Many remember Sean Kingston as the baby-faced kid behind "Beautiful Girls." The "Stand By Me"-interpolating platinum single "Beautiful Girls" turned him into the first '90s baby to hit No. 1 on Billboard. His debut record spawned three hits. He's had numerous hits since, although none at quite that level of ubiquitousness.
His third album Back 2 Life, due out this year, has spawned a few lead singles, dating as far back as 2010. His latest, the Wiz Khalifa and Chris Brown-featured "Beat It," is a potential summer jam. With a catchy beat by Nic Nac (the producer whose previous prominent credit was Ray J's "I Hit It First") and Kingston's memorable melody, the song could be another major smash for the artist. It recently entered the Hot 100, and is on a steady climb, reaching a high at No. 74 this week.
In person, Sean looks older than he did when he first arrived in music: tall, bulky and draped in sparkling jewelry, the artist has a mature confidence in person that one might not expect from his early singles. We spoke to Sean Kingston about the creation of his recent song, his favorite songwriters, and whether or not he's ready to return to the Jet Skis after his near-life altering 2011 accident.
As told to David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
How did “Beat It” with Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa come together?
Chris was doing a mural in my house. He came over to do a painting in my house, I had just moved in. He came over, he started his painting. And throughout my house I was blasting “Beat It” through the surround sound. He was like, “Yo, that record is hard. What record is that?” I was like, “This is going to be my first single, bro.” He was like, “Yo I want to be on it.”
And it just made sense, because when I wrote it, he influenced the song. He had a song on his first record called, “Ya Man Ain’t Me.” It’s a similar thing, and I made it into a hook, did the verses, and he got on it. It was a blessing. We went to the studio, knocked it out that day. Chris told me his opinion, he was like, “Yo, this is a hit record, but I think you should have a rapper to give it an edge. Me and you are both singers, put a little rapper part in.” I was like, “Ok, I get where you're going but who’s going to be the right fit?” And it just made perfect sense for Wiz.
Considering everything that has happened with Chris Brown, do you ever have any concerns about working with him as an artist?
Chris Brown, to me, is gifted. He’s a musical genius. I really don’t care about people’s personal life like that, I don’t get too deep like that. I’m concerned about their work and what type of people they are behind the camera. Chris Brown is an amazing person. How the media portrays him, that’s not my business, that’s nothing for me to go into. I just do me and he just do him. He’s a great person, a friend to me and he does great music. I’m a fan, I’ve been a fan.
Chris Brown, to me, is gifted. He’s a musical genius. I really don’t care about people’s personal life like that, I don’t get too deep like that. I’m concerned about their work and what type of people they are behind the camera. Chris Brown is an amazing person.
You mentioned he was at your place painting, what was going on with that?
He just painted, he paints and he was doing some freestyle graffiti art. My place, my house, it was in my living room. I have a wall, and my house is very modern, so it’s all glass. And right behind it, he did a piece right there. It was dope.
The video for the song is pretty epic. I like the shot with the palm trees and the helicopters. Was that your idea, how’d that come about?
No man, to be honest with you the helicopter was all the director. But I just knew it would be the perfect fit when I seen it actually in the treatment. The vibe was just right, it’s Malibu, the house, us three, because it’s what we really do. When we're in LA, we’re having pool parties, we’re inviting girls over, we’re turning up. You know how it is. So it made perfect sense.
Who are your favorite songwriters right now?
Ester Dean, Max Martin, Dream.
That’s interesting, what do you think of Dream’s new stuff?
Dream’s new stuff is The-Dream. I love his new stuff. [He has] a record with Fabolous called “Slow Down," I like it. But the new one is my favorite one, “IV Play.”
I like “Dope Bitch” a lot.
There you go, I like that one too. That was the first one. I’m surprised it didn’t take off. “Dope Bitch” was dope but I think “IV Play” is going to be good for him. It's like a '90s R&B-type of song. Dream is very dope. I like Dream because it’s melody, it’s not so complicated.
