Interview: Sean Kingston Talks New Album, His Competition And Challenges

Now back stronger than ever, Sean Kingston’s bringing it back one riddim at a time.
While elevated in a high-rise artist lounge at the EPIC Records office, Sean is in an imperturbable state. Currently, he’s running around New York City on a promotional tour for his anticipated new LP Back 2 Life with just about a week away from release, Kisean Anderson, 23, is in a calm state contrary to his electrifying anthems like “Beautiful Girls (Suicidal)” and “Fire Burning.” However, he’s going about his day with a jam-packed schedule filled with interviews and label meetings. As Kingston and his crew recall crazy female encounters during an outing at New York’s Pink Elephant the night before after his listening session, a loud roar of laughter erupts. Sean has clowned one of the members of his crew for picking up a chick that wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

However, the singer’s easy going personality and fun loving personality shouldn’t fool you. After recovering from a jet-ski accident two years prior that nearly cost him his life, Kingston’s ready to reclaim the throne as the king of the summer anthems. As if he hasn’t already, his new album featuring production from J.R. Rotem, Red One(who produced Fire Burning) and Nic Nac and four successful cuts including “Beat It” featuring Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa, “Seasonal Love” with Wale, the title track with T.I. and now his latest “Shotta Love” featuring 2 Chainz Sean’s takeover transcends any seasonal or life change. VIBE sits down Kingston to discuss his new album, that damn Kendrick verse, who he feels he’s in competition with, and how he’s simply gotten back to his own life. –Andrew Asare

VIBE: Your new project “Back 2 Life” is coming out in less than two weeks. What’s going through your mind right now?
Sean Kingston: I’m just excited, man. I’m in a really good space, and I’m excited to see what people think about the new music. I did an album listening party last night and I got a lot of tweets and compliments on the album that were pretty good.

What was the inspiration for the lead single “Back 2 Life?”
You know “Back 2 Life” wasn’t initially a first single. I think we just did it to throw something out there since I was away for so long. People wanted to know what happened, what’s going on after the accident. Of course I told the story and did interviews, but I never really did a song you know setting it up, and setting the title. I felt it was just good to get the visual out. T.I.,he was going through some stuff as well [during the accident]. He was coming back from jail and all the stuff he went through so it was just right for both of us. Then “Beat It” came after with Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa, and that did pretty good. I just put out the song with Wale, “Seasonal Love” and “Shotta Love” featuring 2 Chainz. I got good feedback on both records, so it’s pretty good. I’m excited.

A lot of the artists in which you have collaborations with, its like a kinship you’ve developed, they’ve overcome adversity and triumphed. Did you notice that?
It’s dope. It’s dope to really have, and to be really in this industry over four, five years, and still be in the position in where I can call 2 Chainz and do a record with him or call Wale, and we hitting out records so it’s a dope situation.

On “Back 2 Life,” on the record “Shotta Love” with 2 Chainz, you used R. Kelly’s “You Remind Me Of Something.” How did that come about? What was the writing process? How did 2 Chainz get involved?
The collaboration with 2 Chainz, as soon as my producer Nic Nac sent me the beat, I remember I was up in the studio. He was in Puerto Rico and he sends me the beat, and I was like “yo this beat is hard!” So the first thing that came to me, me being a music person and me just loving music, I grew up on a lot of R. Kelly, I was like “ yo you remind me of my coup/I wanna ride it,” they was like “yo, that’s hard, that’s hard.” I was like “yo, this song is going to be called “Shotta Love,” I already had a concept. You know “Shotta” for us is a big word in Jamaica, it’s big for us, it’s like gangsta, you know people use the word “Shotta” a lot. We had a movie called “Shotta,” but no one really made a theme song. So I wanted to make it a rider song but still have an R&B and reggae vibe, so I felt it with that record.

What’s your take on the Kendrick Lamar verse?
That was dope man! There are just certain artists you really don’t want to mess with when it comes to rap. I started off as a rapper so the art of hip-hop; the rapping is something I understand. Andre 3000, Eminem, Nas, Jay Z, and Kendrick Lamar now [laughs], sit on that list of the people you don’t mess with. Before Kendrick, Eminem, Nas, Jay Z, Andre 3000 were just those artists. If any of them do a diss record on you it’s nothing but straight destroying you with nothing but bars. Now Kendrick is way up there because he’s proven to the world “ya too buddy buddy, y’all over here hanging out in the club with each other. We cool, we could be friends but I didn’t grow up with ya niggas, I’m here to eat ya head off, and I’m here to let you know and let people know that I’m number one.” It’s a competitiveness, it’s the same thing when I go into a room and I might see Chris Brown, one of my closest friends, it could be whoever in the room I’m going to get my shine off it don’t matter what kind of day. I wrote hits, I wrote number one records, I don’t care, I’m in the building too. That’s how you’re supposed to feel, you got to have that confidence, and Kendrick got that.

