catapulted to the top of the international charts in the space of three minutes
In the hot summer of 2007, no matter where you were in the world, from Thailand to Turkey, London to Louisiana, there was a certain something in the air – a melody which you couldn't quite escape. It was somehow familiar, yet new. An upbeat R'n'B vibe riding on the back of Ben E. King's 1961 classic Stand By Me, topped with what, at first, seemed like the usual schmaltzy sugar coated lyrics of the standard commercial track. Albeit, there was a dark twist in the chorus as the singer told how he would be suicidal if a girl left him.
Beautiful Girls was – as well as being the most recognizable hit record in recent memory to happily talk about killing yourself – composed by then seventeen year old reggae/crossover artist, Sean Kingston. In the space of three minutes he found himself catapulted from a smooth voiced teenager from Jamaica to the top of the international charts.
It wasn't a bad effort, for something Sean penned in a matter of minutes. Whilst working with producer J.R. Rotem – who's made cuts with the likes of 50 Cent, The Game, Rihanna and Snoop Dogg – he heard the song Stand By Me on the radio and asked if anyone had ever flipped it.
"He (Rotem) made the beat right there on the spot! And I wrote the song's lyrics in a few minutes,” Sean expounded. It's hard when you're in love and a girl tells you that it is time to end things. I know everyone can relate to that, so that's why I had to write about it."
The song got massive airplay, but its lyrics caused controversy in some places, due to the inclusion of the word suicidal. Some radio stations banned the song outright, others replaced suicidal with in denial and MTV cut the word from the song completely. This didn't stop the single from hitting the number one spot in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Spain, and elsewhere, though.
But Sean, who now boasts sales of six million downloads, five million ringtones and one million albums to his name, didn't get to the top merely off the back of a fluke single. Sean's eponymous debut, which accompanied Beautiful Girls, pulled together influences as wide as pop, reggae, Latin and soul and helped cement his success. Now he promises that with his second record, Tomorrow, the world will see the full extent of his diversity.
Tomorrow includes collaborations as diverse as Wyclef Jean and rockers Good Charlotte on Shoulda Let U Go – which Sean has marked as one of his favourites on the album. Although he takes huge steps across genres, Sean benefits from an incredible knack for finding hooks and applying them to the sonic situation he's in – which is probably one of the reasons he's also such an indemand producer.
We caught up with Sean to find out what he thought about playing at the Playboy Mansion, get the scoop on his new record, and decipher if there's going to be any corners of the globe left to conquer by the time he hits twenty-one.
CB: Hi Sean, how's the summer treating you?
SK: I just performed at the Teen Choice Awards and that was crazy! Performing live is amazing; when I see the crowds and the smiling faces it's the best feeling ever.
CB: Well, the Teen Choice Awards are all well and good, but we hear you played at the Playboy Mansion - how was that?
SK: Yeah [long laugh] – I did a three song performance there, it was crazy. It was my first time at the mansion and they had this, kind of, lingerie party and there were a lot of beautiful women. I was having big fun. Shaquille O'Neal was there. Hugh Hefner was there. It was a big party.
I got to meet Hugh. He said he likes my music and that was cool. When I played I got a great reaction; people were feeling the vibe and lots of people told me I was tight, they were all going crazy, it was cool.
CB: Sure, but did you see anything, um, untoward while you were there?
SK: [Laughs] Whoa! It was a crazy place, but really, I didn't see anything out there that was, y'know, out of the ordinary.
CB: You're working with Rihanna at the moment, what's that like?
SK: They're looking for some new stuff baby! I'm a songwriter so I can easily step outside the box, and we're going to give her some great music; me and my whole team have been coming up with some great stuff and hopefully people are going to love it. Rihanna is definitely going to have a hit record.
CB: What kind of sound is she aiming for? We hear she's working on a drum and bass track?
SK. It's definitely going to be more diverse. One of the songs I'm doing for her is like crazy soul. It's like pop, but it has everything in it. And it's got a futuristic sound. And that's the sound that I worked for with my new album. People are loving the record so, y'know, it's all good.
