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Published Aug. 7, 2007

Sean Kingston, Sean Kingston

(Beluga Heights/Epic)

Sean Kingston is 17, and he already has a summer smash, Beautiful Girls, in which he explains his romantic entanglements using a vocal processor and a sample from Ben E. King's Stand By Me. His girlfriend is "too beautiful, girl, that's why it'll never work," though it seems the problem goes back a while: "Back in '99, watching movies all the time/ Oh, when I went away for doing my first crime/ And I never thought that we was gonna see each other." (It's so hard to find a good woman, especially when you're a 9-year-old criminal.) The whole situation leaves him "suicidal, suicidal," though some radio stations play the version that leaves him "in denial, in denial," and still others just erase those eight semicontroversial syllables altogether.

In any case he's got a big hit, and now comes his debut album, in which this singer (and occasional rapper) tries to find himself a niche somewhere between Rihanna and Akon. His producer, Jonathan (J.R.) Rotem, clearly isn't shy about reworking the Beautiful Girls formula: Me Love, another song from the album, updates Led Zeppelin's D'yer Mak'er; Got No Shorty borrows from I Ain't Got Nobody (which was a hit for Louis Prima and, later, David Lee Roth); I Can Feel It samples In the Air Tonight, by Phil Collins.

Given all that, this is a surprisingly awkward album, with too many underbaked love songs and unmenacing threats. (For example: "Dem dis Sean Kingston, dem gonna get a scar.") He spent his childhood in Jamaica, which gave him his stage name and his command of patois, but his version of thug love ("Girl, I know it's rough, but come with me/ We can take a trip to the 'hood") makes it sound as if he's trying too hard, or not hard enough. He's better in lovably ridiculous songs like Your Sister: "If I'm wrong, oh I don't wanna be right/ I kissed your sister last night/ It ain't my fault, I guess your sister's my type." (It evokes Beck's R&B parody Debra, though that may be a coincidence.) Still, good news for Rihanna and Akon and all the rest: This breezy hip-pop thing is trickier than it seems.


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