Rapper Big Sean talks about spirituality, humble beginnings and being dissed on his own record
Big Sean unveiled his follow-up album Hall Of Fame last week and his demeanor has totally changed. Gone are the days of a young Detroit emcee vying for the attention of Kanye West outside of a local radio station. Now, Big Sean is as much of a crossover success as he is an adept rapper, having achieved leaps and bounds in a relatively short amount of time since entering our audio presence with his G.O.O.D. Music debut album Finally Famous back in 2011. His humility hasn’t changed – he’s still the type of dude to roll up to a fan’s house to play them his new album. However, as Big Sean grows in success, so does his need to balance it with a positive message. His new album Hall Of Fame reflects that, pairing Big Sean’s need to persevere with the stark contrast of his Detroit beginnings. It’s as much of a celebration as it is an expression of social commentary.
In checking in with him the week of his album release, he breaks down the situation regarding Kendrick Lamar’s infamous verse on his street single “Control” – something that set the internet on fire just a few short weeks ago. On the track, Kendrick Lamar states, “And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron, Tyler, Mac Miller. I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you n***as.” The rap reaction included responses from the likes of Lupe Fiasco, B.o.B., Joey Bada$$, and others as K-Dot also called himself “The King Of NY.” Big Sean handled it well, considering he was name-checked on his own track by one of his rap contemporaries, but that’s what’s remarkable about Big Sean; his ability to know his worth in a game full of competition. He also discusses the unbreakable honesty of Kanye West, and how Miley Cyrus might love to have a good time, but she’s got a “Fire” about her too.
DD: Did you have any idea that “Control” would spiral out of control the way it did?
Big Sean: I kind of had an idea because I did the song, then I hit up Jay Elec, and then I hit up Kendrick and Kendrick was like, “Let me hear what you got to it.” So I sent him my verse and then he loved it, and then he sent me his verse and when I heard it, my reaction to it was like, I thought it was kind of funny but then I was kind of like, “Man, is this dude serious?” But then when I listened to it again, I was like, “Oh this is tight,” because it reminded me of like, wrestling or sports, you know what I'm saying? Because clearly me and Kendrick are friends, clearly a lot of us are friends, but at the end of the day, just like he thinks he's the best and Jay Z thinks he's the best and I think I'm the best and Drake thinks he's the best and Kanye thinks he's the best, that's what we do it for! To be the best! We'll go out on the court and score 30 points on each other, but afterwards, we'll go get some drinks and I think that's what makes it awesome. I think people shouldn't take it too, too serious. The last time we took shit like that too serious, we lost two of the best rappers. That's weak.
DD: You were really diplomatic about leaving that verse on where you could have pulled it and said, “Uh, don't talk about me on my own track.”
Big Sean: Yeah, definitely! I had the file, I could have cut that out, I could have rewrote some of my verse. I could have did all this, but I'm confident in myself as an artist and I feel like my verse was awesome. It's like, I'm an ethical dude, and when somebody gets inspired to do something like that on a track, you can't compromise it just for your personal gain. I care about the culture of rap beyond me, myself as an artist and I didn't want to not give it the justice it deserved. I didn't want to compromise it in any way. I could have took his verse and been like, “No, I'ma be the one to name drop!” and take it out and do all sorts of just, bitchassness but that's not in my character, man. Like I said, I'm confident with myself and I think everybody delivered on that song...me, Jay Elec and Kendrick.
DD: What did you think of the VMAs?
Big Sean: Uh...it was pretty cool. I mean you know, it was definitely entertaining for sure. A lot of madness going on. Miley was definitely having a good time and you know, she was just wild, man. She's always wild, though.
DD: Miley was like the silent star of your “Fire” video.
Big Sean: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I feel like videos like that are necessary. It's not always necessary for the artist to have to be in the video, and I think [Miley] did a great job of describing the music – I feel, like in a different way. “Fire” is a song that tells so many different stories at once – from my grandma's last words to my dad driving me to school and talking about girls he had, and my perspective on Detroit and all these different things that I told in the song and about making it through your own fire. I feel like she's somebody who's definitely gone through a lot and evolved and we've seen her change. So it's tight to use her as a metaphor, like making it through your own fire. Definitely a metaphor for women and just people in general who've been through a lot and came out as elegant as a rose. I thought that was a good look for her. It was something different for her.
DD: How did your mindset change from going in to Finally Famous to now going into Hall of Fame?
Big Sean: One of the things I wanted to get across on this album that I feel like I didn't get across on the last one was that I'm a real spiritual dude. I'm somebody who believes in manifesting what you want. I live like a hippy and I just want to share with people how I made it happen, and maybe they can take from my story and apply it to their own.
DD: In working with No I.D. again, his production on this album sounds so different from his production on Finally Famous. How did you tap into that side of No I.D.?
Big Sean: No I.D. has never made a song like “You Don't Know,” and even his more familiar-sounding production like “First Chain,” it's still, I feel like, some of his best work. Some of his best, most soulful beats are on this album. “Sierra Leone” I feel like is a great hip-hop beat that him and James Poyser from The Roots, him and James collab'd on that beat. It's an honor to work with these great musicians, man. No I.D. even did the “Control” beat, which I thought was really fresh. What a fucking tragedy that it couldn't be on my album because I love that song and we'd been trying to clear that sample. The thing I hate most about fucking albums, man, is that you have to try and clear every sample or you have to clear every artist or you have to clear all this stuff and it's just like... At least for rap, because rap has to do with so much sampling, you know.
DD: Do you feel like, at this point in time, given what happened with Kendrick's verse, do you really feel like the song would have fit within the crux of the album? Because people are having so many polarizing opinions about that verse, and your album has such a positivity attached to it. It's a different feeling...
Big Sean: Well you know what? Everything happens for a reason. I never looked at it like that, and the vibe is a little different. God always works in crazy ways, man, and I'm a firm believer of that. So maybe you're right and the album – it definitely has a positive vibe to it, it definitely has a positive message to it. It's just something that I feel like at the end of it, from the beginning when you get to the end of it, you feel like, “Wow, I can really make some shit happen!” and that's how I want to make people feel.