CB: When you're writing songs, are you sometimes working on something for somebody and think, 'Actually, this is too good, I'm going to keep it for myself?'
SK: Nah, when I make a record for someone and listen to what I've made, I usually think that the song should be for that person – I write the records and then I just know who it's going to work with.
CB: Your new album features some diverse artists – Good Charlotte being one of them.
SK: I love Good Charlotte man. We cut a song on the album, it's called Shoulda Let U Go and it's basically a mix of rap, reggae and pop. It's up-tempo, it's nice, it's got a catchy melody to it. It's all about having fun man.
Good Charlotte had this beat with a hook and it builds up to this, like, crazy high – orchestra with electric guitar – and it's like a movie man, it's a crazy record, I love it. They were actually signed to the same label, so basically, I told my manager 'Yo – lets do a record with them.' He phoned their manager and he was like, 'Yeah man, they love your songs, you can put it together.' And we got like three tracks out. All the three tracks were crazy, but of the three there was one that stood out and that's the one we've put on the record.
It's different to what my fans normally go for, and I haven't started performing it yet, but I can't wait to, it's one of those type of records where everybody's going to be jumping.
CB: You've sold so many records and singles, I've heard Beautiful Girls all around the world, what do you want to do next?
SK: I want to start doing movies, and right now I'm actually behind the scenes, because I got my own artists. It's called Time is Money Entertainment. I can't wait, I'm just going to be like the CEO, so I'll be sitting back like, chilling...
I reckon I'll make another three or four albums myself. I think. As far as the style goes I like all the up-tempo stuff, I want to keep making the upbeat numbers, that's the vibe I'm feeling.
CB: What inspired you to come up with 'Beautiful Girls'?
SK: So I wanted to do an R'n'B song that'd never been done before. And that song had an edge to it. I like writing songs with a little bit of edge, and a little bit of twist to them. Like all the way through, the song is looking for fun, so I thought, I'm going to put “suicidal” in there and like yo, this is it, this is the first single, I know it is. And whoa, it was crazy, it just took off fast!
CB: And how much pressure did that put on you to follow it up?
SK: It definitely put pressure on me. But it was the perfect single to jump-start the tour and album and I don't feel any pressure from that song now though, that was 07, y'know?
CB: I heard that you met Michael Jackson?
SK: It's not true. I wish I had met Jackson! I wish I had been able to meet him. He was a pioneer, he was an icon, he paved the way for me – him and Bob Marley.
I was in New York doing interviews on the day he died, I got a call and I was like, 'What?' – and I wasn't even ready to understand. So I asked what happened and they started to tell me and I jumped out of the chair. And I had to call up everybody. I couldn't believe it. He could not be dead, it didn't sound true to me.
The guy was in rehearsals for his new tour as well; it's such a terrible, terrible loss. I think about it all the time. This guy was soul, he had it. That's why I just got to say, ‘Man, rest in peace.’ And that's why I've got to try my best to carry on my music. I had a Thriller jacket and the gloves and used to try to learn the moonwalk and everything.
CB: Will you do a tribute to him?
SK: You know, right now I have a part in my live shows where I pay tribute to him. But I don't think I'd do a song though. Because I don't want to mess something like that up. I want to keep Michael Jackson's memory. I don't want to risk it.
CB: You don't drink or smoke and you don't like hanging out in clubs, what's your idea of fun?
SK: I like to go swimming, I like to ride my ATV four-wheelers, I like to buy sneakers and stuff, I love going shopping, but most of all, I have fun riding my bikes. I have all types of bikes; I have four-wheelers, I have dirt bikes, I have mini-choppers and biking is just real fun, and I have a lot of space to ride. It's great.
CB: What has been your weirdest fan encounter?
SK: I was on the Chris Brown tour and I had a fan that drove, like, two states just to get an autograph and see me and stuff. She was driving behind the bus for like three different cities,