybody was like, “Yo, that’s hot,” and then we came up with Musical Youth. My manager called me and was like, what about Musical Youth? I was like, “Wow!” Cause there’s, you know, the reggae group from the past, and that basically defines me.