"I Had To Put Myself As The Priority" The Renewal Of Big Sean
No matter how high you set the bar for Sean Anderson, he always manages to reach it. When the artist, better known as Big Sean, rapped his first rhymes to his mother over 20 years ago, few would have predicted that he would become a platinum selling artist, work with icons and legends and have a day named after him in his hometown city of Detroit. Few except Sean himself, who manifested his vision when he rapped for his favourite artist Kanye West and subsequently signed a deal with G.O.O.D Music, with which this album will be his last. At least contractually.
When he first released ‘Detroit’ as a mixtape in 2012, it was downloaded nearly a million times on the day of release and caused the DatPiff website to crash. The project has since become a fan-favourite due to both its quality and impact on Sean Don’s career, so it was only right that the Michigan rapper made a sequel in the form of his fifth studio album, releasing almost eight years ago to the day of the original. The last few years have not been kind to him, at least personally - a subject on which we speak about in this interview - but having put in work inwardly, this album sees him tap into his higher self to execute arguably his best work yet.
‘Detroit 2’ became his third solo effort in a row to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and saw him return with a renewed energy and sense of purpose. Big Sean has already achieved a lot in his career thus far, with this album signalling the start of a new chapter, but one thing will surely remain the same. No matter how high you set the bar, he will continue to keep reaching it.
As the COVID pandemic continues to affect the world, he (virtually) sat down with Clash Magazine to discuss the new album, battling depression, BLM, Twenty88 and more.
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First and foremost, congratulations on ‘Detroit 2’, the number one album in America...
Big Sean: Thank you so much. You know, the fact that it did go number one was amazing but to me it was number one the second I released it for me because, I was happy that I got to be honest and be myself and to return back to the music as an upgraded, motivated version of myself. It was a long journey to get there so as soon as I saw that it impacted people and that people were relating to it, it was already number one for me off top. That was just a cherry on top for it to go number one.
It’s funny you say that because when you released the album you obviously had your own idea of what you wanted the it to achieve, but now it's been out for a few weeks and people have had time to digest it and take it in, you’re able to see what the feeling is away from the hype and the buzz of it being a brand new release.
Yeah but it’s great though. You know, there’s so much music in the world as well that you just have to be thankful that you’re one of the few people that get to do such a beautiful job like make music for a living.
I feel like my real purpose is to inspire; that’s why I’m here on this earth, so the best way is through the music. I’ve sacrificed a lot of my privacy, a lot of things that I’ve never talked about, things that I may have been embarrassed or ashamed to talk about [and put it in the music] in efforts to hopefully relate to some people and give them something to feel good about and something to relate to.
‘Detroit 2’ feels very celebratory but on your path to that positivity you’ve had to go through a lot of dark times to come out the other side. What was that journey like for you?
I’m still on that journey. I feel like we’re on that journey until we’re done with life, you know what I mean? It’s like ups and downs and left and right turns all over the place but, it had come to a height for me of being hard for me to get through the day. I felt broken on the inside. I had tons of anxiety and depression and I just felt very stuck creatively and everything wasn’t going right for me on the inside. I just had to figure out what I was going through, I had to grow, I had to expand myself.
I stopped everything I was doing and for the first time in my life I had to put myself as the priority. I was kind of always doing it for everyone else, for my friends, for my family, putting people on, giving people jobs and all this stuff, but I had to concentrate on myself. It was an experience and definitely a lot of therapy, a lot of spiritual work, a lot of journaling, a lot of meditation to intentions and goals.
What that process did was brought me back to some of the most pivotal moments in my life when I was 16 years-old and 21 years-old and it reignited that passion that I had, that flame, being a spire that I was searching for.
That’s why I called my album ‘Detroit 2’ because I felt like I was returning to those roots and that essence but as an improved version of myself. It was quite a journey to get to the album and to finish the album but I’m glad that it happened.
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On the original ‘Detroit’ you had stories from hip-hop legends like Snoop Dogg, Common and Jeezy and I know for the sequel you had a list of who you wanted stories from. So how did it feel to organically get icons such as Dave Chappelle, Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder on the album talking about the city you love?
Man, I meditated on it and was praying, and I had my mind set on these three people at the end. They didn’t come until the last minute by the way either. I was praying and meditating on it hard like “please”! Because I didn’t even want to put the album out without the skits.
The last skit was either Stevie Wonder or Erykah Badu, they both kind of came in around the same time. And I remember when I finished all three of them I was like “damn this is crazy”, and I put the piano behind it which is the music from 'Still I Rise' but the piano version. It was such a happy moment for me man because I feel like those skits capture the essence of the first ‘Detroit’ and really just continue that storyline and I felt this was an upgraded version.
