Sean Kingston is a 17-year-old, Jamaican-American singer/songwriter who already has one canny #1 single, “Beautiful Girls”, under his belt this year. This song, based on the riff from “Stand By Me,” is disarming in its use of vocoder doo-wop and the repetition of the word “suicidal” in the chorus to describe his feelings over being dumped—pretty edgy and successful for a first single that was composed and recorded in just a couple of hours, no?
It’s easy to assume that “Beautiful Girls” would be the only good song on an album of filler; I assumed so, at least. But his second single, “Me Love”, has done pretty well also, using the same formula—except this time, substitute Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker” for “Stand By Me.” It’s a smooth move, using Zep’s faux-reggae for a dancehall-synthpop jam…but surely that’s all there is to this record, right?
The funny thing is, the answer to that question is “no”. Sean Kingston is full of left turns, bold choices, and strange moments. The most striking moment is “Dry Your Eyes”, a song in which Kingston tells his incarcerated mother to be brave while she does her time, and that he will do his best to make sure that they have a lot of money when she is released. This is based on a true story—his sister is also in jail—and, in an odd moment, I might have been emotionally touched by his wide-open declarations of love for his moms. Just saying.
“Kingston” is metallic hip-hop with a dancehall chorus and an aggressively paranoid vibe: “I see dem comin’ from afar / Dey diss Sean Kingston, dem gonna get a scar” are pretty shocking lyrics if all you know about him are his poor-emo-me pop songs. “Drummer Boy” uses horror-show organ chords to back Kingston’s boasts about leading some kind of slum-dwellers’ revolution, although it’s unclear what he’s going to do with all his “soldiers.” He also surprises with “Take You There”, in which he romances a girl by bragging about his contacts in the Jamaican ghettos. (Well, I’ve used worse lines that have worked, so maybe dude is onto something.)
Even his more conventional pop croonings are notably weird. “Your Sister” is a classic teenage lament about liking two girls who happen to be related—pretty standard stuff, except for all the bizarre electronic and vocal noises ping-pong-ing around the mix. In “That Ain’t Right”, he takes his girl to task for demanding his attention when he’s trying to launch his music career. But all is forgiven in “There’s Nothin’”, where he uses tinny synth dollops and up-and-comer girl singer Paula DeAnda to talk about perfect sunny la-la teenage love; the messed-up thing here is the lack of edge.
All in all, a pretty impressive debut for Sean Kingston, who I figured was just a weird pop robot. Keep the rough edges unsanded, kid, and make a lot of money so you can throw your mom one hell of a come-home party.
// Notes from the Road
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