By John J. Moser
If reggae hip-hopper Sean Kingston as the supporting act for tween sensation Justin Bieber’s first tour seems an unlikely pairing, consider this: Kingston was Bieber’s age when he was discovered by producer JR Rotem in 2007 in generally the same way _ through MySpace.
Kingston also had early hits — the No. 1 Beautiful Girls, Me Love and Take You There in 2007 — and like Bieber, his music has R&B influences. He’s still young; he just left his teens in February.
But perhaps the biggest clue to their pairing is that, in his three-year career, Kingston has collaborated with artists across the musical spectrum. In addition to pairing with Bieber on this year’s Top 15 song Eenie Meenie, Kingston had a platinum Top 10 pop hit in 2008 with Natasha Bedingfield on her Love Like This. He co-wrote Jason Derulo’s No. 1 hit Whatcha Say and also discovered singer Iyaz, whose song Replay also hit No. 1.
His latest single, Letting Go (Dutty Love), released last month and still in the Top 50, pairs him with rapper Nicki Minag.
“I feel like I’m always on top of my game,” he says in a recent phone call. “I always want to put out new music, I always go to different events. The work ethic is kind of crazy, but I think that’s what makes me successful.”
Kingston says the connection with Bieber is stronger. He says they met through their managers before Bieber was famous, “and it was just that type of relationship where you knew we had a connection from the jump. I met him, we vibed, we just talked for a long time.”
“He was like, ‘Yo, I look up to you; I like your music,’” Kingston says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, man, we definitely should do something.’ And we put it into action. We actually did it on a personal note, switched numbers and stuff like that.”
Kingston says that when Bieber travelled to his home base of Miami for the Super Bowl, he called to say he was in town. “He’s like, ‘Yo, man, bro, I’m down here, man. Let’s work, man, I’m here.’ And he came over — I have a studio in my house — and we did a couple records and Eeenie Meenie was one of them.”
He says they recorded three other songs that may or may not see the light of day. “The energy (was) bananas, man,” he says. “Because he’s young and I’m still young. So it definitely was a great vibe.”
Putting the two together for a tour, “really and truly, it was kind of like an idea that was just so brilliant, as far as the management side,” he says. “My and his managers are like close friends, so they talked about it. They were like, ‘The record is doing good, it’d be great to have Sean on the tour.’”
It hasn’t been so long since the Miami-born Kingston was sleeping in the bus station in Jamaica. He is a product of the streets of Kingston, where his parents moved before separating. At one point, his mother and sisters were jailed, leaving him in a bus station before relatives took him in and he found success with Rotem. It’s been only a year since Kingston’s last disc, Tomorrow, came out, with its hits, the Top 5 Fire Burnin’ and Face Drop. Kingston says he expects to have a third album out this month. In addition to Eeenie Meenie and Letting Go, Kingston confirms he’s worked with T-Pain and Kanye West, but says he’s not sure those songs will end up on the disc.
“I’m really focused,” he says. “I’ve been working on it for like four months now, and a lot of stuff is being created but some stuff might not make it.”
He says he and Derulo, who also is signed to Rotem’s Beluga Heights Records, met through the producer. Kingston says they wrote Whatcha Say for his album, but he and the label decided it “didn’t really fit my style.” He says he found Iyaz on his frequent Internet searches for new artists.
“I want to come out with my own record label; I want to add an artist to my label,” Kingston says. “And I hear Iyaz’s music and he just had a distinct sound. He reminded me so much of myself ... And I reached out to him. He was going to school in the Virgin Islands and I reached out to him and basically jacked him up to my record label.”
Working with so many artists, Kingston says, is “a lot of hard work. (But) I think I’m so successful because of the hard work I put in.”