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Interview:
Detroit rapper Big Sean drops his debut album -- finally
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Big Sean has a day off from his current tour with rapper Wiz Khalifa. But it’s hardly resting.



Instead the Detroit MC finds himself in Greensboro, N.C., to play at a radio station concert. And, he acknowledges over the phone, he’s “exhausted.”



But he’s also exhilarated — with good reason.



As he prepares for the Tuesday release of his debut album, “Finally Famous: The Album,” Big Sean (ne Anderson) knows he’s built a good buzz for his music thanks to the patronage of Kanye West — who signed the rapper to his GOOD Music label in 2007 — and to three well-received mixtapes he’s released during the past four years. His first single, “My Last,” featuring Chris Brown, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Rap songs chart with its follow-up, “I Do It,” on the ascent. He’s also featured on former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland’s new single “Lay It On Me.”



Big Sean’s videos have received more than 12 million views on YouTube, and he’s been tagged as a Next To Blow artist by Hip Hop Weekly and was on the cover of XXL magazine’s Freshman Class of 2010 issue.



At 23, it seems, Big Sean is indeed finally famous — or at least living up to the Big part of his hip-hop handle.



“I’m feeling pretty good,” he says. “I’m excited that (the album) is finally coming out, excited that my career is only going to keep growing and growing and growing.”



Big Sean notes, however, that the demands of his career so far has been a bit surprising.



“I had no idea what this game was like,” he acknowledges. “There are a lot of twisted people in this game. There’s a lot of sharks. There’s a lot of great people in it, too. And there’s a lot of work.



“I mean, if all I had to do was rap and shoot videos, I would have the easiest job, period. But there’s so much more behind all of it that I didn’t know about. There’s a lot of work. I don’t get too much sleep anymore, but at the same time it’s all I ever dreamed of, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”



Big Sean’s musical dreams started young. Born in Santa Monica., Calif., he moved to Detroit when he was 2 months old, where his father worked as a manager for Eastern and Northwest airlines and now markets a muscle ointment called Ring Master. Sean began attending the humanistic Waldorf School as a kindergartener, and that’s where he began working on his rhyming skills as well as learning to play a variety of musical instruments.



“All the girls were in love with Puff Daddy and Mase and Tupac and everybody, so in third or fourth grade I’d be like, ‘Hey baby, I can rap, too,’” Sean recalls with a laugh. “It was that type of thing at first, and then as I got older I started taking it more seriously and really fell in love with it.”



Moving on to Cass Technical High School, he met Pat Piff and together they formed a band called S.O.S. The two also started doing a rap battle radio show on Hot 102.7 in Mount Clemens, where he befriended Oakland County artist Mike Posner. It was at the station there during the summer before his senior year that Sean got his chance to meet Kanye West, which led to his big break.



“I was at the bank cashing my check,” says Sean, who was earning $120 a week as a telemarketer, “and my best friend called me and said, ‘Are you listening to the radio? Kanye is down there playing his new album (‘Late Registration’). If you go down there and rap for him, he’ll probably sign you, bro!’



“I was like, ‘Man, that sounds stupid as hell,’ but after I thought about it for, like, 13 seconds, I realized it was probably one of the smartest things I could do. I might as well try.”



Sean promptly stepped out of line at the bank, ran home to pick up one of his demo CDs and headed out to the station. He managed to find West and introduce himself and almost let the multiplatinum rapper walk away before decided that “I wasn’t about to miss this moment” and didn’t take West’s initial “no” for an answer.



“He was finally like, ‘All right, you got 16 bars as we walk out of the station.’ So I started rapping and we got to the entrance of the station, and he just stopped and started looking at me, and he was feeling my raps and bobbing his head and adding ad libs. I went for, like, 10 minutes straight and a big crowd came around and everybody started clapping. He took my CD and said he listened to it all day and said he was going to sign me.



“That was how it all started.”



Big Sean spent some time stuck in first gear, however. It took a couple of years before West and GOOD Music finalized the deal, during which time Sean notes that he “gave up everything.”



“I graduated from high school with a 3.7 (grade point average) and had a scholarship to Michigan State. I put that all away just for the possibility of being signed.



“It was one of the worst times in my life. I was flat broke, at my mom’s house, and she was spending all her money on studio sessions. I learned a lot during that time, and ... eventually it all worked out.”



“Finally Famous: The Album” teams Big Sean with some other big names — primarily Chicago producer No I.D. (Ernest Wilson), who helmed six of the 12 tracks on the standard edition of the album, including “My Last” and “I Do It,” and two more on the 16-track deluxe edition.



“He is a musical genius,” Sean says. “He’s Kanye’s mentor. He’s done a lot of Jay-Z ... the list goes on. He just has a great sense of music and he’s just a good guy and has great stuff and always wants stuff to sound the best it can sound. He was able to tap into my creativity and the inspiration I have coming from Detroit and bring it out in a great way. He was definitely the main reason that it’s as musical as it is.”



Chris Brown’s appearance on “My Last,” came about while the two were hanging out in the same Los Angeles studio one day. “I played it for Chris, and he was like, ‘Damn, that is so cold,’ and he wanted to hop on it so of course I let him,” Sean remembers. “He sounded a little better on the singing parts than I sounded. Now every time that song comes on and every time I do it at a show, it goes crazy.”



“Finally Famous” also features collaborations with Lupe Fiasco, the Neptunes, John Legend, Wiz Khalifa, Chiddy Bang, The-Dream and Tricky Stewart. West appears, too, on the slated third single “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay,” which Sean says was a gift from West.



“It was all Kanye’s idea,” Sean says. “He gave it to me and was like, ‘I want you to put it on your album if you like it, and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I like it!’



“It’s a very silly song — very fun, nothing too serious. I always try to keep a certain level of lyricism on all my songs, but that one I didn’t even worry about. It’s just completely the rawest emotion of just me and Kanye having fun on a song.”



Now, Sean claims, he’s having more fun than ever — even if it’s mingled with some fatigue. He still calls Detroit home, though he also keeps a place in Los Angeles “because I record there a lot.”



“So I’m back and forth between both places, but I haven’t been in either one of those for more than a day or two. I’m always on the move.”



And the destination, he hopes, will be more visits to the top.



“Y’know, I’m still young. I’m only 23, and there are people who have worked for 20 years and still haven’t gotten as far as I have,” Sean says. “I really have worked hard, you know? Now it’s getting to a place where I’m getting recognized for it — I’m finally famous, you know? I’m just super-excited about it, and I can’t wait to do more.”



Big Sean’s debut, “Finally Famous: The Album,” drops Tuesday. Big Sean performs with Wiz Khalifa at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Phoenix Plaza Amphitheater, 10 Water St., Pontiac. Tickets are $32.50 and $25. Call 248-858-8300 or visit www.pontiac.mi.us.



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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