The King of New York Line?
That was kind of pushy, he’s on some shit like “he feels like he’s the king,” that’s what was supposed to wake rappers up. He feels like, “yo, ya niggas is sleepin’ but I’m the King of New York now,” which is really bugged out for saying because Jay if it’s anybody, it’s Jay Z. Jay’s proved to us several times why he’s the King of New York. Magna Carta was a great album, and for him to be at his age and to be at the position that he has right now and to still be as hungry, to still be in the studio and put out great music you got to respect that. So for Kendrick to say he’s the King of New York, that was kind of pushing the bar, but he feels how he feels. He knew the verse was that fire that he had to end it with that [laughs].

Who do you feel you’re most in competition with? Of course you’re in competition with Kendrick and whom he’s mentioned as well, but who do you feel in your circle that you’re most in competition with?
Well as an international artist, I would say on a worldwide scale Flo Rida, Pitbull, Akon, T-Pain. I don’t really think there’s like really be a lot of people in my lane. I’m saying that because what T-Pain was doing he made so much money and Akon made so much money so you see both of them sitting down. They’re not really dropping a lot of new material lately. So it’s really an open lane, it’s not too many people in my lane right now. But with the international scene, and the fans that I got, it would only be like Flo Rida and Pitbull.

That’s definitely international appeal.

With this new LP “Back 2 Life,” you’re going back to your roots, going back to your culture. You have mainstream/international impact, are there any other genres that you’ve touched within this new material?
Really just pop, reggae, R&B. I got a little rap on there, “turnt-up” stuff, I got “Hold That,” a record with Yo Gotti, just another club record for the “turn-up” people, but really it’s just Reggae, R&B, and pop.

Would you want to delve into any other genres?
Well you know I love all type of music, I love country. I listen to country music. I would love to do some country stuff because everything country is just acoustic driven and that’s the same thing with Reggae.
So if I would tap into anything else, it would that genre, a song would be with a big country artist but on some reggae type of vibe.

Which records on “Back 2 Life” do you feel displays your honest reflection of you as an artist?
There’s records like “Bomba,” a big international Shakira “Hips Don’t Lie”, a dope mix it’s a dope mix, that type of record is like a South American World Cup FIFA type of record, hands in the air, stadium type shit. “Ordinary Girl” shows another side like more of an R&B ballad but still my delivery is different. Also, I would say “How We Survive” featuring Busta Rhymes, me going back to my culture, my roots. Doing some dancehall mix sampling Sleng Teng riddim and having Busta Rhymes with it, the concept is crazy too talks about how we survive in my culture. It could be like a shoot-out right outside of the club in Jamaica, but inside the club, it don’t matter, we having fun, that’s how we survive by partying everyday of the week and living our life no matter what’s going on.

In your music you’ve always flipped an adverse experience and made it into a positive, what makes you channel your experiences in your records, why?
It’s the stuff that I been through, everyday life stuff that I go through; I figure that’s what music is. People like real stuff. I want people to listen to my music and say, “I’ve been in that situation before, I could relate to that,” vice-versa.

What was the most challenging thing you had to address on this project?
Staying away from the typical subjects partying, poppin’ bottles, the typical things. I’m a writer, when I’m coming up with melodies, I’ll go in the studio and then lay a melody down first and then melody’s great, but what comes after that is the lyrics, right? I got to make sure the lyrics are strong. You can have a strong melody, but if your lyrics are not outside of the box, that’s not good. Real music is back. All that cheesy shit is out the window, you got to come up with bigger concepts now, that was what proved to be a challenge for me, because I’m real great with melody. Now with this project I had to ask myself what’s the concept, what’s not been talked about before, what can I bring back to life?

Jason DeRulo also had life-threatening accident, when he broke his neck while dancing. Have you two spoken about or compared experiences and given any support on bouncing back?
Yeah, Jason DeRulo has always been a friend of mine. I co-wrote “Whatcha Say” for him. He’s like my homeboy, that’s my label mate for a long time, he’s definitely family but it’s crazy how his accident happened right after mine, it was like a couple of months after. God is good because he and I both bounced back. He could have died and so could have I, so it’s dope how we came back and did full 360 coverage.

If you could trace back that accident, what would you have done then knowing what you know?
Just slow down and be safe. Take cautions and open your eyes and be more humble, instead of acting like you’re “on-the-go” all the time, be more easygoing.

What’s next for you?
Releasing “Back 2 Life,” get people excited, you know let them hear the music what’s going and eventually do some promo tours and do some touring off this album. More hits, more shows, building my record label Time is Money Entertain, but right now just focusing on the album.

VIBE is celebrating their 20th Anniversary this year. What are your favorite top three songs from the 90s?
I’m so 90s I listen 90s stuff everyday [laughs] but if I could say three right now it’s TLC’s “Waterfalls,” and Jodeci, “Forever My Lady,” and Monica “Angel of Mine.”