Rapper Big Sean may be "finally famous," as stated in the title of his debut album on Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music label, but he's cautious enough to know that good times aren't guaranteed. His single "My Last," which features Chris Brown, hit the top spot on Billboard's rap charts, but its lyrics strike a balance between celebrating and enjoying fame, and an understanding that it might be fleeting.
Big Sean -- whose legal name is Sean Anderson -- grew upon the west side of Detroit, near 6 Mile and Livernois.
"My music is the essence of Detroit," he said in a recent interview. "At one time we were the center of the world, man -- Motor City. And us being down right now, this just gives us an opportunity to show how great we really are."
He got his start rapping at school, and then got attention from the local Hot 102.7 radio station. He showed up at the station when West was giving an interview there in 2005, and convinced the rapper to let him freestyle a few bars. A few months later Ye called and told Sean he'd sign him. Big Sean officially signed to G.O.O.D. Music in 2007.
Big Sean spoke with HuffPost Detroit recently via phone in between stops on his busy Finally Famous tour.
Talk to me a little bit about growing up in Detroit. You're now "finally famous" -- what was life like before?
I grew up on the west side of Detroit -- 6 mile and Wyoming -- so I was really in the hood. And I would go to school at Detroit Waldorf and that was not the hood. Growing up in Detroit was good. I had a good perspective, a well-rounded one, and not being one-sided. I would go home and have my hood-ass friends and have my ghetto friends and then go to school and have my Jewish friends and all kinds of races, and it was all good. I think that gave me an open mind that was necessity.
Do you think Waldorf affected your music?
Waldorf definitely did. We used to have to write our own poems and make and write our own textbooks and just be creative and artistic and poetic, and I think that really gave me a head start on what I was gonna do for the rest of my life, which was be an artist.
Was it difficult to transition to Cass Tech for high school?
It wasn't difficult. I'm the kind of person who adjusts pretty easy to things. I always have. I think Cass gave me a great experience that was needed, too, just like from the music side. That's where I'd always battle rap, that's where rap was really competitive.
You've said you had a high school teacher who discouraged you from pursuing music. What would you say now?
I'm not going to name her -- I don't want her to get any flack. The point of story is: Nobody can see your vision like you do. She told me I was throwing my life away if I didn't go to school, that it was the dumbest thing I could do turning down my scholarships for something so unsure and rocky. But that was just her trying to be protective and not really knowing what it really was. Nobody can see your vision like you. I also learned that you create your own world no matter what.
Has Detroit influenced your music?
For sure. Definitely just growing up in general influenced me; Detroit happened to be where I was. I feel like the city definitely has made an impact on my life and made me who I am. Detroit has an unmistakeable soul -- nobody can duplicate the soul we bring to the game. From Motown to J Dilla to Eminem to anything. It's definitely a city that's full of originality and the fact that I can be a vessel of that. As far as I think, it had a lot to do shaping me as a man.
When you're in Detroit, where do you hang out?
I'm at Sweetwater [Tavern] downtown a lot. They have the best wings in the world. The studio. My mom's house, my grandma's house, my dad's house, it all depends. Just kicking it with my friends. I'm in the casinos, they're always fun. I'm in there sometimes chillin', kickin' it. I like them all. Oh, and Southern Fires.
Your video for "I Do It" is all about swag and brands and possessions. You name-check brands a lot. Is that what fame is about for you, the material goods?
Not at all. Fame to me, being famous, doesn't mean you're successful. To me they're two different things. I have a place in Detroit and in L.A., and my mom is decorating my place in L.A. and she's so excited. Just hearing my grandma's voice like, "Oh baby, I'm so proud of you," telling me she loves me. Big Sean is this and that, hearing them say all that -- that's success to me. Fame necessarily isn't really tied to success at all. Fame is just being recognized for doing what you do, whether it's good or bad. Osama bin Laden was famous. I include fame in my [album's] name, "Finally Famous" -- I put "finally" in front of it because we worked our ass off for it. It's more of a lifestyle thing -- that's something you worked for.
You mentioned your mom and your grandma. What do they think about some of your more explicit songs?
They think it's fine. They just know I'm having fun with it. The like songs like "So Much More" that are about being at my grandma's house. Songs like "Ass" and "Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay" -- when it comes on the radio, they turn it up because they're proud.
Do you have any cars? Would you buy from Detroit automakers?
I gave my car away to my brother. I haven't been home all year. I haven't had time to drive anything. I definitely need to keep it American, need to keep it GM. You may see me riding around in a Benz, but I gotta support American muscle.
What do you think about the Lions' Thanksgiving halftime show controversy? Would you perform at the game?
The Lions come out to "I Do It," they come out to my songs sometimes, so that would be great. I would love to perform at halftime.
Who's your favorite artist you've worked with so far?
Kanye was one of my idols. Wiz has been one of my good friends, it's tight working with him. Nicki is great. Everyone I work with is great. If they weren't great, I wouldn't work with them.
If you could work with any artist in Detroit music, alive or dead, who would it be?
I wanna work with J Dilla and Eminem, too. They're the greatest. Eminem had a lot to do with my upbringing, he's one of my idols I used to look up to. J Dilla changed the game and made it possible for a lot of producers, like Kanye West. That sample sound didn't exist. And Royce da 5'9 is my homie.
Are there any other up-and-coming Detroit artists that you think deserve attention?
Dustin McFly, Earlly Mac. What's that group with two girls? Roc Stea'd. Yeah, people like that, for sure.
What's one thing about Detroit you wish people knew?
I want people to understand the soul of Detroit, the heart of the city. But I think that's something that people from there see and people who aren't don't get to a chance to see the beauty of Detroit and it's portrayed in the wrong way. But I don't think that's something people can understand if you just tell them. They probably have to go there for themselves and see.
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