Interview: Big Sean

Published at exclaim.ca

By Anupa Mistry

Big Sean, a Detroit come-up kid and Kanye West protégé, wants to be the Greatest Rapper of All Time. Dude doesn’t even have an album out — three mixtapes, and a studio on the way — but he’s still happy to share the throne-swiping five-year plan. Not sure what Sean Anderson’s mentor would think of the claim, but queuing fans braving the deepest January chill for a meet-and-greet at menswear boutique Ransom would probably nod their heads in agreement, vigorously — and not just to keep warm. As for supposedly more detached folks — the press and industry people present during this interview — well, they were hanging off of Big Sean’s words and laughing at all his jokes too. So like Jay-Z — whose magnetism is well-documented — maybe Big Sean can assemble his own cult of personality and hit that target. He’s already selling out shows across Canada. But let’s let him drop that album before pissing off Kanye just yet.
What does it feel like to headline a tour without a label record under your belt?
It feels incredible. It feels like a new day in music when an artist can do something like this. I feel like I’m at the forefront and a part of history. I feel proud and I’m just happy — the pursuit of happiness is always a chase, so I’m just chasing after that.

How’s the album coming along?
It’s coming along great. I’m going in tomorrow to work with Kanye in New York.

Can you tell me about the name of the album? What does it mean?
As of now, the title is still Finally Famous because that’s what the album was always going to be titled. I may add a subtitle to it, like “Finally Famous: The Inception of Dreams” or some shit. [Laughs] That name was initially my crew from Detroit, when I started back in high school and we were just popping around the city doing our thing and throwing events. To me, being famous is being recognized for something great. I put “finally” in front because that symbolizes how hard people work for something. A lot of people think shit is overnight, and honestly, I’ve never heard of a case where it is overnight. That’s the whole concept and I feel like that could relate to everybody. Like you’re a reporter doing interviews and you get recognized for it — then you’re finally famous. Or you’re getting good grades in school and being recognized for it — you’re finally famous. If you rap, sing, whatever you do, it all relates back to that idea.

Tell me about recording a mixtape versus recording an album. How does the process differ for each?
With a mixtape you’ve got freedom, you could do whatever you want. But a rapper like me — and this goes for a lot of rappers, I’m not just singling myself out — I feel like I have the pressure of always having to be lyrical as fuck. You know, always having to rip some shit to stand out. And, you know, that’s the only pressure of doing a mixtape — ripping it. Other than that, you have no guidelines; you can do whatever you want. With an album, you try to want to go for a sound. Have people ever really put out albums that were just all over the place? I don’t know. But to me all the great albums have somewhat of a “sound” to them always. As easy as that sounds, it’s very difficult to do. It seems like everybody’s done everything. [To the crowd]: Like, if you were making an album and you wanted your shit to stand out, what would you do?
Dude in crowd: I’d try to do me and be as real as I could.
Big Sean: Yeah but while you were trying to do you, somebody already did you man! [Laughs]
Dude in crowd: Nah, you gotta REALLY do you.
BS: Shiiiit. [Everyone laughs.]

So tell me what your “sound” is then.
I can’t tell you that! It’s a very original, organic hip-hop record. Very deep records, something that people can live to, vibe to, smoke to, have fun to, have sex to, and cry to. It deals with being broke, to getting on, to having that faith in between, to living out your dreams, to getting in and out of love, going through real shit in relationships that people go through.

You’ve got a crazy access to some of the best mentors. Who influences you?
My mom and my family are my biggest influence. Kanye is probably one of the people I looked up to most and, you know, Jay-Z. I get influenced by a lot of things, like my friends. I get influenced and inspired by the bum on the street — like, I don’t want to be that. I’m not even being funny though, that shit is heartbreaking sometimes. It just inspires you; everybody comes out of a vagina you know? That’s my whole concept; we all start at the same place. You’ve got to get to the top.

Detroit has a pretty solid rap legacy. Do you ever feel pressured to live up to certain expectations?
Nah, I never feel any pressure because it can break you. When I feel pressure I just take it for what it is and ask myself why I’m feeling that way: because this is a big ass thing I’m doing, you know? It’s more excitement than anything. I’m just excited to finally get this stuff going; it’s been such a long time coming. And to be at the forefront of my city — somebody hit me up on Twitter the other day like, “You the king of Detroit!” And I was like “Wow.”

Do you think you’re the king of Detroit?
I can’t even say I’m the king of Detroit because there are so many kings! Shout out to people like Trick-Trick or Street Lord Juan or the Chedda Boyz or Eminem, J Dilla. How can I say I’m the King of Detroit and I’m a new kid who hasn’t even put an album out yet? But I really feel I represent my city to the fullest. And I wouldn’t mind being the King of Detroit, and am soon going to be, and I’m soon going to be the greatest rapper of all time — when it’s all said and done.