By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
"When he does listen, he learns. His grades weren't bad, but he made hell for the teachers."
Back at the BankAtlantic Center, as the Y-100 Jingle Ball concert gets started, Kingston and his inner circle are finally finding time to act their age. After shaking off all the loved ones and hangers-on, his "interior crew" consists of 17-year-old Baltimore rapper Young Leek, 18-year-old longtime friend Hype King, 23-year-old singjay Nathan "Mirror" Salmon, and his 23-year-old DJ, Kelo, all of whom are his friends and employees.
Aside from having a record deal as an artist on Jonathan "J.R." Rotem's Beluga Heights label and a contract with Epic Records, Kingston started his own record label, Time Is Money, this past fall, his attempt at being a player, coach, and owner at the same time.
Now that the grown folks aren't around, save Kingston's bodyguard, the teenaged crew is dancing and laughing as Miami rapper Flo Rida and his Carol City Cartel are onstage. Flo Rida is opening the show, and his hit "Low" has an audience of predominantly white kids dropping down and gyrating like they're in a nightclub. At one moment, Flo Rida takes off his shirt, revealing rock-hard abs and a physique that looks like it was sculpted in prison. The women in the audience swoon, but his pants are hanging off his ass, his underwear is showing, and with no shirt on, it looks juvenile. A lot of artists backstage are watching the performance on television. With emo-rock group Plain White T's behind him and punk-pop outfit Good Charlotte off to his left, the businessman in Kingston surfaces. "Man, you don't get no sponsors looking like that," Kingston says. "I like Flo Rida, but that look is kinda tacky."
Soon, Rick Ross is on the microphone, and his thuggy-bear voice has all the 305 hip-hop lovers cheering and most of the younger MTV fans in the building looking perplexed.
Kingston doesn't have this problem when he performs, as his style is part ragga, part Nickelodeon, and still mature enough to make grown folks of any ethnicity want to dance. It's not easy to blend hip-hop and reggae without it feeling forced or gimmicky at the pop level, but Kingston's sound seems to be second-nature. It's a good deal of what makes him so marketable and why, as a debut artist after only eight months, his album is approaching gold status (which is a lot in this down era for the music industry). His ringtone sales are already platinum.
When it's Kingston's time to perform, all four members of his stage crew plus his road manager, Steve Lobel, gather for a brief prayer and then get to work. DJ Kelo cues up the music, and Kingston runs onstage in front of 15,000 screaming South Floridians and starts singing his second hit single, "Me Love," which is full of Caribbean flair and pop-crossover appeal. As far as the eye can see, the crowd mouths every word of it.
Despite the fact that it's an arena show, the sound is next to perfect, and Kingston's vibrancy and energy are infectious. The crowd of mostly tweens and teens are responding twice as loudly as it did for previous performers. Next, Kingston jumps into "Dry Your Eyes," a song he wrote for Turner while she was incarcerated. Kingston tells the crowd his mother is in the building and dedicates the track to her. Soon the chorus starts, and Kingston's singing:
Mommy, just dry your eyes; mommy, don't you cry,
I know we've been through hard times and the struggles,
and I just wanna tell you I love you...
I got a little money,
feelin' kinda blue
'cause it's looking like you doing 10 to 20...
Some day I'm gonna buy you Miami,
so when I win my Grammy
you coming, 'cause I do this for my family.
Turner stands to the left of the stage crying as thousands of fans help him sing the song. He's bouncing all over, crooning with raw emotion. It's a powerful moment, marred only by the fact that the sweatshirt his stylist picked for him is too short.
Kingston spends his entire 20-minute set with his underwear showing.
After the performance, everyone in his family seems elated to have finally seen for themselves what all the fuss is about. When Kingston sang his signature "Beautiful Girls" just minutes earlier, the house lights were up, the crowd was on its feet, and the teenager looked like a seasoned pro.
Back in the dressing room, compliments are coming in droves. Kingston's shifting in and out of patois depending on whom he's talking to and laughing with friends. As he sits, he takes off a sparkling chain and hands it to a family member for safekeeping. It's a huge, 64-carat, multicolored diamond necklace in the shape of a Crayola crayon set. Two weeks earlier, he performed on Live With Regis and Kelly. As Regis Philbin asked him in a joking fashion how much his necklace cost, Kingston, showing his age, shouted "$150,000."
When it's time for Kingston to greet his fans again, this time signing CDs at a merchandise table, you can't help but notice how every second of his time is accounted for by someone from Epic Records. He dons his massive chain and turns to head out the door, but apparently he's not moving fast enough for a few label reps. "Sean, come on!" someone yells, and without pausing, he retorts, "I'm coming, shit!" It's the first swearword he's uttered all day.