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Keeping the fire burning

Teen singer Sean Kingston makes the most of momentum

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / October 30, 2009

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When Sean Kingston takes the stage at Healy Auditorium at Natick High School on Sunday, the feeling will be familiar.

“I was in a rapping and singing contest at my school in Florida, and I came in first place,’’ he says with a hint of pride evident in his voice.

Kingston, just a few years out of high school himself at 19, may be back in auditoriums on a tour that takes him to colleges as well as nightclubs, but these days the contests he’s winning have slightly higher stakes.

“It’s definitely overwhelming, because it’s something I always wanted to do,’’ Kingston says of his success in the music industry thanks to his break through No. 1 hit “Beautiful Girls’’ in 2007 and his recent Top 5 club jam “Fire Burning.’’ “It’s a crazy feeling, you know, when you want something, want something, want something, and you finally got it.’’

Kingston got it by being persistent and taking advantage of MySpace. “I started hitting up different people, and J.R. [Rotem] was one of the producers that replied.’’ Rotem, a hitmaker who has worked with Britney Spears, 50 Cent, and Rihanna, asked Kingston to send him some demos. When he did, Kingston says, “he fell in love with me.’’

Rotem produced Kingston’s first album, guiding him from a jarring hardcore sound to the smoother pop radio vibe of the Ben E. King-sampling “Beautiful Girls’’ and bubbly “Take You There’’ that better suit the teen’s sunny persona. “I’m more comfortable now,’’ he says of the transformation.

Kingston isn’t wasting any time now that he’s gotten a foot in the door. Although “Fire Burning’’ and current single “Face Drop’’ come from “Tomorrow,’’ a mix of shiny hip-pop soul and dancehall beats released just last month, he’s already at work on a follow-up.

“While you have momentum you have to keep it going,’’ he explains on the phone from his home in Miami. “You know, With the music industry and everybody that’s coming out, you want to always make sure your name is in the light and you’re relevant.’’

To that end Kingston is branching out and can boast of having fingers in two other current Top 20 hits: He co-wrote Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say’’ with Derulo and Rotem, and “Replay’’ by Iyaz is being released on Kingston’s own Time Is Money Entertainment imprint.

“I’m really trying to get out there as a writer,’’ says Kingston, who considers working with other artists a necessary part of a long-range plan.

“When I first came to [the music business], it was like a little party to me,’’ he says. “But now it’s serious to me. This is a grown man business, so you have to have a grown man mentality. And my grown man mentality is that I’m going to win.’’

Kingston may be a little more tenacious than other artists his age given his complicated background.

Born Kisean Anderson in Florida, the singer moved with his mother to Kingston, Jamaica, at 6. Trouble came calling when as a pre-teen he did a brief jail/boot camp stint for breaking and entering. His mother and sister also served time for tax evasion and mortgage fraud when he was 15.

“When that situation happened I had to go from, like, you know, a young person to, being like, I’ve got to do stuff on my own now because my mom’s not here,’’ he says.

Everyone is free and clear and together now, and Kingston credits his family - which includes his late grandfather, legendary reggae producer Jack Ruby, and uncle Buju Banton - with keeping his head straight. “It’s great to have them all back in my life,’’ he says. “They encourage me, they motivate me, they push me, and they keep me grounded.’’

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.

SEAN KINGSTON

With the New Boyz and Jaicko at Healy Auditorium at Natick High School Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25-$75 at 866-468-7619 and www.ticketweb.com

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