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Some of his critics say he's fakin' Jamaican, but the South Florida native was shuttled back and forth to Jamaica as a child and is proud of that island heritage. He was born in Broward General Hospital on the third day of February in 1990 and spent the first three years of his life bouncing around Broward County. Turner was a single, immigrant mother of three who ran her own businesses and worked other jobs. She didn't always have a lot of help, but her children were fed.
Sean is the youngest of the three. She's not surprised by his success. Music was in his blood, she says; her father was Jack Ruby, a producer for Bob Marley and Burning Spear and for years a hitmaker in Jamaica who also had a small role in the 1978 reggae film Rockers. "We're a very blessed family," Turner says by phone a few days after the BankAtlantic Center show. "We're not just stars because of Sean. We were born stars." Famous musicians were always around her house growing up and as an adult, she says, and she was a friend of reggae star Buju Banton, whose music influenced Kingston as a youth.
Even as a toddler, Kingston had a fascination with singing that initially seemed a bit odd, Turner says.
"He would always sing Whitney Houston's 'I Will Always Love You' until the veins popped up in his neck, back when he was 3 years old. I used to think, 'What's wrong with this little boy' — but he was serious. When he started going to school, he would just write lyrics in his notebook — not math or English, lyrics! I had to go to school every day. They said he was disrupting class, rapping all the time, getting suspended from school... but it makes sense now because this was in him the whole time."
So was a rebellious attitude. Kingston frequently got into trouble as a child at school, so much so that his mother moved the whole family to Jamaica when he was 5, hoping it would bring a young Kisean some discipline. He remembers the initial four years he spent there fondly, living in Kingston, which would give him his stage name. "Those were the years when I really started singing for real," he says. "I started just singing in church and around the house every day. My sister was behind me telling me to keep it up and that I didn't sound bad, so I never stopped."
In an initial interview, he feigns having spent time around his famous producer grandfather, but that would have been impossible since Ruby (real name: Lawrence Lindo) died a year before Kingston was born.
By the time Turner's family moved to Miami in 1999, Kingston had developed a fondness not just for rapping but for some of its negative attributes. He fought constantly, got tossed out of school, and worked his mother's last nerve until Turner sent him to a boot camp in Orlando for five weeks. "He begged me, 'Mom pleasssse, don't make me go,' " she says.
"I hated it at first," Kingston says laughing. "But it made me a better person. I was doing drills, running five miles a day, waking up everyday at 5 a.m... It was hard! But it was good for me. When I got out of boot camp, I wasn't fighting no more and getting into all that trouble."
Kingston returned from boot camp fixated on music, although he still got into plenty of trouble. His mother sent him back to Jamaica, by himself this time, to stay with relatives in Ocho Rios, where the bulk of his clan resides, hoping it would soften his desire to constantly show off and be the center of attention. His craving for attention only grew stronger, however. Family members noticed that the only thing that seemed to temper his rambunctious attitude was music.
Recognizing the chance she had at keeping Kisean focused on something positive after he returned to Miami the next year, Turner made the greatest investment of her life.
"I bought him a little personal studio when Sean was about 11," she says. "He was still rapping back then, and he had all these silly different names — 'Bulletproof,' 'Franchise,' 'Lil Money.' I said, 'You can't be 'Lil Money'; you gotta be 'Big Money.'
"He's always had a love for music, and I knew he would be like this. I just didn't know it would happen this soon."
That the kid was a ham is apparently putting it mildly. According to Kathy Harris, principal at Congress Middle School in Boynton Beach, Kingston had a knack for stealing the spotlight. "Whenever there was somebody rapping in the lunchroom or after school, [Kisean] would always jump in the middle of it," Harris says.
He was also expelled from almost every school he attended in the tricounty area. He seemed to be grappling with an internal battle: either remaining disciplined or constantly giving the finger to conformity. "Now that he's an entertainer, I can understand it a bit more, but back then, it was rough," Turner laments. "He got kicked out of Bair Middle in Sunrise, Christa McAuliffe in Boynton Beach. He couldn't even go to school in Miami, he was so bad... The list just goes on and on. Then he went to Delray Full Service, which was a school for bad kids, and he got kicked out of there.