By Liz Tracy
By Alex Rendon
By Abel Folgar
By Lee Zimmerman
By David Rolland
By Lee Zimmerman
By Alex Rendon
By Liz Tracy
From the moment he steps off the elevator for the CD signing, flanked by security, teenaged girls scream his name, swept up in hysteria worthy of the Beatles circa 1965. His handlers rush him to a table as fans try to reach him, touch him, grab him: "I love you, Sean!" "Sean, I love you!"
Kingston makes sure his mother is seated right beside him as he spends the next 15 minutes writing his name. The little girls on line snap his picture. The bolder ones flirt.
One girl, about 13, looks at Turner. "Are you Sean's mom?" she asks.
"Yes," Turner says, smiling.
"I love you for making him," another fan says. "Good egg!"
As Turner laughs, a fan is mouthing "I love you, Sean, I love you."
For Kingston, this is life six nights a week. For Turner, this is unbelievable.
At six-foot-three and at least 260 pounds, with mahogany-dark skin, Sean Kingston looks more like late rapper Notorious B.I.G. than any prefab American teen idol. Kingston also shares some of Biggie Smalls' charisma, Jamaican heritage, and quick, lyrical wit. Now he's in the running to portray Smalls in a planned Hollywood biopic, along with Compton rapper Guerilla Black. Kingston, who has read for the part, says he's honored to be considered. Before he got noticed for his Caribbean crooning, rappers like Biggie and Jay-Z were big influences.
"In the early days, he was a serious freestyler," says friend Raheem "Hype King" Robinson. "He loved to just rap, rap, rap. He wasn't into the reggae chanting or the singing he's doing now. It was more Jay-Z-type, the Biggie or Nas feel. He could rap about your shoes or girls or whatever you told him to, right on the spot... It was crazy to see a little boy doing that. Even back then, everyone knew he would be a star... It was like, damn, how old is this dude?"
At the time, he was 12.
Robinson, who frequently works and travels with Kingston, was his childhood buddy. They met in Miami at Bayfront Park, at a reggae festival, and quickly bonded through their love of music. They started performing as a duo, with Robinson making beats in his dad's home studio and Kingston rapping over them. "We'd be at talent shows around the neighborhood," Robinson says. "The USA Flea Market on 79th Street, the SeaEscape cruises. We performed at concerts together in parks around North Miami Beach, block parties. It was all small stuff, but it was a start."
"By the time I was 13, I used to do whatever little promotions I could," Kingston says. "I'd go to the barbershop, and if it would say there was gonna be a talent show here or there, I'd just call up and register myself. The highest I ever got was second place. I thought that was pretty dope."
Kingston started making demos when he was at Congress Middle School. He'd sell them to other students while Robinson pushed his music late at night on South Beach.
It was around this time that little Sean chanced upon hip-hop producer Lil Jon outside of a Miami nightclub. "He saw Lil Jon and walked right up to him and gave him his demo, all excited," Turner recalls during an interview at her new Sunrise home. "Lil Jon shook his hand and said he'd listen to it. Then, when Kisean turned his back, he threw it right on the ground. He thought it was funny. But Kisean saw him... He came home so upset, like, 'Ma, I'm gon' be better than Lil Jon one day.'
"He was embarrassed, but things like that keep you going."
Kingston was honing his skills. Not many were paying him much attention. He was just a big, hyper kid with big talk. And then, one day in 2005, MySpace changed everything.
Kingston posted his first songs there when he was 14. He emailed every producer he could find online — Dr. Dre, Swizz Beatz, Polow Da Don — begging them to listen. None replied. Then he hit up Jonathan "J.R." Rotem. In Los Angeles, the South African-born Rotem is known as a superproducer who's worked with A-list artists such as Rihanna, 50 Cent, and even Britney Spears, with whom he was briefly rumored to be romantically involved.
"I basically hit him up eight times a day for, like, three weeks and was like, 'Listen to my music, listen to my music,' " Kingston recalls. "I wasn't taking no for an answer...
"When J.R. finally listened to my music, he was ready to work. He gave me his number. I called him, we chopped it up, and he flew me out to L.A."
Rotem remembers it a bit differently. "I don't actually manage my own MySpace," he says by phone from California. "It was actually my younger brother Tommy that was doing it. Tommy was the one going back and forth working with him and sending him tracks and giving him a chance to show what he's got. I'm in the studio working with the who's who of the music industry. I don't have time to do MySpace. It takes a lot for someone to be able to make me shift my focus from working with established artists to helping a developing artist... but Sean had it."