Young and raring to go

At just 18, singer Sean Kingston has chart-topping singles and huge plans for the future, including a July show in Tel Aviv.

Sean Kingston 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sean Kingston 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'Israel must be a beautiful place to be - I just can't wait to put on the perfect show for you all over there," 18-year-old singer Sean Kingston tells The Jerusalem Post on the eve of his tour here. "Wholesome reggae" is one way to describe Kingston's hits, "Beautiful Girls" and "Me Love." In the music videos, Sean bops gently, allowing a pretty girl to take his arm as he croons to her, dressed in a spread of basketball bomber jackets and other preppy outfits. You get the feeling this is one sweet guy - with his eye on the ball. The young singer's first hit single, "Beautiful Girls," was number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and topped the UK Singles Chart. "Me Love" debuted at number one in Australia, where it knocked off Fergie, and it held the top spot in Canada for six weeks. Last October, Kingston was the opening act for Gwen Stefani's The Sweet Escape Tour. Despite his early musical success, Kingston hasn't had it easy. But over the phone from Vancouver, where he's currently appearing, he comes across as open and, indeed, so sweet. What pops into his head when he hears the word "Israel": I'm thinking all the time about seeing a country I've never seen before and interacting with my fans there. I think Israel must be a beautiful place to be and I look forward to being there. I also think of Steve [Lobel], my manager, 'cause he's Jewish, you know. I want to reach out to the kids my age and to interact with them. And I want to taste Israeli food and interact with the people, play some basketball, see Tel Aviv, get to the beach, do some shopping..." Kingston's personal history informs his sound. The hard lyrics come from a life which has included prison, homelessness and generally needing to grow up very fast. He has a song about being 18: "I'm 18 and I don't know what I want... Lines form on my face and hands, Lines form from the ups and down, I'm in the middle without any plans, I'm a boy and I'm a man... I got a baby's brain and an old man's heart." Kingston knows enough about the hard life; he's had to come to terms with where he's come from - so it seems appropriate to ask whether he knows that most kids his age in Israel grow up fast, too, becoming soldiers and learning how to defend their country at 18. "I know about that because I learned about it in school. Of course, if they want to, it's okay," he says. "But I'm not sure it's a good thing, kids my age going into the army. I think their parents must really miss them and worry about them." "SEAN KINGSTON" is the stage name of Kisean Anderson, born in Miami but raised in Kingston, Jamaica, where his family moved when he was six. His young parents didn't play teen pop or teen rap, so he absorbed the adult lyrics of Buju Banton (a family friend), Ice Cube and Rakim. When he was 11, Kingston was charged with breaking-and-entering and served 21 days in jail and in boot camp. Once, he had to live in a car while his mother was sent to jail for identity fraud. But it all made the young teen that much more determined to succeed. Taking his ability to write rhymes and hooks, Kingston started working Miami's talent-show circuit. That led him onto the stage with Pitbull, Ludacris and Trick Daddy. Producer Jonathan "J.R." Rotem (Britney Spears, 50 Cent, Rihanna) caught his demo disc and signed him. A major-label bidding war eventually landed Kingston with Sony's Epic label. Kingston mixes more than a little dancehall and reggae into his hip-hop. His favorite bands and influences are Jay-Z, Bob Marley and Ziggy Marley. "I like music from my roots - also Rihanna - but I'm a worldwide artist and I like all types of music." He names his idols outside the music world as "My mom, my family, my manager. Steve's like a father figure for me. He helped me get to where I am." Sean admits it's "scary sometimes," to be so successful so young, but he says, "I allow myself to feel it, I'm ready for it, I love performing, I love singing, it was my dream." He says he knew he'd made it when he heard "Beautiful Girls" playing on the radio, then corrects himself. "First time we recorded that single, I said to myself, 'We got a hit record here.'" Kingston says the biggest changes in his life since he's become famous include "not being able to shop by myself, not being able to do kid things." Quickly, he adds, "But, it's where I wanted to be and I got a lot of things to look forward to." In 10 years' time, Sean sees himself as "CEO of a record label, of a car dealership. Rapping isn't all I want to do. I'd like to have a clothes company, a line of teddy bears..." Speaking from experience, Kingston offers what he believes is the secret to success: "To keep progressing is the key. You gotta aim for something and stick to it. That'll get you to the next level." Sean Kingston will perform in Tel Aviv at the Israel Trade Fairs Center on July 15. Tickets: (03) 524-7373