I don’t like writers that go too far off of music where it’s like, you can understand it but it’s just so... I like smooth, ear candy. Soon as you hear it, it’s catchy. Simple, but enough for you to be like, “Man, that was different. It was a nice sound.” It’s stuck to your brain. I feel like Ester Dean does that a lot with Rihanna, Dream does that a lot, and Max Martin [too]. We all know he does that a lot.
When you were growing up as a kid, were there particular artists that you were drawn to for that quality?
Lauryn Hill. I was a big fan of Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. OutKast. Bob Marley of course. I’m Jamaican so I have a lot of Bob Marley throughout the house. That's about it.
I actually saw Wyclef at his listening session last night...
Yeah, Wyclef is dope man. I got the honor of working with him. On my second album, we did a song called “Ice Cream Girl” and we worked a couple times in the studio. Wyclef is a genius. He’s another guy that’s really musically inclined.
What else have you been listening to, maybe more outside of your range?
I listen to everything from Taylor Swift to Ne-Yo to Musiq Soulchild to Paramore. All different types of music. I support it. I like fun music. I like Drake, I like where he's going right now. Rick Ross, Meek Mill.
I was in the UK before T.I. signed Chipmunk, I actually wanted to sign that kid. I was like, "Yo, Chipmunk is dope," he's Jamaican. I loved his stuff from when I was over there.
It seems like the music you make translates well internationally. Are there artists outside of the United States that you particularly like working with or that you want to work with?
Not at the moment, I’ve been too busy in the studio focusing on mine. But you’re right, I do like to go to these countries and listen to the artists that’s from there. I was in the UK before T.I. signed Chipmunk, I actually wanted to sign that kid. I was like, "Yo, Chipmunk is dope," he's Jamaican. I loved his stuff from when I was over there. When I go to these places I always listen to artists there, to really get that sound, that vibe, that inspiration. But, I haven’t been overseas in like a year and a half—I’ve been working on my stuff.
Where do you find it easiest to work on your material? Is it harder for you to do it on the road?
Very hard, I’ve tried doing that a lot of times. That’s why I consider myself more of a studio person. I got to perform it live, I love it. But I feel more comfortable in the studio. I like to be in a vocal booth and a track room. I’ve written songs on the plane before that made albums, but I don’t like writing [there]. I can’t do it. I have to write when it’s quiet and the vibe [is] the music blasting, so I can hear the beat and catch it.
Who was it that mentored you when you were first coming up? How did you link up?
I’d say J.R. [Rotem]. And Zach Katz, of Beluga Heights. I linked up with them through MySpace. That was 2006, going on 2007. End of 2006, I ended up getting a deal through MySpace. First I was hitting up J.R. 16, 17 times a day, thinking it was J.R.'s page. Which it was, but it was controlled by his brother, Tommy Rotem.
When I was hitting him on MySpace, I was in Miami. Once I got a ticket to L.A., I linked up with him out there. He liked the songs that were on my MySpace page. He liked my persistence, my hustle, and then he took a meeting with me. He loved what he heard and introduced me to J.R., J.R. introduced me to Sony, and we’re here now.
Let's talk about your upcoming album, Back 2 Life. Who's on it?
2 Chainz, T.I., Busta Rhymes, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, and that’s it. Altogether, right now, we’re probably 85 percent done. We have to do a couple more sessions. Right now, we probably have about nine or 10 songs done.
I have to ask how you've recovered from the jet ski accident. [Ed. Note—In 2011, Kingston was badly injured in a jet ski crash.]
100 percent good.
Were you afraid to get back on a jet ski again?
At first I was. I was trying to go [jet skiing] in Jamaica the other day. They didn’t have any. I was very shocked. How you don’t have any jet skis in Jamaica?
I guess it was a sign, I don’t know. I love jet skis man, I always been a water person. I’m an Aquarius so I love the water. I’ll go on it again. Eventually, I’ll overcome my fear. [Laughs.]