From Island to International
Let Sean Kingston tell it. He feels he changed the course of music – his contributions to the world of island-pop music in the mid-2000s created a style that many other artists would adopt, a style that has dominated the Billboard charts for the last decade. “I could sing, I could rap, that’s cool, but people are out here doing that, right? What’s going to make me different? I said, ‘You know what? Let me start adding my Jamaican sound – my reggae vibes – and mixing it with the pop,’” says the 29-year-old musician.
What Kingston feels makes this style unique to him is the fact that it is a product of his Jamaican and American background, which not many artists who utilize that sound can relate to. “I’m really the only person that can go full-Jamaican on a track, and the world can understand it. It’s either [that] you’re too dancehall or you’re too pop – it’s not anybody that can put it in the middle,” he elaborates. This distinction along with his reputable talent and skill as a songwriter has cemented him as one of the all-time greats in the music industry.
Life wasn’t always so rosy for the multi-platinum-selling singer-songwriter. Born KiSean Paul Anderson, the Miami-bred star spent his adolescent years with his father in Jamaica, in an attempt by his mother to integrate him into the culture and keep him out of trouble. Kingston eventually returned to his birthplace of Miami, Florida, only for his life to be in even more disarray. His mother was imprisoned for tax-related crimes while he was only a young teen at that time. However, it was then that he decided to put all of his energy to his passion for creating and recording music. Grandson of Jamaican record producer Jack Ruby, Kingston had been performing at talent shows as a young child. He was heavily influenced by the music he heard around the house, which consisted of hip-hop artists like JAY-Z, The Notorious B.I.G. (which is the first record Kingston ever purchased) and reggae legends including Bob Marley and Buju Banton.
When Kingston set his sights on becoming a recording artist, however, a conflict arose between him and his aunt who he was then staying with. “I wanted to do music so much that I left her house. She never really kicked me out – I kind of left on my own,” he recalls. From there, he bounced around, sleeping at friends’ houses and even in a two-door Honda Civic for some time, and picking up a grass-cutting job to be able to fund his dreams. He released his music through the social-networking site myspace. Seeing one of his songs gain popularity, Kingston, unsure of his next move, reached out to record producer J.R. Rotem, who took a liking to his music and made him the first signing to his Beluga Heights record label. His self-titled debut album was released in 2007, containing “Beautiful Girls,” which would become his signature song and Number One in 31 countries.
Kingston enjoyed continued success but was forced to take a hiatus when, in May 2011, he suffered a near-fatal accident when the jet ski he was driving collided with a Miami Beach bridge. “It humbled me,” he shares. “It makes you realize that you can have everything and just lose it right away.”
It’s been over six years since Kingston’s last full-length project. He is now ready to go back into the mix of things and take ownership of the style that he feels he’s brought into the mainstream. He recently dropped a Caribbean-pop tune “Peace of Mind” featuring Tory Lanez and Davido, and is currently gearing up for his new Made in Jamaica EP release slated for later this year.
Writer: Alain Clerine
Photographer: Nelson Blanton (nelsonblanton.com)
Stylist: Katelynn Tilley
Men’s Grooming: Shiyena Chun
Videographer: Mason Kim
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to The Steady (@thesteadyhostel - www.thesteadyhostel.com) & FOG (@fog_popup - www.fogdining.com) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)