How Big Sean Handles Success

After Big Sean's platinum selling third album, he shares his thoughts about success and work

Big Sean is busy. When we meet the Detroit-bred rapper post-photo shoot and jet-lagged, he rattles off his current schedule: touring with Rihanna and an upcoming performance at Wireless, all the while recording a new album on the road in his studio bus. “I’m hungry, you know,” he says to Schön! Magazine. “I want to get my music done. I want to get it out for the people and for myself too.” His motivation is simple: “I feel good music is rare out here, so I want to contribute to that and bring what I can to the table.”

It’s probably what’s expected from him at this point. Big Sean hit a stride in his career with his critically-acclaimed third album, Dark Sky Paradise, an honest, heavy-hitting record which he says was the result of eschewing the desire for commercial success in order to make good music. ‘‘It was just the space I was in at the time. I didn’t give a fuck about commercial shit, I just wanted to keep it super real,’’ he says, adding, “Whether the sales reflected it or not, I thought it would just be good for me to have such a personal album that I feel is not compromising in any way.”

If this seems risky for a young musician, consider that it’s this tenacity and boldness that got him where he is today. Sean Anderson was once a feisty 11-year-old worrying his private school teachers with his career goals. “The teacher asked everybody what they wanted to be and I said a rapper,” the now 28-year-old recalls. This didn’t go down well: “She called home that night to my mum – I had just gotten my ears pierced too – and said. ‘Your son is influencing the kids in a bad way. He has his ears pierced. Now other people want to get their ears pierced and he said he wants to be a rapper.’”

Why a rapper? “In the beginning, I wanted to have a song on the radio. I wanted a Rolex. I wanted to buy my mum a house. I wanted to perform and have nice clothes and shit. You know, real shallow stuff,” he confesses. A shift in motivation – a product of maturity, he admits – may have also come from a journey which required immense patience and hours of groundwork. Unhindered by his teacher’s concerns, thanks to his open-minded mother, whom he describes as “like my guardian angel”, Big Sean continued with his ambitions. This led to a chance encounter with Kanye West when he spat a few bars, impressing the veteran rapper. But the story doesn’t end there. There was an interim in which he says it seemed “Kanye was nowhere to be found.’’

So, Big Sean enrolled in Michigan State University on scholarship while rapping on the side, spending the money his grandmother gave him for his college education on studio sessions, and admits, “It wasn’t really working out and I started losing faith.” In the end, Kanye reappeared. “He called me and pursued it and he was like, T feel like you got something special and I know you’re young and if you want to do this, I don’t think you have to go to school right now. If you want, you can go back later.’ He was really supportive. He even called my mum and told her.”

Since then, Big Sean has been making music in an industry in which he says demanding timelines can often risk the quality of the output. He’s found his own ways of overcoming this: “I’ve been in both situations where I tried to fit their timeline and I stumbled a little bit and there were times when I took my time and did it on my terms and it was the best it could be and they were happy too.”

So, will this new spirit of defiance continue for the next album? “Hell yeah!” Big Sean confirms. “After I saw how that worked out I was like This is how it is.’ I don’t give a fuck about what nobody is telling me, like, ‘You need a hit.’ A hit to me is when somebody relates to it and it changes their life, that’s a hit. Fuck a song that’s just on the radio for a year. That shit comes and goes, but when people can go back years and years and be like,that song changed my life,” that’s something special. The deeper goal is to make some music that’s going to create change or inspire or help someone.

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