But I also didn’t want to just do it for that. I wanted there to be messages in the skits. I wanted people to have a takeaway from it, like every single song. That was like one of my motivations, like I got to spit at least one bar that somebody is going to want to tattoo or tweet or write down.Tattoo bars was my mentality. Let me make sure I say things that really stick and mean something.
Those skits really capture that. All of them said such important, captivating, beautiful things. It was important for me to bring people not from Detroit, to Detroit, to honour Detroit because I think that’s what makes it worldwide.
And they’re the kind of people that when they speak, you listen and take it in. No matter your feelings on Detroit, when Stevie Wonder is saying what he says about it, you’re going to listen...
[Laughs] Yeah, and Stevie’s from Detroit. To me he’s the greatest singer-songwriter of all time so it was a blessing just to be in the same room as him.
You said in a freestyle that your grandmother was one of the first female police officers in Detroit and that she would’ve quit her job to protest with you. Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (to name a few) as well as worldwide protests. What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement?
Yeah I said that in a freestyle I did on Instagram. That’s very true though. I think the movement is very necessary. I feel like the country, America, has been a very unfair place and is built on an unfair foundation and a racist foundation. They act like we’re not real people sometimes. Like we’re three fifths of a person, a man or a woman.
For somebody to get murdered in their own home or on camera and all these things and for people to just get dismissed from their job…that’s like the type of shit you get for falling asleep on the job or something like that - you get laid off or fired. These people deserve to be behind bars, and they deserve the maximum punishment because this has been going on since slave times and before that - where the police think it’s okay to count us out as not even real people and execute us.
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I can’t interview you and not ask you about Kanye. I won’t go into his recent tweets but how is your relationship with him at this point and what were his thoughts of the album when he heard it?
He definitely gave me a lot of great advice on the album maybe like midway through, and he was super excited so that had me pumped up. He’s very locked in. I haven’t been as close with him as I am sometimes. He’s been very locked in and especially with this COVID thing, I just haven’t really linked with him too many times. But it’s always all love and he’s one of the executive producers on the album obviously.
This technically was my last album on G.O.O.D Music. Obviously I think G.O.O.D. Music is more than like a contractual thing, it’s like a brotherhood; he gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. But this was actually my last obligation for G.O.O.D.
So is it going to be an affiliation from now on? I heard you’re starting your own label so will you be releasing on that?
Yeah I’m starting my own label. That’s like a whole journey right there. I got to figure out what artists I can really put on, or help out, or give an opportunity to and just have some fun.
I hope my future music can be on my own label as well but like I said, I feel like that G.O.O.D Music relationship is a lifelong thing, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
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This year we’ve seen the loss of a lot of legendary figures in Black culture and everyone knows about how close you were to Nipsey Hussle. How special and important was it for you to have one of his last verses on your album and lead single ‘Deep Reverence’?
I think that was the last verse he recorded before he died. It’s the most special thing. Probably the most special thing that I’ve ever done.
It’s really depressing to think about, him not being here, but it was definitely an honour to share that song. And at the end he was talking like “I’m gonna tap in with all of Detroit” from an interview that he did, so it was cool to just fulfil that promise and honour him in a way that he deserved to be honoured. He came on there just relentless man, so good.
I have to ask you about Twenty88. We managed to get a track from you guys on the album, but it’s been four years since THE album. Can we expect more music from you and Jhene as Twenty88?
Yeah I think so for sure. I don’t know how soon though that’s the only thing. It’s not done yet. If it was I’d let you know but it has to just get locked in. We just got to lock in and figure it out so hopefully. I can say that that’s the intention but the beautiful thing about her is that it’s never forced so we can’t ever force anything, it has to be right. So when it’s right it will be right.
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A few weeks ago you did a Q&A on your Twitter and someone asked you about UK rappers and you shouted out Dutchavelli. Are there any other UK rappers you’ve got your eye on or are listening to?
He’s hard. My homie put me onto one of his songs. I just like how that shit was just..the energy of it. But in terms of new UK rappers, not really, someone needs to put me on properly. He’s the only one that I was recently on and listening to. Me and Skepta was in the studio not too long ago and we were working on some stuff. I mean there a lot of people I fuck with from the UK but I want to be put onto a lot of newer artists too.
You started this interview talking about finding your purpose. In terms of how you approach music moving forward, how important is having that purpose to you now that you’ve found it?
It’s just a necessary ingredient for me. Of course I’m going to have fun with it, I think that’s important too, to have fun and to just be free and to do it with your heart. A lot of people always say to say it with your chest but I’m like man shit I got to say it with my heart.
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'Detroit 2' is out now.
Words: Aaron Bishop
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