Man-Child in the Promised Land

Pop star Sean Kingston hopes the party's just begun

"A lot of kids look up to Sean Kingston," Kingston says. "To me, that feels like an honor. I don't feel like a role model yet... almost."

Kingston says he's sleeping less than ever before these days and "flying more than a pilot." He's already appeared as a guest on MTV's The Hills, which he hopes is just his first acting gig. Still 17, he could tick off Japan, London, and Australia as his favorite locales. But when it came time to plan his 18th-birthday bash, he chose Ocho Rios, where MTV would record the celebration and foot the bill.

Sean and his mother pose during a CD signing at the BankAtlantic Center.
Jonathan Cunningham
Sean and his mother pose during a CD signing at the BankAtlantic Center.

Driving into Ocho Rios — "Ochi" to the locals — from Montego Bay on a Friday evening is tricky. You approach the city on a long, winding road crowded with shantytowns and jerk chicken huts that periodically fall away to reveal sublime tropical landscapes. The view is as poverty-stricken to your right as it is scenic on the left. There are traffic laws, but no one seems to follow them. Accidents abound. You hang on for dear life, and as you do, you notice the pink, yellow, and green posters whizzing by, taped to telephone poles, that say "Sean Kingston."

People in Jamaica love him, says his mom, who could not attend his birthday party because of parole restrictions. But he played a show in Jamaica on Christmas Day and flopped, at least one person says. "Him lose him culture," a cabdriver says as he whizzes through traffic. "People aren't sure if he can really do a stage show 'cause he only has three hits. Jamaicans want to see a lot of hits, like a Beenie [Man] or a Movado... He's not there yet."

But for someone with just one album, he seems to be doing all right. And when a local woman in her early 20s mentions his name that evening, all the other women around her begin to giggle and talk about how cute he is. "He doesn't need to lose a pound for me," one says. "Me love his big size and sexy voice," and she trails off singing the chorus to "Beautiful Girls."

His birthday party the next night is the talk of Ochi. There are rumors that Movado, Munga, Shaggy (who's scheduled for a walk-through), and Beenie Man will come (in fact, only Shaggy makes an appearance). Tickets are going for $60 U.S. And someone's making a killing: The party is not even open to the public.

Kingston spends the day with friends and family. Everywhere he goes, a crowd gathers. People call his name and whip out camera phones. Traffic slows. When he visits his grandfather's famous studio, the streets are blocked off. He stops to eat fried chicken and is flanked by photographers from the local paper.

By nightfall, everything is ready for him at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Hotel. Dancers and DJs entertain the crowd. Kingston makes his entrance to the screams of 200 friends and family members, dressed in dark jeans, a white T, and a white sports coat. A birthday greeting from his mom plays on a big screen: she says she has a Bentley Continental GT waiting at home for him, just like the one he got her. Of course, she seems to have spent his own money on the car.

Kingston spends much of his time at the party dancing, posing for pictures with cute girls, toasting on the mic, and just clowning around. At midnight, he disappears for several hours, out of view of the cameras. Rumors circulate of an afterparty, the real party, where MTV won't be filming.

Around 3:30 a.m., the birthday boy reappears at Ocean's Eleven, a nightclub where girls wearing next to nothing are grinding on men and thick ganja smoke wafts through the air. Outside, the parking lot is packed with people burning spliffs and grilling jerk chicken, Ochi's rudeboys and dancehall queens, a much rougher element, from the looks of them, than anyone in the United States associates with Sean Kingston. Yet he seems at home milling through this crowd.

Inside, Black Chiney's newest selector, Dinero, is in the DJ booth. Mirror, one of the most talented artists on Time Is Money, is on a mic putting out a few of his dancehall bangers as dancers from different crews compete. Dinero, who lives in Coral Springs, keeps the crowd amped with "bumbaclaat" this and "bloodclaat" that, leading the club's angry-looking owner to tell him to keep it clean. So Dinero picks up the mic again and says, "All right, all right, no more bloodclaat swearwords, people. Watch ya bloodclaat language!" This has the crowd in stitches.

Just before 5 a.m., Kingston makes his way back outside, which draws most of the party outside with him. They all still want a piece of him, and no one knows when or if he'll be back this way. Some want photos, some try to hand him CDs, some try to get him to agree to make music with them at some later date. A few look thuggish and jealous, which is understandable as their women gravitate toward him. Kingston has to be careful as he makes his next move, but as he breaks away from a few ladies, he says, "This whole thing is like a dream come true."

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