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Digital Cover Story, August 2016
Writen by J RIVERA / DIRK DIGGLER
Photography by BWC / THOMAS FALCONE

Thursday, July 21 in Barcelona, Spain. We are set to meet Big Sean (born in 1988 in Santa Monica, CA) for an interview at 5PM in luxurious Arts Hotel, next to Barceloneta Beach. The Detroit rapper affiliated to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music and Roc Nation management will open tonight for pop diva Rihanna, as part of her ANTI World Tour. Sean started touring all over Europe on June 17 alongside the Barbadian songstress and hitmaker DJ Mustard. We enter the hotel lobby and go up to the 31st floor where we are welcomed by Sean’s bodyguard and Universal Music’s product manager (his record company in Spain). We get into a well illuminated meeting room with big glass windows offering breathtaking views of the catalan city. Sean greets us and drops some spanish words into the conversation (‘muy bien’) before we sit down to chat, always escorted by his tour manager.

 

“I feel great. I feel the more music I’ve been making the better I’ve been getting as a person, as a musician, as a writer, as a rapper. I’m excited about that because sometimes careers start so high and go down, people fall off… But I feel this is just the beginning of me, that I’m somebody who’s gonna have at least ten albums; I’m on my third and going into my fourth now. So I feel great about that”, Sean confesses when we told him five years have passed since his debut album Finally Famous (Def Jam, 2011) saw the light of day, and six years since we saw him perform at NY’s Highline Ballroom as part of XXL’s Freshman Class of 2010. He was one of the chosen MC’s alongside J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa. They are the only three rappers who have won recognition while the rest have been, more or less, forgotten. That’s how the music industry works.

His european stay has been more fruitful than many may have thought. In his day off in Barcelona, he ditched recording sessions in the tour bus to go to a ‘real’ studio to keep working on his fourth solo album, due at the end of the year. “The vibes were super tight, it was cool to record here and feel the energy. I was there with DJ Mustard and my producer. We made some good music. It’s inspiring to be here, there’s a positive energy. If I wasn’t on this tour with Rihanna I don’t know if I’d even make it out here to perform; I’m thankful for that and it also motivates me to try to make the type of music that’s popular here. It opens my mind when I’m thinking of the new music and where I wanna go with it; I wanna make sure that it touches places like Barcelona too. It’s a blessing that I’m out here and I get to finish the album. It would’ve been tragic to finish my album and then come on the road cause I’d be like: ‘Damn! I should’ve made something like… Something that touches the people here, that makes them happy or makes them wanna dance.’ It’s good that I get to see that while I finish my next album”, he confesses.

“IT TAKES TRUE TALENT TO SEE POTENTIAL IN SOMEBODY AND BRING IT OUT. MAKING HIM (KANYE) PROUD IS SOMETHING I ALWAYS KEEP IN MY HEAD, I DON’T WANNA MAKE HIM FEEL LIKE HE MADE THE WRONG DECISION”

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Women have been a crucial part in the life of Sean Michael Leonard Anderson (his real name). Since he was a little kid, he was raised and educated by his mother (Myra), his grandmother (Mildred) and a teacher from Waldorf School in Detroit. At 28, his ‘conquests’ have appeared regularly on the press. Among his most famous romances are puertorican actress Naya Rivera (to whom he was engaged) and teen star Ariana Grande. Now he has been linked ‘professionally’ to californian RnB sensation Jhené Aiko. “I like Twenty88 a lot because the chemistry between me and her is authentic musically and I feel our voices match each other really good tonewise. She didn’t always wanna put those type of songs on her album and Twenty88 gave us the opportunity to express all those emotions and different situations without us having to make a whole album about love. Imagine if I’d have eight songs like that on my album, that would’ve been a little emotional. Twenty88 is different enough from my work and her work but it sounds very natural; that’s why I like it so much and I think it’s gonna have a huge future. We’ll probably do another project after I put my next album out and she puts her next album out or maybe before that, I don’t know… We’ll see.”

 

Big Sean likes to work with other artists, in or out of the hip-hop world. He has done it ever since he started in the music business. Two of his most recent featurings appear on DJ Khaled’s Major Key, with whom he shares ‘family’ in Roc Nation. “The song with Khaled is me, Kendrick Lamar and Betty Wright, a classic gospel singer. Khaled is like a master; I have another song on his album with Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz, it’s pretty cool. ‘Holy Key’ is like a heavy rap record.” When we speak about the G.O.O.D Music collective, where he has already released “Champions” from upcoming album Cruel Winter, there is just a name that comes to his mouth. “(G.O.O.D Music) is great; Kanye put me on the game, put me in songs with him and Jay Z… He really boosted my career and specially on my last album (Dark Sky Paradise), his energy helped it to be as successful as it was. I feel he’s one of the reasons that it did go platinum because of the attention he put into it… On top of the work that I did and shit”, he responds with a smile.

 

“RIHANNA IS IN HER EIGHTH ALBUM AND I’M ON MY THIRD; BY THE TIME I GET TO MY EIGHTH ALBUM, I’LL TRY TO BE IN THAT STATUS… AT LEAST. I’M THINKING BIG AND I KNOW MY POTENTIAL, I KNOW I CAN DO IT”

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He likes being a part of Roc Nation, a global company founded by Jay Z in 2008 with offices in NYC, LA and London. RN manages his career and has stepped up his status as an artist on an international scale. If it was not for the company, he probably would not have traveled across Europe with RiRi. “I like working with people who look at the world as being small; they got the concept that all your records have to go global, not (do good) just in America. I like the fact that they make me think on a bigger worldwide scale. My manager Jay Brown is very smart; he manages Rihanna, Jay Z… He started Roc Nation and is somebody that teaches me a lot. I’m not saying we always agree with things, but he’s somebody who really knows what he’s doing. I think that Roc Nation as a company will keep growing and expanding. It’s cool to be a part of that.”  

 

In this day and age, hip-hop and fashion have become closer than ever. Big names such as Balmain, Calvin Klein, Moschino, Givenchy or Dior are now looking for new cultural references. Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Pharrell Williams, Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar…or Big Sean are all examples of this new trend. “It’s funny ‘cause I look at some of my old pictures and I’d be like: ‘What the fuck was I wearing?’ I get so mad at myself and shit… But that’s what is all about: it’s about growing and expanding. Hip-hop and fashion have always been linked together, since Pac, since Biggie, and before that Run DMC, N.W.A… It’s been evolving and I feel the worlds that were far apart are coming together as far as fashion and music. It’s getting even more high fashion and you see rappers wearing YSL shoes, tailored clothes… I do it and I think it’s cool; I’m from Detroit and that’s how I grew up. My dad used to wear tailored pants, leather pants, silk scarves, different colored shirts and suits and stuff… I saw that as a kid so it was a pretty natural thing for me. I think it’s cool, it opens the world more and everybody is more unified”, he says with confidence.

 

Sean entered the textile market in 2013 creating Aura Gold, a contemporary men’s streetwear brand. But that chapter in his life is almost over now. “I still own it but that shit was taking so much of my time up that I just gave up on it. It was actually making money but the energy I was putting into it was taking away from my music and other things that I’m still establishing. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a few years but for now I just wanna focus on music; I also wanna do other things, but things that won’t take away from my music”, he declares. It seems Sean’s style, as well as his point of view, have changed in the last years. Being a succesful entrepreneur it is somehow risky, and he would rather take risks in other aspects of his life. Specially when several big brand names want him to endorse their clothes.

 

“JHENÉ (AIKO) DIDN’T ALWAYS WANNA PUT THOSE TYPE OF SONGS ON HER ALBUM AND TWENTY88 GAVE US THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPRESS ALL THOSE EMOTIONS AND DIFFERENT SITUATIONS WITHOUT US HAVING TO MAKE A WHOLE ALBUM ABOUT LOVE”

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Detroit is not what it used to be. Long gone are the days of the Motown era and the reign of the Motorcity. The hometown of hip-hop legends J Dilla, Slum Village or Eminem is trying to recover from bankruptcy. Now it is time to shine for young talents such as Sean, Dej Loaf or Danny Brown. There seems to be a diverse future on the musical horizon. “There’s a lot of talent in Detroit and I feel that if things are done properly, with the right chances and the right songs, those artists can be put on. That’s something I wanna do and help out with because Kanye put me on and that’s the natural progression”, he says. It may be a surprise for some to hear Sean asserting Marshall Mathers is ‘the biggest rapper ever’. “He’s one of the OG’s, I grew up listening to him and admiring him. He always inspires me, he’s always lyrical, always trying to be the cleverest and wittiest you can be, like eye popping”. Em was the artist who sold more records in the 2000’s, with 32 million units sold… But, is he still relevant in the hip-hop world? That’s another story…

 

Big Sean is still hungry for success, and that is something that keeps him in the limelight. He owes part of his status to his main co-signer, Kanye West. It was Kim K’s hubby who opened the gates of G.O.O.D Music for him. It all began with a freestyle. “He saw my potential and I think he saw a little bit of himself in me, a kid with a dream. He saw the potential and he really nurtured it. It took years and years, but within those years he kept listening to the music I sent him, decided to sign me and took the time to come out to LA while I made my album, to travel with me. He took me to Japan with him and I met Pharrell there. I met Pharrell a long time ago, but Kanye was the one who put me under his wing, who brought me around those guys. It takes true talent to see potential in somebody and bring it out. Making him proud is something I always keep in my head, I don’t wanna make him feel like he made the wrong decision”, he declares showing respect to whom he considers his mentor.

 

Unfortunately for many, The Weekend jumped ship from ANTI before it set sail. But Sean is willing to take advantage of the big opportunity he has in front of him. August 18 in Hasselt (Belgium) will be the last show of the european leg, but he is determined to write one of the most vital pages of his musical history. “I like playing to her crowd and win fans over, people who may have known a couple songs of mine… It’s tight that they got to see me perform live and I feel it makes me be on their radar even more. I would never normally play an arena or a stadium in Barcelona, Milan or all these different places. It’s great and I think it opens my mind up to think: ‘This is what I wanna do’. Rihanna is in her eighth album and I’m on my third; by the time I get to my eighth album, I’ll try to be in that status… at least. I’m thinking big and I know my potential, I know I can do it”.

 

‘TWENTY88’ (Def Jam/Universal) is now available in stores and digital platforms. Pick up your copy at iTunes Amazon / Spotify / Tidal / Deezer